September 2022: Not your typical travel blog

September 2022: Not your typical travel blog

A Walk Around Pardaugava

View from my window

I just felt like writing an update today since it has been so long. I never got to finish my Turku blogs. I mean, I could still go back and do that, but there is a statute of limitations on the prescience of memory and the purpose for writing. Reflection makes what once seemed important to be less so, and the energy of the moment slips away into uncertainty. We are left with pastel reflections of what was once intense experience as another rainy day gently unfolds outside our windows.


I had planned to write a blog about my trip to New York and Massachusetts, and I may still do that. It is in the works. I have lots of nice photos to share. I have also been on work-related adventures around Latvia. Instead, I want to share my simple walk around my neighborhood last night.

I have moved. I am now living on Ķīpsala, which is an island on the Daugava river between Riga’s center and Pardaugava. It is a liminal space that is green and relatively quiet. It is home to the RTU campus which I can see from my window and Olimpia mall where I shop for things I need. I sit here four stories above the street and watch the day pass by through my large windows. It is a nice place to be.

The Walk

Last night after supper I was feeling a bit restless, so I left my house and started walking. Usually, I just walk around the island, but I wanted to explore my extended neighborhood, so I crossed the canal and entered Dzirciems (which, according to google, translates as “smellable” but I doubt that is a proper translation).

I had ridden my bike on this path before, but walking is a completely different experience. You notice things in much more detail than when you are cycling. I saw the overpass to nowhere and the graffiti that said “Shane,” which is my nephew’s name. So I took a picture to send to my sister. When I say “overpass to nowhere” the locals probably know what I am talking about, but maybe it needs a bit more of an explanation. Back in the day, someone convinced some governing body that it would be a good idea to build an overpass from one side of the river all the way over Ķīpsala to make a new bridge and connection. The only section that was built is called “Tilts uz nekurieni” literally “a bridge to nowhere.” The irony is that it is one of the best built roads that I have seen in Latvia, and someone likely got paid a lot of money to build it. Now it is a monument to that time of hope and prosperity, maybe a sign that all good things must end. Others might see it as a sign of the corruption that surrounds us.

Not so empty lot

Then I saw the empty lot where my friend told me they had planned to build yet another shopping mall. There were many projects started in the early 2000s that came to an abrupt halt right around the big economic crisis of 2008. Now there was just a big empty lot full of trees that seemed to be enjoying the freedom to simply grow as they pleased.

Then I crossed the big highway and entered the quiet green neighborhood that is adjacent to the Botanical Garden. It was rush hour, so there were lots of cars filling the narrow streets, but I felt isolated and free to walk as I pleased. This side of the river is still a mystery to me. Even looking at a map, it is hard to know exactly how I walked because there are no straight streets. Everything is angles and curves. When I think I am walking in one direction, I soon find that I have ended up in another place completely. I know that some day it will all make sense, but yesterday was not that day.

It felt wonderful to just get lost among the beautiful trees and houses. There is such an eclectic mix of architecture from stone mansions to dilapidated wooden buildings to whatever this is.

Not sure what this is
Overhead view of the compound

At one point, I decided to walk through this Soviet-style compound of Kruschev era structures. These are not the tall Soviet block buildings in other neighborhoods, but long lines of 5-story buildings made of off-white brick that create these internal courtyards—green spaces with trees and parks. Places for people to hang their laundry, children to play, and people to walk their dogs. In theory, these could be beautiful green spaces in the center of a city, quiet and isolated from the traffic of the streets, but for some reason, it felt oppressive. I did not feel comfortable. I just wanted to find a way out of the maze. Why is that?

I finally came to Kalnciema iela, which is a street I recognize. It is the border between Zasulauks and Āgenskalns. Zasulauks (google translates as “ice field”) is where the row houses were, and Āgenskalns is an up-and-coming neighborhood that is green and beautiful—kind of a new hotspot in Riga.

When I started my walk, I told myself that I would stop in the first tavern that I came to, and I was a bit surprised that I had not found one yet. I saw a sign for a bar called “Divas alus” (2 beers), but I didn’t find it. I am happy that I didn’t because I came across Vinilbārs. I went in, and as I suspected, there were record players and the bartender was spinning a Doors record. They had an interesting selection of beers on tap and a nice vibe, so I stayed for one drink and had a great conversation. It was exactly the kind of place I had hoped to find.

I became nostalgic for the record collection I left behind in Omaha. On the shelves in the bar, there was one shelf dedicated to “good foreign records”—Bowie, Pink Floyd, The Beatles, all the greats along with Nirvana, Roxy Music, Falco and Pearl Jam. The bartender mentioned that he once owned an original pressing of Nirvana’s Never Mind, but he sold it. I felt really sad about that. I told him that is one of the Holy Grails for record collectors. At least for this record collector it would be.

The Cure Soviet bootleg

From there, it was a familiar walk home past Kalnciema kvartāls where I have been a few times for art shows and festivals. Then past Pārdaugavas tiesa (court), Ezītis miglā (the ubiquitous Latvian bar and grill franchise), the National Archive, then over the bridge and back to Ķīpsala.

On Sunday, I had gone to Sigulda with Lara and her friend Dan from London. We had a terrific time getting lost in the woods as we climbed up and down the slopes of hills with no real idea where we were going. I have to admit that I enjoy getting lost as long as there will eventually be a way home. The feeling of adventure and excitement of being somewhere you have never been is electrifying.

Deep Thought

It has taken me awhile to come to terms with this concept, but I understand this about myself: I really don’t like to repeat anything. I was listening to a podcast where a filmmaker admitted that if he has seen someone else do something, then he doesn’t want to do that thing. He described this as a “punkish” attitude. I have that same drive, whether I want it or not. I find it hard to be meticulous because meticulousness is boring to me. Sure, you can learn how to do something perfectly if you give yourself enough time, but then there are a million other things that you will never experience. Life is a trade off, and we are constantly trading our time, which is quite limited when you think about it, for whatever rewards we can get. So you have to ask yourself, what is most rewarding for me? How do I want to spend this time?

More photos of the walk

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Side note:

The other thing about living on Ķīpsala is that I am surrounded by water. When I first moved to Riga, I lived in a house overlooking the Daugava. Then we moved further in the city, and I lived day after day rarely seeing water. Now that I am here, and I can actually see the Daugava from my balcony, I realize that I love living by water. Maybe it is because I am a Pisces. Maybe it is because I have this idea that as long as there is water, there is an escape if shit hits the fan. Maybe it is just beautiful and serene unlike me.


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