Friday, October 9, 2009

Adventures in Europe Part 2

Okay, where to begin? I'm writing this from Paris, having finished the tour of the Baltic States. Never in my life did I think I'd be able to say that! But here's a Cole's notes version of the highlights.

We started in Riga, Latvia, then drove the Rovers into Estonia. We stayed the night in the university town of Tartu, then went on to the capital, Tallinn. I loved Tallinn. It was both charming and welcoming, and I would definitely go back someday. It's just a two hour ferry ride from Helsinki, Finland, and indeed the Estonian language is close to Finnish. Bought some marzipan and visited two amazing chocolate shops that put Starbucks hot chocolate to shame.

After driving down the coast to stay on Saaramaa Island for two nights amidst winds of up to 65 mph, we put in a twelve hour day traveling down to Klaipeda, Lithuania. We hit an unbelievable storm there, which turned out to be an anti-cyclone that killed people in the region. Over a foot of rain in ten minutes, and the wind was so fierce at one stop where we got caught outside (the Hill of Crosses), we had to walk backward to the Rovers so the hail wouldn't hit our faces. By the time we dove inside the vehicles, everyone of us could wring out our clothes. Needless to say, we stayed soaked until we reached the port town of Klaipeda.

Next day was windy but mostly clear, and we traveled to the Curonian Spit. It's somewhat like the Oregon Coast, very beautiful and we stopped in the town of Nida where I bought some Baltic amber jewelry. They have distinctive wooden flags there that the seamen used to use, and each flag tells the story of the family it belongs to. The black and white checkered part tells the sailor is from Nida, and the rest tells if they are married or single, how many and which sexes his children are, and if they live near the forest or sea. This was one of my favorite stops of the trip, aside from Tallinn.

We arrived the next afternoon in the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius, and met my sister and step-sister with her family, including 5 month old Areia. She's the best travelled baby in the world, I'm sure! The following morning we toured the city, and stopped at the former KGB museum. It turns out our tour guide's (Jurate, my roommate for the past week) uncle was the leader of the local resistance against the Soviets, and exhibits about him are featured in the "museum". Let me tell you, I still can't get that place out of my mind. The things they did to political prisoners there would make your skin crawl, and somehow the uncle managed to survive three years of imprisonment there, plus five more in a concentration camp in Siberia. And this sort of thing happened until the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989. Unbelievable.

All three Baltic States share that awful history of occupation, in ancient times from the Swedes, Danes, Poles, Germans... Then after WWI, the Soviets took over until the Nazis came into town. Then at the end of WWII, the Soviets took control again, and stayed until the wall came down. Millions of innocent people were imprisoned, tortured and killed, including women and children. Jurate told us when the authorities came to take your family in the middle of the night and put you on a train for Siberia, you weren't expected to make it home, let alone survive the trip. Many had no proper clothing or food, and no children under the age of two survived the journey to the camps. All this makes me eternally grateful to be from Canada. Please everyone, don't take your freedom for granted!

On a lighter note, the tour of Vilnius was October 7th, my ninth anniversary. Obviously, I'm away from home. My hubby sent me a mushy email and had some dark chocolates delivered to my suite as a surprise. Isn't that romantic?

Now I'm in gay Paris with my cousin, and about to go to a burlesque show at the Crazy Horse Saloon. Never thought I'd say that, either!

Haven't done a lick of writing since I arrived in Europe, but it's been a good break. Hopefully by the time I get my internal clock working properly back home, I'll be raring to go. If you're interested, you can follow the trip blog here.