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