Kalnciema, Riga, Latvia.

We caught a tram across the river, passed the Latvian National Library (the library is a very unusual glass and steel structure which at first I did not like, but its organic silhouette grows on you as you encounter it more often), beside what appears to be a railway museum, across a large park and into the area of Kalnciema. We had expected to find an area similar to Kalamaja in Tallinn, but, if Kalnciema is destined to be Riga’s Kalamaja, it has some way to go to compete with its rival in the Estonian capital. This said, Kalnciema is full of interest. Some middle class and hip young things live in the area, but not in the number you encounter in Kalamaja. This means that there are only a few facilities to meet the needs of upwardly mobile people and most housing is drab in appearance, no doubt just as housing had been in Kalamaja about five or ten years ago. While Kalamaja has about a dozen good places in which to eat and drink, to date Kalnciema has, as far as we could tell, only two, Maja, which can be very expensive by local standards unless you opt for the excellent lunchtime menu, or Vinoga (more later). However, every Saturday Kalnciema has a very good farmers’ market where people sell excellent food a little different to that available at Central Market, and craft items such as glazed pottery, knitted clothing, bells, wrought-iron candlesticks and carved wooden items for the home. But, as ever, it was the food that interested us the most. We tried some home-made fruit wine before buying sausage filled with ostrich meat, a local interpretation of camembert cheese and, for the following day’s journey home, three different types of cake baked in someone’s home. Other people sold bread, smoked fish, smoked meat, pork sausage, freshly cooked pancakes, apples of at least eight different varieties and many other tempting edible products.

Before making our purchases at the farmer’s market, we walked south-west along Kalnciema Iela until it turns into Lielirbes Iela and crosses the railway line just south of Zasulauka station. We walked around the streets north-east of the flyover where apartment blocks dating from the Soviet era have left few properties of greater age. This said, I had seen enough to know I would have to return later in the day, when Hilary was resting in the hotel.

We bought what we wanted from the market and walked south-west along the main road until arriving at Margrietas Iela, from where the number 2 tram took us to Central Market along a route even more interesting than the route earlier that morning.

After buying two tickets for the trams, I set off for Kalnciema, the district we had visited that morning. I got off the tram where Maza Nometnu Iela merges with three other roads. A large brick-built market overlooks the busy intersection. I walked around the market hall, a smaller version of Central Market in the city centre, and the stalls and shops in an outdoor section at the back. I also walked around the surrounding streets, which soon became residential with lots of wooden buildings. Among the wooden buildings is an enormous brick, stone and stucco structure with restrained art nouveau flourishes which looks as if it fulfils childcare and/or educational purposes.

I walked west along Maza Nomentu Iela, but turned to the south and the north as interesting views opened up. I then went north along Margrietas Iela and under the flyover that marks the point at which Kalnciema Iela becomes Lielirbes Iela. I followed the tram lines to Zasulauka station where yet more interesting views exist, on this occasion dominated by the railway and distant industrial installations. Taken as a whole, the area through which I walked is an endearing mixture of old wooden houses, some of which are built on a substantial scale, small parks, muddy open spaces, huts, sheds, garages, yards full of scrap metal, and apartment blocks dating from the Soviet era. Shops, bars and cafes are few in number, other than around the market on Maza Nomentu Iela, of course, and I saw only one restaurant, Vinoga on Maza Nomentu Iela itself. However, I examined the restaurant and its menu and liked the look of both. I decided to recommend Vinoga to Hilary as the destination for our last big meal of the trip. The meal would not be quite as foodie as some of our Tallinn experiences, but at least we would eat and drink in a restaurant frequented by local people.

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