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Productive in Tartu

Posted 6 September 2007 - Tartu (EE):

Today was a very productive day in Estonia. I like it here, it`s not that I didn`t enjoy the other countries, but Tartu is just a perfect place to sit and work, think a little and feel at ease. While here, I am trying to tune the website a little to make it more attractive for other media to include my project in their coverage.

Some people have told me that they would like to see a little more humour in the project. I am sorry to say that I will not find a lot more space for jokes and my usual random observations. I am now collecting information, and I will certainly have some funny stuff to share with you when I`m done with that. My eyes and ears are still open to funny stuff, but I am trying to keep them a bit separate from the real work.

Tonight will be the third night in Tartu, where I have been staying with Tarmo and his daughter Mari. Mother Anni was away to Tallinn but came back tonight. It`s nice to be here and I am very well taken care off. Even though that doesn`t keep me from moving on to the next place tomorrow. Viljandi, two hours west from here, where I will be speaking with Kristiine who is a journalist. She will maybe interview me so the Us Europeans project is about to get some extra exposure. After the weekend, and after some additional improvements to the site, I will do another round along different media to make more out of the project. Wish me luck, with this photo of the Russian church in Ventspils (LV). On this Thursday evening, I will probably be the first to wish you a good weekend.

( Ventspils - LV, August 2007)
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Posted 4 September 2007 - Tartu (EE):

Country number four is called Estonia, and this is another country I have never visited before. The first impressions are very positive: the country seems to be quiet, things make sense and the sky is beautiful. There are 25 Crown banknotes, which brings back old memories of when Holland still had guilders. I am now in Tartu, a small university town in the south east of Estonia. I am planning to get back to the seaside by the end of this week, then along the coast up to Tallinn. I will have to skip the Russian town of Narva, but will certainly write about the recent arguments between Russians and Estonians.

Photos: bus station in Valka (LV), border between Latvia and Estonia (marked in black and white), train from Valga to Tallinn (EE) during stop in Tartu.

( Valka - LV / Tartu - EE, September 2007)
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Last stop in Latvia

Posted 3 September 2007 - Valmiera (LV):

I`m surfing a couch again, this time in Valmiera with Nils and Lelde. This morning, I have been discovering Latvia`s Little Switzerland, cruising through the forests around Sigulda. A just-over-one-hour train ride took me to Valmiera. I`m in a perfect geographical position now to reach the last Baltic country tomorrow. I am heading for the student city of Tartu tomorrow, with a possible stopover in Valka/Valga - a city on the border of Latvia and Estonia. I will try to collect some Latvian jokes about the Estonians. They call them `slow` as in not very intelligent. Let`s see what that will bring :) Below photos show the area around Valmiera`s train station. Perfect for graphical compositions!

( Valmiera - LV, September 2007)
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Postcard view

Posted 1 September 2007 - Riga (LV):

The Latvian independence and freedom monument:

( Riga - LV, September 2007)
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Long train ride

Posted 31 August 2007 - Riga (LV):

I got up early this morning for a return trip to Daugavpils in the east of Latvia. The majority of the population in that area is Russian and I wanted to find out about the relation between the Latvians and the Russians. If you like, you can read more about that on Us Europeans.

( Daugavpils - LV, August 2007)
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Psychology of authority

Posted 30 August 2007 - Riga (LV):

After a very cold and lonely night, with no other guests staying in the same guest house (left on photo), I packed my bag again this morning to make it to Riga. The last capital city I visited was Vilnius, 2 weeks ago, so I guessed it was a good idea to go and look for some more representatives of my species. At Kuldiga`s bus station, I met a Greek-Lithuanian couple with whom I was chatting during the 2.5h trip to Riga. I checked some of my findings about Lithuania with her, especially the fact that some people kiss each other on the mouth for a simple greeting, and that`s not only lovers.

