Tartu Spring Days

In the last few days the Tallinn and the rest of the country has calmed down and everythings back to order here. The night after the main riots the government locked down all public alcohol sales in tallinn and the greater area and the cops were fairly well prepared for any yobbos who tried to fire up again. Ive heard random reports of isolated violence from different cities but its usually nothing too much more than a bunch of Estonian kids duking it out with some Russian kids. Still the Government isnt taking it lightly and after banning alcohol sales in Tallinn they have not banned ALL public alcohol sales THROUGHOUT Estonia until ATLEAST the 3rd of May. There was a brief period before the ban was introduced and as you can imagine, the stores were packed and now the only place you can buy booze is at a cafe, the idea being theres still bar keeps there to make sure your in line. Ive noticed however this hasnt really stopped everyone drinking at home, most Estonians seem to have more than a bottle or two tucked away for such a rainy day.

Between the alcohol ban and the on off weather (20 degree one day, snowy the next) I think Student Days have been slightly more subdued than last year but still its been a massive event which can only be a credit to the organisers. Mud wrestling was AWESOME, truely a fine cultural activity. Yesterday I got involved in the "Culture Market" in the main sqaure which is a place for all the foreign students to make a presentation about their own country and since I know one of the organisers… it was up to me and one aussie guy who works at the university to hold down the fort for our great land… so what did we do? Well we eventually found one other random aussie bloke and we just grabbed the mic and got on stage for 5 minutes and crapped on together, told some jokes, some stories and tried to entertain the crowd and all in all, it went down ok. I miss being behind a microphone, when the crowd laughs at that joke you just made up on the spot, thats the best, the very best.

Cultural Learnings Of… That Bronze Statue in Tallinn

You may remember a few weeks ago I spoke of the monument to Russian soldiers in Tallinn, the governement wanted to tear it down and there was massive public debate over the issue, well yesterday they finally tried to remove the statue and all hell broke lose in Tallinn, I told you history was happening!

Thats old mate there, a monument errected by the Soviets to commerate the soldiers who died "liberating" Estonia from the Nazis in WWII. However many in Estonia see it as a symbol of 50 years of occupation. Due to these good times after WWII, Estonia is still about 1/3 ethnically Russian, the Soviets had the bright idea to ship Estonians off to Siberia and import more Russians to help things out.

So you have a big Russian population in Tallinn particularly and last night things went beserk after the government sent in the bulldozers to remove the monument yesterday. I was sitting at my friends house chillaxing when a friend of a friend calls, its estonia and theres only 1.4 million people so news travels fast. Switch on the TV and I dont need to understand the words to know whats happening, its some good old fashioned rioting and looting going on in downtown Tallinn.

These pictures are taken from a blog called "Life After Eesti" which you can read at http://asehr.blogspot.com/ The news program showed this very car being turned over, its a nice maroon Volvo S60. Aint no better way to riot than by turning cars over I say. I also realise that the very place where the car is turned over IS ELE’S FRONT DOOR. Sweet jesus, turns out the mob is just going after goods rather than people and everything is ok.

I dont know what the situation is like this morning but I imagine Tallinn is in a pretty sorry state. I should be getting some more images of the action soon and Ill post them later but WAAWAAWOOWAA, what a night. Things are still festive and happy here in Tartu thankfully. This is history happening definitly.

Heres some youtube videos for you, firstly is a video report from Russian news from a few days ago, it gives a good background to the issues here in Engish, only 1.50 long

and heres some footage of the insanity in action last night


NEWS FLASH

As I mentioned Ele was on the front lines last night and took some great videos and photos at her blog http://kizka.multiply.com Apparently the army rolled through sometime mid morning and cleaned up the rest of the Russians lingering in the street but tensions are pretty high right now, Russia has already agree to begin a export blockade of goods, its a tricky move because Russia needs Tallinn as a port as much as Estonia needs the business however. Heres my favourite celebrity of the night, the upturned Volvo now turned the right way again! Knowing Volvo, I BET it still works just fine.Check it out, hardly a scratch. Maybe I should make this bloke an offer for his slightly worn second hand S60? Photo by Ele.

