If you go down to the woods today…

They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, similarly it’s probably better that you don’t judge Riga’s districts by their names. I’ve yet to visit the largest one, which could be translated as “Swamptown.” I’m sure it’s better than the name suggests.

Conversely, Mežciems, which would translate as Forest Village, is definitely not the plush location it sounds like. There are forests aplenty, even a lake and the couple of streets with private houses look like you’d expect a place with this name to look

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so this makes you wonder what they were smoking when they put up buildings like this in a reasonably scenic location:

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Most of Mežciems’ living areas are like that: drab soul-sucking greyness in the middle of a forest. Someone at least had the bright idea of putting Riga’s motor museum in this district, but sadly that was suffering from engine trouble when we visited and won’t be released from the mechanic’s until August 2014. Entertainment possibilities besides that were few and far between, there were the usual gaming halls, perfect for those who want to spend their afternoon and monthly salary trying to get three lemons in a row, but only one bar/restaurant that we found. Luckily it was a decent place, with a huge sign outside leaving no doubt what to expect

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Cafe Vilavi even had an outside terrace. Usually any temperature under 16 degrees has the locals scurrying indoors. Today was +12 so it was empty. However,  we decided to show ’em how it’s done.

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We eventually headed inside to check out the interior. By this time the terrace had started filling up and there were 8 other customers there, obviously inspired by the fact that we hadn’t dropped dead from all that fresh air.

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Vilavi was in fact a nice place and, with half litres of beer going for 0.90 lats (1.30 euros,) my Irish blood rebels at the idea of complaining anyway. The shashliks looked great, caucasian food is very popular in Latvia (as in other ex-USSR countries) but sadly lamb doesn’t feature much on the menus.

The local lake is the gailezers, set against the backdrop of some ugly tower blocks, at least it’s well stocked with food for when Vilavi is closed

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Mežciems’ neighbour is the rather odd Jugla. If Suži is Riga’s ugly sister, Jugla is its confused transexual. The place just doesn’t seem sure what it wants to be. Village with pretty nature? Suburb with private housing? Overspill estate for those that can’t afford to live closer to Riga centre? Jugla is trying to be all those. A sprawling district on the eastern fringes of Riga, it’s a mix of the same horrible Soviet block houses, newer private houses, woodland and even its own eponymous lake

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As well as Lake Jugla, there are a couple of smaller lakes

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In truth, I quite like Jugla. It’s quirky, has very nice nature, including a couple of lakeside parks, making it a pleasant place to spend an hour or two walking round. If you ever get bored of the place, one of the best museums outside Riga centre, the Latvian Open Air Museum, is nearby in Bergi district. Jugla also has a fair range of shops, local businesses, bars and cafes.

Naturally we just had to explore one of them. Unfortunately it was dark when we got there and my camera is not a fan of night time shots. Bea & Basil has at least made an effort to look welcoming

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and welcoming it is. Beata, who served us, asked us in English what language we’d prefer. That was the first nice touch, it gets frustating sometimes here when people speak English to you after you’ve spoken Latvian to them, how can anyone learn a language if the speakers of that refuse to speak it to you? All,  in all, Bea & Basil is a very good place. Nice interior, good coffee and very friendly service. Shockingly, this was the first time in 16 districts that any of the hosts of the cafes made any sort of small talk with us. Beata explained that they were trying provide Jugla’s residents with something different and a reason not to go to the centre. I think they’ve succeeded. We even got a photo (grainy quality though it is)

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All in all, that’s 16 districts out of 58 complete, a quarter of Riga.

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