So much for meandering. I’m much better qualified to talk about schlepping. I should be called The Schlepping Sojourner instead of The Meandering Matriarch. And if manhandling the bags wasn’ t awkward enough, it nearly always coincided with the challenge of tipping in a foreign currency. We don’t do much tipping in Australia, but I’ve managed to master the art — well, at least to cope with it — of tipping in America; I just keep a big wad of $5 bills in my pocket. I can count in increments of five well enough…but how many Swedish kroner (SEK) do you need for a skycap? Or, indeed, what do you tip a bellhop in Denmark? The DKK may be called a kroner, but it is not the equivalent of the SEK. Then there are the rubles… Mind you, I didn’t need to do much tipping in rubles except for the tour guides, and they loved US dollars anyway. But by then I’d converted most of my dollars into rubles. I’m sure I left in my wake a significant number of either extremely satisfied tour guides, or some pretty annoyed ones.
Between Copenhagen and Stockholm I had a brief respite from the schlepping. That’s when I had a butler. Very swish. I didn’t even have to clean my own glasses. Truly. I came into my room one day to find my sunglasses, on the desk where I’d left them, neatly covered with a glass cleaning cloth. The butler (inappropriatly named ‘Ricky’) had cleaned my sunnies. Life was sweet that week when I had a butler, let me tell you. Now I understand why rich people like having all that money; it’s not because of all the things they can buy. It’s because of being able to have someone looking after all those pesky little details. I suppose for many individuals it is much the same as having a wife.
Nevermind. I should explain that between Copenhagen and Stockholm I was on a cruise. The Silver Whisper, part of the Silversea cruise line. I heartily recommend it. It is simply the best. It is expensive, but you get your money’s worth. But more about the cruise another time. Today I want to start in the middle. I’ve already managed to drop a few geographical names so far, but I haven’t yet mentioned two of the best surprises of all: Tallinn, capital of Estonia, and Helsinki, Finland. I knew almost nothing about either of them before I visited, but I fell in love with both.
Hands up if you already knew that Estonia was the birth home of Skype. I didn’t think so. Or that Estonia is on the cutting edge of mobile phone technology? Leading the world, actually. Estonia has an amazing–mostly tragic–history, until finally achieving independence (or, as they say, freedom) from Russian rule only nineteen years ago! At that point, they had nothing. They literally had to create a government, infrastructure, businesses–everything. As individuals, as well as a new (free) country, they were extremely poor. You would have to see to believe what they have achieved in only nineteen years. The best example I can think of to illustrate the spirit of the Estonian people is their song festival.
The Estonian Song Festival (Laulupidu) was first held in 1869. It takes place every five years. In 2009, there were more than 30,000 participants performing to an audience of 80,000. It’s recognised by UNESCO as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. One of my fellow tourists asked our guide why they only hold it once every five years. Her answer was “To retain it’s importance and significance.” Indeed, it is both important to the people and a significant part of the country’s history. Between 1986 and 1991, hundreds of thousands of Estonians gathered publicly in an effort to end decades of Soviet occupation. The revolutionary songs they created anchored Estonia’s non-violent struggle for freedom. It became known as The Singing Revolution.
Tallinn, as well as having a modern new look, has a long history, as well as a somewhat torrid one. A walk around the Old Town is a trip through a medieval fortress. Do check out the following link for some excellent images. For some reason, rather like the child that suddenly, for no known reason, decides he no longer likes green beans, my camera and my computer suddenly don’t like each other. So while I’m trying to sort out that little dispute, I’ve found a lovely site that offers better photos than I could anyway. Have a look.
I’m going to stop here, and I’ll write about Helsinki another time. And, of course, I haven’t even begun to mention St. Petersburg. Or Stockholm, or Copenhagen… Oh, my! No wonder my brain is like a huge pudding right now. In the meantime, I do hope you’ll have a look at some of the links I’ve included here. We all should know something more about Estonia, if for no other reason than it will make your heart sing. MM