No sleep till Sarkandaugava

I’d two friends from Germany visiting on Friday. We headed to the Skonto Riga game with 147 other diehards. They pointed out that, in Germany, even a Berlin Regionalliga game, which is level 6, would probably get four to five times that. Afterwards, we headed to the Old Town and with torrential rain replacing the sunny 30 plus degrees that Riga has had for the last month, ended up staying and drinking a little more than planned.

Saturday, lacking sleep, feeling less than my usual best and realising that I only had a week to complete six districts, I met regular collaborator Linda, a true sucker for the more questionable bits of Riga. As she is leaving soon for Germany, much to the dismay of people who live off her reports on the shadier corners of Riga, I decided that a final triple header in the most run-down districts in the north of Riga would be the perfect send-off.

Linda arrived on time and practically dragged me off the wall that was supporting my sleep-deprived and hungover body. We caught the bus to Sarkandaugava (“Red Daugava.”) After we’d bounced off the bus, we realised that we were in Sliežu iela, which sounded uncomfortably close to Sleazy Street.

Windin' your way down Sleazy Street

Windin’ your way down Sleazy Street

Judging by the surrounds, they got that spot on. A trampy woman with feet that looked like they haven’t seen water since the collapse of the USSR dragged her manky dog along as she fumbled with her bottle of booze.


At least in the distance was an oasis of sorts. Beer and shashliks! I dragged Linda quickly in that direction. The bar was the usual fare, TV blaring out a Russian drama, watched by a couple of miserable looking alcos. Horror struck me as I thought that I’d lost Linda, but then noticed that she was behind one of the two metre high chairs.

the tallest chairs in Riga

the tallest chairs in Riga

It was a pleasant day and the lack of windows produced a welcome breath of fresh air. My shashlik arrived and I started to tuck in. I was almost starting to like Sarkandaugava. Unfortunately, a dozen wasps also decided to enjoy my food as well and we were forced to retreat to the inside part. The toothless alco pensioner at the next table giggled to himself at our plight. It beats the tv offerings there, I guess.

"there's a wasp on the back of the chair 2 metres above your head"

“there’s a wasp on the back of the chair 2 metres above your head”

The shashlik was decent enough, but the bread was rock hard, having been overcooked. I wondered if this was deliberate and if I was just supposed to use it as a wasp swatter?

I started to colour in my little map. Being a stickler for accuracy, I always try to leave the lakes and rivers intact. Sadly, my map is as tatty as Sarkandaugava, so in some cases it’s hard to tell if it’s a lake or a beer stain. Apologies to all Sarkandaugavians if I’ve eliminated your nature spots.

only 5 to go :(

only 5 to go 😦

It was time for a break from Sarkandaugava. So we headed in the direction of Kundziņsala. Along the way we stopped to marvel at the crappy old wooden buildings, which, like a lot of the locals, clearly looked the worse for wear.


The park on the corner of Celinieku Iela and Sarkandaugava Iela offsets the gloom a little,

Praise the Lord for the park.

Praise the Lord for the park.

but the housing and people here couldn’t be much different from its flashy neighbour, Mežaparks.

Finally, we reached the bridge to what could be one of Riga’s most pointless districts, Kundziņsala. “His Master’s Island” or “Nobleman’s Island” only seems to exist because of the port. Why people live there is a huge mystery.

The sole pedestrian bridge there is dominated with views of industrial landscapes spoiling what could otherwise be a nice riverview.

We're on the bridge to nowhere.

We’re on the bridge to nowhere.

It’s a crying shame that they have to put up with views like this.

DSC02587 DSC02588

The island itself is a maze of lanes (I wouldn’t even call them streets) full of barking dogs and mistrustful locals eyeing you cautiously. There is absolutely nothing to do. This may well be the first Riga apkaime I’ve visited without even a shop, let alone a cafe.


At the end, the way was blocked by a wall fencing off the port.


Probably a good thing, as it meant we were able to get out of dodge. But not before the obligatory thumbs down photo.


I never thought I would be glad to be back in Sarkandaugava, but that’s what places like Kundzin do to you.

We headed towards the north and stumbled upon a reasonable enough Sarkandaugava bar, Tveice (“Heat”) on the corner of Ziemelu Iela.


