A trip to Soap Makers’ Mountain

A mountain in Latvia? Yeah, the name is a vaguely ironic anglicisation on the original: Ziepniekkalns. Kalns in Latvian means both hill and mountain, logical enough in a country flatter than a steam rollered pancake. The Ziepniekkalns district is a pretty typical one that you’ll find on the fringes of many ex-communist bloc cities, representing all the finest late 1980s Soviet architecture (yeah, that bad!) Knowing this in advance and with my bluddy Linda of the expateyeonlatvia blog tagging along, I headed on to google street view pre trip to scout out possible watering holes. Amazingly, there was one shown on the border of Bišumuiža and Katlakalns districts, and right beside a bus stop too!

When we got there though, the bar looked like it had been closed since Guntis Ulmanis was still on the throne.

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Bišumuiža and Katlakalns are a bit like 80s New Romantic pop stars holding a comeback concert. They were probably fine in their day, but those days were long ago and now they’re old, drab and grey, with buildings like this

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and streets like this

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it was no wonder that Linda labelled it the most depressing place in the world. There were a couple of funky looking houses we came across near the river,

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but they just highlighted how bland the rest of the district really was and how much better it would be if people actually invested in it. With no bar anywhere in Katlakalns, it was the obligatory drink in the street

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Heading back up the road, we found ourselves feeling in the sticks. There were views of the river Daugava, which would probably be nice in better weather, and a bubbling stream going through the forest. All in all, this place had potential to be nice on a good day, which this wasn’t.

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Ziepniekkalns is one of the newer Riga districts. Built in the mid to late 80s, at the fag end of communism, it’s typical late Soviet era identikit block houses, which Riga has less of than you’d think. We’d planned to wander a little more around Soapy Mountain but a huge downpour of rain came. With our spirits dampened, it was time to find a bar.

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Habibty has pretensions of being some stylish hookah bar. In Latvia and more so in Russia, there are a lot more “caterpillar in Alice in Wonderland” wannabies than in the west. In Almaty on a Friday night, it was unusual to go into a bar and not see a table of people with a kaljan or waterpipe. Despite this being a Saturday afternoon though the place was empty and was even cheekily charging 2 lats for the type of bog standard local beer that places in the centre often sell for 1.50.

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With Linda deciding that I was auditioning her for the role of an extra in Drag me to Hell part 2 and the weather refusing to cooperate, it was time to head back to the centre for a relaxing Guinness. 19 districts visited out of a possible 58.

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