Monday, July 26, 2004

Oslo, Norway - August 3rd to the 4th
Land of Vikings, and the Unaffordable Subway Sandwich
I arrived at about 6:15 in the morning in Oslo. My neck, and body in general, were aching from having to sleep on a stiff bus seat. After getting off the bus and slapping my massive backpack on I walked to Albertine Hostel, which was about a 7 minute walk from the bus and train station. I discovered at the hostel that I could not check in until 3 in the afternoon, and so I had a tremendous amount of time to kill. I threw my bag into the baggage room of the hostel, washed up, and then left in search of breakfast.

To tell the truth I was very tired and simply in need of a place to stay with no need to explore another city. Yes, I was burnt out, and really looking forward to arriving to Hamburg, Germany where I could to stay with my uncle Joachim and his family to recoup, relax, and prepare for further travels.

And so in that state of mind I walked into the center of Oslo content to see that it was in fact a very small city, just slightly bigger in appearance from Helsinki. From the Oslo Domkirke church I walked west until I found a cafe that was open at the ungodly hour of 7:30 in the morning. I went in and just wanted to sit. I bought a sandwich and a carton of milk and did sat down. As I ate I looked at the Norwegian girls who were working behind the counter and saw that they in a way looked like a Norwegian pop-singer I had worked with back in Japan. After finishing my sandwich I read my book.

Later I decided that I still had a tremendous amount of time to kill before I could check into my hostel and take a much needed shower. And so I decided to explore Oslo a bit more. I exited the cafe and walked west toward the Det Kongelige Slott which is the residence of the king of Norway. The palace sits on top of a hill that looks down upon the city of Oslo. There is a beautiful park all around the palace, and so after taking a bit of a stroll around the palace I continued that stroll into the park. The far western side of the park has a few man-made ponds where ducks can play and bath in. It reminded me very much of Boston Garden which is on the western side of the Boston Commons. In fact I found Oslo reminding me of Boston in many ways. Their subway system is called the T, just like in Boston. And the architecture of most of the buildings in Oslo, especially west of the royal palace, reminded me very much of the architecture in London and in Boston.

Gradually I made my way to the bay where I found a fortress called Akershus Festning. The fortress itself is not too impressive from the inside. It makes for a nice walk and gives a scenic view of Oslo and the bay but really nothing more. Within the fortress there are two museums. I decided to check out the Norwegian Resistance Museum which chronicles the resistance movement against the occupation of the Nazi´s during the Second World War. I was disappointed with the museum. The dioramas looked to have been made by high school students and I found that overall the museum wasnt very informative. I learned more from overhearing an American talk to his friends about the stories he had heard from his Norwegian father about his involvement with the resistance movement than from the museum itself.

From the fortress I walked past the Radhus, the city hall building, which stands right in front of the pier where you can catch a boat to one of the many islands in and around Oslo.

And so I walked and walked waiting until I could check into my hostel. And when 3 o´clock arrived I returned to the hostel, checked in, took a shower, and fell asleep. I didnt wake until the hostel fire alarm went off at 3 or 4 in the morning (I had slept for 12 hours straight). When I woke up to the alarm I found that there was a German traveler in my dorm room. Together we exited the hostel and waited with everyone else for the police and fire department to arrive. The fire alarm was a false one and we all returned to our rooms. Soon after arriving in my dorm room three Italian young men arrived; we all chatted a bit about Oslo. And then I went back to sleep.

The next day I made it a priority to visit the Nasjonalgalleriet which is the National Gallery. There I wanted to see the famous Munch painting called The Scream. The gallery had a find display of impressionist paintings for the late 19th and early 20th century. Some were quite colorful and somewhat vibrant. Also within the gallery I found one of Vincent Van Gogh´s self portraits, I was very pleased.

From there I returned to the pier and took a 7 minute boat journez to Bygdoy peninsula. The peninsula is full of wonderful homes, trees, parks, and several museums. I went to the Vikingskipshuset, a Viking ship museum.

The Vikingskipshuset Notes:
The museum has three original 9th century Viking ships: the Oseberg, Gokstad, and Tune. They were found in burial mounds in the Oslo Fjord area and excavated between the years 1867 and 1904.

