Face The Sun: Let There Be Light!
The views and opinions expressed in this blog are exclusively those of its author, and are not in any way meant to reflect the opinions or policies of the US Government.

Past Travelogues.

Finland, Estonia, Petersburg

Kirovograd, Ukraine


Tirana, Albania

Macedonia & Romania

Budapest to Bucharest

Balkans and Poland.

Christiania, Copenhagen.

Northern Norway

Northern Finland


Kashgar, briefly

More to come, Inshallah, as I go through old paper travel journals.

The DC experience, archived.

July '05
June '05
December '05
October '04
More to come should interesting things happen to me. Ever.

Blatent Plagiarism

The nation's largest chain bookstore has indicated that, due to lack of consumer interest, it has stopped selling books.
--Frederick Raphael, The Glittering Prizes

I feel this is the equivalent of a surgeon, skipping through a radiology department singing, 'I don't have cancer, I don't have cancer!'
--Phil Robinson, Charlie Big Potatoes

Mum is crying with her faced turned away from me, gulping and honking like an injured seal. And I'm rolled up in the back seat wishing the old man would stop the car and make her walk. That or buy her a fish.
--Phil Robinson, Charlie Big Potatoes

I love it when well-educated women sweaar -- the words regain their original power and meaning when delivered unexpectedly with so much poise.
--Phil Robinson, Charlie Big Potatoes

She lived with her mother, who looked like an old labrador, and an old labrador.
--Will Self, Great Apes

When I was small and would leaf through the Old Testament retold for children and illustrated in engravings by Gustave Dore, I saw the Lord God sitting on a cloud. He was an old man with eyes, nose, and a long beard, and I would say to myself that if He had a mouth, He had to eat. And if He ate, He had intestines. But that thought always gave me a fright, because even though I come from a family that was not particularly religious, I felt the idea of a divine intestine to be sacrilegious.
--Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Quality is merely the distribution aspect of Quantity.
--Vladimir Nabokov, Bend Sinister

...In the frank brilliance of the bright sun, which, as we all know, is the friend of heroes.
--Jose Saramago, All the Names

He stuttered so badly that you could go out and buy yourself a chocolate bar while he was wrestling with an initial p or b; he would never try to bypass the obstacle by switching to a synonym, and when the explosion finally did occur, it convulsed his whole frame and sprayed the interlocutor with triumphant saliva.
--Vladimir Nabokov, Bend Sinister

To Stand on Jericho's Walls and Face the Sun.

Saturday, April 24, 2004

I'm at an internet cafe in Copenhagen trying to draft an email about Christiania, but I'm a little distracted because the woman next to me is typing like a MADMAN using only one hand. I thought that was really impressive-- until I realized she only has one arm.

Posted by Dakota on 7:58 AM link |

Saturday, April 17, 2004

Dispatches from Norway.

So then, Finland, split second decision to leave and catch the bus to Finnmark, the northern-most province in Norway. Caught the bus 30 minutes later to the border town in Finland of Karigasniemi.

I was the only person on the bus (which was one of those huge, 60 person coaches), which was a bit odd, but the regional buses also carry the mail, so it wasn't too awkward. Arrived in Karigasniemi and learned that the bus across the border wouldn't come for another 4 hours. Mind you, the city of Karigasniemi has about 300 people in it. There're two gas stations which double as supermarkets, two bars, a snowmobile repair shop and a hotel, and nothing else at all. There was a blackjack table in one of the bars, but it was closed, so the wait for the bus was pretty agonizingly long. But I crossed the border (with nor formalities; Norway and Finland are on good enough terms to have dispensed with passports), into the city of Karasjok, which, with about 3000 people living in it, felt like a huge city to me.

I met a Spaniard in Finland who told me that Norway is the most expensive country in the world. I didn't believe him. Nothing, I thought, could be more expensive than Japan. And then I started looking for a hotel, and there was only one open, and it cost 300 US dollars a night, and I started to get worried that maybe the Spaniard was right. My final conclusion: yeah, he was definitely right.

