Bread was a staple food in Ye Olde England. (Arguably, thanks to McDonalds, it still is in a way.) So much so that very strict laws were passed regarding quality and the weights sold. As a result, lots of bakers gave 13 loaves instead of the standard twelve, to be doubly sure they couldn’t be accused of cheating punters, for which body parts got chopped off. Latvian bakers obviously didn’t face the threat of having their hands chopped off, so in Latvian 13 was known more as “Velna ducis” , the Devil’s dozen.
I’ve now almost reached the quarter way point, with 13 districts plus Rumbula done, I thought it was time for a little recap. So far it’s been excellent and a real eye-opener. The typical image of cities like Riga is of a historical centre, then nothing of interest other than grey Soviet era tower blocks. This is definitely not the case for Riga. Yes there are the typical commie era buildings but there’s a lot more. I’ve been shocked at how nice some of its suburbs are (and this comes from someone who has lived here for most of the period since Autumn 2005.)
I decided it’s time for a mini league table of districts. The criteria are of course my own subjective ones of how much I liked the place, if it had any interesting buildings, “life”, nice nature or geographical features and decent bars or cafes. I’m deliberately omitting Rumbula from the list as it has none of those, but is nonetheless a must see for anyone interested in the real Riga, so any comparison wouldn’t be fair. So here in order from best to worst are the thirteen
1. VECAKI: what’s not to like? Nice quiet neighbourhood, excellent local bar and a great beach with amazing sunsets. A train connection to the centre helps. Will be even better in the months from May through August.
2. BUKULTI: a real revelation. Nice green neighbourhood, with great views of Kisezers and the Jugla river, surviving an encounter with a suitably crazy old woman to liven up the afternoon and finishing off with a pee pee in Piepe bar after, accompanied by great beer and shashliks.
3. VECMILGRAVS: a great contrast showing the real Riga. Wonderously, miserably grey Soviet tower blocks and then a great riverside area, topped off with a terrifically colourful local bar.
4. BOLDERAJA: Boldie doesn’t deserve its bad reputation. The centre boasts a whopping three bars, making it the liveliest suburb I’ve been to. Add views of the river and Love Island and you can do worse than visit here.
5. DARZINI: should have been crap, with identikit houses promising nothing, but an unusual dyke formation leading to great sunsets over the Daugava made the day. A nice local bar topped off the afternoon.
6. AGENSKALNS: Riga’s immediate left bank has a good range of the old and the new in terms of architecture, a lively local market and a limited but good selection of bars and restaurants.
7. DAUGAVGRIVA: views of the Bulli river and Love Island and a bit of life. Where else can you find a local that looks unchanged from Soviet times complete with cranky old guys telling Irish girls off? Also has a fort and a beach, which will be covered when I revisit here on the way to Ritabulli, so this ranking is provisional.
8. JAUNCIEMS: should have been better. Decent location beside Lake Jugla but no real life in the place. A yacht club lakeside bar with views over the lake looked promising, but it’s closed out of season. May pick up in summer.
9. IMANTA: for such a large district, this one is a real let down. A bizarre mix of concrete jungle and countryside. It’s one saving feature was a 50s rock and roll themed bar.
10. VECDAUGAVA: decent views of the river and a woodside are redeeming features, but other than that you’ll find more life in a cemetery.
11. BERGI: should be better given its scenic setting beside the lake. The Latvian open air museum is also there, however rich Latvian people don’t seem to have lives.
12. ZASULAUKS: a boring concrete jungle near a suburban railway station. Move along people, nothing to see.
13. SUZI: Ah, poor Suzi. With the lakeside and forest setting, she could be Cinderella, instead she’s decided to go out with the other sister. If anything, the lakeside setting makes the scabby block houses look even worse. Add unfriendly locals to the mix and a total lack of any decent local amenity and this one isn’t worth it. The Everly Brothers probably didn’t have Riga on their mind, but they said just what I’m thinking.