Friday, 30 November 2007

Helsinki, Finland

We have just spent over seventeen hours in transit. I am two coffees on stuttered sleep into the next day. My thoughts dart like hummingbirds. Tangible, numerous; easy to see but impossible to grasp. I suspect, that were I to catch one, it would make about as much lasting sense as a meth freak. Gibberish doomed to deteriorate. Caffeine tends to turn my insides into chaotic mish mash. Especially now that I've agreed to the third cup. My innards shall be mashed potatoes, cigarettes are my gravy, Oxford the dish that this feast is served on. And so, erratically and potato-like, I remember Finland.

Fitting, actually, as potatoes are one of Jessica's favourite foods. She claims she use to get drunk on them. I believe her.

The house of Jessica and Jan (pronounced 'yawn') is like a prototype for the House of Awesome. A miniature prototype. A shoebox diorama held together with paintings, puppets, posters and utter disarray. Well, not so much disarray as functional chaos. Animators by profession, their workday start time amounted to a shoulder shrug. As in: "What time do you have to work today?" Reply: shoulder shrug. They are artists from the core.

After spending almost a month in the Baltics, surrounded by Old Towns and the ancient, Helsinki was almost refreshing in its newness. The architecture had obviously been planned with aesthetics in mind, as it was utterly gorgeous. Also, probably one of the best planned public transit systems I've ever seen. However, the roads are ridiculous to try and navigate. It took Kaare and I about twenty minutes to walk from the market square to Jessica and Jan's apartment. On the third day there, we realized that it should have only taken us about two minutes. I felt like a giant ass. But hey, I've felt dumber over more important things than that!

The market was so sweet. Imagine the Granville Island Market on speed. Vendors everywhere selling everything from bulk olives to fish eggs. One of my favourite new dishes being mashed potatoes with fish eggs. Amazingly good! And we also ate horse. And reindeer. Dear Rudolph: the end. Sorry kids...Rudolph's nose didn't save him this time. It was actually really good. Extremely salty. Sorry to all the veggies out there, I'll stop talking about it now. Well, one more thing: Yummmmmm.......!

I think one of my favourite parts of Finland was Soumenlinna. Oh yeah, just you try pronouncing that one. We'll hold a conference call contest to see who gets the closest. Anyways, Soumenlinna is an island just off the coast of Helsinki. It was about a fifteen minute ferry ride, the price of which was included in our tram ticket, proof of Finland's superior public transit. The island was beautiful. We spent almost four hours wandering around: in ruins, on the shore, over rocks, and down those rickety wooden staircases that I've always associated with the ocean off of Long Beach. And when we went for lunch, I had a fish stew with a tomato base. Yup, tomatoes. I've decided that if you can manifest things, then you must be able to de-manifest things. So no more tomato allergy for Angie! I hope. I haven't had the guts to try fresh ones yet. Plus I don't really trust the hospital systems of the countries that we've been in. And I don't think Kaare would be quite as good with an allergic reaction as he was at fixing Jessica's arm WHEN HE BROKE IT!!!

Don't worry, that happened in Thailand! Not in Finland. Although I don't think Jessica will ever let him live it down. Much to my entertainment. Sorry for the heart attack I must have just given you Mom.

Anyways, that's about it for now folks! We're alive in Oxford right now, and we head to Brussels later this evening. I will hopefully be able to keep in better contact with everyone! Look forward to long and detailed emails folks...providing that Marty has internet that he doesn't mind me using as crack. Lets hear it for internet withdraws! (Hooray)

Quote of the Day:
I was wearing my ewok touque and bouncing one of the balls on the end of the idiot ties off my head. Kaare gave me a look (you know..."a look"), and I explained that I was building up the bounce ratio. His reply...

"Did you calculate that using your retard powers?"

Alcohol Fact of the Day:
In Finland, they have Fish Vodka. That would be Fisherman Friends Vodka. The menthol is so strong that you don't even taste the alcohol. It's crazy.

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Tallinn, Estonia

For Stella-Mom and Auntie Julie: who wanted to hear about something other than drinking.

And for Nana: not a single f-bomb to be seen!