Archaeologists found a woman and her slave girl buried in the Oseberg ship, while in the other two ships they found men.

During the Viking Age (800 to 1050 AD) it was customary to bury the dead in boats. "The dead were buried in a burial chamber in the stern of the ship. Bodies were buried with a supply of food, drink, horses, dogs, and useful and decorative objects.

"When the ships were excavated it was discoverd that they were robbed of their precious items. Regardless an array of fantastic finds were found. Clothes and objects made of wood were found preserved. This was in part due to the fact that the ships were buried in blue clay and covered with stones, clay, and turf."

The Vikings came from Norway, Sweden, and Denmark and they traded furs, bird down, walrus ivory to their European counterparts as well as iron that was produced in Norwegian mountain hamlets.

Vikings usually took to the seas to trade and settle new lands.

Vikings, as merchants, sold goods in towns and marketplaces and established trading colonies in Ireland and Russia and settled Iceland and Greenland, and were the first Europeans to reach North America. They sailed the coasts of Europe into the Mediterranean the rivers of Russia into the Black and Caspian Sea.

"During the Viking Age Norway consisted of smaller chiefdoms, later it was unified under a single king."

Viking Class Structure:
"The ships found in the museum were for the upper class. Yeoman farmers formed the backbone of society, and they were free men who held the right to bear arms. Slaves were the lowest class; they were the property of owners, held no legal rights, and were usually foreigners who had been taken prisoner on a raid.

"Norsemen plundered churches, monastaries, and towns."

Viking Ship Building, and Long Sea Journeys:
"Viking shipwrights did not use plans or drawings; all measurements were taken by eye . . . Sails were made of woollen cloth."

"The crew of a viking ship had to row and bail, operate sails, rigging and steer the ship. Conditions on the ship were not pleasant for there was no shelter from the cold and rains. There is no evidence that food was ever cooked on board and so while at sea it is believed that they ate dried foods and drank water. They often sailed in coastal waters during the day and then parked their ship upon a beach to sleep on land by night.

"With the single square sail of the ship they could sail with and against the wind . . . and could hit speeds of 12 knots (24 km/hr).

"The Vikings did not use maps or compasses. Thez used coastal waters and man-made landmarks to navigate . . . and in foreign lands they found new signs and landmarks . . . and in the open sea they navigated to wave patterns and the prevailing winds. Logic told them that the mid-day sun shown in the south and that sea birds were a sign for land."

The Norwegian Subway Sandwich:
Scandanavia has a reputation for being very expensive for those who come in for a visit. This is very much true and I found Norway to be the most expensive city in Scandanavia. The best example I can give you is the cost of a foot-long Subway sandwich. I spent over $10 U.S. for a single sandwich, and it did not come with a drink or cookie. As a result I found myself hesitant to buy anything in Norway.

I would like to return to Scandanavia and spend a month of two camping, hiking, and bicycling through the mountains of Norway and the virgin forests of northern Finland. If and when I do that will all depend on my ability to afford such a luxury.


Stockholm, Sweden - July 30th to August 2nd
The Open Mindedness of the Swedes
It is said that the Swedes are the most open minded people on the face of the planet. And after spending a few days here I would have to agree. There is a sharp change in the make up of the population of Stockholm compared to Helsinki. In Helsinki the people are predomintately caucasian, typically blond and blue eyed. They are beautiful people, the Finnish.

Then in Stockholm you see a cosmopolitan mix of Swedes, Indians, Iraqi´s, Africans, Muslim Africans, people from North Africa, the Middle East, China, etc.