There was a road sign with the international Youth Hostel symbol (wood cabin, scraggly pine tree) and an arrow pointing out of town, so I followed it. It led, I thought, to a budget-ish hotel, that had burned down sometime earlier that year.

But I went back to the road, and saw that the youth hostel was actually some 6 kilometers out of town, in a place named 'Husky.' I started walking. By this point I had already walked some 5 kilometers through town looking for a cheap hotel, and I was really tired of walking, and sort of thinking, I wonder if I can hitch hike here. But I'm an American, and like all good Americans I was raised under the notion that if you walk down the road with your thumb up, you'll automatically be slaughtered by anyone who stops for you.

6 K later, I arrived at Husky. It turned out not to be the name of the town, but rather indicated that the youth hostel was attached to a working Husky farm that breeds competition-level long-distance sled dogs. The owner was out on a dog-mushing tour with a group of tourists, and was in the process of soliciting sponsers to compete in the Iditarod in Alaska.

It was the nicest hostel I've ever stayed in. I was the only person there, and it cost me 60 bucks (for a HOSTEL!). But there was a full moon rising, and I had my own cabin decorated with traditional lappish handicrafts and a table made from a slab of slate, and it was warm and just outside my door there were scores of Huskies and it was everything I've ever wanted in a room. It took all of my self control not to blow a third of my total savings on an 8-day dog mushing tour through northern norway.

I told the kid who checked me in (15 years old or so, with flawless, nearly unaccented American english) that I walked from Karasjok. "Why didn't you just hitch hike?" he asked. I asked if it was dangerous. "Here?" he said. "I mean, maybe if you were somewhere else. Like Mexico. I wouldn't hitch hike in Mexico. But you're in Finnmark and the only dangerous thing is that maybe you have to wait a long time for a ride."

The next morning I hitched into town. When it's 20 degrees outside and you're 5 kilometers from nowhere, and you've had your thumb up for 20 minutes with no luck-- when someone stops to give you a lift, you feel gratitude like you've never felt before.

He dropped me off at the tourist info booth while I showered him with thank-yous.

I asked about buses to Hammerfest, the northernmost city in the world. There was one that day, in a few hours. The guy next to me heard me ask about Hammerfest. "It's a long bus-ride," he told me. "You should really consider bringing chocolates." The tourist info guy also warned me that I might not be able to find a bus back; things would be shutting down for Easter. "But," he told me, "you can always just hitch hike." I asked again, is it safe? He laughed and told me, "you're not in America any more."

Bus to Hammerfest, front row seat to see everything as we drove. Everything in Northern Norway is in sepia; the sky is blue, the snow and the mountains are white, and everything else, the houses and barns and grain silos and the rocks, are brown or painted brown, and there's no movement outside of a car passing every 20 minutes, and you feel like you're driving through an old photograph. The Norse don't believe in guardrails, and at any given moment you could plunge over the edge and die, but they're also very good drivers, so you don't get nervous like you do in, say, China.

About halfway through the trip we started winding through the Fjords. Hammerfest, like nearly all the villages in northern norway, clings to a fjord, wrapped around cliffs that meet the Arctic ocean. Hammerfest, an ice-free port despite it's position in the world, is an oil town with nearly 10,000 citizens. And since easter was approaching, those 10,000 citizens were at home, doing whatever it is Finnmarkers do at night. I went to a low-cost looking hotel, on the outskirts of town, that was attached to a gas station. "Oh, we're closed," the lady told me, "but we'll be open May 1st." It didn't really help me all that much. She could see I was pretty dismayed by that fact, so she told me to wait a second, and started calling hotels. There was only one open in the entire town, so I hiked over and got a room for 55 bucks.