It was not very difficult to find a hostel in Riga. I intended to walk to one but found another one on the way, and thought I had heard people speak about it so thought it would be an equally good place to stay. Some things frightened me though: all around the reception desk I found alarming messages of what certainly not to do when in Riga. Also, some horrible adventures of people who did do those things while here. Being invited to a bar, then ending up having to pay a few hundred euros to get back out, strip club adventures that got mixed up with mafia practices, people changing money on the streets: most often Lithuanian coins for Latvian banknotes. Just before I got to the hostel, one guy even tried that trick on me during the 300m between the bus station and hostel but I kindly refused. Not because I knew what he was up to, simply because I thought it would`t be a good idea to take my wallet out or in any other way be helpful to this kind gentleman. But when I read all the stuff in the hostel, I for sure took the warnings for real..

I then walked through town, visited the Occupation Museum and got once again impressed with the way the psychology of authority sometimes works. Back in Ventspils, I showed Anda and Sandra the Stanford Prison Experiment (part 1) and (part 2) and the Milgram Electric Shock Experiment (part 1) and (part 2). They are only a small part of this, but very interesting to look at, also in relation to the European empire that is being created at this moment, the supremacy of the English language, the different us and them variations even in EU countries and the way the world peace that was expected to finally come true in the early 1990s is probably a fata morgana. It only takes one person and a little bit of timing to destroy a civilisation - that little piece of truth is being proved over and over again.

Umm, that was probably enough philosophy for today. I am going on a day trip to the eastern city of Daugavpils tomorrow. I have to get up very early and will be back quite late. I plan to find out more about the position of Russian people in the Latvian society and Daugavpils should be a good place for that. And I am looking forward to spending some time on the train - most of what I travel now is by bus and only short distances of max 100 km per day.

( Kuldiga - LV, August 2007)
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Gold Digga in Latvia

Posted 29 August 2007 - Kuldiga (LV):

Both Sandra and Anda had to get up early this morning and so did I. Sandra took me to the bus station before she went to work and at 8:30 I was on my way to Kuldiga. I was not really sure whether I would find a youth hostel there. Something was mentioned on internet, but without any prices or other information. I thought I`d just give it a go and if I could not find anything, I would simply take the next bus to Riga. It was quite cold on the bus and I wished I was wearing the jumper but it was in my backpack which in turn was in the baggage cabin. I changed my place in the shade for one in the sun and was quite ok there.

One hour later, I got off some 2 kilometres out of Kuldiga, because I thought that were we stopped was maybe the only stop. I later found out that it wasn`t, but what can you do.. Kuldiga was recommended to me by Vilius, two weeks ago in Lithuania. And it indeed looked like what he had described it to be: a lot of old wooden houses in original style. No tourists around, certainly at this time of day. I walked a random route towards the waterfall and after that to the guesthouse where I hoped to find a cheap bed. The first one shown to me cost 20 Lats (30 euro) but a little later another one only cost 6, so that was an easy decision. After that, I walked around town for a few hours. I checked the bus times to Riga at the bus station (upper photo), fell asleep for half an hour, walked on, talked to some people, had Solanka soup and some salad, then bought something to eat for the evening and then took another nap in the guest house. In the evening, I had a quick phone call with Sanne, who will come visit me when I`m in Sweden. That should be in five weeks from now. There`s still Estonia and Finland in between. I hope it doesn`t get too much colder than it was today (max 15 degrees), because otherwise I may have to buy some more clothes to make it through Lapland.

( Kuldiga - LV, August 2007)
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Contemplations from Ventspils

Posted 28 August 2007 - Ventspils (LV):

It can`t be nice weather everyday and today was probably the worst day so far. Not that it bothered me - it was a nice excuse to stay in bed a little longer and to catch some fresh air by the end of the day.

I got up at 9 and typed the story I should have prepared the evening before. But hadn`t :) When hail and rain had passed, I went outside for a walk around the city. The weather stayed dry most of the time and some short sunny moment allowed for cool photos with dramatic skies (see below).

Today is the last day of the first four weeks away from home. Life like this is starting to feel normal, it is neither very exciting nor very boring, just normal. But I do know that I am working on something very unusual and I`m still happy about that. I have my doubts every now and then, of how useful it is, or how I should integrate it into any future career ambitions. What I should do with the end results, whether it will be worth publishing or whether I should see the writing as a simple support to some reflection process that is inevitably taking place on the unconscious level. About what to do when I come back. Join politics, be a teacher (in that case: geography, French, English, creative mathematics), study some more (political sciences, called Sciences Po in French) to be able to work at the ministry of foreign affairs. Be a full time photographer or journalist maybe. Opportunities, opportunities. But 11 more months to go to dedicate plenty of thoughts to it.

