As me walking around Riga is apparently ‘news’ in this country now, a couple of weeks ago, I decided to do it again. Crazy, I know…
When my good bluddy, John, over at The Real Riga said that he had another ‘district challenge’ lined up for me, I just couldn’t say no. (I’m not allowed to call it a ‘drinking challenge’ any more. I guess ‘district challenge’ makes us sound more cultural and less like two Irish people on a bender.) Now I know that John delights in saving the ‘most special’ districts just for me and that day was no exception. On the agenda were Brekši, Dreiliņi and Pļavnieki – the glamour.
I arrived at the bus stop on Lāčplēša iela a little early and debated running to a bar to go to the loo before John arrived. But while I was dithering, he showed up. So I gritted my teeth, grimly pronounced ‘Let’s do these shitholes’ and we got on the bus. John had assured me that there was a café beside the bus stop in Brekši so the toilet situation wasn’t urgent.
Unfortunately, when we alighted in Brekši, we were greeted by this sight:
Yes, it appeared that the only café in the vicinity had been turned into a Hell’s Angels’ hangout. Not to worry – I was still convinced that I could ‘charm’ my way in somehow.
Me: Maybe I’ll flash my boobs at them.
John: (Skeptical noise)
Me: Yeah, at times I wish I had bigger boobs…
We took at little stroll around the immediate area and discovered run-down apartment blocks, decaying houses and people, and what could have been a serial killer’s disposal site.
With little else to do, we approached the Hell’s Angels. John, being a man, was a big coward and pushed me forward to do the talking. I walked up the steps and went for the door handle. Oops. Angry Russian words started coming in my direction. I thought it best to just be honest, and said ‘Is it possible to get a beer?’ in my politest tone. It was made infinitely clear that it wasn’t, so we skedaddled back to the bus-stop.
Back on the bus, I remembered that I’d seen a bar with a nice terrace a few stops back so we decided to stay on for a bit longer than planned. In fact, we missed Dreiliņi altogether and there was still no sign of the bar. So we hopped off in the middle of nowhere with plans to walk back. It was around this time that we spotted the entrance to the Holocaust Memorial site. Disappointingly, it was surrounded by rubbish.
We made our way down the walkway to the memorial site, where in an act of truly breathtaking disrespect, someone had placed a huge, red skip right in the middle of the path.
They could have placed it in the forest, out of view, or at least out of the way, but no. There it was, blocking the path. The memorial itself was a moving experience but honestly, we both felt a bit sickened at how it was being treated so we moved on.
We headed back towards Mežciems, and finally found a bar in the small market there. It wasn’t the most salubrious of establishments, but I prayed they’d at least have a toilet.
The bar lady directed me outside and around the corner. Almost crying with relief, I wrenched open the middle door…
Thankfully, I still had the presence of mind to check the other door, where there was a normal toilet. Quite possibly, the best toilet in all the world, but I may have been a little emotional at that point.
Back at the bar, I joined John for a beer. At around 4.15, the bar lady came over and told us she’d be closing at 5. However, what she meant was that she’d be home by 5. She stood over us, in her coat, at 4.30. We finished up, turned down the offer of a ‘beer party’ from a drunk Russian at another table, and set off through Dreiliņi for Pļavnieki.
Finding absolutely nothing of interest in Dreiliņi, we eventually hit pay dirt in the form of Mapuche bar. With our €2 Paulaner beers in hand, we were about to sit down when the kindly bar girl told us that they had a beer garden out back. What was this madness? A Latvian actually volunteering information?
We were so stunned that we stayed for two.
Continuing our journey, we took a shortcut across a grassy area to what looked like a café. This would turn out to be a mistake.
And the café was closed. Since around 1940.
Finally, we came across the most unlikely of places – a TV Bar/Café/Wifi/Swimming Pool/Sauna. Of course we just had to try it!
It turned out to be a bit of a family affair, but the Russian bar girl was more than happy to shift her friends and relatives off the benches outside so that we could sit down at the table. More surprising service.
Our next stop, Dream Bar, brought us crashing back down to reality however. Maybe rude bar staff are considered a ‘dream’ in these parts, but we were unconvinced.
So, after being trounced by John at air hockey, we hopped on the 22 bus back to the relative civilisation of Avotu iela.
So, good beer and service, bad beer and service, drunk Russians, blocks of flats, dog poo, and forests. Pretty much sums up an average day out in Riga’s districts. Personally, I can’t wait for the next one…