By this point, I was pretty much systematically starving myself. Hotels, buses and whatnot were costing me such an extraordinary amount of money that I went ahead and cut food out of the equation. I was allowing myself one hot-dog (wrapped in bacon, which the Norse can't get enough of) from the quickie mart a day-- a luxury that cost about 6 US dollars, but beyond that I couldn't afford to eat. A loaf of bread and some local cheese-- the old standby of budget eating-- ran 15 to 20 bucks. I don't understand how Norwegians feed themselves. Fortunately, I had purchased a bag of Cheese Puffs in Finland, and was pretty much subsisting off of them until I could get out of Norway. But even as much as I love cheese puffs (I am a Friend of Processed Cheese Food Products), by the 4th day of eating them, I was ready for some real food.

In April, the sun rises in Norway at about 4:30 in the morning, and sets at about 10. I got up at around 5 the next morning (easy to do when it's so light out), and caught the Coastliner, a boat that runs up and down the coast of all of northern finland (and whose norwegian name is the HurtiGruti, which made me chuckle). The Norse bill the Hurtigruti as 'the most beautiful boat ride in the world,' and they can get away with it, because I've never seen scenrey like this before. It was freezing and windy on the deck, but I wasn't willing to go inside because there were always more rocks in the ocean to take pictures of, even though I was fully cognizent of the fact that all my pictures would be turning out identical (they pretty much did, and they're ALL SPECTACULAR).

I arrived in the town of Honnigsvar a few hours later. Went to the bus station and asked about buses to the northern most point in Europe-- the NordKapp, or North Cape. There was one. It cost 200 US dollars for the 35 kilometer trip, which generously included a guided tour in Norwegian. I asked if I could just pay for the transportation. The answer was no.

It goes without saying that I went up the road and hitched a ride to the North Cape. When the bus passed me standing on the side of the road, a lot of them recognized me, and gave me the thumbs up (which, to me, seemed like a cruel imitation of my attempting to catch a lift). But I made it to the North Cape a few hours later, and can now say that I've stood on the northernmost part of Europe, situated in a national park with famous rock formations and whatnot.

There are no budget hotels in Honnigsvar, so I hitched back to the crossroads and tried to hitch out of town.

Three hours later, after having been passed by 27 cars, I gave up and hitched back into town. I was picked up almost immediately by the nicest woman I've ever met. She asked where I was going, and I told her: a hotel downtown. "But, it's Easter," she told me. "Everything closes for Easter. Including the hotels. There are no buses, no restaurants, it's... well, it's Easter."

And suddenly I found myself trapped in the Gateway to the Northernmost part of Europe, with no place to stay and no means of getting out.

She drove me to the one hotel she thought might be open. There was a sign on the door with a phone number, and she called it from her mobile phone, and the door opened and a man opened his hotel just for me. She was speaking Norwegian on the phone, but I distinctly heard her use the words "Desperatisch Amerikaner," which was pretty much how I was feeling at that point. The hotel owner said I looked cold, made me a pot of coffee and gave me some bread and jam, and set me up with CNN on his huge-screen TV.

I woke up the next morning ready to try again. It was starting to get a little frustrating, being trapped in a town that's far too expensive and far away from everywhere, with no means of getting out and neither money to afford nor location to purchase any food. But then you look out the window, and there's a postcard-perfect town that's surrounded by cliffs and still dotted with snow and the Fjords are still there and it's all still breathtaking, and it makes you stop and sort of think-- yeah, this was worth it.

And so I walked back to the crossroads, and started trying to hitch again; this was my only option, since the buses didn't start running again for another 5 days. Three hours later, car number 36 pulled over and asked where I was going. You'd be really surprised by who exactly is willing to give you a ride when you're hitch hiking in Norway. The first people who stopped were probably 60 years old-- the sort of people who would NEVER, under any circumstances, stop for a hitch hiker in the states.

I hopped in the back. They, car number 36, my saviour after waiting 3 hours, drove me a mile and a half and then pulled over to the side of the road. "This is where we're stopping. We're going skiing." It was a little disheartening.