In the evening, my hosts Anda and Sandra took me to the beach where a good old-fashioned storm had taken possession of the sand and water. We climbed up a view tower and leaned against the wind, very refreshing and exciting - under a full moon.

I am moving on to Kuldiga tomorrow, the city that`s known for Europe`s broadest waterfall. In case I find cheap accommodation, I will stay there, otherwise I will move on to the capital city: Riga. That`s all for now, I will call for duty again tomorrow.

( Ventspils - LV, August 2007)
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Things Flat

Posted 27 August 2007 - Ventspils (LV):

I left Liepaja this afternoon and arrived in Ventspils, 2.5 hours north, in the evening. The youth hostel in Liepaja is quite cool: very modern and they even have a flatscreen TV/cinema with couches on top of each other to host an audience of up to ten people. Very nice but this is one of the things I have been thinking of quite a lot over the last few days. Some youth hostels nowadays are more like an entertainment area, party place etc instead of a place where people try to find a place to sleep for the night. Many hostels are completely prebooked so if you spontaneously knock on their door, even at 9 in the morning, you may find yourself kicked out as quickly as you got in. The first questions is not `Hi, how are you?`, but rather `Hi, have you got a reservation?`. Well, I shouldn`t complain too much: I have been lucky enough to find a place to sleep every night.

Apart from the flatscreen, the hostel also has a big kitchen. I went to the open market in the afternoon to buy some vegetables and then cooked some tasty pasta. I prepared my photos for uploading and headed off for the bus station shortly afterwards. I took the shaky little tram and got there well in time. The bus ride was pleasant: I kept falling asleep. Whenever awake, I tried to see some of the countryside. Very flat! It could have been Holland or Denmark instead! Traffic was a lot less dense (read: hardly anybody else around for the full 100 km) and I also found it interesting how property was unmarked. No fences, no barriers, no nothing, just land. Pretty disorganised land: none of it is used for agriculture, and trees and bushes are randomly scattered over the area. The combination with dramatic skies and lighting make the trip very interesting.

I got to Ventspils by a quarter past 8. Two Latvian ladies with whom I got in contact via SouchSurfing, Sandra and Anda, came to collect me at the bus station. They took me to the university dormitory and told me that they were just informed that they had to move apartments before 8 the next morning. We first went for a quick dinner and evening excursion, then spent some time moving stuff and fringes from one room to the other. After that, some interesting discussions about Latvia and travelling. The Latvian language seems to be a lot easier than Lithuanian by the way.

Today`s photo is from Liepaja, it`s one of the many city buses there. It`s not raining, the strange light is caused by condense on the inside of the bus.

( Liepaja - LV, August 2007)
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Latvia Day 1

Posted 26 August 2007 - Liepaja (LV):

Yesterday was my last night in Klaipeda and I went out for a drink with Francisco (ES), Anastasia and Barbara (SK). We only found one pub open and hardly anybody in the streets, but still had a good laugh. I learnt some Slovak words (Chladnicka - fridge, Popolnik - ashtray, Daznik - umbrella) and refreshed some Spanish ones, including melocoton - peach.

I was starting to feel at home in Klaipeda after waking up there for the 5th time this morning. But it`s time for a new country and - maybe secretly even more exciting - a new flag on the Us Europeans website :) It`s the Latvian one!

I slightly changed my introduction line for the interviews. It is of no use to explain people that I am travelling for a year and that I will go to all 27 countries and that there`s a website and and and. First of all, it`s too long of a sentence, and secondly, most respondents have either no clue or don`t care. So now I just say that I`m writing a book about the EU. That also works for people who are not fluent in English and a writing a book is considered quite a prestigious thing that you probably do to eventually make money. Which makes more sense than just doing it for fun or out of curiosity. Even though that still is the main reason.

Other news item, some Dutch traffic expert says that traffic mobility in The Netherland will almost drop dead over the coming years. Finally somebody who sees it too. I don`t know which plans will result from this gentleman`s observation, but at least it made headlines in today`s NL newpapers.

( Liepaja - LV, August 2007 )
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