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Trip Report Pegontheroad in eastern Europe

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I was going to title this "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..." but decided to go with a title more prosaic but also probably more accurate. My trip included Helsinki, St. Petersburg, Tallinn (Estonia), Riga (Latvia), Vilnius (Lithuania) and Gdansk, Ketzryn, Torun, and Warsaw, Poland.

It was a month-long trip and probably too ambitious (thus the "worst of times" part), but my jet lag has started to lessen enough that I'm feeling more human and thinking it's time to start a trip report before I forget anything more than I've already forgotten.

I flew from Spokane to Seattle via Alaska Airlines, and then Lufthansa to Frankfurt and Helsinki, where I stayed at the Hotel Helka. I don't have much to say about Helsinki because jet lag really knocked me out, so that I slept much of the time. I feel rather embarrassed about that, but it was pretty typical of my stay in Helsinki. I did explore the area around my hotel, and one day I took the bus out to Seurasaaren Ulkonmuseo, an open-air island museum with historic traditional houses and farm buildings. I wandered around there for a couple of hours and really enjoyed it.

Other than strolling around the neighborhood and going to the train station to get tickets for the train to St. Petersburg, that was pretty much it for Helsinki. While I was sitting in the train station, I talked to a couple of young women--sisters from Chicago-- who were arranging to go spend a week at the cabin of a friend. Interesting girls. One of them had taken Chinese in high school and then in college, and was planning to go to Japan to teach. When I thought about them later, I hoped that they wouldn't let that spirit of adventure diminish. It is such a precious gift to have.

At the train station, I picked up $100 worth of roubles at a Forex Bank. I didn't care about the exchange rate. I just wanted to have Russian money at hand when I left the train station at St. Petersburg. I took the Allegro train to St. Petersburg. It was comfortable and fast--about three and a half hours. I spent the journey mentally complaining about the noise of some of my fellow passengers and mentally criticizing the overweight couple in the seat ahead of me who were very lovey-dovey, snuggling and giving each other little kisses. Eventually the male half of the couple started talking to me. He was very nice, and I was quite ashamed of myself for my judgmental thoughts.

When I arrived in St. Petersburg, I asked the taxi driver who approached me how much it would cost to get to my hotel. I'd read that it was expensive, but it turned out to be only 1000 roubles--$18 dolllars. The driver, Joachim, said that I could also get a taxi which would take me sightseeing. That seemed like a good idea, so I took his card and then called him a couple days later.

We talked a good deal during our travels. His father is German and his mother Tatar. He had been a merchant seaman for many years. Now he's driving a taxi, which apparently does not pay as well. He said that life was better before the break-up of the Soviet Union, which surprised me. He said people had every thing they needed--a place to stay, food, education. Eventually he brought up politics and asked what I thought of President Obama. I said I liked him and that I'd voted for him twice. His reaction was totally different, of course. In his argument, he brought up America's involvement in Syria and Libya. Since I know nothing about any involvement in those places, I couldn't say much. He was totally supportive of Putin, apparently not at all troubled by the so-called "civil war" in Ukraine.

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