The beauty of Tallinn is quieting for me. The grey sea port day. The winter bare trees in hidden courtyards or growing out of moss covered ruins. As I walk past the soaring architecture of Alexander Nevsky Chapel, I have to quickly step onto the two foot wide sidewalk to avoid the cars whizzing down the cobblestone. A colourful lane lined with galleries and stencil graffiti has, on the left side, a steep, concrete staircase. On the right is the original, 800 year old roadway, built at an almost mind boggling forty five degree angle (although Kaare will argue that I am exagerating the angle). How did people, never mind horses, manuever it? Imagine Dawes Hill made of cobblestones. (For those of you who know Vancouver)

I feel like I'm stuck in juxtaposition. Like, all of a sudden, the cartoon Mickey Mouse from "Steamboat Willie" (circa 1928) happens to appear in "Finding Nemo". Stylish (and gorgeous) women in fur lined parkas and jeans that I'm pretty sure they put on with a paint brush, navigate the age worn streets in spike heels. Although we have it on good authority that these women aren't locals, they're Russians. A local told us that. At the top of the city, I can look over both the colourful Old Town and the bustling port area of the new town. Even our hostel, with it's laminate flooring and central heating, has a kitchen situated in what could very well have been a medieval dungeon. Possibly, it still is. We found some very suspicious Hansel and Gretel sized holes in the wall.

And the art community here is like nothing I've seen outside of Nelson or the Sunshine Coast. We accidentaly came across the art gallery/workshop of Aleksnar Savchnkov. We walked through an arched tunnel on a whim, finding ourselves in a hidden courtyard. It was like walking into a faerie garden. Stone arches and staircases covered in vines, stained glass lanterns, wooden planks carved with foreign script and the utter silence of a garden in hibernation. I half expected a little gnome to come racing around the corner and chastise us in gibberish for our intrusion. To our right, an aged stairwell led down into the basement gallery. Inside there were paintings everywhere. On walls and chairs, in tiny alcoves or hanging from the ceiling. Images of women, scenes of snow covered Tallinn and innovative pictures of angels or the Virgin Mary. If the painting was framed, it was done so artistically with driftwood, stone, scrap metal, wool and even with the building itself. There was one alcove about two feet wide, one foot tall and two feet deep, that held a tine painting of the Virgin with a candle burning blithely beside it. Most of the paintings, however, were unframed. They lay in folders on tables, or strewn unfinished around Savnchkov's work space. A fireplace roared, surrounded by comfy chairs, the artist, and a few other tea drinkers. The building, from what I could gather, had been a monastery once upon a time. It was one of the coziest places I have ever had the privelage of stumbling into.

Finally, I apologize to everyone who hasn't been hearing from us lately. Internet has been hard to come by. Right now, we're stealing internet from Jessica's neighbours. (We're in Helsinki by the way) We have officially become gypsies.

Sunday, 11 November 2007

Vilnius, Lithuania

I will start with the bad. So far I have lost my Terza Rima t-shirt, my scarf that Dusty brought me back from India (that one sucked), and all of our soap products. Shampoo, condtioner, bodywash, and face wash. I've actually lost our shampoo twice, having lost the replacement the day we bought it. Awesome.

Having said all that, I will now say this: I LOVE VILNIUS!!! So far, this city has been our favourite. I'm actually not really sure where to much has happened. Also, I'm pretty sure that I'm still drunk from yesterday (it's about 6pm right now) and I'm not going to attach any guarantees to my wit today. This is going to be a long one folks, so buckle down.

Day 1: Wo Wowy Wow

We arrive in Vilnius at 8am, having taken an overnight bus and been harassed by terrifying Polish border guards, who we thought were Belarussian, which led to minor panic attacks, as we did not have visas for Belarus, and it was 3am. And very cold outside. And a very long walk back to Warsaw. Turns out that they were just angry Polish people, which really should not have surprised us at all. Sorry Dorota, but the older generation of people in Poland were just plain horrid. Younger generation, wonderful (and the women are unbelievably, not so much...a cross between Neanderthal and KGB). Older generation, as cruel and hard as the communism that they lived through.

