Banged up abroad? (Skanste and Brasa)

As usual, before this weekend’s excursion, I asked a couple of local friends about my planned districts.

Skanste….? “There’s nothing there. Just some car showrooms.”

Brasa….? “Ummm, there’s a prison there and a big graveyard, where teenagers go to get drunk.”

I think it’s safe to say that Rigans will never win any awards when it comes to promoting their city to foreigners.

To be fair, I’d suspected from driving through the place that their assessment of Skanste was likely to be true and a visit to the place confirmed it. There are a couple of notable buildings there. The first is the Olympic sports centre

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which had about 50 people smoking outside it when I passed. I guess they need to clean their lungs of all that exercise?

The second is Arena Riga, which for me, is probably the only reason anyone should ever be in Skanste. Built in time for Riga hosting the 2006 Ice Hockey championship, it regularly hosts international bands. By pure coincedence, yesterday, when I visited, was the 8th anniversary of its opening.

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The rest of Skanste is a mix of wasteland, flashy new buildings and car showrooms. If the group The Specials ever decide to remake the video of their biggest hit, this would be a perfect place.

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But as you can see in the photo above, there is a fair amount of building work going on and this is actually Riga’s fastest growing district in percentage terms. Latvian Wikipedia gives a population of 152 people for 2010 and the latest figures show 800 people there. Most of them seem to be living in these rather flashy tower blocks.

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There are also plans (detailed here in Latvian) to build 2,000 flats in the district in the coming years, which will probably put some life in the place. So who knows, maybe Skanste will be Riga’s hippest district five years from now? For now though, it’s a definite case of “Move along people, nothing to see.”

With that ticked off the list, it was time to meet Ed in Brasa. We met near the corner of Sencu street and Miera Iela and wandered through the graveyards

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which looked and felt like it was Autumn instead of mid February. This has been one of the mildest winters I ever remember in Riga and most of January and February have been above zero and there’s been a week of snow in early December and two weeks in late January. Cross country skiers are not amused, but I’m more than happy not to be trudging through snow to work.

The graveyard in Brasa is one of the largest in Riga and its centrepiece is this church, which appears to be Lutheran.

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The drunk teenagers that my friends had told me about were nowhere to be seen, so it was on to the next place they’d recommended: the prison. I’ve always been a fan of films and tv series about prisons, such as Shawshank redemption, Prison Break, Prisoner Cell Block H and the virtually unknown The Glass House. One of my favourite shows was always “Banged up abroad” which featured British people who had ended up imprisoned in foreign countries. So I was interested to see how prisons look in reality in Latvia.

The exact legality of filming prisons is a bit of a grey area. In most places, you can do it, but might be questioned. We decided to fire off a couple of photos of the place anyway from a distance. We’d hardly pressed the button when three security guys came out and dashed in our direction and started telling us in Latvian that it was a prison, photography was illegal and we had to delete the pictures. We’d reckoned this might happen, but thought it a small chance. This had the potential to get a bit sticky though and images of “Free the Brasa Two” and my own appearance on Banged up abroad started to flash through my mind. We decided to play the dumb tourist card and when we started speaking English to them, they relaxed a bit and waved us away before we had a chance to delete the pics. The prison is a pretty uninspiring building anyway (prisons aren’t known for their Gaudi-style architecture) so to be on the safe side, I won’t post them here. Sufficient to say, anyone curious can see a photo online here.

Close to the prison is the Brasa railway station, which has a really ugly factory as its backdrop.

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Brasa has a fair selection of Jugendstil (art noveau) style architecture, mostly around Miera street and Hospitalu street.

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though some of the buildings could definitely do with a coat of paint or two.

Hospitalu Iela itself is a real mix of older and newer building types.

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Around the area, there are also a few factories,

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wooden houses,

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and quirky buildings like this:

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By this point in time, we decided it was time to celebrate our continued freedom with a cup of coffee and stumbled across International SV. It looked a bit pricey but we checked the menu and it wasn’t too bad, so I decided to treat myself to a mocha and ostrich fillet combination.

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"Yes mum, I'm free!"

“Yes mum, I’m free!”

We later discovered that, by complete chance, we’d been eating in the Riga restaurant that is rated number one on Trip Advisor! So how was it? Well, pricewise, I paid 9.90 for the ostrich, which wasn’t too bad (though the portion size was pretty small) and the service and atmosphere in the place was good.

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So, all in all, Brasa wasn’t too bad. At this point, stomachs satisfied, it was time to finish. 28 districts done, 3o left. Only one more district to the halfway point.

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10 thoughts on “Banged up abroad? (Skanste and Brasa)

  1. Of all neighbourhoods, Brasa and Skanste boast two distinctive features of Soviet times.
    First, apartments of Soviet rulers and privileged class. The first generation of Soviet rulers lived in seized villas in Mežaparks. In 60-ties, a construction of the top grade apartments for top brass began — and mostly in the present Brasa district. One can see what was regarded as the top grade apartments under socialism at e.g. K.Valdemāra iela 76 (perhaps the most famous example), K.Valdemāra iela 94, K.Valdemāra iela 70, Hospitāļu iela 1, Hospitāļu iela 8, Miera iela 74, Miera iela 90, and Mēness iela 21-1. Those who have not died still live there.
    Second, a crossing of K.Valdemāra—Duntes—Upes—Skanstes was the main Soviet spying communication hub in Riga. Buildings at Skanstes iela 50, K.Valdemāra iela 157, K.Valdemāra iela 161, K.Valdemāra iela 149, K.Valdemāra iela 118, K.Valdemāra iela 110 were used for such purposes. Even now, the The Constitution Protection Bureau is located at Miera iela 85a, Defence Intelligence and Security Service — at Grostonas iela 2, and data centre of the State Radio and Television Centre — at K.Valdemāra iela 110.
    Also, Indrānu iela is a very lovely example of an interwar housing.

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