The best example I can give you is that when exploring the Royal Palace in Stockholm, which is the biggest Royal Palace in the world, I realized that one of the Royal Guards was Chinese! Yes, I nearly twisted my head right off when I took a double-take look to see this Chinese guard dressed in an immaculately clean blue uniform. And yet for the Swedes it would mean nothing to see such an oddity; to see a Chinese young man guarding the Royal Palace, for that is Sweden. Sweden is a country where inter-racial marriages are common; 20% of the population of Sweden is either foreign born or have one parent that is non-Swedish. And as a result the population of Sweden is heavily mixed. You may stroll the streets of Gamla Stan (the Old Town) and see a group of girls (composed of a Chinese girl, an Indian girl, a Thai girl, and a Swedish girl) all speaking Swedish. And no Swede would see these girls as anything but Swedish. Thus in a sense Stockholm is a wonderful utopian city to live in for those who have escaped from countries suffering from wars and other civil disasters.

The immigration policy in Sweden is quiet open. And thus there are now about 500,000 foreign nationals living in Sweden; Sweden has a population of 9 million. Also of note: "15% of Greater Stockholm´s 1.8 million people are immigrants." But there is a degree of segragation in the city of Stockholm. Travel to the outher fringes of the city and you will see ghetto neighborhoods composed strictly of a specific ethnic group.

But nonetheless speak to any Swedish teenagers and they will tell you that they are in school studying and having fun with fellow Swedes from all sorts of ethnic backgrounds; and they pay little attention to these ehtnic differences for in the end they are all Swedes.

In Helsinki, as I have mentioned before, and well, Finland in general, the population is predominatly homogenous. And so it can be argued that there are those in Finland who are a bit racist. I saw one young man in Helsinki proudly wearing a shirt that exclaimed, "Thank God I was born White."

But, I dont want to stereotypes the Finnish. On my boat trip, more like cruise trip, to Stockholm I met a young Finnish man. His name was Lauri, and he was 19 years old. He had just begun his trip through Europe. He was extremely excited and eager to see and learn all he could about the countries that he would visit in his native Europe. And he exuded this excitement by jumping on any opportunity to speak and practice the many languages he was studying and knew. In the time that I spent with him, for we spent a few hours together walking the streets of Stockholm, I heard him speak Spanish, Italian, Swedish, of course English, and his native Finnish. At just the age of 19 he could speak 5 languages. I was and still am incredibly impressed with this young man. Not only that he studied history and was able to explain to me in incredibly detail the history of Finland and Sweden and their political relationships with Russia and Germany. How fantastic is it that in countries such as Finland there are young men and women who can communicate in so many languages.

Yesterday, in Stockholm, I met a Middle Eastern man in Sweden. He spoke perfect Swedish. He was working from behind his hotdog stand. When he asked me where I was from after I bought some food and a drink he kept saying, "Welcome, Welcome - U.S.A. - Welcome to Sweden." I asked him where he was from, and when I learned that he was from Iraq I was surprised to hear that he was happy to see me, an American. He said that he was happy that the U.S. got rid of Saddam. I told him that I did not like Bush. He did not care. He liked Bush. He explained that his parents and extended family still live in Baghdad. When I was about to leave we shook hands and he said again, "Welcome, welcome, to Sweden."

I felt good after that. As an American traveling the globe I am constantly met with the resentment that people, from other nations, have against the U.S. But I feel good as well when I meet young men and women from other nations who are happy to see that I am traveling and to find that I am not the "typical" American; I do not fit their stereo-type. And as a result they reply, "I am happy to meet an American like you, there is hope for your country."

But, getting back to Stockholm. The other thing that you will find is that the citizens of Stockholm support their homosexual community. The flag poles infront of the Royal Palace´s eastern entrance has several Rainbow Flags (the Pride Flag I believe it is called) waving in the winds. I believe these flags were there in support of the massive Pride Parade held yesterday in Stockholm. And throughout the city you will see many restaurants and cafe´s that cater specifically to gay, lesbian, and bisexual individuals. Thus again this is all another example of the "open-minded"the Swedes really are.

Stockholm: The City of Peace
The Nobel Peace Prize is awarded here in Stockholm. Its banquet is held in Stadshuset, the Town Hall; a beautiful building that has a tall tower which reveals a fantastic view of Stockholm from its summit. There is a peaceful garden along its southern side that faces the river.

