This week in bigger pics


  Monday 22nd July 03 -Finland. Week 109


    Galleons, Lozenges and Tofu.

    Just when I was about to give Finland the raspberry it's been reprieved by it's capital. What can I say?. It's attractive, vibrant, full of trendy Finns, interesting and historical. It's hard to believe it's the capitol of the country we've just spent the last two weeks dodging speed cameras in.

We rode into the city on the scooter to check out the sights and found it was heaving. With uncanny timing, once again, we have landed on our tourist feet, so to speak, as this weekend Helsinki is hosting the: The Tall ships race.

It was carzy bonkers amongst that lot.

    A small Armada of these magnificent old sailing ships were starting to leave the harbour just as we arrived. We made our way down, found a vantage point and watched as they pulled majestically from the docks and headed out to sea, much as they would have done hundreds of years ago. A old Spanish man-of-war left the dock, came about and let rip it's cannons. The amassed crowd collectively jumped and then cheered as plumes of gunpowder smoke wafted over them.

    Once back in the city square we listened to live music and watched an excellent Spanish flamenco dance act. One of the bands was a young naval pop band. Sounds woeful, but they were really very good and certainly eye candy for the ladies in their smart uniforms and aviator shades.

Opps! think someone forgot to bring her dance top.

   Attractive blondes mingled amongst the crowds handing out samples of Fosters beer and, of all things, Fisherman’s friend lozenges.

    In Britain, we tend to view the lozenge, made of a face-numbing blend of liquorice, menthol and eucalyptus rather like Marmite, you either love them or hate them. But it turns out they are sold in 120 counties and are particularly popular in Europe. Young Germans see them as a trendy pick-me-up. The Scandinavians enjoy a salty version but then again they go all gooey eyed over pickled fish and in some far eastern countries they are regarded as a luxury item, much like a box of chocolates. Somehow buying your girlfriend a bag of Fisherman’s friends in the hope you’ll get to bump uglies later, does seem a tad over optimistic.

One of the two Catherdrals

    Later we then went off in search of something to eat. Now as you might expect most places were standing room only. After a search we finally found a small Café which had a few empty tables. That should have told me something, it didn’t, so we entered. Looking at the blackboard menu explained why the place was empty, it was a veterinarian café. (I think it's safe to say he means vegetarian. Ed.) -Opps, bloody spell checker-. I should have guessed by looking at the customers through the window. Vegetarians have this kind of healthy pallor, brought about, in no small measure, by regular bowel movements I'm guessing. They dress in clothes which look as though they knitted them but, more importantly, they extrude a kind of peaceful calmness. This is why veterinarian establishments have the same atmosphere as your local library. I doubt veggies are aware of this. It comes from not eating meat. Meat makes you angry. It's a well known phenomena. I doubt in the whole history of fine vegetarian dining that the police have been called to a vegetarian eatery because a customer is refusing to pay after eating a double portion of Tofu. Lettuce just doesn’t make you aggressive, it's not possible. Look at rabbits.

    You have to remember that meat eaters, at one time, had to catch and kill their food so aggression was, and is, needed if you wanted to feed yourself. Vegetarians on the other hand have no need to chase their food they simply collect it and it's not possible to say, pick watercress aggressively, at least not without looking stupid.

    Soon after we chose something with spinach in it (all things vegetarian have spinach in them to some degree) four male carnivores walked in. After a brief exchange they all walked out again. I felt a tinge of sadness for the lady behind the counter, clearly she has a mountain to climb.





 Tuesday 23rd July 2013 Estonia, Week 109


    And Finally..........

    Ok, so was it worth it?, Sweden and Finland I mean. I'd have to say, regretfully, no. For me there wasn't enough that made either country different. The scenery may be breathtaking but you'd never know, thanks to the never ending forests you never get to see it. Trees don’t make scenery, they only obscure it. However lakes do and Finland has them in spades but, again, unless someone fells several acres of woodland you’ll not see them either.

