Monday, July 28, 2008

Arranging a four-family trip to Estonia, and back to work again

That's it for this time - my family; mom, dad, older brother and sister, their spouses and two kids each have left Estonia. It was exhausting and sometimes tumultuous, but generally enjoyable and so much fun. I solemnly drink every drop the home-made strawberry- and elderberryflower-squashes mom left here.

An extremely compact outline of the family trip (pictures may end up here):
  1. A couple of days in Tallinn, staying in two Red Group apartments
  2. A couple of days in Tartu visiting the Hanseatic days, Dorpat day-spa etc., staying in the guest house at the family's place outside of Tartu
  3. A visit to Ottepää adventure park / Pühajärve Spa
  4. A night and two half-days in Pärnu, staying at the Scandic Rannahotell
To enable my family to make the most of their vacation and see the most exciting parts of Estonia and manage information for such a sizable group easily we used both Google Maps to lay out points of interest on a map with links to further information, and a wiki page to store information in.

We think and hope everyone enjoyed the trip and with the kids saying things like "There are so many more cool things to do in Estonia than home in Sweden!" and "Here is so nice, you can barely believe it's in Estonia" (about Pärnu beach and Tervise Paradiis, to be fair comparing with Australian beaches), we feel that the idea for me and the girlfriend to arrange and coordinate tourist trips maybe isn't such a far-fetched one.

When the family had left towards Tallinn and the ferry the weather rapidly improved so me and the girlfriend stayed in Pärnu and she arranged for us to go sea kayaking (some pics here). It was tough on the arms and got my suntan going a bit too much, but oh how cool and fun it was! We only capsized once, when going in towards the shore and got surprised by waves breaking over us from behind.

The above picture shows the girlfriend getting strapped into the two-person sea kayak by our friendly guide, the second is us having a picnic after dragging ourselves out of the water. Now it's simply back to work again, and hopefully we'll get to enjoy a little bit more of the beautiful Estonian summer!

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Estonia - a nation alive with tradition

The other day I was asked to get some proper food, so I and a friend went to the Keskturg local market (this time some translation and guidance was necessary, and someone to play around with the camera - next time I can go there on my own).

My girlfriend is regularly somewhat cheerfully amazed with what crap Swedes eat (or what Swedish students like I used to eat at least). We think it is processed beyond recognition, preserved, intermediate goods and fast food. Estonian cousine, to me, is predominantly fresh, non-preserved, home-cooked and eating at restaurants.

"Oh you're exagerrating, it's just your life which has changed since you moved there and you stopped being a student bachelor or something", you may think, and of course there is some truth in that objection. But ask yourself what Sweden would be without Gorby's piroger and a "pizzeria" at every other corner? On the other hand, I'm convinced part of the reason Estonia has so little fast-food options (and instead sell more ready-made lunches in grocery stores) is the lack of Iraqi, Turkish or Balkan immigrants to run such businesses. I find it almost impossible to find proper junk-food in Estonia! Anyway eating out at restaurants is generally more affordable and common (possibly also for the natives) than in Sweden. And so this time we went overboard in the other direction by visiting the local market to get ourselves some quality vegetables.

This time the market visit resulted in, among other things 2kg wonderful strawberries, half a water-melon and the ingredients of an excellent dish of "new potatoes" with fried onion and chantarelles and a (admittedly ready-made) piece of meat loaf on the side.

Another thing which may appear curious to visiting Swedes is how happy Estonians are to be Estonian. Sure many of us are happy to be Swedish as well, but comparatively we're not proud to be Swedish and "nationalism" has much much more negative connotations in Sweden than in Estonia where even such a thing as the "Fatherland-party" (IRL) is considered generally unremarkable.

The most curious thing about Estonian mentality for a swede how carelessly they dress upp in "folkdräkt" (traditional costume) and participate in various traditional events such as the song and dance festivals. When did you last actually dance "Små grodorna" around the may-pole? Traditional costumes are specific to each village or county and it's perfectly acceptable to wear them also at other festive events (it's not like in Sweden only the oddballs who wear "folkdräkt"). At Viljandi folk-music-festival each and every person is wearing the traditional Estonian hats, and my spontaneous reaction is of course "OMG LOL, they must get so teased about them!". But no-one teases anyone, not even the kids seemed to mind, because everyone wear these odd clothes and hats. It's just very Estonian.

PS. Check out the Estonian foreign ministry on flickr, they have lots of pretty pictures of Estonia