When my good bluddy over at The Real Riga announced that the next district on his agenda was Avotu Iela, I thought “Yes. This one is right up my street” – mainly because it practically is my street. Also, because it was this district that caused all the trouble in year one of Expat Eye, it seemed like a fitting way to start the second year.
I met John (or Irish Jānis) on the corner of Avotu and Bruninieku last weekend – at least I assumed it was him but he was so wrapped up, only around half an eyelash was visible. We decided to start at the ‘dodgy end’ of Avotu (i.e. the church where all the hookers hang out) while it was still daylight so off we trundled. We immediately fell into step behind the drunkest man on the planet, who was being propelled in a (mostly) forward direction by the 2-litre bottle of beer he was clutching.
With nary a hooker in sight, we decided we may as well tick two districts off the list and crossed the street into Grīziņkalns. We were both rather surprised when we came to a semi-pretty park at the end of the road, complete with a Latvian mountain (hill in any other country).
Despite the frigid temperature, we decided to explore further.
Me: Take a picture of me.
John: With what?
Me: A tree.
Me: To show that I’m at one with nature.
John: Are you?
Me: Sure. All the Latvians know that…
We even discovered an ice-skating rink in the park but as we couldn’t feel our bodies any more at this stage, we decided to give that a miss and adjourn to a café we’d spotted along the way.
As John was still feeling a little delicate from the night before, he opted for a coffee and a slice of cake. So as not to bring complete shame on the Irish, I asked for a pint of Brālis. John’s coffee and cake (complete with a teaspoon to eat it with) appeared pretty quickly, but after pacing up and down for a few minutes to try to warm myself up while waiting for my pint, I realised that the bar girl wasn’t actually doing anything. It took me two more attempts to convince her I wasn’t joking and that I really did want a pint.
To my utter dismay, “The Latvian Spoon” came out. I sat down. This could take a while. She proceeded to pour around a tenth of a pint, then spoon off the head into another pint glass with “The Latvian Spoon”, leaving a twentieth of a pint behind. This painstakingly-slow process was repeated until eventually I had a pint of beer and she had a pint of head. Even though Brālis is a bit shit, when you’ve waited 15 minutes for it you enjoy it.
Feeling almost human, we hit the mean streets again. John expressed his regret that we hadn’t gone to a particularly dicey-looking establishment back the way we’d come. So, back we went. Once at the door, John changed his mind thinking that maybe it was a bit too dicey so, naturally, I insisted we go in. Hungover people just need a firm hand sometimes.
The three drunkest people in the world were sitting at a table by the door – it seems I’d misjudged our friend from earlier. Two Russian guys were trying to force-feed coffee into the back of the head of their female friend who appeared to be asleep on the table. One other guy was sitting at the bar, gently swaying on his bar stool. There was even a boxing machine that you could practice on before you decided to beat a real person to a pulp. Perfect.
As we ordered our beers, the landlady suddenly shot to the end of the bar and started screaming in angry Russian at the three at the table. (There is no need for bouncers in these sorts of establishments – the landladies are the most terrifying creatures you will ever encounter.) The three half-walked, half-fell to the door, holding onto each other for support. The fresh air was too much for one of the guys though and he instantly collapsed in a heap outside the door.
Meanwhile, we’d made ourselves comfortable-ish at a table. Now, the only time a Latvian will invite himself over to join a couple of strangers for a chat is if he is absolutely steaming. We quickly discovered that this was the case with the guy at the bar. Having shaken hands with John, I was about to proffer mine when I noticed the open wound on his palm. As to how he got it, it was something to do with a fat woman and some colours…
Making our excuses, we finished our beers and got up to leave, but not before John got another handshake, and I got a handshake and a nice big kiss planted on my cheek. Clearly John was feeling a little revived at this stage as he started dragging me down side streets in search of hookers. I was not particularly comfortable with this idea. The worst that would have happened to him was a proposition. I could have ended up with a stiletto through the eyeball. Luckily, the hookers still seemed to be in hiding.
We made our way to Trīs Vīri Laivā back on Avotu, which I think might just become my new local. With a better than average selection of beers and some regulars who, for the most part, are able to stay on their bar stools, it also seems to be quite Irish friendly.
With John suffering a relapse and bleating about finishing that one and heading home, I had to practically drag him to the last bar, Chomsky, which is fast becoming my new home in Riga.
Once inside, we bumped into a friend of John’s who, by some stroke of marvellous luck, had installed himself right by the fireplace. We made ourselves at home – good company, good beer and a roaring fire. The perfect end to the day.
Needless to say, the next morning I completely sympathised with John’s tragic state the day before.
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