RB#9&10: Civilisation: Riga and Jurmala

I’m going to slip into full British/Irish mode now and talk about the weather for a bit. The weather in Latvia often follows predictable patterns in Summer. To start, there’s a really nice period from the second or third week of May lasting until the first week of June. This has people raving about how they heard it on some blog/forum/programme that the coming summer will be the warmest ever. I never take such long term forecasts seriously, as June normally brings people down to earth with a bang. The first few weeks of June are usually rubbish, with rain and grey skies dominating until after the midsummer festival on 23-24 June. The weather usually goes through a good period until the third week of August, with sunshine and only a few days of rain. Late August until the first week of September gets yukky, before giving way to the “atvasara” the Indian summer, which can last a week or two before the full horrors of the true end of summer dawn.

This year, it was almost like June and August were reversed in the usual scheme of things. June was unusually good and August has been unusually horrible, with the first 3 weeks seeing constant rain, grey skies and temperatures in the 17-20 degrees range. As a result, my trips took a bit of a hiatus after the walk through Riga on Sunday 24 July, as thereafter, trudging through mushy beaches and forests didn’t appeal.

We’d picked up on the other side of the Daugava, at Daugavgriva.I’ve blogged before about this area, in the Russian, forgotten zone of Riga and how it has some kind of weird appeal to me. As well, as a fort, river views and Stalinist bars and commie tower blocks, Daugavgriva also boasts a beach, though its one that is far less popular than its rivals at Jurmala and Vecaki. The route to the beach goes through some typical Daugavgriva backstreets, with bins overflowing with vodka bottles.


However, Daugie does retain its hidden charms and one of them is its beach, accessed through a nature park.

It’s quite weird to see this nature, with the backdrop of Soviet-era tower blocks


nestling behind the trees. They’ve even constructed a well-paved walkway to access the beach, a significant improvement on some of the overgrown bumpy forest paths I;ve tracked along.


Civilisation has its advantages!

Despite being a Riga native, Elina told me that this was the first time she’s ever been to Daugie beach and I suspect that that’s common with a lot of Rigans. The beach itself is a bit of a mixed affair. Daugavgriva’s location between two major rivers and consequent currents means that its strictly demarcated into swimming and “non-swimming” areas.

The latter are sparsely populated


with only a few sunbathers against a backdrop of cargo ships entering and leaving the Daugava.

The swimming bits are packed, especially with locals who can access this easier than Vecaki and Jurmala.


Locals in this part of the world usually means Russians, similar to Jurmala, but in contrast to Vecaki, which is a more Latvian affair.

Further along, the crowds thin out and give way to yet another nudist beach. Unlike the ones I’ve come across on my previous walks, this one is at least clearly delineated, with sign showing a bikini, so there wasn’t the usual slight shock of an old fat guy suddenly emerging from the bushes with his sausage dangling down.

I did sample its charms, but swimming with no swimming trunks on felt a bit odd, so I was happy enough to dry off and get clothed again.

It was so warm that I’d been padding along just in shorts


At the end, the beaches give way to the Lielupe (Big river) which, again is uncrossable except by swimming. With so many yachts around,


it’s undoubtedly dangerous and illegal to do that. We were now in the Bulli area which I’ve blogged about before and its riverview marked the end of this outing.


For the tenth outing, we picked up where we’d left off across the river.

Jurmala is Riga’s sister town. The unimaginative name translates as “seaside” and the town itself is a playground for tourists, millionaires and playboys, mostly from Russia and neighbouring Russophone countries. To be honest I’ve never really got the place. If I had 2 million to spend on property in a seaside town, Jurmala would be one of the last places I’d choose. You can get the same property for nearly half the price in Spain , where you can use the beach for 6 months of the year. In Jurmala it’s 6-7 weeks. You’d also have access to better seafood and a wider range of nature than the forest, forest, forest which Latvia offers. Just why would you choose Jurmala? I even broached the subject to some former students and they shrugged and said that they could speak Russian there, but that seems a fairly poor reason to me, especially since they all aready spoke 3 or 4 languages. You can easily learn another language in those circumstances and it’s not like there are not Russians in southern European beach towns who you can practice with. Nostalgia is often another reason: they spent their childhood there, but I spent some childhood holidays in Blackpool and am thankful that I now have more choice. It just seems that some people buy property there as a status symbol rather than because it has its own merits. Oh well.