But 20 minutes later I got another lift, from a guy who drove me nearly 200 kilometers. He was a former sailer in the Merchant Marines, who owned with his father a cod fishing business, with a fleet of two boats. He (father of 2, grandfather of 2, never married), advised me: have as many girlfriends as you can. He also advised me to carry a knife whenever I drive in Finnmark. That way, if you hit a reindeer, you can kill it and then cut the ears off and hide them. Reindeer men mark their reindeer on the ears in the same way Americans used to brand cows, and if you don't cut the ears off then you'll have to pay for the animal-- up to 300 dollars for a whole reindeer. And then, since you've cut the ears off, you can at least keep it and eat the meat, which is small compensation, since insurance won't pay for reindeer damage to cars.

He dropped me off in a tiny town called Russenes, where I had a celebratory meal (of cheese puffs) before continuing to hitch. An hour and a half later, after I'd walked about 10 kilometers down the road, a single female stopped to give me a ride. Again, an unexpected hitch-- no single female in the States (except, perhaps, the suicidal) would ever stop for a solo male. She only spoke a little english, but she drove me 100 kilometers to Lakselv, where she was working as a nurse in an old folks home.

I bought a hot dog ($6), and kept hitching. I got picked up by a carload of students, who drove me 5 kilometers out of their way, because they were home for easter and really bored since everything was shut down. I mentioned how expensive their country was; they told me "Yeah, we really can't afford to do anything either."

And then I sat. And sat. And sat. And the sun was starting to set, and it gets really cold when the sun sets, and I was getting worried, because I had stupidly walked another 10 or 15 kilometers up the road before plunking myself down, and I couldn't face walking all the way back to maybe, just maybe, find a hotel room.

And then a car passed and went around the corner, and two minutes later, backed up from that corner, and stopped and gave me a ride.

There was a couple inside. The guy had wanted to give me a lift, but his wife didn't, and it was a little bit awkward to know that I was the cause of their fight. But I wasn't about to turn down the ride, even if it was 150 kilometers in really awkward silence.

I got back to Karigasniemi as the sun set and the sleet set in. I tried briefly to keep hitching, but to no avail, so I took a hotel room. I noticed in the hotel room that I had lost a lot of weight in Norway (walking 15-plus miles a day while not eating will do that to you), and so with the thought that I was starting to look like a refugee, I went and had a reindeer steak with instant mashed potatoes. 12 hours and about 400 kilometers later, after days of cheese puffs and constant hunger, it was the best meal I've ever eaten in my entire life.

And on that note, I'm afraid I've got to run. More from me on the Baltics tomorrow; for now, I've got to find a bathroom.

Vilnius, Lithuania
17 April 2004

Posted by Dakota on 6:34 AM link |

Friday, April 16, 2004

We're in Lithuania, folks, and more emails are coming soon, I promise.

Posted by Dakota on 9:52 AM link |

Monday, April 12, 2004

Dispatches from Finland.

So then: About two weeks ago, I left Estonia and headed to Finland.

Finland has a really high rate of alcoholism (it's dark and cold there for 8 months out of the year; it turns the Finns into pretty big boozehounds), so to fight that, they tax alcohol as much as 50 percent. The 3 hour ride from Estonia to Finland is in international, and by extension, tax free waters, so a lot of Finns take the boat just for the purpose of getting hammered. It's sort of a year-round Finns Gone Wild, and it's great to watch. Customs reeked like a frat party, and everyone except me was carrying at least two cases of beer; most had four.

Got into Helsinki and immediately caught a northbound train for a city named Rovaniemi, which Marketing-minded Finns have dubbed the Official Home of Santa Claus. My train was the Santa Claus Ekspress, and just about everything in the town is a shameless ploy to sell things that may or may not have to do with Christmas ("Santa Hair and Nail Salon;" "North Pole Chinese Takeout").

I immediately got on a bus for the Official Home of Santa Claus, five kilometers out of the city. It's not worth arguing with the Finns that Saint Nick was actually born in Turkey; they've adopted him and stuck him in Rovaniemi, and the Official Village is quite the place. There are carols playing in the background (The Finnish version of "White Christmas" was on when I got there) and there are plenty of cardboard cutouts of reindeer and elves and whatnot, and it's overwhelming touristy and completely fantastic.