Back to Lithuania! Vilnius, day 1, 8am. We get to our hostel and immediately go to sleep. We wake up and hit the streets in the afternoon-ish. We wander around, grocery shopping, soap shopping, toursit informationing. We shower (we smelled very bad, having lost all of our soap). We then go to a bar called Amatininku Uzeiga. Say that one...well, I was going to say "three times fast", but in reality, just try saying it at all. If Guiness is the steak of the beer world, then Horn is turkey. It smelled remarkably like ground meat, tasted very wonderful and went down very quickly. It is served in a giant "glass" emblazzened with the name of the beer. I'm guessing that it's not actually glass, but carved from the clear horns of some mystical Lithuanian creature. Beer cost about $2 for .5L in a bar here. Yup, we love Vilnius.

From here we moved to Ibysh. This bar has become my best friend. There was a DJ spinning awesome hip-hop and 60's doo wop music. The decor was a cross between a disco and an exploded paint store. There was a giant fish in a giant tank just hanging out. At this point we were drinking rusty nails. We were actually the only customers in there. We ended up hanging out with the bartender, who's name we only learned last night is Mantas (like preying mantas), and the DJ (who's name I forget) and a couple of girls, Ruth and Steffanie, who were there hanging out with those guys. I believe the bar closed at 3am, but in the style of the Fixx, we just hung out after it was closed, drinking and smoking around the bar. Possibly, we got home at 5am. Ibysh = A+

Oh oh oh...almost forgot! For those of you who have seen Borat, and Kealey, this is mostly for you, remember how he gets excited about something and he says "Wo Wowy Wow"? The DJ did the same thing. But for real. No word of a lie. Exactly the same.

Day 2: TO THE RIVER!!!

We wake up around...1pm? We are useless sacks of shit until about 3:45pm, at which point we decide our need for food is greater than our need to nurse our hangovers. As we are leaving, Adam asks if we want to go to Forest.

Lets talk about Adam. He's from Perth (Australia, for those geographically challenged) but he's been living in Riga (Latvia) and a little in Vilnius for about five years. He now speaks broken English. It's crazy. He sounds like English is his second language, but he has the Aussie accent. He deletes little words (ie. a, the, are) and drops all tenses. So when he asked if we wanted to go to a sauna in the forest overnight, it sounded something like this:

"Some of us, we go to Forest. There is smoke sauna. We take train to to say...not all way? We take taxi cab to village from train, there is well, river, maybe we stay for night? Come home morning. Forest is relax, calm. Maybe you come?"

So strange.

However, we decide that this sounds pretty sweet. We went and grabbed some food from the most magical pancake house you can imagine. Pancakes of every kind. Filled with everything. For maybe...$3 Canadian? Magic. Not quite Kebab magic (please note the capital 'K', Kebabs deserve it), but pretty close. Then we meet up with Adam around 5pm to catch the train.

We get on the dodgy train and about now is when the horror movie feeling starts. At this point I started wondering if Adam was taking us out to the country to kill us and steal our identities. However, we were then joined by a group from the other hostel in town and I felt much safer. Except for the fact that, once again, I was the only girl. There was Andrew (from Melbourne, smart as hell, could talk about anything), Chris (a Christian from the States studying at a school in Tallinn, Estonia), Viktor (the Spaniard...think Princess Bride) and Andrew (English drunkard obsessed with documenting through photo and video). I'm not sure how to describe our experience in Forest. I think the best thing to do is go point form. Hopefully this disjointed flash of images will give you a good impression of our side trip.

- we are staying in a bunk house with bunk beds, a wood burning stove, a clock that is stuck at 3am, the Witching Hour. The clock appears to be trying to go backwards. Kaare changes it so that we are not stuck forever in horror hour.

- there is a pirate eye patch outside our door.

- crazy neighbour who keeps knocking on our window. Adam attempts to talk to him. He's nice, but absolutely looney.

- the outhouse is the worst one I have ever seen in my life. Bar none.

- we have lots of beer.

- somehow a fishing lure appears outside our door that wasn't there when we arrived.

- we have mead...for real mead.

- our dinner consisted of a block of cheese, a loaf of rye bread, some salami, all between seven people. Oh, and three bags of fish crackers.

- the sauna is built of wood, with smoldering rocks that aren't even properly contained. Low roof. About 20 meters from our bunk house.

- as Kaare and I are getting ready to go into the sauna, the owner came in to ask us for money. Adam walked out completely naked to talk to him.

- the boys are all naked. And very very very hairy. I kept my bathing suit bottoms on. My legs are very very very hairy.