It can be easily argued that Stockholm is one of the most beautiful national capitals in the world. And "the low birth and mortality rates makes Sweden among the oldest population" in the world. And with the "open-mindedness" of the people coupled with his scenic beauty and 100,000 lakes one can also argue that Sweden is the closest thing to a utopia that one may find. Of course it is not totally perfect but the Swedes are striving for perfection.

The Swedish Tradition of Travel
On this trip I have met an incredible number of Swedish travelers. Whether I was in Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Burma, China, or Mongolia I kept running into Swedes backpacking. As I said before the population of Sweden is only 9 million. It is remarkable to me that for such a small population there is such a large number of Swedes exploring the globe.

But, I guess it shouldnt be too much of a surprise. Swedish adventurers had traveled well into Russia, Arabia, and Byzantium. And it is speculated that Swedish vikings perhaps were the first to travel as far as North America; thus be the first Europeans to discover the continent.

Vasamuseet (I hope I spelled that correctly) is a spectacular museum. The entire museum is dedicated to a 17th century ship. The ship was built under King Vasa for a war he was waging in Poland. It was a religious war on the surface (Lutheran Sweden vs. Catholic Poland) but in reality it was a war aimed to secure sea ports in the Baltic.

The Baltic Sea is one of the least salty seas in the world. As a result a certain worm that eats away wood does not exist in its waters. And as a result of that any and all wooden sea vessels that have sunk in its waters remain in perfect condition.

Sometime in the 1960s a man searched for the Vasa vessel that had sunk 300 years before in the bay that surrounds Stockholm. He found it and work was under way, supported by the King, to bring the vessel to the surface. It took several years to raise the ship. When it was raised all sorts of treasures were found: clothing and shoes of sailors trapped within the ship were found, one of the sails was still intact, eating instruments such as spoons and forks and plates and pitchers were discovered, tool boxes filled with carpenter tools were found, coins, cannons, and so forth were found on and in the ship. The ship stands at the center of the musuem in perfect condition. It is simply unbelievable to see this ship that is nearly 300 plus years old right before your eyes.

Catching Up with Old Friends
I took a bus on the 1st of August to Uppsala to meet up with three Swedish friends I had met in Vietnam. Uppsala is only an hour north of Stockholm by bus. Uppsala is the 4th largest city in Sweden; but for me it was like a quiet little college town. Uppsala is also one of the oldest cities in Sweden. In Gamla (Old) Uppsala, which is 4 km north of the center of town, there are pre-Viking grave mounds that are quiet large - they reminded me of the burial mounds I saw for the royalty of the longest running dynasty in the world in South Korea - but there are also 300 smaller mounds all around the area. There is also a church there which is the oldest in Scandanavia; I believe the church was first established in the 12th century by an archbishop.

The town of Uppsala is a college town. It has the oldest university in Scandanavia and the largest cathedral in Scandanavia. Within the Uppsala Cathedral is buried the first King of Sweden, King Vasa.

I explored Uppsala with Frederick, Malin, Marcus and his girlfriend. I first met Frederick and Malin in Saigon, Vietnam and I met Marcus in Hanoi with Frederick. It was fantastic to see the three of them again and to hear what they have been up to and what they will be doing in the months ahead. Malin will be going to England to pursue her studies in film and television and Frederick will begin his studies at the University in Uppsala. Marcus is back working for Carlsberg. I really hold them in the highest light. They are fantastic friends and I look forward to seeing them again some day in the future ;)


30 Years of RUSH - A Tribute to the Tao of Peart
July 29th, 2004

I was surprised to find out that RUSH is back. If you recall my journal entry in regards to my climb of Tai Shan Mountain in China then you will recall my words in regard to Neil Peart; my adolescent drum and philosophy hero.

I was in a book store in Helsinki when I found a recent issue of a Bass Guitar magazine with Geddy Lee (the singer/bassist of RUSH) on the cover. I picked it up and opend the magazine up to his interview and was surprised to see that RUSH had a new album; a cover album of 60´s rock tunes that they grew up to.

And as a result the next time I popped into an internet cafe I checked their website at and found that they would be touring Europe and North America to celebrate their 30 years of playing music.