Cultural Learnings Of… Boris Yeltsin

Not much has been happening in the last few days, just hanging out in Tartu with my friends, going to the club, having waterpipe, climbing over the arched bridge at 3am, regular cultural activities of this town 🙂 The student days festival starts tomorrow and everyone is excited, its like O Week on crack.. crazy estonian crack. Ive been back into the studies of the Estonian language too, its tripping me out, get this… nouns and adjectives can have up to 14 different endings all depending on how its used in the sentences… so the word "ilm" which means weather may be used as: ilma, ilmasse, ilmust, imalt and ilmani to name only a few. This doesnt change the reading of words so much, just look to the start of the word to try and identify it but it can throw off hearing and I cant even imagine speaking… I guess thats why only 1 million people in the WORLD (maalim) speak it. its close to Finnish and when im there I can understand some words but beyond that its totally different to both their Russian neighbours to the east and the Latvians to the south.

Following on from my long winded and factually incorrect explanation of Russian leaders a few weeks ago, another great Russian leader of our time, Boris Yeltsin passed away yesterday, apparently of a heart attack. I have this thing these days, that no matter what the cause, I get suspicious of high profile people dying in Russia… it makes me think Putin is up to something else. However, Yeltsins heart was in pretty bad shape; if you had withstood an attempted coup by the Red Army and overseen the dismantlement of the USSR, your ticker would be a bit worse for wear too.

I think its easy for non Europeans or indeed non Russians to think of Boris as somewhat of a comical figure. I think along with Bill Clinton he presented the world with the final defrosting of the cold war, the two leaders of the most powerful countries now being charismatic and comfortable with the media. You might also say Boris was too charismatic… that charisma coming out after a few too many Vodkas… a fate which was to be his downfall in his later days… but come on! If Bob Hawke, can hold a WORLD beer drinking record AND be a Rhodes Scholar AND appear on a country practice AND still be one of OUR most loved leaders to this day, we can appreciate how a world leader doesnt always need to be a stuffy old fart.

To put it in perspective, Boris came after Mihail and he did do a lot of good things. He finally sealed the deal with dismantled the communist rule in the USSR and brought in democracy and a free market. Now has democracy and a free market been good for Russia… well yes but its going to take generations.. he also presided over the "letting go" of the Baltic states, so in a way Boris is to thank for the setting I sit in today. If he hadnt peacefully given up these formerly occupied zones who knows how it would have turned out but Im pretty sure that none of them would have been good.

Im the first to admit I dont actually REALLY know any Russian people, or indeed have even been to Russia, so what the hell do I know about all of this, but my feeling, from reading reports and talking to whoever I can whenever I can is that Boris isnt remembered as such the fantstic man inside of Russia. He signed the deal to bring apart the USSR and while it was bad communism, there are many who long for the old days. Post USSR things arnt all rosy democracy for Russia and are going to take time to work out.. but people see Boris as the source of this pain. Also he was the first to send the Red Army down to Chechnya, losing tens of thousands of soldiers in the first years of the conflict. The landscape was too harsh and the local guerrillas got one up on the supposed greatest army in the world and then Boris had to sign a ceasefire with them… ohhh thats embarrasing

But lets remember Boris for the nice guy he was who lets face it, had a bloody hard job. And after doing your bloody hard job, if you cant have a few Wodkas and then get on the stage and have a boogie, then what has this world come to? Hot diggity I love this video so much, I could watch it all day.

Cultural Learnings of… Life In Russia

Im sitting around Riga a bit bored and wanted to share with you this classic story, one I havnt told in a blog yet because its far better with actions but im sure you will get the idea. This blog post has a few rudie words in so best to read it after 20:30 I think and if you are my mother then not at all.