Located near Hotel Jurnieks, we found to our surprise that we weren’t the only foreigners there, as a young German couple at the next table picked their way through food that looked reasonable eatable. Worse, the Russian speaking grandfather at the next table (who we’d probably been slagging off before that) asked us in polite and perfect English if we could move for a second so that he could get a photo with his family.

Along Limbazu Iela, the housing picks up a bit.


This could even be the upmarket bit of Sarkandaugava. Heading on, we spotted the Aldaris factory. Aldaris, which I believe is now owned by Carling, is, like most Latvian beers, drinkable, but not world beating.


Our plan was to catch a tram to the final district of the day, but when we got to the tram stop, we spotted another cafe without a name. Craphole would probably be appropriate. Dark and dingy inside, with a middle-aged server who looks like her face would crack if she smiled, it’s exactly the type of rubbish place you expect here. We got half litres of Bralis for €1.05 and Linda headed for the smoking room, which was just an archway leading to a different side of the bar.

Kafenica "Kraphol"

Kafenica “Kraphol”

The Bralis was barely drinkable and, by this stage we felt that we’d done enough of Sarkie for one day.

Catching the tram to Milgravis, we arrived at the terminus, a true nowheresville


surrounded by an industrial area. There was a cafe near the terminus, but it was closed for the kind of renovations that this district sorely needs.

We headed down Ezera Iela, the heart of Jaunmilgravis (“New Milgravis”,) one of the area’s two sub-districts. It was truly dire. Drunks sat aimlessly on steps and one at a shop-cum-bar invited us to join him. We declined and dashed quickly on. I don’t see what’s new about this Milgravis, the start of Ezera Iela, is tolerable enough


but it steadily goes downhill from there.


The only landmark of any sort was the Cido factory, a major producer of substandard, overpriced juices.


We were so desperate at this point to get out of here that we climbed a hill and dashed across train lines

Run lola run

Run lola run

to reach the second sub-district, Aplokciems. My ex-student, Vineta had kindly agreed to give us the guided tour, though there wasn’t a great deal to see. Aplokciems is on the fringes of Mežaparks, which I visited way back in December. The closeness of that is a bonus, for Aplok is its less distinguished relation. Viestura Prospekts, however rescues what would, on the strength of Jaunmilgravis and Ezera Iela, have been one of the worst districts. There are a few cafes and shops along here. We stopped in the beer shop to fill up


before heading to her flat, where we had a decent chat about Albania and China, two countries with surprisingly close relations in the past. We never asked Vineta’s husband what he did for a living, but if he isn’t working for the Chinese tourist board in some lucrative position, he should be. The man is a genius when it comes to all things China. So much so that when I do “The Real Shanghai” blog in the future, I know who it will be dedicated to, as I’d definitely like to go there now.

Sadly, at this point I was flagging due to the late night the previous night, so after a questionable photo to sum up a day in questionable districts

Ode to Aplokciems

Ode to Aplokciems

it was back to the centre to check my eyelids for holes. Only 3 districts remaining, with this Saturday the grand finale.


Coming up next: a trip to Riga’s (and Latvia’s largest district.)


28 thoughts on “No sleep till Sarkandaugava

      • The mental hospital is what Sarkandaugava is famous in Latvia for. 🙂

        (I actually quite like the district. The blocks with old buildings are quite nice and remind me of Liepāja. But Kundziņsala is a craphole indeed – it’s really a life-size model of a tiny Latvian town in the middle of nowhere. :))

      • Well, I’ve now done 56 out of 58 districts. Only Centrs and Vecpilseta are left and it’s not like I haven’t been to those many times, so I’m going to work on a list of best to worst districts. I expect Sarkandaugava will be around the middle to above the middle. At least there are bars there! Kundzin is probably going to be near the bottom along with places like Mukupurvs and Suzi.

      • Wow, I had to look Mūkupurvs up. A place called ‘Monks’ Bog’ is really condemning itself to be somewhere at the bottom. 🙂

      • Okay, so it’s a stereotypical ugly craphole infested with tall fences and nouveau riches. I almost regret finding out about it. 🙂

        Since you mention talkas in the post, it is indeed not a Soviet tradition (even though it’s certainly been influenced by the Soviet subbotnik), it’s something going back at least to the Middle Ages, and is shared by the Baltic and Slavic parts of the region, including Russia, Lithuania and Belarus. In the past, it usually meant people from a village coming together to do a major task – like helping out with the harvest, or building stuff.