I got really excited to have my picture taken with a cardboard reindeer, even though it's an experience that you can have at any mall in America on any given December. There was a slide made out of snow, but my pants were the wrong kind (sadly, not plastic) so I couldn't ride it. And there was an igloo, inside of which was an ice sculpture of a bowl filled with ice. Not necessarily the most inspired piece of art I'd ever seen, but hey-- e for effort, Finns. Outside of the igloo, there was a big sign advertising "Snowmobile Driving for Children."

I asked the lady behind the information desk: are their any reindeer here? She said, "Yes, behind the Santa House, there is a man with a reindeer." I immediately responded: I have to go see a man about a reindeer.

I headed toward the reindeer, but I got sidelined at the Snowmobile Driving For Children track when the guy working there asked where I was from. I told him I was American; he told me he was drunk and offered me a beer. He turned out to be the former Finnish National Champion for free-style snowmobiling, but he broke his heel while competing in America and now just runs snowmobiles for kids. He let me take one out for a spin, free of charge (and presented me with a certificate that said "I drove a snowmobile observed by Santa"), and I can tell you on good authority that there's nothing in the world that's more fun that a snowmobile, even if it's tiny and you don't really fit on it. He wanted to get me a free photo with Santa, but the last time he did that, his friend threw up on Santa's boot, so he and Santa aren't on the best terms.

I still hadn't seen the reindeer, so I excused myself. I found them a few yards away, had my communion with them (I am a Friend of Reindeer), declined an expensive reindeer sleigh ride, and then went back to the snowmobile park. I asked Captain Snowmobile what the reindeers names were. "What do you think?" he said. "They're both named Rudolph." Rudolph and Rudolph had both placed quite highly in the Rovaniemi Reindeer Races, which I had missed just two weeks previously.

The official village of Santa Claus is also home to about 15 souvenir shops. Santa sells. And what Santa sells is tchotchkies made out of Reindeer antler (including the ever popular Antler-Chunket-on-a-keychain), Finnish Knives, and, oddly enough, leather goods like bags and purses. They've also got t-shirts for sale ("Good boys go to heaven. Bad boys go to Lappland."), and I was pretty excited to see that one of the official santa shops sells not only shot glasses, but also cigarettes. Simple vice, it seems doesn't influence that whole naughty/nice thing. The last shop I went into was named "Santafood," and while they're fully stocked on name-brand candy and canned hams, I was quite disappointed that they don't sell any reindeer jerky whatsoever.

When I got back to town I went to the market (Market in Finnish is 'Kauppa.' I can only guess what adjectives were describing that market, but it was abbreviated on the sign as "KKK Supermarket," which made me chuckle) to see if they had any reindeer jerky. You could buy fresh reindeer, but sadly I'm not carrying a fridge, so I had to pass.

The next morning I kept heading north by bus (stopping only briefly to eat a Smoked Reindeer sandwich). There were signs on the side of the road that screamed "Stop Salmon Parasites!" and we passed more than one billboard advertising logs as building materials for log cabins. And then I arrived in the bustling village of Inari (population: just under 600). Took a hotel room, and then ordered a pizza topped with reindeer. (In addition to reindeer, it came unexpectedly with canned pineapple on it; and while reindeer is bracingly gamey (it being sort of the original Big Game), reindeer pizza is every bit as good as I had hoped it would be).

There was a hockey game on television, and I bought a beer and sat down to watch it. More or less the entire population of Inari had shown up in the Hotel Inari to watch the game, which (it was later explained to me) were the semi-finals, Oulu vs. Helsinki. Oulu, a scant 6 hours away and thus the 'home' team, was considered the favorite, and they won 3 to 2. I started talking to the guy next to me about the hockey game. When the game ended, I asked him what sort of work he did. "Oh, I'm a reindeer man," he said.