- the sauna is soooooooo hot.

- throughout the night we discuss everything from suicide to ewoks riding laser shooting dinosaurs.

- the whole thing feels like the Blair Witch project. We are literally in the middle of nowhere.

- there is a river about 5 meters away. A very cold Lithuanian river, in the middle of a very cold Lithuanian winter. It was down a flight of extremely slippery wooden stairs, which you dived off into the water. I did it once. The cry for the night became "INTO THE RIVER!!!"

- shrinkage.

- the Spaniard screams like a girl.

Day 3: Chlamydia?

The next morning (or afternoon) we went to go catch our train from the station. The night before we'd got off the train a town early because the train didn't run all the way at that time. We'd taken a cab to Forest. Forest train station? Some tracks, two benches and a sign post reading Zervynos. That was it. We spent about 30 mins in the freezing ass cold hoping, waiting, and wishing for our train. Which eventually came, leading us to warmth, home and food. Oh, and Andrew, our English documenter? Absolutely no shame about what he took pictures of. There are some really really good photos. Well...I'm not so sure that "good" is the right word...incriminating is a much better word. He's got my email, so hopefully we get them sent to us! Nana, you can't see them. Dad, you DEFINITELY can't see them.

Side note: eating out here is so strange. If you get service (large IF), you are not given the right amount of menues, your food will come out whenever it's ready, sometimes your food will come immediately, sometimes it will take half an hour, no one checks on you, it's extremely easy to walk out on your bill 'cause no one appears to care, and the servers are all very nice! Much different service standard.

Back at the hostel we start chatting with an Aussie named Shane and a brother sister combo from Hungary named Anita and Saboech (I probably completely fuckered the spelling on that name). Anita lives in Budapest and is visiting Saboech for a few days, who is studying in Klaipeda. Which I cannot ever say correctly and have continuosly pronounced as "chlamydia". It worked out rather well 'cause Klaipeda is our next stop. It's on the coast of Lithuania, and Mom, you'll like this, it has the biggest amber museum in the world. So we're going to meet up with those cats for a few days in Klaipeda and then in January we're going to go stay with Anita in Budapest for a few days. Anita is completely fluent in English, Saboech almost as good.

The night that ensued with these people was crazy. But Kaare is going to tell you about it. Otherwise, this blog would just be way way way to long. If he doesn't have something up in a few days however, you'll get the rest of the story from me. You hear that Mr. Iverson? Get your ass in gear. I don't care if you're "not feeling it" right now. Stop being a girl. (He's sitting at the computer right beside me at this moment and he's going to read this as soon as I post it. Hehe...)

Fun fact of the day: bars here don't appear to have a closing time. Or if they do, it is completely ignored. I asked Mantas (from Ibysh) what time he closed the bar. He said "last person". Which means that he was there until 6am with us. The "closing hours" represent what time they stop letting more people in. If you're already in, you can stay as long as you want. At least that's been our experience.

Quote of the day:
We were discussing with Chris (the Christian American) the emo culture in Canada and the States and how absolutely ridiculous it is. This is what he came up with...

Chris: I mean, yeah, we're all depressed, but we don't have to be fucking queers about it.

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

Auschwitz/Warsaw, Poland

"Arbeit Macht Frei"
Work Will Set You Free

The sign above the gates of Auschwitz I. Ironic and morbid to say the least.

I'm not going to talk about Auschwitz except to say three things:

1. There will not be any pictures ever posted of our trip there. I took my camera with me, and then just felt too wrong about taking any pictures. I actually felt strange watching other people take pictures. Like, "Oooh, thousands of people were executed against this wall...lets remember it in personnal photographic digital history for ever!" Gross.

2. I think alot of healing has happened at Auschwitz. I'm not going to downplay it, there were definitely some parts of it that sobered me. The crimes against humanity made tangible. But for the most part, I think the fact that so many people have been there since 1945 bringing peace, mourning, love and healing, that alot of the negative imprinting has been washed away.

3. I learned that I am able to pray. Nick, I said one for your family.

That's all I'm going to say about Auschwitz. If you really want to know what the experience was like, then go there. I think it's a pretty personnal thing. Kaare and I pretty much didn't talk to eachother the entire time we were there.

Moving on to happier things...

