Archive for the ‘Estonia’ Category


Week 31: Finland

   Posted by: Rhona Tags: , , , ,

For someone who doesn’t usually do country hopping I’ve certainly been racking them up in the last little bit, and it won’t stop for another couple of weeks. I’m still in Finland but now in Turku, from where I will take the boat to Stockholm. Country number 5 in as many weeks and unfortunately currency number 5 as well. I did have to choose European countries that haven’t adopted the Euro didn’t I? Apart from Finland of course.

Last I wrote I was in Estonia, hanging out in Tallinn. I spent a few hours at the Tallinn City Theatre with a couchsurfer and got a great tour of the backstage areas and building. The building is actually 3 different adjacent houses that have been renovated to make one impressive complex. There are 5 stages in different parts of the building and we walked up stairs, along corridors, down stairs, around corners, up stairs, past pool tables and into dressing rooms and basements as we visited them all. It was amazing; I could spend my life exploring all the nooks and crannies. I’d order delivery pizza to a different corner every day and play hide and seek with the delivery man. One of the stages is in the basement and apparently quite difficult to work with, though it looks fantastic. A few weeks ago when it rained the water came in through the power points, which can never be a good thing. Unfortunately I didn’t see a play as those showing while I was there were in Estonian and a little esoteric. As the woman showing me around explained, they can be difficult to understand for a native Estonian speaker.

The ferry ride to Helsinki was short (and had wifi!) and once on land I met up with a guy who was a passenger on one of the tours I led in Japan. We’ve stayed in touch and caught up in Sydney when he was in town late last year (and by random coincidence I was home). He took me to a smoke sauna which is a particularly Finnish style of sauna. The wood is burned in a large stove and the smoke is kept inside due to a lack of chimney. When the sauna is hot enough the smoke is let out and the sauna is ready to be used. My first image of the sauna was two steaming people standing outside the door in the semi-darkness of a northern winter evening. We stripped down to swimmers and headed in, Anders explaining the protocol to this bumbling tourist. We poured a few ladles of water over our head, sat on wooden boards to protect our behinds from being blackened with the residual soot and sat down to sweat. And sweat we did, huge drips of it. There was a lake outside and after a bit of working up to it I went for a quick swim. The water was 3 degrees, and as Anders cheerfully pointed out it doesn’t get much colder than that, even in the depths of winter, before it turns to ice.

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Week 30: Capital hopping

   Posted by: Rhona Tags: , , ,

I finally left Riga for the “Switzerland of Latvia”, Sigulda. As nice a place as it was I would say that the label is a little generous. The autumn leaves were pretty though, and I had a great guide who I’d met at a couchsurfing meeting in Riga and who happened to be heading up to spend the weekend with her parents. She drove me around to some of the medieval castles in the area and to the Baltic States’ deepest cave (obviously there aren’t many caves around) which has a tragic love story associated with it. Details vary a little but a beautiful young woman, the Rose of Turaida, and a handsome young man were in love and planned to marry. Another evil (probably ugly) man wanted her and planned to rape her in Gutmanis Cave. She decided that death was better than the other option and convinced him that she had a scarf that would protect him from death. To prove its magical properties she put it on and told him to try to kill her. Of course the scarf had no magical properties and she was killed.

People have been visiting the cave for centuries and leaving their mark on the reddish sandstone. A sign outside said that the oldest visible graffiti is from 1667 but the oldest I could identify was 1822. At least back then people took some time with their vandalism, or paid others to take the time. Maybe it’s just the mists of time but the historical carvings seem a whole lot more beautiful than “Frank waz ‘ere, 2008” scratched furtively with a butter knife.

The castles were cool and I realised just how little I know about the history of this part of the world. It’s a convoluted sequence of influences, conquests and occupations by Germans, Poles, Swedes and Russians with overtones of religion which only serve to make it more confusing to someone who doesn’t really understand why these Christians fought against those Christians when the basis of their beliefs seem so similar. Though the Baltic States didn’t seem to be the focus of most of the struggles they had the misfortune of being on the way as larger powers fought for trade rights and souls to convert. I’ve never associated the crusades with this part of the world but apparently a northern crusade came up this way in the 12th century to convert the stubborn pagans.

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