I was puzzling over the origin of the name Pētersala-Andrejsala, the only Riga district with a double-barrelled name, when a horrible thought struck me. If you take out the sala (or island) part, you’re left with Peter Andre, 90s teen idol. Maybe someone at Riga city council was having a bit of an in-joke when they combined the two parts?
The weather for this one was balmy. When you looked out the window, all you saw was bright blue skies and sunshine, but it was -15 °C. With daylight these days as rare as great service in Cili Pizza, I got there before Ed and wandered around taking photos to make the most of what little daylight there is, with the song Mysterious Girl annoyingly refusing to leave my head, even though the song video’s beach setting couldn’t have been further from the weather on this visit.
Like the name of the apkaime, the areas are two distinct parts. The Pētersala bit is one of Riga’s oldest neighbourhoods, dating back to the 13th century, when it was just pasture land called Gustavsala. It took its current name when Riga was part of the Russian Empire and Peter I decided to build a summer house there (Riga having a lack of 5 star hotels in those days.) The summer house went unused as the land wasn’t good enough and it was quickly demolished, but the name stuck. The result was a nice kind of symmetry, with a “Saint Petersburg” suburb immediately north of Riga centre and a “Moscow” suburb to the south. There’re a few cobbled streets in the district to show off its age
The building types here are a bit of a mix, newer houses, looking decent enough among the trees
and stinky, boarded-up old buildings like this, badly in need of renovation
Pētersala contains Riga’s oldest park, Viesturdarzs, originally Ķeizardārzs or The Czar’s Gardens. It started as private imperial property, but control passed to Riga city in the 1940s, when the commies took over and nationalised everything. Since then it’s hosted sports events and smaller song festivals and is a nice enough place to stroll round when the weather isn’t making you wonder if your nose still exists
With Ed arriving at this point, we crossed the main road, which has a backdrop of Riga free port, with its cranes and the wall covered in graffiti murals. It all reminded me a bit of Berlin’s East Side Gallery
Having survived the road, the next bit to navigate is a mini commercial train line, with small goods trains dashing up and down at regular intervals, trainspotters would probably have the time of their life here
Andrejsala is a bit of a weird one. It’s technically speaking, Riga city council’s newest district, having been transferred from Riga freeport as late as 2006.
When I first visited the place in the summer of that year it was Riga’s newest hip place. Full of artists and cafes which looked like they’d be full of guys with long hair, wearing sandals, bandanas and strumming guitars as they smoked “Colorado tobacco”. It’s changed a lot in the 7 and a half years since then. The hippy style cafes have gone and have been replaced with two flashy restaurants.
It’s easy to see why this area has spruced up its image, the views up, down and across the river Daugava are great
Andrejsala still has some bits of its hippy past. A naive art museum and graffiti murals
When I asked my students in advance what the best thing in Andrejsala was, their eyes instantly lit up and they said “there’s a great alcohol shop there!” Good to know that the Latvian Civil Service has so many culture vultures! In fairness, they’re not the only people that seem to think that. The districts were deserted, mostly due to the weather, but the booze shop seemed to be doing a lively old trade
By now feeling like two snowmen, we decided it was time to find a cafe. I’d seen Estolija, on Eksporta Iela, when wandering round. It didn’t look too dodgy (the main consideration on this Apkaimes project being to not get my head kicked in and all that) so we went in. The place, like a lot of these neighbourhood cafes, had a real retro feel about it, complete with a stink of cigarette smoke so strong it could probably use an ashtray as its logo. We decided to have a hot drink before hitting the booze, but when Ed asked, she looked at him like he was asking to buy kalishnikovs. “горячие напитки?” I asked, hoping that she’d take pity on my accent in Russian and throw us at least something to thaw us out. “No hot drinks, only vodka!” she told me, chest swelling with pride.
We left and headed round the corner. There are a few cafes here, so finding another isn’t difficult. Katrina, the cafe on the corner of Maza Aluksnes Iela, sounded more like a massage parlour than a cafe, but by this stage we were too cold to care much.
Despite it being 25 January, the bar still had a Christmas tree up (or maybe they’d put it up 11 months early?)
As we were sitting there chatting, a guy came over to us. We looked at him warily, the only people that approach strangers in bars in places like this are usually nutters and alcos. He was friendly at first, but then asked where I was from and when I said Ireland, he gave me a scowl of hatred and staggered away. Nice!
Laughing over that, we left district 23, headed back into the cold and towards the centre, as Beer O’Clock had finally arrived.