Well...longer things. Longer, like our trip to Vilnius, Lithuania. We went to the train station in Krakow, only to find that we had to take a four hour train to Warsaw. And then a TEN HOUR BUS RIDE from Warsaw to Vilnius. The next day. At 11pm. Yup. 11pm. We get into Vilnius at 9am on Nov 8th. So much balls.

The plus side is that our hostel in Warsaw is awesome. As soon as we got checked into the hostel, we decided to go out for kebabs. Remember kebabs? Oh much greatness. Anyways, on our way out we asked some people at the front communal area if they knew of a place to get a good kebab. This launched a ten minute debate between a balding English ex-pat and a special ops-looking Texan grad student. Apparently, we have some kebab experts in the house. Represent.

This in turn led to another debate about whether or not Polish cab drivers try to scam you. Mr. English funny guy is completely convinced that they do. Our American political science major thinks that they don't. This could be because he is one scary looking mother fucker. No joke. Bigger than Kaare and I combined, covered in tatoos and smart enough to stop a speeding train using his oversized brain power. The guy is a combination of those crazy war journalists (you should hear his stories) and Doogie Howser. If Doogie Howser was interested in political terrorism in refugee camps. He reminded me of just how little I know about the world.

Back to the main point: Kebabs. Oh Lordy...kebabs. They sent us down the street about a block. There we found a four foot tall, two foot wide, rotating stack of chicken meat. The girl there was slicing it off with what appeared to be a saber. And they were the best kebabs we've had so far. I'm still full two hours later. Although, we hear that the best kebabs anywhere are in Istanbul. Kaare and I have decided to do the 2007/2008 kebab world tour. We will be making a travel guide to the best kebabs in Europe, based on a very scientific rating system. Our stomachs.

Th-th-th-that's all for now folks!

Traveller tip of the day: book your hostel in advance! If you do not do this, you will end up wandering the streets of Warsaw, in the freezing rain, 22kg packs on your back, not even able to smoke because you're so cold, getting turned down at every hostel you can possibly find on the map. I don't care if you're in India. If you don't book in advance, this will be your fate. Warsaw, rain, wandering.

Quote of the day:
Scene: after kebabs, we decide to go out to find some beer to bring back to the hostel.
Angie (asking people at the front entrance): Do you guys know where we can find a liquor store?
Polish guy with a huge beard and smurf toque: This must be your first time to Poland.
Kaare (laughing): Haha, no no no. We know that there must be tons of liquor stores around here, we're just looking for the closest one.
Giant Polish Smurf: Poland IS a liquor store.

I like this country.

Sunday, 4 November 2007

Krakow, Poland

Absinthe party at the fly honey warehouse!!!

That's right, I said absinthe. The real stuff. The wormwood content being measured in mg/L. We were drinking 30mg/L last night. It was called Mr. Jekyll. I love my life. This blog is going to be as disjointed as our night was.

The absinthe den that our hostel is situated next door to:
I don't even know what it's called. The decor is late 1800's Victorian era. Smoke filled. Dim lighting. Chandeliers that only partially work. Playing 30's jazz music. Nana-style hand crocheted table cloths. Did I mention the ABSINTHE!!!

About three drinks in, we're already walking the line of sanity. Kaare is wearing the biggest shit eating grin I have ever seen on his face. Before anyone gets excited, there were no hallucinations. But definite craziness.

Around now we meet Cameron and Pol. Cam is from Texas. My favourite part of running into Americans is telling them that Steven Colbert is running for president. They lose their minds. Pol (I think his real name was Luke) is originally from Krakow, but moved to the States at age 9 to go to school. Now he's living in Krakow again with his wife and little girl. Cam was just on a week long trip to visit him. Pol is short for Poland. The same way we call Alex: Alabama.

Another absinthe and we're off to the jazz bar. Downstairs, WWII brick basement. Real jazz. Upright bass, keyboard, trumpet, sax, and guitar. On the way, Pol teaches us Polish phrases. Don't remember any of them. We must have walked 2km to get to this bar. Pol kept saying it was close. We drink Polish beer. We have no idea how to get back to our hostel. We meet some cats from Dublin, and one guy from Ontario. I think his name was Rick. Don't know what happened to Rick. Pol is fuckered and, for some God unknown reason, in charge of leading us around.

