Summer Sunday in Swamp Town

I saved the biggest to last. Well, almost. Last Sunday, 10th August, my third last district was Purvciems, which translates as Marsh/Swamp Village/Town. It’s Riga’s and Latvia’s biggest district. With a bit over 60,000 people, it easily beats its closest Riga competitor, Ķengarags. To put this in relative terms, one in 33 people in Latvia live there and if it was an independent city, it would be the fourth biggest in the country, narrowly beating Jelgava. Purvciems was a Russian majority district in its early days, though with younger Latvian families having moved in, it’s tilted a bit in the last decade. The latest figures were 44% Russian, 41% Latvian, 4% Belarusian and 4% Ukrainian.

Luckily, I had an expert guide for my tour round the not-so-swampy concrete jungles of the district, Ina, the highest scorer in my EU English groups, volunteered to give me the run down on all things Purvy.

At the eponymous bus stop, you’re immediately assaulted by scores of high rise buildings. As most of the buildings went up in the 1970s and 1980s, they’re not quite as bad as the earlier examples of Soviet architecture around.

Welcome to swamp town

Welcome to swamp town

On the way up on the bus I spotted Kafenica Varde (The frog cafe,) which looked okay, but Ina later told me was dodgy. These days, my standards for what makes an okay bar are so low after my travels around the shadier bits of Riga that I just have to take people’s word for things like that. To be fair, the bar that she’d proposed meeting at, the unimaginatively titled Alus Darzs (“Beer garden”,) on Varžu iela (“Frog Street”,) looked much better. Unfortunately, it was only 1230 and it didn’t open till 4pm (on a Sunday? What?!)

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Heading up Nicgales Iela, we reached a couple of local landmarks. The first was the Minska shopping complex on Dzelcavas Iela, which seems to offer the usual chains found anywhere else in Riga.

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More impressive is Riga’s own version of The Great Wall of China. A long stretch of adjoining tower blocks along Dzelcavas Iela.

good luck finding the way through

good luck finding the way through

Moving up Vaidavu Iela, we found some better looking private housing in “the bird streets.” (The Purvy street namers liked their wildlife.) For example at Paipalu Iela (“Quail Street”)

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there are some nice little lanes, which wouldn’t look amiss in a country village.

Stirnu Iela (“Roe Street”) has a dodgy-looking bar/club Clubnika, but not being with a dodgeville afficionado, I had to give it a miss. Luckily, the Shadyriga blogger has been there and has written this review in Latvian, accompanied by suitably grim pictures.

With the temperatures at 26 degrees, we’d built up a thirst, so it was time for refreshments. On the same street was Ķirsons Māja,

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which seems to be a branch of the Lido chain. The only difference with a lot of the other Lidos is that it’s got a bit more of a shop part attached and looks a bit more modern than the Olde Worlde look that the other Lidos are going for.

another new drinking buddy

another new drinking buddy

One thing I noticed on our wanderings round here is that Purvciems is stuffed with furniture shops. (A relic of Soviet times?) The large Mebelu Nams does date back to the Soviet period and seems to be the biggest one.

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After that, we visited another landmark, the catholic church on Augusta Deglava Iela. To be honest, I’d always assumed it was part of some protestant reformist sect, as it looks unlike how I usually expect catholic churches to look.

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Its main claim to fame is that it houses what is apparently Latvia’s largest painting (appropriate in Latvia’s biggest district.)

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Beside that, I spotted posters in Polish. Ina told me that they have services here in different languages and Swamp Town is 2% Polish, so why not?

Ina’s boss, Ineta, one of my singing students had joined us at this point, so we took a tour through the “night creature streets”, Pūces Iela (“Owl Street”) and surrounds, which have some more modern buildings near them.

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Further down, around Marsa Iela (“Mars Street”) things get a bit more tatty. A sure sign of dodginess is the presence of a legal drugs shop. These started to spring up in Riga about 5 years ago, selling chemically synthesised “legal highs,” usually heavily fortified kiosks identified only by the Jamaica tricolour. The first was at the central market, with more opening subsequently. Politicians and the cops were slow to react, as the legality of the substances was unclear. The void was filled by vigilante groups, who took actions such as this one. Most of the reactions, though, were less legal and simply involved fire bombing the places out of business, so that now there are lots of Jamaica flags round empty Riga premises.

