Sunday, June 17, 2012


I've gotten a trip behind on my blogging and it's making me nervous! I just got back from Norway with my parents (awesome) and am soon going to both Dublin and Copenhagen for work, so I need to get my trip to Estonia in May blogged, clearly! It is, however, going to be the short version! Outline form, woohoo! And pictures, as always!

Quick background though. My friend sent me a message back in February asking if I wanted to go to Estonia in May. Silly question, the answer was of course yes. So we bought tickets. He continued to ask people until there were six of us going. By the time of the trip, however, we had lost three people to various conflicts. The night before the trip, the main organizer/guy who previously lived in Estonia and had all the plans get pretty sick. But he pulled it together and off we went. By this point, however, we'd decided the trip was cursed. So it didn't help when the three of us showed up at the airport and our flight was cancelled (they're combined it with an earlier flight and just very poorly chosen how to convey that fact on the departures boards). Nor when we landed and immediately picked up a drunk Russian friend. Or when we missed our tram stop and rode to the end of the line and back. But finally, we arrived at our hostel and crashed. Early the next morning we headed off and grabbed our rental car and left town

Day 1: To Lahemaa National Park
-Hit a grocery store and felt like kids in a candy shop since everything was so cheap after Sweden. A four-pack of beer over 3.5% alcohol (the limit for grocery store beer here, but that's another story) for 1 euro? Ok! Chocolate? Ok! This random Estonia bread thing? Ok! You get the picture.
-On the way to the park we stopped at an abbey by the sea and an awesome waterfall.
-Arrived at our awesome cabin, which was one of three in a lady's backyard at her house in the National Park. So cool! We waked around a bit, found the path to the beach, but then headed up to a nearby manor house for an awesome fancy yet cheap meal of local game meat (mmm, roasted boar neck with mango chutney, not kidding).
-After dinner we took our Estonian beer to the nearby Estonian rocky beach. It was amazing, a cloudy windy night, but beautiful!

Day 2: To Viljandi
-We spent our morning on an amazing hike through the really cool forest we were staying in.
-The afternoon was driving down to the other end of the country, a whopping 2 hour trip to Viljandi where our friend had lived. We arrived to a rainy late afternoon, but still checked out the castle ruins overlooking a big lake and had a nice dinner at his favorite tavern.

Stage in the ruins in Vuljandi

View of the lake from the stage
Day 3: Tallinn
-While our friend stayed in Viljandi to visit people he knew, the other girl on the trip and I headed back up to Tallinn to check out the city. The cool old city is very small, so we got a chance to see most of it by just wandering around, which it is a perfect place for!

Day 4: Helsinki
Helsinki is only a 2 hour ferry ride from Tallinn, so on Saturday we hopped on a boat! Helsinki itself didn't really impress me, it was just a city. The market on the harbor was nice, and the rock church was cool (a church carved down into a rocky hilltop in the city). My favorite part was going out to an island in the harbor where there is an old fort and just lying the grass watching sailboats go by.

From the ferry back to Tallinn

Day 5: Back in Tallinn
Since we'd really seen most of the city on day 3, we weren't too focused on day 5. We took a tour of the tunnels under the city walls, which I liked, and then spent a lot of the afternoon wandering aimlessly before settling in a cafe that our friend recommended. It was in a cute courtyard and we both totally fell in love and so we spent several hours and consumed a few cups of coffee and things made of chocolate there! It was a great way to end a great trip.

Cafe courtyard. I want that house!

Tallinn is awesome. I can't exactly explain why, but I really loved it. Maybe it was my first trip in a while, maybe it was traveling with people that I travel well with, but I think it was mainly because Tallinn and Estonia in general are just rather awesome. Highly recommended! And hey, we made friends with an old Finnish grandpa who has rented an apartment in Tallinn for the summer (don't ask), so maybe I'll get a chance to go back!

Saturday, June 2, 2012


Last weekend something amazing happened. I saw Europe at its least cultured moment. Anyone who has ever heard comments about Americans having no taste should know this simple phrase that can stop Europeans in their tracks: "I have seen Eurovision." This is a song contest where each country sends a song and they compete against each other.  I would expect something like that to be taken seriously, with each country wanting to showcase something special, whether that means very good, traditional and cool, or something else. But no. Instead, nearly every country sends some weird or awful act! I asked a bunch of people and everyone says it is some kind of blend of serious and joke, but I only saw the serious in a very few acts. Examples of things that I at least hope are jokes are:

Jedward, the Irish entry for the second year in a row:

Buranovskiye Babushki from Russia--grannies complete with cookies in the oven!

Albania. I don't even know. Dreadlock snake, Dracula dress, and a weird gold earring I'm told Lady Gaga made popular. It's too much!

As an example of a serious entry, we have Serbia, keeping it classy and boring.

And then we have this year's winner, my current host county of Sweden! This song has actually already been playing in clubs here for a while (it was made for the competition, but there is a selection process, so it must have been released when she became the official Swedish contestant):

Such an odd event. It gets even weirder when you consider the voting--each country in Europe tallies votes from text messages from within its borders and then allocates points to the top 10 or so. But instead of voting for acts that were good, most of the votes are for neighboring countries! Scandinavian countries vote for each other, as do the Balkans and the ex-Soviet states. Oh, and all the Irish people in Great Britain gave the Irish contestant the second most points! So funny.

Really, I am not sure how I'd never heard of this before I came to Europe. It's like all the worst American Idol entries (the ones that go into that special episode before the season, the only one I ever watch), only there are flags and some kind of pride involved.

The winning country hosts next year, so it'll be in Sweden next May.  Keep an eye out! This year it was in Azerbaijan, that most European of countries... I won't get into the border definitions of Europe held by the Eurovision planners!