Jurmala starts at the often ignored Ragakapa (Horn Dune) which has a type of forest park not unlike those I’ve walked through on the wilder parts of the coast.


The beaches around here are empty, as it’s hard to reach on public transport and all of the beaches suffer from the same problem as the other side of the coast: they’re too shallow and require a lot of walking to reach a  decent depth.


Further along, though, at Bulduri, things pick up and the beaches here are crammed and at least 80% of the people are speaking Russian. The people count peaks around the main beach at Mayori


which has the backdrop of the Baltic beach hotel, one of the more imaginative bits of architecture here, jutting out in a cruise ship shape. The main street at Mayori, Jomas Iela, is the main hangout, filled with cafes, bars and restaurants. There are worse ways to spend a weekend here, though I prefer the Dzintari park, the stop before Mayori station when coming from Riga. Here is a viewing tower which offers a view above the trees on to the beaches. When my brother visited in late June, I just had to drag him there


Past Mayori people start to thin and for many people, this is the dark side of the moon as far as Jurmala is concerned. I think I’d been in Latvia over 8 years when I first ventured there and I found that I hadn’t really missed anything. As in Riga, most of Jurmala’s action is concentrated in a central area. Around Dubulti and further out, it’s mostly sleepy (and boring) residential districts punctuated with the odd small guesthouse.

We finished up at Asari station, safe in the knowledge that we were now over halfway to our goal.


Kolka here I come!






Where do the Russians live in Riga?

Back in early October, I mentioned that I was trying to find data for which districts had more Russians and which ones had more Latvians. A student advised me that the Central Statistics Agency was preparing the information at that time, so I emailed them. Unfortunately, they weren’t available at that time, however a commenter later told me that they were up.

In the absence of those, I’d done a post estimating it, based on election results for Saskaņas_centrs, the party favoured by ethnic Russians. Now, I have the figures, it really wasn’t that far off. The areas I identified then as being more Russian are indeed so.

In general terms, the main Russian areas are the northern west bank of the river Daugava, the strip from Iļģuciems to Daugavgrīva, as well as some of the relatively newer estates like Purvciems, Zolitude and Pļavnieki. Brekši is presumably due to the Jugla Paper Factory, which possibly attracted workers from outside Latvia during the Soviet era? More Latvian areas are places like Bieriņi and the areas around central Riga, like Avotu, Grizinkalns and Brasa.

(RU=Russian, LV=Latvian, BLR=Belarussian, UKR=Ukrainian)

Overall, Riga is 46.3% Latvian, 40.2% Russian, 3.9% Belarussian and 3.1% Ukrainian.

