I often get asked the question “Kāpēc?” …..“Why did you choose Latvia?” The easy answer is that it was fate. The answer that’s probably closer to the reality is that Al Qaeda have a lot to do with it.


This man is probably the reason I ended up in Riga

This man is probably the reason I ended up living in Riga

No, I’m not outing myself as a member of an Islamic terrorist cell, but it was the events of 9/11 which started the ball rolling towards Latvia (and Kazakhstan for that matter.)

Following the 9/11 attacks, flights to the USA became insanely cheap. People became afraid to fly, even though flying became safer after the attacks, due to security measures being stepped up. I booked flights to Chicago and had a great trip. Being Irish entitles you to free nights out in some bars, as the barmen, joyful at meeting a real life Irishman, assault your ears with fiddle-dee-dee music that they assume all Irish listen to 24/7 and tell you how they’re half Irish, half German, half Norwegian and half Sioux Indian. Needless to say, I took full advantage of their generosity.

I met my good Berliner buddy for the first time as we were staying in the same hostel and met lots of other travellers who had stories of the amazing times they were having on the road. At the time I was working as an accounts assistant in an unsatisfying job, which involved me stamping and coding lots of invoices all day. So when I got back to Ireland, I quit my job and headed off on an open ended trip around Europe. Going from Belfast to London, I then went to Bilbao and did a circuit of Spain and Portugal. From Lagos in the south of Portugal, I set myself a target of finishing in Latvia. Nearly 3 months, 30 cities and 14 countries later I’d reached Vilnius, where, for whatever bizarre reason, I decided to visit Kaliningrad instead of Latvia, which meant that Riga was now on my agenda as a must visit place. One of my hostel dorm acquaintances in Vilnius had also travelled for 3 weeks across Kazakhstan, so that put that on the agenda as well.

3 years later, Easyjet started direct flights from Valencia to Berlin. I decided to go and visit my friend (the same one from the Chicago hostel.) I’d already been in Berlin 3 times at this point, so decided I had to go somewhere new to justify the trip. I’d wanted to go to Tallinn, but the flights arrived there at 2200, while the flights to Riga arrived at 1000. So, on 29 March, one day before the third anniversary of the Chicago trip, I flew over a still frozen Baltic sea for the first time. To be honest, my initial reactions on the first visit to Riga were “Bah!” It was fine, but didn’t greatly excite me on first visit. Probably the fact that it was then -8 at night in Riga and had been +22 in Valencia didn’t help.

I remember walking along Gertrudes Iela thinking, highly ironically, “It’s okay, but I wouldn’t want to live here.” On the final night (a Friday) , I was walking through Riga Old Town, planning to head back to the youth hostel as I had an earlyish flight the next day and also had plans for serious drinking in Prenzlauer Berg the next night with my friend. For some reason, I decided, as I thought it would be possibly my last ever night in Riga, to have a final drink for the road. I ended up in TimMcShanes Irish bar, met my ex there and nine years and one break up later, here I am.

On 29 March 2005, I never dreamed that exactly 9 years later, I’d be jumping on the bus to head to Šķirotava, but that’s the way the dice rolled. I’d been due to go there the previous week and this time made sure I got the right bus. The feedback on the place hadn’t been good. A boring railway junction with lots of factories was the consensus. Getting there, I found they hadn’t been lying.

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The way to the main populated bit of Skiro led us through a forest part, which was quite nice until we found a Mūkupurvsy bit


Pretty please keep your forests clean!

The centre of Skiro is nice enough, but quite small and lacking in action, resembling a village more than anything else


Probably the only thing remotely of tourist attraction here is Šķirotava station


which has a memorial to Latvians deported during the early Soviet period

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however the station also did feature in the Rumbula massacre, as some of the killers and Jews murdered used it as a transit point. This isn’t mentioned though.

Near the station we found a cafe, where a smiling waitress welcomed us joyfully, engaged us in lively conversation and attentively poured our favourite beverages. Okay, I lie. She scowled and poured two beers, even though we’d only asked for one

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we took a seat, surveyed the scene, mostly pensioners watching Russian TV, then decided we were done with this district.

Next on the agenda was Dārzciems, a mostly residential zone at the lower end of Augusta Deglava Iela. The name means Garden Village, though Greyunexcitingtowerblockciems would probably cut it better as a name. Not the most exciting zone of Riga, we’d gone halfway up Dārzciema Iela when we spotted a place offering Šašliks for reasonable prices


and for me that’s like waving a bone at a dog.

The waiting staff eyed us like strange animals, nuttering “иностранный” and later “из Англии” until I corrected “из Ирландии.” Though that did nothing to break the ice. We concentrated on tucking into that rarity in Riga, lamb shashliks. Sadly, they cost 4 times what they did in Almaty and were of a lesser quality, too chewy and with bones.


