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Jonna/Katija and father greet us off the Ferry
Rating: (5.0) (19 Votes)

Helsinki, Finland
10th May 2005

Pros: Great people, great times, great stories!
Cons: None

Gday all....it seems like a lifetime ago since I last updated our tour shannanigans. As you can probably imagine the country towns of Latvia and Estonia don't quite have internet-cafes on every corner.

I will fill in the last week or so over the next couple of days here in Helsinki. A brief summary is that we rode along the west coast of Latvia after spending a couple of nights in a National Park north-west of Riga, reaching Tallin on the 9th, we spent a night in Tallinn with Richard, an estonian that we met in brindisi at the start of our trip...great guy. The following continues on after the night spent eating and drinking and sweating in the Sauna with Richard and his girlfriend plus son, Carl-Eric.

After sweating it out in the Sauna and then sleeping the night away like a baby, it was off to the centre of Tallin for a buffet breakfast with Richard on his way into work. Richard had already informed us that his work for the day would be only to turn up to the office, and perform the Russian ritual (most of his colleagues are Russian) of shaking hands with everyone in the office to signify that you are at work for the day, then he would be free to show us around more of his home-town...this is exactly as it happened. Sam and I spent no longer than 10 minutes waiting in the car while Richard shook hands, it was then into old-town Tallinn for the three of us. First stop was the liquor store...Tallinn is the port of call for all Finish/Sweedish/Norwegians loading up on cheap alcohol, it's unbelievable...but local Finish beer is cheaper in Tallin than in Finland...people go crazy carrying huge loads of beer and Vodka, old ladies wheeling trolleys full of booze...funny stuff. We of course did the customary thing (as we didn't wish to insult anyone) and loaded ourselves up...large bottles of Vodka for Sams mates in Sweden, Cognac for our friend Marie's father, bottle of Baileys for Marie's brother...and of course beers and some baileys for ourselves. Very cheap...1 litre Estonian Vodka (95 eek, aus$9.50, 5€), 750ml Baileys (189 eek, aus$18, 10€)...understandable why the scandanavians head down here for drink, for example the 750ml Baileys costs well over aus$50 in Finland.

We next stopped off at the cool looking russian-influenced church, Sam and I poked our heads in for a look and there was some form of religious-ceremony going on...at least a hundred people were inside with many more making their way in, hundreds of candles were lit and smoke filled the church, an arch-bishop type of dude was conducting a sermon...that was definitely enough Christianity for one day so it was back into the car and Richard drove us all around Tallinn for the morning, pointing out the Russian side of town which is a whole district of large-ugly-blocks of very small apartments, drove through the most dangerous part of Tallinn (largely off-limits afer dark...in fact, two of Richards friends had been hospitalised 2 weeks ago, after being jumped in a park within this area of town).

Richard was an awesome tour-guide for the city of Tallinn...filling us with interesting info on all aspects of life/culture in Tallinn and Estonia and also all countries of the former Soviet Union. It's unreal when someone can explain the situation, present and past, of a country....gives you a very good insight into the mind-set of the local people. It has certainly opened my mind to the vast amount of continual change that the people of the previous Soviet Union have encountered, particular over the last 50 years. And definitely given me a far greater understanding of communism...its bad and also its good points.
Sam and I had planned to catch the 1:30pm ferry to Helsinki, but of course as usual plans changed, and in the end we only just managed to scramble onto the 4pm ferry. Our organisation has to be up there with the best in the world...not. We weren't helped however by the very-unhelpful information counter and ticket seller, both of who sent us in completely the wrong direction...further confusion occured when the ticket collector would not let us onto the ferry with our bikes (although we had already paid for them to be on there)...some friendly smiles and kind words soon saw us on the ferry and on our way to Helsinki, where hopefully Sam's college-friend Jonna would be waiting to greet us at the terminal. A Ferry ticket for one-way trip to Tallinn = 250eek,aus$25,13€ the bikes were an additional 80eek. The trip took 3.5 hours.

Helsinki...and Jonna, her sister Katija and their father were there with a van to pick us. Some big hellos were exchanged with hugs all around...Sam and Jonna had both lived in the same international-house at Jacksonville University in the U.S.A, Sam had also visited Helsinki in 1998 so it was a re-union of somewhat.

With the bikes in the van Jonna's father drove back to the house, while Sam, Jonna, Katija and I went straight to downtown Helsinki for some Mexican food and story-telling over a couple of beers. We then hit another bar and met up with Katija's friend Mia, sharing more beers and stories...great people, great stories, great time. We've arranged to all meet up again tonight (11th), apparently there is many bars in downtown with 1euro specials on Wednesday nights...so tomorrow there will be another interesting lae to tell.
Its great to be in another city, with another very friendly and hospitable family...enjoying the good times.

Until next time (probably tomorrow) take it easy....I hope all is well around the globe, Adios Ben.