Cast your minds back to 1 year ago and 3 brave but niave boys along with 1 volvo have landed in Tallinn, Estonia sans car ownership papers and their first time ever in an "eastern" european country. it all seems very lovely and the guys have a room in a small hostel situation below a strip club. Perfect. Adam had dozed off and I got up to get a drink from the kitchen of the hostel where Dieter was up using the laptop. He was talking to a guy whod Id seen around the hostel, big guy, loud, seemed to know the owner of the hostel well and spoke Russian to her. Now this guy was speaking to Dieter in a VERY loud, VERY thick American accent. Hes swaying a little bit and absolutly stinks… hes absolutly and completly piss drunk. Turns out hes been living in Russia for 5 years and has to leave occasionally for visa reasons. Immediately I know we are in for a good time.

"You guys are AUSSIE, OH I LOVE Australia man… you guys are GREAT"
"So you boys like the girls here, pretty hot eh?"

I love talking to random drunks so at first I was into it.
"Yeah for sure, the girls look nice here"

"OH, Im glad your not POOFS. Good. You guys need to go to Russia MAN, the girls there are unbelivable, absolutly unbelievable. YOU WILL SHIT YOUR FUCKING PANTS. "

"(chuckle) oh yeah, really?"

"HONESTLY, Im not kidding. YOU WILL FUCKING SHIT YOUR PANTS. FUCKING SHIT YOUR PANTS. Im not joking with you."

Its at this stage, as if demonstrate the exact manevuer we would do, it starts to half squat, bobbing down a bit. Riiiiight. Hes persistance and smell is now getting to me but I dont want to walk off, clearly hes connected to the owner of the hostel, I dont wanna piss him off just yet.

"LIKE THIS, YOU’LL SHIT YOUR PANTS. Look, just like Im doing, youll shit your pants guys. You go into a club and the women just line up against the wall and you can choose anyone you want and they ARE ALL AMAZING, PERFECT. Like you walk into this club and shit your pants. Of course you have to pay these ones at the end"

Well what a outstanding reference from this guy. Time is tracking on now, hes been squating and yelling for about 15 minutes. A girl comes out from one of the rooms and asks if he can keep it down. "OH YEAH WHATEVER" Is his reply. Dieter and I try to interject with a "maybe you should go to bed dude" but hes intent on staying.

"OH BUT GUYS, You have to watch out. Russian women are BITCHES, COLD BITCHES. You’ll shit your pants at how hot they are but they are COLD. I SHOULD KNOW, I MARRIED ONE. She was a cold bitch, took me for everything I had. BUT YOULL SHIT YOUR PANTS"

At this point the girl comes out again and is rather more forceful with him, raising her voice a bit, its about 2am and she really needs her sleep and makes this well known to the guy, whos reply is

"OH YEAH, WHATEVER, SHUTUP LESBIAN". After an exhange of this she storms off. Hilarity for sure.

By this stage the drunkeness is getting to the guy and it seems we have more luck in convincing him its bed time. Thankfully for us too however our pain has been worth it, the guy has given us a most memorable evening and one of the funniest catch phrases which we keep to this day. We never did get into Russia last year but if I ever do, Ill be sure to pack an extra set of pants.

Waiting in Estonia

After learning about the likes of Lenin and walking on water like another great saviour of the ages, things are starting to slow down, the days are becoming less involved and im starting to unwind. Its been a crazy-assed month for me, I started all the way over in Germany and ended up at the top of Finland and was moving on almost every two days.

As a result, in stuffed. Knackers. Worn out. Kaput. Exhausted. Kurnatud. Buggered. Right now I can well and truly say I have reached my limited, Ive seen more, partied harder, met more people and learnt far more than I ever could have imagined and Im happy to sit down and have somewhere to call my own…. almost.