Not too many people know about RUSH. They have a very strong underground following. Once a RUSH fan always a RUSH fan. Im a bit watered down as a RUSH fan though compared to my adolescent years. But I do find myself listening to them from time to time just to keep in touch, you could say.

Neil Peart was - and in a way still is - one of my hero´s. As I said before in my China journal Neil inspired me to be not just a drummer but to be a writer and a traveler. Thus here I am traveling and writing; and always thinking of music, and super eager to jump behind my beautiful drum set.

Neil is also a fine example of a man who continues to live his life when his world comes crumbling down. When I was a freshman in college RUSH released their Test for Echo album. I honestly didnt care too much for the album; this was a sign that I was growing to love other styles of music. They toured and then news hit the internet digital waves that Neil´s only daughter (and only child) was killed in a car accident. RUSH fans the world over were deeply saddened. Then a year after his daughter´s death his wife fell to cancer. Neil had lost his entire family in less than two years. RUSH fans felt that of all the people in the world Neil was the one least deserving of these two tragedies. And time passed. And in that time no one knew where Neil was. He had left; riding his motorcylce cross country from Canada to the U.S. to Mexico and Central America. RUSH fans did not know if the band would continue to make music. Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson (the two other members of RUSH) were left waiting for any word from Neil, and for his return.

While Neil rode from place to place trying to deal, escape, and deal with the pain of having lost two of his most precious loved ones he - later confessing - felt that he never wanted to return to his drum throne. He was done with music.

Im sure he felt guilty for being a father and a husband who was rarely home. As a musician he was always on the rode touring or in the studio recording or traveling from country to country solo on his bike (his hobby). Such is the life of a musician. And then, suddenly he found that his family was gone. Was this God damning him for always living away from his family? No, Neil would not have such nonesense. He was always one to own up to his circumstances and situations without pointing a finger or blaming and outside other. His greatest lesson to his drum followers was to live life with intention, never to live it as a victim.

And so I am happy to see Neil back where he belongs; because one cannot escape what one is. He is one of the most influential and respected progressive rock drummers of the world. His place his behind his drums, backing up his old friends Geddy and Alex in their 30 year old band, RUSH.

And so, if any of you find the trails and tragedies of the world coming down on you. Look to Neil´s example. He lost both his daughter and his wife (his entire family); and he is still here, playing better than before, inspiring another generation of up-and-coming drummers not only through the way he plays but in the way he has and continues to approach his life. No matter what ever may happen you can rest assured that Neil will still be banging on his drums and living his life to the fullest.

With all my respects to Neil,
A man who would probably hate to see that a kid like me sees him as a hero (he is a self-less kind of guy that doesnt want that type of recognition),

Helsinki, Finland: Utopia? - July 27th to 29th
The ferry (more like a cruise ship) to Helsinki from Tallinn, Estonia is about 3 hours and a bit. I went into and out of sleep up on deck with the cool winds blowing over me and the sight of a seagull hovering in pace with the ferry not too far away.

The first thing you are too see as you near Helsinki by sea are a few rocky islands with minty green grasses and tall standing trees. Then you begin to approach the city; and you notice an island hear and there. One island has a series of white cylinder structures serving some kind of industrial - or some other - purpose.

They bay I entered into is called Etelasatama; and as I was to discover, it seemed always full of gigantic cruise ships.

My hostel was about a block or two away from port. It is called Euro Hostel ( and it is simply the best hostel I have ever stayed in. This hostel is a reflection of Finland. It is a work of pure integrity. It is extremely clean, well-kept, and organized. There is a restaurant within it where a healthy buffet style breakfast is served. The restaurant has a staff that is dressed like 4 star restaurant waiters. The personnel at the reception desk are happy and eager to help its customers out. There is a laundry with machines that actually clean and dry (as opposed to other machines Ive used on my trip that do all but that). There is a sauna and clean dorm style showers and toilets. The rooms are plain, but they too are clean and have lockable closets. The hallways look like the corridors of a military run ship.

