Another weekend, another “district” challenge. On Saturday afternoon, I walked to the back of Central Station, which is where the crème de la crème of Riga society is known to hang out. I think the pecking order is decided by the number of remaining limbs, but I can’t be sure.
I found John slouched against a wall, doing his best to blend in with the locals.
Me: What’s that on your chin?
Me: Sauce or random drinking injury?
John: Um… (rubbing his chin and examining his fingers) Sauce.
I peeled him off the wall and we hopped on the “3” trolley bus, bound for Sarkandaugava. Forty minutes of breathless excitement later, we hopped off again. Immediately, we saw a woman who would definitely have been Queen of the Central Station Royal Family – had she been able to afford the bus fare. Not only did she have all of her limbs, she also appeared to have a small tree growing out of the dirt on her feet.
With the speed that only a hungover man on the hunt for shashliks can move at, John made a beeline for a bar across the appropriately named Sleazy Street. Sorry, I mean Sliežu Street.
We got our beers and made our way to the semi-terrace where the first thing that struck me was the height of the chairs. I’ve had problems in plenty of bars climbing on (and off) bar stools, but I’d never seen anything quite like this.
John perked up a bit when his shashliks arrived. Unfortunately, with them came a swarm of wasps through the open windows. John stood up and started trying to bat them away. The sight of a hungover Irish man, dancing about ineffectually swatting at wasps with a little red napkin was too much for the old geezer behind us, who almost chortled himself off his chair.
Still, John declared the shashliks edible and after a trip to the smallest bathroom in the world, we walked out, just as the local glitterati were arriving.
We made our way over the bridge to our next destination – Kundziņsala. I’ve racked my brain trying to think of something to say about this place, but the only word that springs to mind is “WHY?”
Never thinking that we’d be grateful to be back in Sarkandaugava, we headed for the first bar we found – a recovery pint was in order. This actually proved to be an alright spot. The barman was friendly enough – without speaking or smiling – and the terrace provided some entertainment in the form of a loud Russian family and some rather bemused-looking German tourists. They were probably wondering the same thing I was – “WHY?”
I could quite happily have stayed there for another pint, but John was on a mission so, regretfully, we set off in the direction of Milgravis. We were going to walk it, but on the way, we passed a tram stop. The next tram wasn’t for 30 minutes or so, and an incredibly shady-looking bar was beckoning, so we did what any normal people would do and headed for the bar.
Greeted with the glower and grunt that is customary in this part of the world, we grabbed a table in the otherwise empty bar. Quite frankly, I needed to sit down after seeing the “food” they were offering. The Brālis beer was vile and we were about to write the place off and leave when another customer walked in. As luck would have it, she was wearing my favourite t-shirt ever – a real Riga must-have.
The tram deposited us in a barren wasteland, but even there, it seemed like the locals were expecting me.
A friend of John’s had told us to walk along Ezers Street, keeping an eye out for drunks on steps, as these would be the best establishments. However, these proved too dodgy even for us and after passing a few toothless Russians who wanted us to join them, we clambered up a stony embankment, over railway tracks and into the “new” part of town.
A student of John’s, Vineta, had kindly offered to show us the sights and sounds of this part of town, and she rocked up with her two kids a few minutes later. We headed towards a promising looking bar – it’s all relative.
As it turned out, you couldn’t actually stay in the bar. I guess the Latvians in this part of town are even MORE sociable than the average Latvian. The woman behind the counter poured our beers into plastic bottles, screwed them shut, and with no other options, we headed back to Vineta’s flat.
She kept apologising for the mess, but after the places we’d seen, the flat was a palace. She and her husband, Jānis (really), made us feel at home and we enjoyed our beers while listening to tales of their travels – or at least I did, when I wasn’t elbowing John to stop him yawning. Jānis even broke out some Chinese vodka but, honestly, it tasted like what I’d imagine that woman’s tree-feet would taste like. (Don’t worry, I said it to his face – he agreed.)
We finally decided to call it a night, not wanting to out-stay our welcome and knowing that people with kids probably have kid-related stuff to do. But not before taking one final picture of John, who was, by now, too tired to fight me…
I can honestly say, I’ve never been so glad to see Avotu iela in my life. (I may have said that after other district challenges – I really mean it this time.)