      • That makes sense in relation to the origins. In English it’s “spring cleaning.” Kazakhstan has Perisna related traditions relating to the Spring euqinoxe which also involve some kinds of cleaning.

      • I can also say that the Russian translations of the menu items and the website, while passable and mostly okayish, were clearly made in-house, too. 🙂

        Restaurants are notoriously unwilling to spend 10–20€ (at most) for a professional translation.

      • I noticed that, but being a non-native speaker of Russian with much less than fluency, I thought it was just me. I’ll do the English translation for them. My rates are reasonable. 🙂

      • Don’t get me wrong – the translations do look like they were done by a native speaker – most probably someone in their staff, so they aren’t littered with spelling, preposition, case or agreement mistakes (which a native Latvian would be prone to make). But it’s clearly unprofessional – incorrectly used capitalised singular ‘вы’ is a sure sign of an amateur – with an awkward style, drunken punctuation and excessive literal translation.

        Even if the rates aren’t reasonable – it’s not like the volume of the text is enormous. I’d bet that their entire menu and website would fit into a 1000 words, 1500 at most.

      • As I pointed out on my post on this, capitalising “you” is a common mistake that Latvians make when writing in English, because it’s supposedly “more polite.” (It isn’t, it just looks strange and like the person didn’t bother to learn English properly.) A number of my students have told me that their teachers at school told them to do that. 😦 The mistake, which might be due to the German influence on Latvian, seems to have carried into Russian as well.

        There’s another mistake on their menu which I’ve seen and other sites make. The days are written with Roman numberals, as I, II, III, IV etc. In Latvian that makes perfect sense, since the days are called “first day, second day” and so on. The problem is that in English, there’s long been a dispute over which day of the week is first. Many people would consider Sunday first. The result of that is that you’d virtually never see a native speaker numbering days the way you do in Latvian, as the potential for confusion is huge.

      • Regarding capitalising ‘you’ – in Latvian it is certainly something that has come from German, as many people do capitalise ‘Jūs’ (when addressing one person) and ‘Tu’, just like German demands ‘Sie’ and permits ‘Du’. I’m betting that people who make the mistake of writing ‘You’ in English are almost exclusively native speakers of Latvian.

        Because the use of ‘Вы’ is much more restricted in Russian (and I think that it’s an independent phenomenon in Russian) – since addressing someone with a ‘вы’ is already a polite and respectful way to do it. Capitalising ‘вы’ shows high esteem for the person addressed. This use has been somewhat diluted in the last twenty by semi-literate salespeople, who think that sycophancy in the texts they write will make the client like their stuff more. The rule of thumb here, though, is that you should only capitalise ‘вы’ when you at least know the name of the person, and there is a very good reason to use capitalisation – e.g. when you want to express huge thanks to a person of a higher social status, when you write to a dignitary in general, or if you address the recipient of an official document.


        Regarding the day numbering I’m going to disagree with you on several grounds.

        1) I’ve always thought that the ‘Sunday first’ thing is mostly American (and so, not excessively relevant to us). Furthermore, I don’t know too much about how days are numbered traditionally and familiarly in the English-speaking countries in Europe, but the EU adheres to the ISO standards in this (among other things) and all the member states must use the ‘Monday first’ week officially.

        Wikipedia (references included) article for illustration:

        2) In general, and this is by far not the only example, the fact that English has become a lingua franca in many places doesn’t mean that they (always) have turned into backyards for English-speaking countries and are flooded with native English speakers.

        It is not an issue of maintaining local customs (which in this case aren’t exactly local, actually) as much as a matter of practicality. I can say that most of the people who need to consult the English version of web-site for a local service in Latvia are people from the neighbouring and not far away countries who don’t know Russian (or if they do, when the web-site doesn’t have a Russian version). So the need to accommodate the speakers of English as a foreign language far outweighs the need to make it more convenient for the native speakers – that’s actually the reason there are English versions in the first place, for the most part.

        Here’s another example from my professional practice. Not long ago, I translated a number of texts for a local event into English. There were dates and times for various stuff happening, and I wondered whether I should use the 12-hour (am/pm) or the 24-hour clock for the times. And I obviously went for the 24-hour clock, because (a) it’s likely that most of the people who will read my translation are more used to it (and I already knew that there would be people from Germany, Belgium, Poland etc.); (b) it is certain that all the signs and navigation, and announcements, AT the event will use the 24-hour clock (so, better avoid clashes); (c) while the 12-hour clock may be more familiar, the 24-hour clock isn’t exactly unknown in the English-speaking countries in Europe.