I was pretty excited to be up close and personal with a reindeer man, so I immediately stated asking him questions. One of my first questions was "How many reindeer do you have?" but he refused to answer. "Never ask that," he said. Apparantly it's the Finnish equivalent of asking a stranger in bar "Hey, how much money do you make?"

He started introducing me to his freinds. It turned out that they were all Sami, the indigenous Lappish people. Out of pure linguistic curiousity, I asked them to teach my some Sami (I wanted to see if you could hear a difference between Sami and Finnish; Sami is less crisp, and rolls its R's more strongly, but aside from that, sounds exactly like Finnish to me). The brief lesson in Sami included the word "Thank you," which I kept using; other Samis would hear me say it, and they'd be impressed that this foreign kid was trying to speak Sami, and then they'd buy me a beer for it, and then I'd thank them and they cycle would repeat. It was pretty nice.

Everyone at the table except me was wearing homemade reindeer boots, and I can't tell you how much I want a pair. I can also tell you more than you'd ever want to know about reindeer farming.

One of the reindeer men asked if I wanted to go up in his plane the day after and then go skiing with him. I of course accepted, but he was really drunk at the time and I don't think he remembered the next day, because my flying/skiing trip never materialized. Another Sami had family who had moved to the states-- first to Seattle, but that was way too hot for them, so they moved to Alaska to farm reindeer. (His family's name was 'Napiri,' which apparantly they had changed because most Americans were stumbling with the name 'Naapiritorinantori' or some such).

I asked them if they thought there was any chance to see the northern lights that night. They doubted it. The Northern lights, it seem, require cold weather, perfectly clear skies, and a falling barometer. (The guy who explained all this also told me that when he was little, his parents used to tell him that if he was bad, the northern lights would come and get him, so that whenever he saw them as a kid, he'd always cover his head and shout "No! They're coming to GET ME!!")

I woke up at 9 the next morning, when a hung-over reindeer man pounded on my door and asked to throw up in my toilet.

He was just stopping by to see how I was, wondering what my plans were for the day. I told him I was going to hike to the wilderness church, and he asked if I wanted company, since he knew the way. I tried to take him up on it. "Perfect," he said. "Let me see your snowshoes so I know they're ok." What really hurts is that I had NEARLY purchased a pair of snowshoes in an outdoor goods shop in Rovaniemi. They were some 400 US dollars, and I really wanted them badly, even though I can't stand snow or cold weather and it's going to be summer in like two weeks. I asked if I could rent some snowshoes somewhere in Inari. "No," he told me. "We usually just make them ourselves."

Since I couldn't go hiking, I made sort of split second decision and decided to go to Norway instead.

That said, I'm about to run out of time here at the internet cafe, and I need to go find some food as well, so Norway will have to wait till later. I hope you all had a spectacular easter, and we'll be in touch via the usual channels.

Riga, Latvia
12 April 2004.

Posted by Dakota on 1:25 PM link |

Saturday, April 10, 2004

We're back in the baltics. Stories to follow later on today.

Posted by Dakota on 9:38 AM link |

Saturday, April 03, 2004

And as a side note:

Estonia: Check.

(Counting metro stops and state-named streets is so 2003).

Posted by Dakota on 4:44 AM link |

Thursday, April 01, 2004

Dispatches from Estonia

Hello from Tallinn, Estonia. It's 4 in the afternoon, and I'm struggling against jetlag (I'd kill for a nap, but I won't wake up until midnight or so, and then I'd be wide awake until sunrise), so I thought I'd write a quick email.

Got in yesterday at midnight or so from London after nearly two full days in transit. My worry of not being able to find a hostel was for nothing; I didn't have to sleep in the airport or the train station, so I feel like I've been living in luxury because I was able to sleep AND take a hot shower. Woke up this morning, had a few cups of really good coffee (I love this continent), ran to the post office to mail a box home (my bag weighs 10 or 15 pounds, and it seems way too heavy to me), and I've been wandering around ever since.

