This week it’s all about traveling here in the Blog: what to do and where, what happened and where and what were the consequences that traveling has brought along. But let’s start the week with the previous weekend:
Disclaimer: this post has been written with a hint of sarcasm and none of the jabs I take at different nationalities should be taken seriously. Read at your own risk.
Midsummer is one of the main celebrations of the year here up North. It originates from ancient beliefs, but the main point of celebration is the fact that the Sun literally doesn’t set.
OK, it does in Southern parts for like 15 minutes and then pops up again. Celebrating Midsummer is all about nature; people retreat to the countryside to run between the barbecue and sauna for 3-4 days. In Finland we make bath whisks out of birch branches and beat each other with them in the Suna. In Sweden they make wreaths or “crowns” out of flowers from the meadow to wear while they dance around the “Midsummer pole”.
Midsummer is like the Christmas of Summer, a very important holiday to the Northeners. What I didn’t know was that Midsummer is a big thing in the Baltic countries as well. Here it is also a celebration of Summer and the nightless night but it’s more about the fact that it is a name day for Jaan, aka St. John. The Baltics celebrate by lighting bonfires and afterwards jumping over the cinders to ensure prosperity. Considering that this is not exactly a prosperous country I think they’re doing something wrong there, hehe.
We didn’t consider this when we decided to spend our Midsummer in Riga, but we realized the little complication with the popularity of this holiday when we tried to book a restaurant for Saturday; everything was closed. But since Riga is such a hit with tourists we thought that the Old Town, at least, must be operating normally, so we embarked on the 4-hour bus ride.
Packing for Midsummer is always a bit of a nightmare. The Summer heat of June always fades away when Midsummer approaches and it’s not rare at all that Midsummer weather is in fact colder than Christmas time. Thankfully this time it was not necessary to dig out the winter jacket but tights and scarves had to be added into the suitcase. And in fact gloves wouldn’t have been a bad idea at all!
As my trips often turn out to be, also this one became more of an adventure when considering the range of people we bumped into during the 3 days:
We had barely arrived to Riga and gotten out of the bus when 3 guys approached us. Two of them turned out to be Swedes and the third said he was from the US but for US’s sake I really hope he wasn’t because his stupidity had no limit. Well, the Swedes weren’t much better, in fact :D
They seemed to be utterly confused about where they were and where they were supposed to be. We were standing inside the Riga bus station when they came to ask us if we would happen to know where the Riga bus station is. When we revealed that they were in it, they seemed utterly surprised. That’s when one of them declared “Nooo, we were going to Vilnius!”
I exposed them to the knowledge that Vilnius happened to be one country Southwards from Latvia. They were confused: Latvia, Lithuania, what continent is this? What’s a continent?
While I tried to figure out with these two where they were and where they were supposed to be, Monika encountered some proper attitude issues from the supposedly American fellow: he was laughing at the fact that we lived in Estonia.
I suspect the laughter’s purpose was to hide the fact that he didn’t know what or where Estonia is. After that he apparently ran out of things to say because he then fired a fairly random question at my friend: “Are you lesbians?”
That sort of established their level of intellect as well as social skills, which was the moment when we came to the conclusion that it’s time to leave them be.
We arrived to our hostel so late that the reception had been closed. But we had instructions on how to find the keys. Monika joked how the long instructions seemed a bit like an Escape Room-sort of a thing. Oh, how right she was!
Taxi dropped us off in front of the building and we found our way to the inner yard. There we found the right door with a keypad and I dialed in the code. We struggled a bit trying to figure out which of the multiple handles to turn and to which direction but we finally got the front door open. Next we had to find a post box with a keypad.
There were post boxes on the stairwell, alright, but they were as regular as can be; no keypads. We were trying to figure out how the heck we were supposed to open the box number 10 and I kept locking my eyes on a huge padlock and a chain tied around a railing on the stairs.
We went up and down, tried to praise our fingernails between the post box’s edges to force it open but it was a no-go. We literally felt like we were in an Escape Room, except this was the vice-versa: we needed to get in, not out. Perhaps because of this I went to take a closer look at the huge padlock. And there it was! A tiny, black box with a keypad. We dialed again and found our key inside. Success!
My experience with Eastern European locks from Slovakia came in handy when we tried to open the front door: you need to turn the key at least three times to the left and then push the doorknob while turning the key to open the door. Makes sense, right? No, it doesn’t.
The main thing is that we got in, our room had nothing extra in it, just beds and shelves, but it was clean and comfy. We ditched our things and went for a walk around our new hoods on the look-out for a place to eat. Never did I expect that in addition to our apparently lesbian-ish physique our eating and drinking habits were also out of the ordinary.
I guess in Eastern European countries women bring out their femininity much more specifically than us in Northern or Western countries. Why else would every single man in the pub we chose to sit down in look at us with round eyes when we ordered 2 beers and steak dinners?