    Having said that I'm glad I came, because I can now stop looking at maps of each country and wondering.......... what’s there?. -The answer, as it turns out, is very little-

    The Finns seem a happy enough bunch with their fascination with throwing things. The playing of fruit machines, (All supermarkets have a bank of them. Ed). The wearing of baseball caps, their chain smoking. Their interest in American cars and their vast shopping malls, its practically the 53rd state..

Still that’s only my opinion and I have been wrong before. As I recall I was once wrong back in 1998, although Lord knows what over.

    Getting out of Helsinki, by ferry, is, to say the least, novel. Unlike Dover, where once the ferry has shoved off, it's pretty much plain sailing, or plain dieseling, here they have to navigate and manoeuvre around a myriad of tiny islands, many no bigger than roundabouts. Some, amazingly, inhabited. A land mass no bigger than a soccer pitch with a few trees and a couple of houses on them. The squeeze is so tight ferries pass within feet of each other.

    Our ferry was packed. We spent 30 minutes just looking for somewhere to park our arses. Finns go to Estonia, like we used to go to France to shop. However the similarity ends there because unlike English/French Ferries the Finnish Ferrie companies entertain you with live music, children’s entertainer and dancing. They also have more bars than you can shake a table mat at. On UK ferries it's a bonus if you've got toilet paper.

Alone at last

    We disembarked in Estonia and headed just 5 miles up the road in the capital city Tallinn.

    The camp-site isn't a camp site, it's a parking space on the Quayside of the local yachting club and port. The whole site was built by the Russians for the 1980 Olympics, which is clearly the last time any of the buildings saw a lick of paint.

    You might just remember the 80's Olympics as it was the one sixty five countries, encouraged by those troublesome Americans, boycotted. And the reason they stayed at home? Well, you may also remember that, it was due to the Soviet Union's military action in Afghanistan with those even more troublesome Taliban chaps.

How the world changes.......





 Wednesday 24th July 2013, Estonia, week 109


    Innocence lost.

    Our first day in Estonia has been spoilt by inclement weather so..........It's not uncommon for people to have hero's or heroin's, especially when growing up. For example it can be a teacher, parent, older sibling or pretty much any figure. My dad narrowly missed out on taking this top slot because he was always threatening to 'bang our heads together' -he never did-. The 'our', was myself and my younger brother. This was normally for making too much noise especially at night when in bed. It occurred to me that had he carried out his threat we would certainly have made even more noise than the noise he was trying to stop us making in the first place, if you see what I mean. If he wasn't threatening to 'bang our heads together' he was threatening to 'wipe the grins from our faces' -something else he never did- for some other infringement of the adult rules. Because of this he never got the top job but I did learnt a valuable parenting lesson. Never threaten to do something to your children, just get on and do it. There’s nothing quite like the element of surprise.

    Anyway back to hero's. For me it was The Lone Ranger, the 1949 TV character. I should point out I caught the re-runs, in the 60's, I'm not that old. He was a cowboy on the side of law and order. Unfashionably he had an Indian sidekick, Tonto. A real Indian actor by the name of Jay Silverheels who, incidentally, couldn't act his way out a paper bag. I say unfashionably, because most red Indians back then were referred to as 'dirty red skins' and often portrayed as savages. Film goers often saw them slaughtered regularly by the cavalry in most westerns. So I immediately took to The Lone Ranger as he could see past the stereotypes we were, and still are constantly fed, even thought I didn't realise that at the time.

The first instance of photo bombing and by a Horse.

    While most cowboys on TV dressed like a bag of spuds the Lone Ranger was quite dapper. Each week he wore a freshly laundered blue outfit, consisting of tight fitting pants and matching shirt. I never read anything into why he wore such a figure hugging outfit, I just thought it looked cooler than anything the baddies wore. The horse he rode, Silver, was pure white. I discovered, later in life and much to my dismay, it was painted white each week. It's tack was bedecked with silver buckles which did make it look like a tarts handbag but I forgave him that.

    His catch phrase was: Hi Ho Silver! This he'd shout at the start and at the end of each episode. I would echo his words back at the television.

