Mad dogs, Irishmen and babushkas go out in the midday sun

For several years I’ve lived, technically, in Maskavas Forstate, the South Bronx to most Latvians, who prefer spending two hours a day commuting from Purvciems to the 15 minute walk to the old town that plebs like me have to endure. So after visiting Riga’s wild west the previous week, it was time to see how the other half lived. Berģi is one of the places with a reputation for being yuppiesville and it’s in the east, so on 7 September this was our next destination. It all started well, after a week of patchy weather, the sun emerged and temperature hit 21 degrees. Dressing for the beach,  I grabbed my camera, my CIA sunglasses & a map (I judged that my “I’m a tourist” t-shirt wouldn’t be necessary on this occasion.) Adding a bottle of kvass (in case we couldn’t find a bar) and a couple of flapjacks (images of having to survive in the middle of a forest for a week in my mind) we were ready.

Bouncing out of the bus, near the big entering Riga sign, we walked for what seemed forever down the main road in Bergi. Sadly, Lake Jugla was mostly obscured by trees, but it was clear from the streets and houses that the people here had more than a few santimes to spend on sieriņš and zirni.

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Unfortunately, they don’t seem to have any interest in flaunting their wealth in a friendly neighbourhood bar, because there wasn’t one. This is where the trusty Kvass bottle came to the rescue…

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Lame sure. But that, sadly, has to count as the “drink in Bergi.” We had to cut through the trees a bit to finally get photos of Lake Jugla

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By this point in time we were so hungry we’d happily have eaten the warts off a donkey’s arse. On the way to Ligatne every year, we’d always driven past the colourful Hotel Bergi, past the Riga city boundary. We decided to head round there, get photos of the Riga sign, rest our feet and hopefully tuck into beer and shashliks.

The “we’re so touristy it hurts” first bit was happily accomplished.

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Tragically, the market for hotels in the middle of nowhere seems to have taken a tumble in recent years. Hotel Bergi is closed to all except grafitti artists

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The next bit produced the day’s adventures. The next neighbourhood along was the even smaller Bukulti. Dreams of fat lamb shashliks still in mind, this didn’t look promising. There were two routes there, one a vague path through a forest and the other an uncomfortable one along an A road. For reasons which escape me, we decided the forest one would be easier.

The route took us down a lane between people’s houses. Halfway along a monster dog emerged and started growling and barking at us. A Mexican standoff followed. It stood there, obviously debating whether to have Irish leg or Welsh arm for lunch. We stood there, doing what people on pub crawls in Bukulti confronted with huge dogs usually do: wondering whether to fight, flee, climb a tree or try the treacherous “he tastes better than me” line.

Then the dog’s owner appeared. Your archetypal babushka. The babushka, or Russian granny is a feared specimen in her own right and not to be messed with

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as it turned out, our relief was short lived. The dog was the nicer half of the household. The owner started berating us in Russian, the gist seemed to be that we’d no right no go down the public lane beside her house. Half expecting her to pull a double barrelled shotgun on us and intone in a Russian accent that “You boyz betta git offa my land!” we nervously gestured wildly in the direction of Bukulti. With the best scowl I’ve seen this side of Yekaterinburg, she waved us on dismissively. Whew!

Managing to reach the railway line, we had to walk along it for a while, images of the bridge crossing scene in the film Stand by me fresh in mind. Train tracks and main avenues in this part of the world are insanely straight though

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so we reckoned we’d have a chance if one did appear.

Bukulti was fairly nice, quiet with tree lined avenues and on such a nice day the smell of grilling shashliks and other barbecued goodies assaulted our noses. There was no bar anywhere to provide relief, though someone had thoughtfully left a kind of public toilet for any weary travellers

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Like a lot of this part of Riga, it’s really picturesque. From the shore of Baltezers (white lake) there are some great views

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As Bukulti was smaller than Bergi, we’d thought in advance that the chances of finding a bar here were slim. Rich Latvians don’t go to pubs, right? But then, we rounded the last corner, cursing the owners of the latest place for grilling tasty food while we wandered around hungry. Like an oasis in the desert, we realised it was a bar

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Despite the exterior and name making it sound like a public toilet, PiePe turned out to be a homely and busy little place, serving great shashliks and cheap beer

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After filling our stomachs and bladder there, it was a stroll along the Jugla river for some more photos

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Such a shame the tourists who visit Riga every year don’t get to see this side of the city. All in all an interesting day, doggie and babushka included. Five districts done, 53 left.

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