One of several things to stike me about Helsinki was that it is an exceptionally clean city. There is no garbage anywhere except for where it belongs, the garbage bin or can. But yet there are barely any garbage bins to be found. How does this city stay so clean? The people here are well-educated, quiet, and pleasant Europeans. They rarely speak loudly and they all speak perfect English. Perhaps their grammer is better than that of most Americans.

As a city the closest place that it reminds me of is Boston. It is a very small version of Boston. You can walk around the whole of the city in about 2.5 hours. There are green trolleys (just like Boston´s Green Line) running to and fro throughout the city. There is also a subway. And there are plenty of taxi´s. There is no shortage of public transportation in this city. And it seems that every tiny little corner and street is covered by these public buses, trolleys, and subways. In fact one could argue that there is a simply oversupply of public transporation in Helsinki. For a city so small one can simply walk instead of take a trolley. There is no need for all these public transport vehicles. Well, it looks like in Helsinki taxes go to exactly where they should.

Helsinki was voted as the least corrupted city in the world. And thus it can be argued that in some political sense it simply is a utopia. It is a perfect city. Beautiful buildings of nearly a century in age line all streets. The streets are cobbled stone, and a few sidewalks are tiled with large and flat granite stones. When it rains there are perfect grooves within the sidewalk for the rain waters to follow into the street.

And as you walk to do your window shopping from the streets that run perpendicular from Pohjoiseplanadi and Etelaesplanadi street (between these two streets is a perfectly trimmed park that reminds me so much of Boston) you will hear classical music being played by the hands of young men and women. The sounds classical pieces played from violins, cellos, marimbas (yes, marimbas), and acoustic guitars fill the air. You can sit at one of the many, many cafe´s sipping your exotic coffee and listen to the sounds of music fill the air.

All shops, movie theaters, museums, streets, markets, are perfectly well kept. They rival the Japanese in their cleanliness. And if you walk north west from Kaivopaiste Park (a beautiful, clean park south of the city) you will find a residential area that can only remind one of Beacon Hill in Boston.

Senate Square - Senaatintori - is where you will find the largest gathering of uncorrupt politicians.

Even the speakers on the streets of Helsinki that play the natural chirpings of birds give the illusion that you are in some kind of urban paradise where homelessness is difficult to find and all people dress to please the eyes of passer-bys.

One thing that I found interesting was a trolley/bar train. As you travel to work or home you can sip on your favorite brew; what a fantastic European idea!

The only nuisance that you may find in Helsinki, as in Tallinn or in Moscow, is a drunk man and that is it.

I think it funny that Finland - the least corrupted country in the world stands just north of Russia, as if looking down on it.

My room-mate in my hostel is an American from California. He now lives in St. Petersburg but was in Helsinki for a visa-run. His wife is Russian and they met in college in the U.S.

He was very informative. He explained that Russia is extremely corrupt. Getting a visa was an example of that. Ask anyone who has traveled to Russia and they will tell you what a hassle it is to get a visa into Russia. The easist way to get a visa is through a Russian travel agency. Most of these agencies are run by ex-Russian police officers who have the inside track into getting a visa easily. And so they profit from that. When will the needless bureacracy into getting a Russian visa without the use of a travel agent disappear? Not any time soon. As long as these ex-cops pull in their money from their travel agencies supplying visa-support services there will always be the long, tiring hassle of getting a visa through the Russian consulates on one´s own.

Several of the world´s top ten richest men live in Russia or are Russian. How can this be? Well, when communism fell those men who had the inside track into getting once government owned industries to privatize them became - nearly over night - ultra, ultra rich. These "new rich" Russians are in one way or another tied to one of the many russian mob groups. Together they influence and buy off politicians to secure deals between the government and international corporations that have been flooding into Russia ever since Communism fell.

As a result of all of this the gap between rich and poor in Russia is growing. Most of the new poor are nearly retired to retired elderly people who possess obselete labor skills and are simply being left behind to pour their sorrows into the many gambling slot machines that are now to be found in all Russian cities (its nice to see someone making a profit from the addictions of the poor). And coupled with this gambling is also alcoholism as a temporary relieft from depression. In Moscow you will see old women trying to sell small knick-knacks.

