Published: June 20th 2010June 20th 2010
I could very well be driving on a bus through Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. When I look out the windows, all I see are these massive plains checkered with patches of evergreens. However, I am reminded of Gettysburg because of the small (maybe 5-10 feet at most) layer of fog that seems to hang just over the grass a few hundred meters out on both sides. It has that misty look that pictures of dawn at old Civil War battlefileds seem to depict. I guess that is Lithuania for you.
I left off on the train to Helsinki, and now I come back on front end of my 12 hour bus ride from Riga to Warsaw. I managed to snag the back row, although two Polish teens that both resemble Dudley Dursley have been glaring at me the whole ride for having the forsight to grab all five seats, so this very well could be the end of it for me.
I entered Helsinki around ten at night on Monday (the 14th) and easily found Tuomas his girlfriend Mari. Tuomas knew Paul from having done an exchange in Boulder while Paul was still there, so he was nice enough to allow me
to crash at their place upon Paul's request. Woke up the next morning and met Mari for lunch, for while Tuomas worked most of the day (doctor) she had a late shift that day. I had a great time marvelling at the relative safety of Helsinki -- especially compared to the past three weeks when I had spent the majority of my strolling covering my back pockets. The most intriguing aspect of this discovery was the fact that, even if there exists not a single car within a few hundred meters, and the crosswalk is at most 3 meters wide, they will not disobey a red "do not walk" signal. I swear that I thought, for the first few of these occurences, that there was a camera with some sort of Minority Reportesque laser eye technology which could pinpoint and later ticket a person for "illegally" crossing. At one point I had to tap the lady next to me and ask her, in plain English, why we were not crossing. Of course she pointed at the red signal, and I was forced to give up my query for I deemed it a subject that was not worth discussing. Regardless, I
brought this Finnish law abiding tradition, especially with regards to these obscenely impractical occurrences, up with Mari and lunch, and she laughingly told me it was cool to cross, but Fins were just way to careful. No kidding.
I then met Tuomas after work to head over to Suomenlinna Island, which Lonely Planet had deemed the number one attraction in Helsinki. Grabbed a ferry and cruised on over to this very cool ex-fortress, which Tuomas later described as one of the most useless army bases of all time considering the lack of (to an extent) any direct invasions upon this area. Either way, it was awesome to be on a somewhat medieval island, complete with pitch-black dungeons and huge stone walls, that was not overrun with the tacky consumerist culture that I found in some of the classical buildings in Moscow. We even tried, unsuccessfully, to climb up one of the castle walls, but then opted to spend the majority of the time on the island having a couple drinks along the ocean and toying with various (overweight) sparrows.
Got drinks with two more friends at the "Old Fox" pub that night. They bought be a shot of
this Vasi (I know my memory botched that) drink that tasted exactly like listerine, but was actually now very popular in Helsinki and only consisted of Vodka and crushed up mints. They told me of how lame the Finnish government is with regards to drinking, for now businesses cannot even advertize "Happy Hours" because they do not want to promote cheap drinking. It was hard to find a pint under 5 or 6 euros, much to our chagrin, so we turned in early and grabbed kabobs on the way home.
Woke up way too early and took the train (free ride number two, thanks to the lack of guards due to Finnish naivete... or rather the fact that they actually trust their citizens. Either way I was told by the guys that I should not buy a ticket) to Hyviinkaa, the town where all of the guys I had hung out with (and Paul knew via Tuomas and his travels to visit him in Finland) grew up. Spent some time with Jemi playing mini-golf (which, instead of using real golf balls, opted for enlarged foosballs, making it by far the hardest round of mini-golf in the world) and checking out
his house with, per the ordinary, two saunas inside. Trained back and spent the night shooting out CS requests for the following cities.
Woke up on Thursday around 630 to catch the ferry to Tallinn, and I was thankfully escorted by Mari (Tuomas had a 24 hour shift on Wednesday). I had been expecting the typical Massachusetts island version of a ferry but was instead met with these monstrosities that could have easily born the name "Royal Carribean" rather than Eckerolines. Boarding was exactly the same as getting on a cruise ship, and I even had the option of two separate restaurant choices for breakfast. I had heard from the Fins that many of their countrymen travelled to Tallinn for the day to get drunk cheaply and (forgive me) hang out with the "pay-per-woman" that meandered the streets, but I had no idea that they would start their drinking as soon as they boarded at 8am. I might as well have been on a cruise to the Bahamas, for when I returned from my nap outside around 10am people were stumbling around on the dance floor and singing their hearts out in the main lounge. My kind of people.