As an aside on the post office: do you have any idea how difficult it is to mime the word 'packing tape'? I thought my 'shhrrrrkkk' sound effect was very convincing, but the lady behind the counter disagreed. (The only other word I can think of that's harder to mime would be 'airport.' You've got the option of stretching your arms out and making propellor noises, but that makes you look like an idiot and only works about 50 percent of the time. And despite what you might think, a fist shaped airplane taking off from the runway of your outstretched palm is completely unconvincing).

So then: I was in Estonia five years ago. It's unbelievably different now. Let's start with this: EU membership is on the horizon. The kroon is pegged to the Euro, and all of a sudden, everything is expensive. Not as expensive as the States-- but a bed in the hostel cost me nearly 20 bucks, and a beer sells for 3 to 4, and for this part of the world, that's an inconceivable pricetag. Tallinn no longer feels sleepy and undiscovered; it's fast-paced, there are banks everywhere, and it feels like the world is about to stumble across it. The city feels like it's 5 years away from becoming Switzerlandized: fantastically quaint, but all too aware of it's quaintness. Some things never change-- it's still all cobblestones and winding streets (and this morning I had breakfast a table down from a guy drinking a beer at 8 a.m.)-- but it's definitely on the rise, and there's no missing that fact. Every third shop is selling souvenirs, ceramics, amber-- and that only happens in places where a lot of tourists are expected.

The last time I was here, someone tried to sell me a passport and a gas mask. This morning, someone tried to sell me a car. (I declined. "But, it is Volvo!").

Estonian remains an impossible language. I sat next to an Estonian on the plane who spent half an hour or so schooling me in the pronunciation of vowels like o~ ("You need to stick your jaw further out. Eeuuu." I couldn't hack it). We spent five minutes alone on the word 'Thanks.' (It's Aitaa, and I still can't say it correctly). The language is bracingly complicated and the words are overbearingly long (this morning I almost bought some suuntigaoptikakeireen-- which is, sunglasses); everyone speaks quickly, and it sounds a little bit like listening to a normal language being spoken in fast-forward. There are 14 words that mean "no," depending on where they fall in the sentence and what word comes before and after them. The chances of learning even basic conversation Estonian are pretty much nil.

The last time I was here, we used mostly German to get by. Now, everyone speaks English, and if you ask "Do you speak english, or russian?" they'll respond that they speak both-- but please speak English. I haven't met a single person who speaks only Estonian, and very few who speak only Estonian and Russian. Staring at signs and menus, I keep guessing at cognates; but there really aren't any, so I keep screwing it up. This morning, for example, I ordered an "omelet seergallen" or some such, hoping that the seergallen came from the Russian word sirr, or cheese. I received a plate of eggs stuffed with onions.

The standard American prohibiton on wearing jeans while travelling no longer applies here. Everyone under the age of 30 seems to have a pair, and they all wear them about two sizes too small, resulting in a look something along the lines of saran-wrapping the collective Estonian tail in denim. My khaki pants actually make me stand out a little bit.

As I mentioned, I spent the morning just wandering around. Re-visited a lot of the places from five years ago. It all seems vaguely familiar-- the castle, the town overlook, the casino I was booted out of first for wearing the wrong kind of pants and then later (after purchasing the correct kind of pants), for being under 21. Stopped into the largest church in the city, where a fairly talented soprano was practicing opera with accompanied by an incompetent organist. Spent most of the rest of the day on the streets, soaking in the Balticness of it all.

Estonia is now covered in wireless internet spots, and as soon as I find one that's free I'll post some pictures. Beyond that, I move tomorrow morning to Finland with the intention of heading north, into Lappland above the arctic circle. I am, after all, a Friend of Reindeer. Until then, have an excellent day.