Still, they hit the spot and at least that was a fairly unexciting section of Riga ticked off the box. I blame Osama Bin Laden.








29 thoughts on “Kāpēc?

  1. Kapec? Да нет, это какой-то Pizdec.
    Soviet occupation??? Are you people serious? Latvia is under EU occupation now. Latvians have no rights. All they have is DEBTS!

    Probably the best place in Skirotava is the Skirotava station because it is the easiest way to leave Skirotava.

    • Yeah, though Latvia as a country has a lot less debt than a fair number of EU countries. Really, I think for small countries like that, true independence in a globalised world isn’t really possible. So it’s simply a matter of choosing which power bloc to align with. I mean look at Kazakhstan, it’s nominally independent, but in reality follows Russia’s lead on almost everything. It used to change its clocks until Russia decided it would no longer change its clocks, so KZ followed suit. It devalued its currency the month before last, not because its economy was doing badly, but because Russia’s economy was doing badly.

      Can’t disagree with anything you say about Skirotava station 🙂

      • I unreservedly agree, comrade. The small fry: Latvians, Estonians, Irish, Slovaks, etc, really don’t seem to have a true independence.

      • the baltics were not occupied by the EU. The EU just applied not very good policies towards Latvia, as a result the country lost a lot of its factories, production, were forced to import certian foreighn goods they didnt need etc. I support the idea of united europe, that idea just wasnt worked out as well as it should be. latvia has hardly any resources, the only thing that can save its economy is developement of modern technologies and tourist industry. If only all those latvian youths who got their degrees in UK and germany actually came back to the country to help it… ay well

  2. Kazahstan follows Russian lead… seriously? I thought it was a pretty developed country rich on resources. what exactly makes it so dependant on Russia? I always thought the kazahs are just neutral or positive towards Russians but dont really care. plus they are asians and moslems, not much in common with Russians I guess. if they trade with Russia, well thats always ment to be if they are geographically close.

    • A number of things really. KZ has been in a customs union with Russia and Belarus since 2010. That makes the Kazakh economy vulnerable to changes in the Russian economy. You can see the result of that from February. Despite the fact that the Kazakh economy is doing fairly well, they devalued their currency by 20% two months ago in response to the decline of the rouble. Remittances to Kazakhstan from Russia made up over 100 million dollars in the third quarter of 2013. That’s a lot of money and gives Russia leverage, since they can threaten to introduce visas if the Central Asians don’t toe the line. KZ has been independent over 20 years yet Russian, not Kazakh, is still the language of government down there. There are a number of other little small things too. Like with the clocks, KZ used to observe day light saving time, but when Russia stopped doing that, they stopped too. Most of the main holidays celebrated in Russia are also observed in KZ, Women’s day, Christmas on 7 January, Victory day to mark the end of World war 2.

      Kazakhs are Asians, but are more Russified Asians and the moslem thing in the cities is really just like the Christian thing in European cities. People pay lip service to it, but don’t take it seriously.

      I do think there is a bit of a change taking place there though, the government is trying to push Kazakh more, recently approved proposals to switch the alphabet from Cyrillic to Latin (for Kazakh language) and shifted the capital from Almaty to Astana in 1997. There are various theories on why that was done, but one is that they wanted a more “Kazakh” capital city than Almaty, with its large Russian minority could be.

    • The destruction of factories, production, etc. was the point.
      Do you really think that the “Big European nations” care about the smaller ones?
      To become a member of EU you need to destroy almost everything you have. Look at Romania, Bulgaria. Look at Greece.
      Did you read the Ukraine’s EU association commitment?
      The first 400 pages are about “European values”. Sort of “Ukraine respects “bottom bashing fornicators” and other useless stuff.”
      The other pages were about how Ukraine destroys its factories, production and economy.
      The main point is to put EU laws above the Ukrainian ones!
      I had a conversation with an Italian guy a few years ago. He said that before every European nation had its own laws.
      The people of any particular nation could gather together and change things they didn’t like. Nowadays they cannot do that!
      There is nothing they can do! That’s the EU occupation!
      They say you’ve got a right to be a gay or a lesbian, a right to be (it’s just a way we call it) a “stupid cunt” and it’s all.
      It’s just a cover of how people are enslaved.