Got to Tallinn and I wandered around the amazing Old Town before heading to meet Sandor (my couchsurfing host) at his place, which I am positive will turn out to be the coolest sleeping location I have on this trip. It was literally straight out of Fight Club -- a five story decrepit castle that was bursting with history. He lived on the top floor and the apartment, which slept 7, had tears and burn marks all over the walls, and parts of the floor were falling through to the lower story. When I arrived, the water was out, but the whole bohemian nature of the place had me much to preoccupied to care. All seven of them were in the art school in Tallinn, and all through Sandor's room were set designs, as he was studying theatre stage designs. IT WAS NUTS. He was busy during the day, so I spent my time on a free tour of Old Town put together by a student tour group consisting of more artsy people (One side note: The change in teenage/ early 20's culture from Helsinki to Tallinn is absurd. While, Finland is full of skaters and hoody wearing California
bros, Tallinn people seem to opt for more artsy and gypsy-like lifestyles... at least it appears this way from the people I was around) followed by an extremely filling lunch which only cost me two dollars (thank you non-euro Eastern Europe) and a three hour bike tour along the beaches to the west of the city. We stopped at the house of the president, whose security absolutely palled in comparison that of the one in DC, for it only had two guards at the front and absolutely no fences. I bet I could have run up and knocked on the door twice before they would have had time to run over and grab me. Spent the night at the art school watching indy horror movies with all of Sandor's friends, and then woke up the next morning to grab the bus to Riga.
I have to take a second to vouch for the bus line I took, Hansabuss. For the price of a normal bus ticket, I was treated to full leather seats, wifi, free pillows, snacks, eye masks, etc. The bus even had a flight attendant of sorts who came to my every call. This could make serious
money in the states. The business class section had a full changing room, movie collection, and LIBRARY with up to date newspapers from across the globe. I almost feel sheepish recounting this because here I am supposedly slumming it around Europe on an "all inclusive super bus". I almost opted to keep riding to Vilnius just to see how far I could stretch the ammenities.
Anyway, I quickly grabbed a cheap bus to Segulda, a town about an hour east of Riga, so that I could go bungee jumping along the Gauja River. I had never been before, and was more than happy to give up touring another museum for a chance at falling off of a dangling gondola. One of the better experiences of my life, and it came in a small podunk town in central Latvia. Then I wandered around some caves with this Latvian girl who had driven three hours alone to attempt this bungee gig. Problem was that she spoke very little English, and yet still desired to follow me around this trail along the river. I don't think I ever had to answer a question, which was extremely awkward, so I spent the whole
two hours or so having to ask questions to the tune of "You go, ever America?" or, towards the end, when I was running out of ideas, "You see (with a point/tapping motion toward my eyes) ever Soviets?" It was one of the more excruciating experiences of my trip/life/hopefully ever, but I did manage to take in some cool hiking trails and see a bunch of neat castles... with company... I guess.
Ended up parting ways, with this Latvian girl, whose name I never got, because she did not know the word for name, and meeting up with my couchsurfing host Eliza. We went back to her parents house, which was an extremely ornate apartment decked out in a light Baltic wood that gave it a very cozy feel. Her parents did not speak any English, so I used a few Russian phrases to thank them for letting me stay. I greatly enjoyed both of my conversations with Eliza over meals of, as I was told, a traditional Latvian spread (brown bread, Latvian cheese, tomatoes, mushrooms, chocolate plums, vennison salami, pork... I think, and tea). Slept in a bit and then booked it to Riga where I wandered around
the markets. Within a few short minutes, I was bombarded by three separate homeless people asking or money, and when I said that I had no remaining Lats, they all yelled at me in their respective languages. Needless to say, I was beginning to realize that I was right to book the bus to Warsaw that day, for I was tired of dealing with angry Russian/former Soviet people, and was ready for some mountains and warmth. So, to kill time before this bus, partially because it was raining so hard, I saw Prince of Persia in a nearby theatre.
Well, I finished off my the previous paragraph before falling asleep on the bus to Warsaw, but now I find myself, only three hours after arriving in that very destination point, on the train to Krakow. We got into Warsaw at around 530 in the morning, and so I was forced to meander around the city with the hopes of finding a hostel that opened up relatively early. I decided to walk around the whole urban center, but when nothing seemed to be opening up I opted to head to the Old Town. The walk over was full of a
conglomeration of Polish sights, from the President's House to the Chopin Museum, and I managed to follow my Lonely Planet guide through all of the major points... literally, every. Single. One. Of them. Upon reaching the Warsaw Ghetto Memorial, I realized that I had seen the entirety of the city, and while some might say that one must actually experience the culture and "vibe" of the city as well, I felt quite complacent with my journey to Warsaw. Plus the weather was not terribly appealing, so now I sit on the train, at 847am, on the way to Krakow. I will say that I imagine that my stay there will be at least two nights, for there is free laundry at the hostel I just booked, and Auschwitz and a supposedly interesting salt mine lie outside the city center.
Partway through Gulliver's Travels. Into the Wild or Around the World in 80 Days are next. War and Peace and Moby Dick are screaming at me to open them, but I will save those for the beach... maybe. Getting closer to fully dark nights and warm sunny days.
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