They didn’t do anything to hide their amazement: one guy sitting at the bar stared at my plate of meat and potato and when he realized I was looking at him he just glanced at his friend, nodded towards me and laughed. Another man actually came to comment on our chosen orders but I didn’t get the specifics. He quickly ran away when I asked him to speak English.
Some people can find this sort of open discontent disturbing but I love cultural differences and their amazement amused me. It also reminded me, once more, of how lucky we are having been born in a country where sex doesn’t dictate any form of our lives, especially in terms of what I’m supposed to eat and what not. Nobody comes between me and food!
After a well-slept night we started our walk towards to the Old Town looking for a breakfast place. We found many. They were all closed.
Finally we came across a Costa Coffee and ordered rather dry blueberry muffins and buckets of coffee. It was enough sustenance for us to continue our way first to the flower market by the old zeppelin halls, which are these days market halls. Flowers are a big part of Baltic Midsummer and there were flowery wreaths everywhere among amazingly colourful displays of the most beautiful flowers.
From there we found our way to the Old Town and walked around taking pictures of pretty much everything, like proper tourists. As we all know, Brits, especially British bachelor party groups, love a bit of Eastern European Old Town. And this trip was no exception: we witnessed an event(?) where 3 guys ran around a square in their underpants or Borat swimsuits (obviously!) while downing a pint. Shame that only one of them was actually worth looking at :D
In the evening, after a quick change of clothes and a splash of make-up, we returned to the Old Town for a spot of dinner and then found our way into a bar that Monika had previously read about: Funny Fox. Football was on and I found myself rooting for Sweden. The world has officially gone insane.
As I often do I struck up a conversation with the guys sitting next to us at the counter: a very mixed group indeed. One man was Russian who had lived in Germany for 15 years, then there was one guy from Portugal, one super-funny gentleman from England (I really enjoyed meeting him because I’ve missed British sarcasm SOOOO MUCH!!), and what are the odds, a guy from Dubrovnik, Croatia! He was super impressed that we had chosen his home city for our holiday the week before.
In my previous job I had a lot of interns from all over the world. One of them came from Latvia, and as luck would have it, of course he chose to come to this specific bar at that specific night. The ridiculous thing is that I was surprised to see him, even though it should’ve been the other way round since he actually lives in Riga. And another surprise; he’s due to move to Turku in August to study. It’s a strange world of funny coincidences, for sure!
The last culture clashes of the trip were the very final encounters that night: in a club a pair of Latvian guys sat down at our table for a chat. While the other one tried to convince me that he’s the guy who organizes ALL events in Latvia (like all of them, from children’s birthday parties to international music festivals!) the other marveled at Monika because she doesn’t smoke, not cigarettes and no weed, nothing at all.
Is it really true that smoking is still in 2018 considered a cool thing to do in Latvia? Because that’s what we were told and it was enforced by another pair of Latvian guys who came to ask us for cigarettes while we were waiting for a taxi. I said we do not smoke, to which they said “I don’t believe you.”
It must’ve been the combination of tiredness, the drop in alcohol level and the fact that I think smoking is simply disgusting, that I got a bit upset. I asked him rather firmly “DO I LOOK LIKE I SMOKE!?” and when he answered “I dunno… maybe” I bid him kindly to fuck off. Rather confused they left the scene. If smoking really is so common in Latvia, then I give my most sincere condolences to y’all.
Truth be told, this short holiday reminded me of how much I miss living in a country where people think and do things differently, are social and are alive! Estonia is unfortunately and truly a tasteless and colourless country and it’s been hard for me to adjust to that. I still don’t feel at home here. I miss the culture clashes and the realizations that I am lucky af just because I was born and raised in Finland.
That is one of the best parts of traveling, I think! You start to appreciate the little things of your humble beginnings. I don’t mean this in a way that being born in Finland would make me any better a person. Hell to the no!
But for someone who never liked to fit into a mold and who doesn’t give a rat’s fart about what other people think of me, having had the liberty to grow up in a classless society where sex isn’t a determining factor in what you can or cannot become is truly a thing worth acknowledging.
The other great thing is that traveling can at its best be a mind-opening experience and you really learn to respect others! Instead of raising yourself to the platform all the time traveling works the other way round. For example, even if I find the idea of most Latvians smoking disgusting, I respect that that’s the way they do.
I’m entitled to say that I don’t like it but I cannot go telling them that they should stop. It’s not my or your place to tell anyone how to live their lives.
At this very moment I don’t have any other travel plans for this year than going to Finland for a wedding but I hope this will change. ASAP! These trips are a lifeline for me as long as I’m stuck in Estonia. Meeting new people and learning about differences between us human beings is what I live for.
Even the shortest discussions with strangers bring me a lot of joy and new realizations, which carry a long way. So, my tip to y’all is to talk, chat, ask questions and just be social next time you travel. You might find out, as I have, that most of us humans are bloody brilliant! :)