And, as my room-mate explained, there is a surge of elderly women involved in the "pyramid get-rich schemes" collecting points with the fever of obessesion.

But, there is hope. President Putin is well-loved by the Russians. And deservedly so. He is young and encouraging of the future youth, he attends graduations and lectures the educated young on how important they are to the future of Russia. Putin is surrounded by corruption. He wants reform but they are many rich and lazy civil-servants who do not want change. He has to be careful in not making to many enemies. And so he must strike a balance between reform and not.

Notes about Helsinki: I didnt go to this bar but here in Helsinki there is the Arctic Icebar where it is kept at below 5 degrees in summer and winter. The interior decor of the bar is made entirely in ice!

The Sauna. Yes, I did go into a Finnish sauna. Twice I did. And completely naked was I. Although the sauna is to be found in nearly all first world countries it should be recognized that the custom came from Finland. Here in Finland nearly every family that has a summer cottage home has a sauna built into it. And for those in apartment buildings there is usually at least one public sauna in it.

Also of note is NOKIA. Nokia is a Finnish company. I did not know that. And did you know that Nokia also makes computers.

That is all for now. Tonight I take a 16 hour cruise ship to Stockholm, Sweden.


Tallinn, Estonia - July 25th and 26th - "Vraakimine on hobe, vaikas on kald"
That bit of Estonian that Ive written there translates to "Conversation is Silver, Silence is Gold." And that is an appropriate quote to describe the city of Tallinn. Tallinn has a population of 398,430 but it more feels like 30,000 to me. The Old Town of the city is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It boasts 14th and 15th medieval architecture and orthodox (and not) churches. The streets of the Old Town are nearly all cobbled stone. It is all surrounded by a defensive wall that spans a 2.5 km length; which is nothing compared to the massive defensive walls that I saw in Xi an and Nanjing, China.

You can pretty much cover all of the Old Town in an afternoon. Ive been here for two days and that is way too much time for a guy like me to spend in a quiet town like this.

I like the Old Town. It is cute and quiet. It is relaxing and full of boutique shops, restaurants, and cafe´s with wooden decks full of chairs and tables for tourists to sit, relax, talk, and people watch. There are girls every few blocks selling, "Estonia`s best post cards!" and beyond them not too many other locals to see. It is said that Estonians like their neighbor to be no closer than a kilometer away. And I believe it. The city of Tallinn is nearly a ghost town. If it wasnt for the tourists that parade the streets near Raekoja Plats (the famed plaza where stands the only surviving Gothic town hall which was built in 1371) then Tallinn would really be a ghost town. Most Estonians flock to their summer cottages in July and August to get away from the traffic of tourists and their noise.

Walk south of Toompea (a sort of hill where you will find Toompea Castle which is traditionally Estonia`s seat of power) for about 10 minutes and you will feel like you are walking through a secluded northern suburb of Chicago.

Tallinn is cute and charming and has more of a feel of Scandanavia than the other Baltic countires. If that is what you´re into then check this place out. It is extremely safe and, as I keep mentioning, quiet.

And after two days I think Ive had enough of the "quiet". Tomorrow morning I leave for Helsinki, Finland via 3 hour boat ride across the Bay of Finland.

The population of Estonia breaks down into the following: 68% Estonian, 26% Russian, and about 3% Ukrainian and Belarussian. When Estonia joined the E.U. a few months ago a large percentage of the Russian Estonians were left stateless. Estonian law requires anyone seeking Estonian citizenship to take an exam that tests their level of the Estonian language. Those who fail the exam cannot gain citizenship. As a result these Russian Estonian never claimed Estonian citizenship; since they saw themselves as Russians and not as Estonians. They simply choose to not speak Estonian and stay within their Russian communities and schools.

But, now that Estonia is apart of the E.U. these Russian Estonians have no official citizenship, no passport. They have been left behind. What will become of them? The younger generation will have to learn the Estonian language - but that may prove difficult since they are strongly patriotic Russians with little desire to do so.

Also of Note:
One of many pieces of romance that I found in Tallinn on Sunday (25th of July) was that there were several women wallking around town with their spouses with a single rose in their hand.