Im waiting on the Swedes to issue me with a work visa and to do this you have to be outside of Sweden, so what better place to hang out than your favourite ex soviet country and mine… Estonia! Im not sure how long the work visa will take to get, it might be weeks but at this rate thats not too much of a problem for me…

I refer you back to this blog post http://www.eurotrip2006.com/euro/index.php?id=148 from last year where i refer to Tartu as "the happiest town in the world" but I end it with a "for now.." Well I can say that after touring Europe, this is still one of my favourite places to come, Ive been back here more times than I can count and now I really feel at home in this place. I know the cubs, the places to eat and I can go to the supermarket and see people I know. Now THIS rocks.

So if my work visa DOES take a few extra weeks to come through Ill just have to stay here for Student Days! This is the biggest student festival of the year and this is what we stumbled upon when we first came here last year. its kind of like o-week in australia but without things like "rules" or "ohs standards". Birdman competitons, blind dates, beer crate stacking competitions, beer factory tours, ladies mud wrestling and drunken students selling home made crap from their room is all part of the traditions here and its a fantastic time. I cant wait to get another photo with the yellow mascot guy, Villem either!

To get you in the vibe, heres a clip from "biggest rock and roll band in all of estonia" Tanel Padar and the Sun and their most well known song "Welcome to Estonia". Yes theres only 3 words in the whole song Engish speakers can understand. That actually brings the total to about 7 words on the entire album I can understand, still doesnt stop me listening to it everyday. ROCK.

So the days are good here, we hit the club, we hit the waterpipe and watch the sun go down over the ghetto apartments each afternoon. Soon its Sweden but right now this place is my own.

Heres Tartu on the map, is the second biggest city in Estonia and thought of as the cultural capital because its a huge university town.

Cultural Learnings Of… Communist Leaders In Russia

As I mentioned before Im in Tampere, Finland and beside the natural beauty and nice hairdressers there is one quirky attraction, a small museum devoted to one Vladimir Lenin, who spent several of his exile years here because he said some whack shit about the rulers of the time. No doubt you all recognise his mug, but I admit before I went today that part of Russian political history had illuded me. So heres what I learnt today, expressed in my own unique style of history presentation where facts and dates never have to be boring again!

So it all starts at the end of the 19th century and you have a German bloke called Karl Marx, once again name sounds familiar? He wrote stacks in his life about political and social theory and basically formed what is known today as the Communism, or indeed his view of how capitalism will be destroyed either by its own gluttony or the will of the people… or both.

So we wrote a lot but was mostly ignored at the time, however some people were listening, like a young Russian by the name of Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov who we better known as Lenin. He was into all kinds of good social revolutionary ideas and spent some years in jail in his youth for particpating in student protests.. like the real kind that students used to be into, like changing the government and not to keep the bar open for an hour longer on friday nights.

Eventually Lenin has to flee Russia, not the last time it would happen and he spends much time in Finland, all while writing a shiteload of books on the political situation of Russian and indeed how the ideas of one man… our German friend from before, Mr Karl Marx can be applied to his beloved fatherland. He eventually becomes the figurehead of a popular anti tsarsist faction from his various hideouts.. see Russia at the turn of the 20th century wasn’t the red menace we used to know, it was ruled by a king which they called Tsar and things were tough, Russia was a superpower already but it was mainly fuedal, meaning it was still mostly blokes out in the fields. Growing pains of the hardest type and tsary wasnt dealing with them too well.

Then it all happened in 1917 and the peoples revolution happened, the imagiatly titled "February Revolution", the last straw was the complete botching the Tsar was doing in WWI. Lenin was down in Swiss at the time but he cut a deal with ze germans to let him pass through to get back to Russia, at the time they thought this was a good idea because this guy was about to shake up Russia in a big way and distract them for a while.

And he did, Lenin comes to power, pulls out of the war and begins down the road of turning Russia into something different… into the worlds largest and indeed first functioning Communist state. Times are tough and social change is never quick or easy but the country starts to implement Lenins ideas which are themselves based on Marx’s writings from years earlier. See, the germans are even responsible for communism too… and to think they wanted to get rid of Knut the polar bear… anyway back to the beginnings of Communist Russia.