Daugavgrīva 56.9 22.6 6.5 6.3
Voleri 53.2 37.5 3.4 3.4
Bolderāja 53.0 30.0 6.0 5.1
Spilve 51.8 37.3 4.8 0.0
Pļavnieki 51.4 31.0 5.6 4.7
Zolitūde 50.6 32.5 4.9 5.2
Brekši 50.4 34.2 4.8 5.2
Rumbula 50.3 33.7 4.2 5.9
Ķengarags 48.8 36.3 4.8 3.6
Vecmīlgrāvis 48.7 33.2 6.8 5.4
Maskavas forštate 48.2 37.7 3.8 3.2
Mīlgrāvis 47.5 38.2 4.6 3.5
Sarkandaugava 46.7 38.3 5.1 4.1
Imanta 46.3 39.5 4.0 4.1
Iļģuciems 46.0 40.0 4.8 3.5
Dārzciems 44.4 39.4 4.5 4.3
Purvciems 43.9 41.3 4.1 4.1
Šampēteris 41.1 46.6 4.4 3.3
Dzirciems 40.7 46.5 3.4 3.8
Ziepniekkalns 40.4 45.5 4.3 3.6
Šķirotava 40.3 45.4 3.6 3.8
Pētersala-Andrejsala 39.3 46.9 3.7 3.8
Zasulauks 39.2 49.7 3.6 3.0
Jugla 38.7 49.3 3.6 3.1
Mežciems 38.1 49.8 3.6 3.0
Dreiliņi 35.8 53.8 2.6 1.7
Skanste 33.3 52.4 3.1 3.8
Āgenskalns 31.8 58.2 2.7 2.4
Dārziņi 31.8 55.9 3.0 2.7
Vecdaugava 31.7 57.3 3.6 3.2
Bišumuiža 30.8 58.2 4.0 2.5
Čiekurkalns 29.9 59.9 3.0 2.4
Jaunciems 28.8 58.7 2.5 3.4
Teika 28.6 61.9 2.7 2.0
Torņakalns 27.0 63.5 2.5 2.1
Mežaparks 26.5 63.2 1.7 2.8
Trīsciems 26.4 63.1 4.0 1.9
Pleskodāle 25.3 64.2 1.9 2.1
Brasa 25.1 65.6 2.0 2.1
Suži 24.8 63.3 2.9 3.8
Avoti 24.7 66.1 1.6 1.8
Grīziņkalns 24.6 67.2 2.0 1.7
Atgāzene 23.7 63.3 1.5 1.8
Katlakalns 23.4 72.3 0.7 0.7
Vecpilsēta 23.2 62.1 1.3 1.7
Centrs 23.0 65.8 1.3 1.9
Mangaļsala 20.0 72.9 1.9 2.1
Kleisti 19.8 71.4 1.4 0.5
Ķīpsala 19.4 69.2 2.7 1.4
Bukulti 19.2 68.8 1.7 4.2
Salas 19.0 70.2 3.6 1.2
Berģi 15.8 78.7 1.6 1.0
Vecāķi 15.7 76.6 0.7 1.6
Beberbeķi 15.6 74.4 3.2 2.7
Kundziņsala 13.8 77.4 1.3 2.5
Mūkupurvs 13.3 77.8 4.4 1.5
Buļļi 13.0 81.8 2.0 1.6
Bieriņi 12.4 81.2 1.3 0.7



Where do the Latvians live in Riga?

One thing of interest to me on the 58 districts project is the ethnic breakdown of each district. It helps to determine many things. Do I ask for pivo or alus in the bars? Should I wear my Vladimir Putin or Kārlis Ulmanis sweater on my day out? Despite being the Latvian capital, Latvians make up a bit less than 45% of the population, though the figure is rising. Latvians only overtook Russians as the largest ethnic group in 2006 and still, when Belarusians and Ukrainians are added to the mix, the proportion of people speaking Russian as a first language probably slightly outnumbers those speaking Latvian.

Getting anything other than vague anecdotal “lots of Russians live in that place” evidence has been very hard. The 58 districts seem to be quite new and the central stats agency hasn’t collected data on them yet. After thinking about this, I came up with another way of getting rough info: election results. Being an obsessive psephologist , I hunted around for electoral data for Riga city and happily it exists, broken down by polling station, though these don’t correspond to the 58 districts.

The basic idea is, the more votes for Saskaņas_centrs, the party favoured by ethnic Russians, the higher the number of Russians in the district. The lower their vote, the more Latvians live there.

Of course this methodology has problems, just to name some:

1) This is not Northern Ireland, not everyone votes along ethnic lines. Many Russians vote for other parties.

2) 22% of the population of Riga has non-citizen status and therefore has no right to vote. These are almost all Russians, Ukrainians and Belarusians. This isn’t reflected in the voting figures.

3) Saskanas centrs have had the mayoralty of Riga since 2009. People have been broadly happy with Nil Ushakov as Mayor and SC won an absolute majority of seats in Riga earlier this year with 58% of the vote. Obviously a significant minority of Latvians vote for SC, at least in Riga.

4) Saskanas centrs have a broadly left wing platform, which makes them less attractive to people in more upmarket areas, regardless of nationality.

All that said I crunched the numbers from the elections site and the results do tie in with what people say. The 10 polling districts where SC did best were in Bolderaja and Daugavgrivas (over 80% of the vote) with 76-79% in Zolitude, Kengarags, Plavnieki and the Darzciems/Plavnieki border. Those are definitely districts which people usually highlight as being “Russian.”

Conversely, the 10 polling districts where SC did worst threw up a few surprises for me. Bierini’s two boxes made it, by my score “the most Latvian” district with under 25% support for SC. The other 8, with less than 33% SC support were in Kipsala, Vecaki, Bergi, Centrs (3) and Teika (2) respectively.

At least this gives me a rough idea of whether to cheer on Russia or Latvia in the ice hockey in whichever bar I happen to visit.