        3) I personally like the ‘Monday first’ week, because it’s a bit more secular, and here it is implicitly regulated by a secular authority – the EU. I’ve looked into that Yahoo discussion and all the invocation of ‘creation’, ‘the Bible’ and ‘astrology’ as serious arguments really makes me wonder what cave these people were typing their nonsense from.

        Granted, offers a decent compromise here, using day initials for the coach schedules. Except that they failed (were too lazy) to realise that the initials aren’t the same in different languages, so it’s POTCPSS in the English and Russian version as well.

      • Yeah, I’ve never seen a native English speaker these days capitalise you in the middle of a sentence, it’s exclusively non-native speaker usage. With you, it’s exactly the same in English as well. English historically had a familiar form (“thou”) and a polite form (“you.”) I’d bet the capitalisation rules used to be exactly the same as in Russian, “you” was likely capitalised when writing to dignitaries. Over time, though, the familiar form, as in Swedish, mostly dropped out of use. These days, the only time you’ll see it will be in parts of Yorkshire in England and on non-catholic Christian churches. I always found the latter use ironic, since the original purpose in using “thou” was to make God seem cosy and familiar whereas its continued use these days makes him seem old skool, stuffy and formal.

        Regarding the days, even in religion, there’s no agreement over it. The big guy in the sky is supposed to have rested on the seventh day, Sunday in mainstream Christianity. Regardless, to native speakers, it will be confusing. I take your point about it mostly being read by second language speakers, but I just don’t see why they don’t use initials of the days in that case, since it will be understood by everybody.

        About the clock, my family asked me last year why I always write times in 24 hour clock. I said it’s due to living in Latvia. In my first year, I told a student to come at 130. At 1pm, as I was in the middle of eating my lunch, she knocked on my door as told me that I’d told her to come “at 13” in the text. Since then, I’ve typed in 24 hour format to avoid confusion. I’ve heard stories though of people booking things with Latvian businesses at 1130pm, just to turn up and find the place closed and when they contact the business, the business replies by saying that they were waiting for them at 1130 (in 24 hour clock) but they didn’t turn up!

      • Actually the presence of polite ‘вы’ in Russian (and by extension – in Latvian) is due to French, the same as with the English ‘you’. You won’t see ‘вы’ used this way before the second half of the 18th century – when French increasingly became fashionable among people with power. And by the way, the polite pronoun in some varieties of American Spanish (especially in Colombia and Cuba), and also in Brazilian Portuguese has mostly or even completely supplanted the familiar one – with ‘tú/tu’ giving way to ‘usted/você’ in informal conversations – which sometimes sounds funny to someone used to the European varieties, especially when someone spouts insults using the ‘polite’ pronoun. 🙂

        I think that today with probably 999/1000 clocks in the world being digital, it’s high time to do away with the 12-hour clock completely – at least in written use. Not only to standardise and avoid confusion, but also to save people from having to answer the eternal question – whether the midnight is 12 AM or 12 PM. 🙂

  1. Holy crab! How did you manage to find a pub in ghetto/factory mixed zone?! I don’t think any local is even going there. Those are places for the people who’s going to commit suicide- they go there for the last shot. Sometimes they even die there without leaving… probably.

  2. you won’t believe – in Riga you can expect a crappy drinkhole (dzertuve) almost everywhere. and i definately know, that half of them should not bear the noble name of “Bārs”.

    • I know! I’ve now been in every area of Riga, including weird ones like Kleisti, Brekshi and Trisciems, which I’d never heard of before starting. Most districts have a “bar.” Most of them are rubbish.

  3. A bit of a bummer that you missed the villa in “Dauderi”. The former residence of Kārlis Ulmanis, built by the previous owner of Aldaris (then Waldschlößchen) Adolf von Bingner. It’s right next to Aldaris factory. In my opinion the place that stands out the most in Sarkandaugava – a bit strange seeing a 19th century villa, with some soviet Lego block houses in the backdrop. 😀
    Some pics

    • Yeah, unfortunately it was a bit of a rush job as I’m out of Latvia for a month and wanted to get everything finished by this Saturday. The shashliks were ok so I might make a second visit as the mental hospital and “Casa Ulmanis” sound worth a visit!

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