Lenin forms what we now know as the USSR, a federation of associated states all working together for a common goal, the beterment of the common man by the common man working hard. actually Lenins foreign policy at this stage is pretty good, hes happy to let everyone else do their thing, hes even happy to do some trading with America. Things kind of look ok but really his ideas havnt been implented for THAT long in the grand scheme of things. Now dont get me wrong, Lenin did some nasty shit too, he ordered the killing of tens of thousands of those "opposed to the revolution" and set up labour camps which would form the basis for the infamous Gulags.

Now check out this smiling bloke to the right. Maybe you recognise the young man here, its Joseph Stalin grinning back at you, taken while he was an exile too. See this young upstart was also part of Lenin’s revolutionary group, doing his thing for the party day in day out and rising up the ranks, getting himself more and more power using the least obvious ways possible.

I think for me, its the early pictures of Stalin I find the most chilling. We all know the image of the pudgy old man who was possibly the most evil dictator in history but this guy here seems normal, like anyone you see in photos from this time.. and more than a passing resemblance to the character Borat too. I dont think Stalin wanted to "make sexy time" however.

So Lenins health is failing, hes had some assassination attempts and the strain of rebuilding an entire country is getting to him however in one of his last writings to the party he says that one of the other members has far too much power, had shown content for the system and should be severely demoted, if not stripped of his position completly… that person is of course one J. Stalin.

However Lenin soon dies and in a line straight from a political thriller, Stalin and his other buddies have the documents hidden, of course he doesnt want this stuff getting out.

So this was it, after some more internal fighting and schrude moves by Stalin, he installs himself as supreme overlord of all of the USSR and sets off down a rather more nasty interpretation of Lenin and Marx’s ideas. This is where all the really good stuff starts, like changing the history books, because Lenin was seen as a god and couldnt be wrong, making himself far more prominent in past events or my favourite, "reinventing" of famous items by Soviets. Did you know a guy called Mozhaysky invented the plane? Or a guy called Popov invented the radio? Sorry Marconi, your off the Christmas card list now!

Ill leave the details of what Stalin got up to for another time because basically, they are farking terrible. He killed countless of his own population, killed anyone else he could from anywhere else and through acts of cunning and luck and a real dumkopf called Hitler, managed to convince the West to give him half of Europe at the end of the WWII. I wonder if theres a person alive in Europe whos life HASNT been effected by the actions of this bloke and probably in quite a negative way.

The next thing that spins me out is that the position of Supreme Overlord of the USSR, the position Stalin created was last held by this bloke to the left, Mikhail Gorbachev. Wow, hes a guy I remember in my own short lifetime, Im kind of excited and scared by that in the same breath. Still old Mikhail was a good guy (relativly) and began the process of reforming the USSR which kind of fell apart and he got kicked out by your favourite whacky leader of modern times, "dancin’ "Boris Yeltsin we know and love today. In seriousness, Mihail did a tremendous amount to prepare the USSR for its breakup and he is rightfully one of the great men of the century I think. Check it out , hes even got his own website, its cute it was his 75th birthday recently, go on, send old bacon head a greeting card.

So thats it, my one page guide to how Russia came to be a big red commie state and how it came to be removed in our own living memory. It was pointed out to me the other day I seem to have something of a preoccupation with the Russians… II couldn’t wait to see that monument in Tallinn which could be torn down any day now… the country facinates me, I think most westerners have ZERO idea about what its really like inside of this mega state sitting just to the left of Europe and this just drives my curiosity about the place. No doubt my story here has historical holes all the way through it but you get the general idea right? Right? is anyone still here? shit. Ill go back to photographing stupid signs soon, dont worry.

Rock and Roll (and the north of Finland) is Where I Hide

All the new photos are in the Scando gallery, just head down the page

Ive been off the air for almost 2 weeks so here what Ive been doing with my time. Right now Im sitting in a dingy bar in Tampere, Finland, heres how I got here.

I was in Warsaw and met a lovely girl from Switzerland called Judtih who was going on a crazy adventure up to the top of Finland and down again via Norway. After a few beers on both sides she asked

"soo, you wanna come?"