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We’d now reached the end of Purvciems, with an open grassy space at Lielvardes Iela showing how this whole district probably looked 35 years ago.

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This probably won’t last long, as there are plans to join up the currently detached parts of Lielvardes Iela.

With our journey near the end, it was time for beer in Kafenica Alexandrs. The sole customer, a moustachioed drunk, was sleeping on a nearby table when we went in. We woke him up and after a bit of mumbled broken English, he left. The ladies begged me not to take their photos “but we’ve no make-up!” Sorry ladies, it’s part of the blog!

 

My pardners in blogtown

My pardners in blogtown

I cast a sad look at my now well worn out map and posed for the obligatory photo.

 

Two to go. :(

Two to go. 😦

So, as always, a big thanks to my companions for the day. Given Purvciems size, there was a lot more of it I could have done. I’ve always heard that the shashliks at Erebuni on Deglava Iela are recommended, for example. It is a complete concrete jungle, but in some ways feels more like a self-contained town than a Riga district. There are enough shops, supermarkets, bars and eateries to satisfy everyone’s tastes, so in general Purvciems gets a thumbs-up from me.

Coming up: a report on tonight’s visit to the penultimate district, Centrs.

 

 

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9 thoughts on “Summer Sunday in Swamp Town

    • Yeah, it wasn’t so bad, will definitely go back and check it out a bit more. There was too much to see in one day and the ladies weren’t up for the type of shady bars which you and me would have been making a beeline for!

  1. I personally quite like the furniture shop cluster there – it’s very easy to access by public transport, and you don’t have to go all over the city if you want to browse in several places. And the Soviet building on the picture (pretty sure it was the only furniture shop in the area back then) is actually quite nice, with some renovations it would look far better than the average mall/supermarket here.

    • Yes my “guide” pointed it out as a semi-historic building, as having continued the same business from the Soviet-era to the present day, it’s probably the exception to the norm.

  2. Also, regarding the legal drug shops, the designer stuff they were selling was banned early this year, so the ones that still existed were simply closed down. And the vigilantes are just vandals and hypocrites – I’d like to see them do these things to the ‘Latvijas Balzams’ buildings (I’m sure they would have no trouble finding loads of creepy pictures of mangled young men for that) – and bet on how long it would take for them to get behind bars.

    • I agree. All my grandparents died of smoking-related causes and any hairy incidents I’ve been in in my life have been due to the other person being drunk. Dope smokers are pretty low on the list of people I’d worry about. All those synthetic drugs are not my thing, but if we go down that road where do we stop? I stopped eating burgers and most fast food 2 decades ago (shashliks are a hard habit to kick) but if people have correct information about Hesburger, McDonalds et al, it’s up to them.

      • I mentioned ‘Latvijas Balzams’ because if the drug laws were implemented consistently, alcohol would be the first drug to be banned. Except that it’s got a big industry, a rich lobby and fat lawyers to defend itself. So the vandals were doing the cowardly thing – bullying small businesses and reinforcing the corporate establishment.

        I’m not defending these small businesses either, selling unregulated substances to consumers, just because they happen not to be banned, is immoral (and here it really stinks of the 90’s and pure (sometimes denatured) alcohol sold as booze). And I’m not really against closing them down. But the course of action here isn’t to just give in to shrill conservatives and ban everything, saying ‘drugs-m-bad, m-kay’. It’s to face the reality, and start relaxing the laws to ultimately legalise marijuana and regulate its sources and production.

  3. Glad You visited “the bird streets”. The oldest (pre-Soviet) part of Purvciems, the largest preserved, and the best.

    • Yes, those were a nice part of the area. It helped to have a local guide to show me round. I’m sure there were other parts of Purvciems which I missed, but it was too big to cover in one go.

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