The set is over, 2:30am. We embark on an epic journey to find kebabs. Kebabs appear to be a favoured Polish fast food. If you've listened to the Patton Oswald sketch about putting all your favourite foods in one bowl, mashing them up, and shoving them down your throat, then you have an idea of what kebabs are. A piece of bread topped with meat, cabbage (lots of cabbage), pickles, and occasionally some vegetables. Between perogies and kebabs, I'm pretty sure we've both gained about 10lbs.

3am. We do not find kebabs. However, we do find another bar. Kaare and I have run out of money at this point. Cam is buying our drinks. I set out from the bar to find an ATM.

3:30am. I am completely, utterly, and hopelessly lost. I have no idea how to find the guys or the bar or our hostel. I decide to wander aimlessly until sunup when I will be able to find an open store that can hopefully sell me a map.

3:45am. As I am wandering aimlessly, I notice that I am walking past the bar where the guys are. No word of a lie. I join up with them again, and we decide to head home. Pol and Cam are nice enough to walk us back to our hostel, as we literally have no idea where it is.

4am. We are lost again. Kaare and Pol are both way to drunk to read the map. Not lying about that. They actually can't figure out which way is up. They start talking to some random dude walking by. I start skipping off on my own, some how figuring that if I just walk, I will eventually find the hostel. This is a bad idea. Kaare and Pol send Cam to make sure that I don't skip off into some dark alley and get murdered. Kaare says that at this point I was making out with Cam. I don't believe him. I have photographic proof that Kaare was trying to make out with Cam. So who do you believe? The absinthe affected opinions of one man, or my solid photographic proof? Probably both.

Noon. Today. We have slept through breakfast. Kaare is in a very bad state. I have no idea how we got back to the hostel. I did somehow manage to take out my contacts, put my money belt under my pillow, and put my pajamas on (backwards). I have now drank about 2L of juice. My brain hurts.

And now it's 3pm! I'm blogging, Kaare is captain puking (hopefully not on my bed, but I'm too scared to look), and I'm about to go explore Krakow!

Morbid fact of the day: We are going to Auschwitz tomorrow. I feel strange about turning one of the most devastating and horrifying places in history into a tourist attraction. But as we are so close, I feel that we can't miss it. I think it's going to be a very sobering experience. The museum doesn't allow people 14yrs and younger. Keenan wouldn't be able to go. Scary.

Quote of the day:
Kaare: if Krakow was a video game, it would be Castlevania.

Friday, 2 November 2007

Torun, Poland

Sweet mother of God, we're in Eastern Europe.

That was my first thought when we flew into Bydgoszcz. Yeah, I can't pronounce it either. Imagine if you will, every scary post-WW2 image of Eastern Europe that you can gather into your mind. And now you have a picture of Bydgoszcz. Horridly huge and run down appartment blocks, people begging for change (and following you to shops to see if you have any), and a train system that probably took people to Auschwitz. This was our first impression of Poland.

But then we hopped a train to Torun. The city is bloody beautiful. Not much to do in it, if you don't speak Polish, but definately an architecture enthusiasts dream. Our hostel is clean (thank you lord) and pretty centrally located. We are however, in the old town. I have a sneaking suspicion that this is the tourist area of town, and that were we to move out into the city, we would find the scary Poland again. Ah well, we do what we can.

Idiot fact of the day: I actually discovered that I had a racial stereotype so deeply inbedded in my pschye, that I was completely unaware of its exsistance. We met some cool cats from Singapore at our hostel. Michelle, James, and Ching. As we were chatting with Michelle, Kaare commented on how good her English was. She then replied that it should be, because it was her first language, as it is for most of the people in Singapore. Her Mandarin isn't even that good. And I assumed that every Asian with an accent must use English as a second language. Don't I feel like an ass.

Fun fact of the day: I'm pretty sure that the Polish construction workers outside our hostel are trying to marry me. They continually talk to me (in Polish), bow, tip their caps, call me beautiful, and hold doors for me. If anyone has any advice on how to avoid acquiring a Polish husband, please let me know.

Quote of the Day:
Me: Do you think it's safe to leave our boards out?
Kaare: I feel pretty secure about it. I can't imagine anyone stealing our boards in Cobblestone World. It's like a level of Mario. Seems pretty redundant.