Northern lights (Trīsciems, Mangaļsala & Ziemeļblāzma)

Want to confuse a Riga resident? Just tell them you’re going to visit the Riga district of Trīsciems.

<Blank stare.>

“That’s in Riga?” or “Is that on planet Earth?” are responses you might get. It might as well be on Mars for all most people know.

I’d heard of most Riga districts myself before starting out, but I’d also never heard of that one. So where is the place? Well, head north out of Riga centrs, pass Petersala and Sarkandaugava, then take Jaunciems Gatve around the top of the lake and there, on the left before you come to Jaunciems, down a road into the forest, lies Trīsciems, my 25th district of Riga.

My friend Zanda made her apkaimes project debut on this one and helpfully agreed to drive, so we hit the road to Three Towns to see why it has never made it into local consciousness. The first glimpse of the place is a set of private houses beside a frozen river, against the backdrop of a forest.

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Local guides and Latvian Wikipedia recommended seeing the Magnushof, an 18th century Manor house, but it was mostly fenced off with a private property sign and this didn’t look like the type of place where they were used to strangers nosying around, so this was as close as we got.

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Nice building, but the side of it reminded me of the house in Amityville

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so probably not a place to hang round on a dark night. If you’re one of the mad people visiting Trīsciems in mid February, you can also enjoy views across the frozen lake.

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The main part of Trīsciems is hidden down a forest road. You drive down it, avoid knocking over several monster dogs, which have obviously been trained to scare away all non-residents, and then the field opens out into a forest clearing surrounded by detached private houses.

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Parking the car, we saw a couple of other dogs actively running around, being chased by a frustrated young girl. Zanda, obviously not wanting her first apkaime trip to be her last, asked the girl if the dogs bit strangers. The girl gave her the sort of look that young girls usually gave strangers doing apkaimes projects and assured us it was safe.

The forests around here are supposed to be good for orienteering, so we climbed up the Fox Hill, the local mountain, to get a better look,but still, from the top Trīsciems keeps its secrets.

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In truth I found the place quite nice, it’s hidden away, but would probably be a nice enough place to live if you had a car, were into nature and didn’t mind having any shops or amenities of any kind near by.

At this point in the afternoon it was coffee time, the local watering hole is Nika.

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It’s only technically in Trīsciems, being on the main road just before you come to Sarkandaugava, but, with no other options available, in we headed. After we’d entered, Zanda’s initial reaction was “wow! these are the sort of places you guys endure on these apkaimes trips?” and I could see her point. Inside, Nika is actually well decorated with a bit of an attempt at a middle east thing going on. The problem was that it was so dark and dingy,

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we could hardly see anything and, despite being the only customers, fumbled our way to a table in the corner beside a window. The table was filthy, but it was the only one that had any sort of daylight. I guess they’re not exactly overrun with customers out here so things like cleaning table can wait until next year. The barmaid (owner?) gave us her best scowl as we ordered coffees and took a seat, rushing through the coffee before poor Z got too traumatised to continue.

The next stop was Mangaļsala, which was worth a visit. The peninsula at the very north part of the Daugava river, just before it reaches Riga Bay. This is definitely a place to while away an afternoon if the weather is nice. Last Sunday though was a bit iffy. The temperatures were +4°C, unusual for mid February, which is normally subzero. After strolling through forest roads, we reached one of Mangaļsala’s main attractions, the eastern pier.

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Blown about by wind from all sides, I stopped to take pictures. It was so cold I thought I’d lost the use of my two middle fingers. “Oh well. Two less nails, to cut,” I thought, trying to look on the bright side.

From the pier, there’s even a shipwreck visible.

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Mangaļsala’s beaches were obviously deserted, but even in summer, I’ve never heard of people going to the beach there. It’s close to the Daugava and that puts a lot of people off, also the area was restricted somewhat to military personnel in Soviet times, which prevented a cheery, beachy infrastructure from developing.

Finally, we reached the end of the pier, to see the lighthouse and the view down the Daugava

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Heading out of the district, we stopped to admire the architecture, as you do. It was a weird mix. Mostly, it consisted of nice private houses, but there were a couple of run down tower blocks among them. A bit of a contrast.

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The last stop on the line was Ziemeļblāzma, the northern lights district.

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the way to the northern lights

This wasn’t a new district at all, it’s part of Vecmīlgrāvis, which I’d visited with Ed back in late September, but for time reasons we’d skipped over the Ziemeļblāzma sub district. Its centrepiece is a cultural centre, which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. However refurbishment of it only finished within the last few years. It looks impressive and hosts various events up here and only added to my unexpected love for Vecmīlgrāvis. The park around it includes a huge tower, though sadly it was closed when we got there

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With all of my fingers now back in working order, it was time to head back to the centre for some well deserved kimchi. 26 districts of Riga done, 32 to go.

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13 thoughts on “Northern lights (Trīsciems, Mangaļsala & Ziemeļblāzma)

      • Alright. I’d say Teika is a gem of functionalism architecture that has preserved its Latvianness through decades of Russian occupation and still has that peacetime feeling. For sightseeing, I’d suggest VEF district (vast former factory gradually turning into something more up-to-date), functionalism buildings at Laimdotas iela 30 (look for a metal trademark in concrete pavement) and Zemgaļu iela 1 (weddings are performed there), Biķernieku Forest (climb Bākaskalns). If for shabby bars, rummage around Čiekurkalna Market. If for something more decent, check Oregano at Brīvības gatve 231 or workday lunch at Sunny (Brīvības gatve 199C).

      • That’s great info, thanks. VEF is definitely on the agenda for that and I also wanted to pay a visit to the Makslas musejs. I once did a voting analysis which had Teika as one of the more Latvian districts in the capital. I want to leave it until a bit later next month as my camera is not great in the darkness and waiting until then will allow more light for exploring.

  1. If you ever happen to be around Nika in warmer time of the year, I would recommend to try their cousine. It’s caucasian and one of the best you can find in that part of Riga. The owner is a lady with dark hair and she often is standing at trhe bar herself.

    • They need more light in the bar. I was hungry at the time but it was much too dark and I like to see what I’m eating, but I like Caucasian food, so thanks for the recommendation. I still have to visit Sarkandaugava, so maybe I can give Nika a second chance

      • During summer time it’s possible to sit outside which makes big difference. I actually went there today and yes, it almost no light.

  2. The not widely attractive condo buildings look frightfully similar to the ones here in Serbia. I live in one that looks out to three other mirror image buildings. I can’t wait for spring leaves to camouflage the view!

    • I’ve travelled around central and eastern europe and there are a huge number of those buildings which really need either refurbished or torn down. I live in a very similar block house myself

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