      • I don’t see a lot in that agreement about bottom bashing fornicators to be honest. I’ll give you my take on that though. I was born in Ireland, in the mid 1970s, I have brown eyes, am white caucasian and heterosexual. I didn’t choose any of that and therefore nor can I change any of that. I can’t, for example, choose to be gay and start liking men, because it’s just not in my biological make-up to do that. So disliking me, resenting me or hating me for any of that is just, to put it politely, illogical, pointless and a total waste of time and energy. The opposite of that also applies. No gay person chooses to be that way. It wouldn’t be very sensible for them to do so, given the levels of prejudice that exist. So hating them is just the height of foolishness, kind of like hating people for having brown eyes. Besides all of that, most heterosexual relationships these days involve fornication in the biblical sense, so what? Also the, shall we say, backdoor stuff, isn’t the sole preserve of the LGBT community.

  3. Besides, Russia is just as dependant on her neighbours as any other country. All EU countries heavily depend on each other, some more some less. The only truly independant country is USA, but even they could never survive completely isolated.

    • Oh yes, that’s what I was saying. There are few genuinely independent countries these days. In a globalised world, they all depend on other countries to a certain extent, even North Korea, one of the most isolationist of them all, relies heavily on China.

    • well, changing the alphabet is really stupid, just to annoy the Russians? The Russian alphabeth is phonetical and fits the kazakh language much better. However, they should definetely change the kazakh language as the only state language while Russian should be the available and well taught foreighn language for those who wish to learn it. No more than that. The mistake all post Soviet countires make is that they fight against Russian language and people while what they should be doing instead is standing up to the manipulative goverment of Russia and develop closer tights with Western Europe and USA. As for the Russian schools in Latvia, KZ and other countires, I believe they should just become bilingual. If the kazahs have natural interest in russian language and culture, it should be available to them while state culture and state language should be prominent and central. If they all shift to englsh instead of Russian who cares? what matters is a normal peacefulll co existence although due to the barbaric behaviour of the Russian president and goverment (for which Russian minoroties are punished) that seems hardly possible. Then there s the fact that the western world only pays attention to these countries after they start applying russophobic policies and try to severe all ties with Russia. Now after Ukraine is in ruins after the maidan the west has finally turned its eye on ukraine and its problems and thinks about allowing them visa free travel in the EU. Why dont they do the same thing for Georgia, Belarus, Kazahstan, Moldova, develop closer ties with them, start importing their goods? Nope those guys need to have a litte dance with Putin first.

      • Not sure about the alphabet thing. The Cyrillic alphabet in Russian is mostly phonetical, but not totally, the o at the end of words sometimes sounds like an a to me. Also the г in words like английского (and other -ого endings) sounds more like -овo to me. Also H sounds seem to get randomly transliterated into Russian as either Г or X. Гарри Поттер, Гитлер, Гавайи, Гонконг and Гамбургер on the one hand, but Хельсинки, хоккей, Халк and хобби on the other. In contrast, the modified Latin alphabet used for Latvian is the most phonetical of all those used in European languages. There’s no reason why they couldn’t do the same for Kazakh, after all it’s much closer to Turkish than Russian and Turkish uses a Latin script.

    • Oh well. Europe s going crazy nowadays but so is Russia. Instead of learning from each other they bash each other. When Russia introduced the stupid anti gay bill I thought they were going to nuke Moscow how angry they became. Now Russia occupied nearly half of Ukraine and nobody seems to care.

      • what you have described are rules of Russian. Kazakh language has different rules. The Russian o pronounced as a is only true for Russian and everybody knows it. You dont have to use the same phonetical transcriptions when writing in kazakh. For kazakh it would still be pretty phonetical, besides its the first alphabet they ever used. however its up to them. As for the H thats transliterated as G its only true for very few names and cities (such as Hamburg, Hitler etc) the kazakhs can have their own rules. For example the Russians adopted the cyrillic alphabet from the bulgarians but they use a completely different set of rules. but like I said it doesnt matter that much really.

    • Maybe what I said was a bit too harsh.
      I didn’t try to abuse gay people. I tried to say that all those European values cover the real ones.
      I took “backdoor stuff” theme just for example because every time I read western press I see a lot of topics on the issue.
      I meant we spend to much time discussing on that.
      We need to take a look at the real problems.
      When a Firefox boss makes a homophobic statement everyone’s shouting at him and he gets fired. (Where do I know it from? Western press is to blame)
      When a country is on the edge of a civil war… no one seems to notice.
      When a country’s economy and production are being destroyed no one seems to care.
      I’ll add some thoughts later.

      • I get what you’re saying, I think it goes too far on both sides, the Western media pushes gay rights and the Russian media I’ve seen demonise it and all due respect to the LGBT community, but there are more pressing issues out there.

  4. my thoughts exactly. lets keep the integrity of Europe and Ukraine first, get rid of corruption etc then we can think of such cream and cherry of civil rights as gay marriages etc.

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