How can I resist an offer like this? So the next day we made out way up north through Riga, Tallinn and Helsinki. I had decided to go as far as the north of Finland as I had things to do back down south so we caught a nighttrain from Helsinki up to a place called Rovaniemi in the north of Finland which is right on the Arctic Circle, thats higher than Ive ever been and a year to the weekend I was skiing in Are, Sweden. Heres Rovaniemi on the map

Yup, its faaar north.. its also faaarking cold too, the lakes are still mostly frozen and you can walk on them! Sweet! Theres not a whole lot to do there beside go to Santas park where you can see the big red guy all year around and check out the line of the arctic circle, which is only slightly more exciting than being on the insection of NSW, Victoria and South Australia. I did find the time to make a small video about frozen water and the other thing the town is famous for..

So what else is Rovaniemi famous for?? Well its the home town of your favourite band and mine… LORDI!! HELL YEAH!! I actually didnt realise this till I got there and what a lovely surprise it was, the main sqaure has been renamed in their honour and on top of that LORDI has their own Restaurant!! Of course we went to dine there and it was a bitching rock experience, the place is kitted out in all sorts of dark Lordi inspired stuff, check out the website, it was so totally rad and to my surprise, heaps of families with the kiddies too! They are cool about photos and heres me with the statue of Mr Lordi.. does it get any more ROCK than this??

"FUCK NO" is the answer to that question. after checking out all that Rovaniemi it was time for me to split from my travelling parnter of over a week unfortunately, Judith is off to take a ferry down the west of Norway which sounds pretty sweet but Ive got friends to say hello to before I start my work in a few weeks time. Which is why I am in Tampere, just a few hours north of Helsinki, there is a hostel here but…. the reception is closed for Easter Monday!! BOOOOOOO As I was sitting there getting their free wifi the guy who runs the restaurant told me about a cheap hotel just around the corner.. good man! Dinner and a few beers later Im about to set off for my 44€ room.. and thats cheap for this country. Oh well, such is life on the road, I wouldnt trade it for anything… of wait, yes I am, for a job, a visa and an apartment very soon. ahhh hello sweden.

And finally, my man Rossco has been camping back on the east coast of Australia, check out his photos here but Ill show you my favourite below. Goodnight everyone!

Whats the Deal?

Hoi! Off the radar? Hard to find? Thats me right now, Ive been heading up north now for a few weeks now, heading towards Scando-land… and wanna know why?

Ive made the choice! Im going to take the job in Stockholm! Rockin!

After having months of indecision it all became clear to me a few weeks back now that what I want to do is take the job with the IT consulting company in Sweden, its a very good company, the work is ideal and Sweden isnt a bad place at all to live in, close to the water and a little out of the way, I like this. So I called the company and they still wanted me and thats it, they are organising me a Swedish work visa and Im making my way north to start in a few weeks, lets not rush these things now, Ill only get 6 weeks off a year from here on in, come on! I feel good about my decision, happy Ill have good work, a home and a stable environment, im ready to take the new challenge of NOT traveling now.

So right now Im in Tallinn! Im back in my favourite little country in Europe, Estonia just for a few days as I am going north. I really dig being back here, I remember some of the language, the people are great, the humour comes thick and very black and its always a good time. Heres old town Tallinn, back where it all started, its almost 1 year ago to the week we first took ourselves and Eurotank off the boat from Sweden, knowing absolutly nothing about this country. Its funny to sit in the same spots 12 months on and think about it all, but one thing I am sure of, im glad im still out here getting amongst it, I still love this.

But alas, Im not staying here for long, tomorrow im off to Helsinki and then…. theres another adventure in store but Ill leave that for the next blog.

Heres me beside the memorial to the Russian occuptation in Estonia, its a hot topic right now, they passed a law to rip it down but the president wont sign the bill, its pretty touchy stuff, does it have a right to stay? does this discriminate against russians in EU law? Do the russians outside of estonia even care about it? hmmm