Posted by Dakota on 9:04 AM link |
Dispatches from Estonia

No time to write a full blog or email as of now. That said, this is worth mentioning:

Last night I got into the hostel at about midnight. It was a full dorm room, 12 beds or so, but only two other people in the room--an American (from Brooklyn), and a Swede. When I walked in, they were standing next to each other, close to the American's bed but quite far away from the Swede's, and from the way they were standing, I got the distinct impression that I had walked in on them as they were making out.

This is an intensely awkward position to be thrusted into. It made me wish for some sort of gang sign-- I'm one of you; carry on, boys-- but I didn't know how to communicate that. And if they weren't making out, then I'd have put myself into an awkward situation I'd prefer not to deal with.

Both of them were very drunk and, I suspect, quite high. The American highly recommended I check out the local bar scene, and even though I was fairly tired after nearly 48 hours of being in transit, I took his advice and went and had a beer. You're welcome, Mr. Brooklyn.

At the bar, I met some people wearing t-shirts that said "Our wee country: Norniron." It took me a full ten minutes before I realised that Norniron is Nor'n Ir'on, or Northern Ireland. I told them what I walked in on. Their response: 'Oh god, sleeping with plumbers, are ya?' It made me chuckle. After 14 straight losses over, the Northern Irish football team finally made good and won a game 1-nill against Estonia. The Northern Irish coach was hanging out that evening at a club called Hollywood, around the corner from my hostel, where it was also ladies night. I was going to tag along, but the 80 kroon ($6.50 or so) cover charge was over my price limit, so I went back to the hostel. The American and Swede were each passed out in their own bed. I brushed my teeth, had a panic attack after doing so that Estonia tap water might be schistosomatic or laced with Giardia, checked the book and found that Estonia tap water is clean and drinkable, and then lay down and half-slept through the jetlagged night.

And there we have it.

Posted by Dakota on 6:11 AM link |
Current Location:
The People's Republic of China.

Stop by any time: everyone's welcome.

Slouching Towards Bethlehem to Be Born

Comments and requests for dates should be directed to email.

And here I am.

And for all you random folks out there whom I don't know, for the love of god, email me. I'm abroad, know no one, and look forward to hearing from you. I'm especially looking at YOU, whomever YOU are who's Facing The Sun all the way from Kenya. And Sweden. And Canada. And whatnot.

Books Tackled, 2006:

1. Jarhead, Anthony Swofford
2. Salvation on Sand Mountain: Snake Handling and Redemption in Southern Appalachia, Dennis Covington
3. A Brief History of Nearly Everything, Bill Bryson
4. A Woman in Berlin: Eight Weeks in the Conquered City, Anonymous
5. Songs of the Gorilla Nation: My Journey Through Autism, Dawn Prince-Hughes

This year's movies, in chronological order:

1. Kung Fu Hustle
2. A Wrinkle in Time
3. Pi: Faith in Chaos
4. My Big Fat Independent Movie
5. The Winter Guest
6. Voices in Wartime
7. What Dreams May Come
8. Farewell My Concubine
9. The Ring
10. Like Water for Chocolate
11. Sahara

Foreign Service Officers by day, Bloggers by day as well.

The Diplodocus
(Islamabad, Pakistan).

The Permanent Mission of Joshie
(Zagreb; Libyaward).

Prince Roy
(Chennai; Taiwanward).

Sue and not You
(Tbilisi, Georgia).

Life on the Mekong
(Vientiane, Laos).

FSO Globe Trotter
(Lahore, Pakistan).

Vice Consul: Diplomatically Transformed
(New Delhi, India).

Adventures in Good Countries

Our Man in Tirana
(Tirana, Albania).

Anne's Blog
(Kazakhstan; Greeceward).

(Bogota, Colombia).

Furnish Worldwide

Tasman's World
(Dhaka, Bangladesh).

(Lome, Togo).

World Adventurers
(Seoul, Korea).

Aaron Martz

A for Adventure
(Chennai, India).

The Excellent Adventures of Nickie P
(Paris, France).

Permanently Disco
(Dhaka, Bangladesh).

Consul At Arms
(Kingston, Jamaica).

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