    He never killed baddies. In those days it was thought, by TV companies, to be bad karma to show people being killed, even bad ones. Today, such is our lust for justice (Or revenge? Ed.), we feel cheated if the baddies don’t meet their end by falling into a mincing machine or at least a vat of acid. No, the Lone Ranger only disarmed baddies, he'd shoot the guns from their hands. This, miraculously, wouldn't even draw blood. He would crack them on the head with his gun butt. This always knocked them out cold but never seemed to do them any lasting damage. I mean, they always seemed to remember who they were and, more importantly, never wanted to be called Doris afterwards. Because of this, for years, I thought that whacking someone on the head with a weighty object merely put them to sleep for a bit.

    I was also confused by the mask he wore to hide his identity. Being young I couldn’t understand why no one recognised him. As a disguise it was pants. I imagined if you wanted to hide your identity by wearing a mask you’d get something that covered a bit more than your eyebrows and crows feet.

    I have to confess I did switch over now and then to watch another programme. This imaginatively married up cowboys with, of all things, a helicopter flying do-gooder. I didn't watch it for long. It seemed silly. I could never understand why the fleeing baddies, when making their escape, always rode across open prairie where they could be so easily spotted from the air. It struck me, even at that young age, if they had stuck to the tree line they could have avoided detection. So eventually I returned to the Lone Ranger.

    Now none of the above would entertain kids today. While the stories haven't changed, it's still good v bad, the settings are quite different and the death toll has risen dramatically.





 Thursday 25th July 21013, Estonia week 109.


    First impressions

    I once joked that what I knew about a given country, I think it was Portugal, I could have written on a postage stamp. However, give me the same stamp now and I'd hand it back blank, such is my ignorance for all things Estonian. In my defence, I bet there’s not that many reading this that could go straight to Estonia on a map. (That's probably because they don’t allow inmates maps luv. Ed). That's a point.

    All I knew, and this turned out to be wrong, was that it was once part of Russia. It transpires it never really was. It was a country in it's own right which Russia, annoyingly, had a habit of seizing. It went back to being Estonia quite recently when communism went west.

    Now to find out about a country I could turn to the internet which I do sometimes to give me a heads up. But google twenty interesting and amusing facts about Estonia and you met something of a wall. So I arrived not knowing what to expect. I did discover it's the home to Skype and Hot-mail but those are hardly riveting facts. I dug a little deeper and discovered one fact, and this is almost interesting, Estonia claims to be the least religious country in the world with little more than one in ten of the population claiming any religious beliefs at all. This might go some way in explaining why Estonia has more meteorite craters, per land area, in the world. Perhaps someone’s not very happy with them?

    What I was actually looking for was: was I going into an old eastern bloc country made famous in cold war spy films?. Was it going to be a mass of grey lifeless concrete apartment blocks populated by three foot wrinkled faced old women in black?. Streets full of Lada's and Moskovitch cars?. Would I find monuments to political thinkers no-one outside Estonia has heard of?. Would the police be shifty looking? In short would the country smell of cabbage and pickled fish? No...... I'm joking, I didn't really.

    I have to say it didn't start well. The road from the dock to the camp-site, and remember this is the capitol city, is cracked, potholed and uneven, it needs resurfacing badly. When we arrived at the shed, I can't bring myself to call it a reception, on the quayside I asked: do the parking spaces have electricity and water?. The old guy behind the desk then spent five minutes singing the praises of his electric and water supply as thought it was a marvel of modern ingenuity and the only decent thing us Bolshevists have given the country. I walked out thinking welcome to the eastern bloc.

Wish you was here..Grim

    However, Turns out it's nothing like that.

    For example, I believe, you can tell a lot about a country from just it's supermarkets. Affluent countries have large colourful stores which house a diverse range of goods because their customers demand it. They spend money on displays, layout and lighting because their customers expect a decent environment when they shop. In short a supermarket reflects it's customers tastes and wealth. This theory falls apart if you only ever shop in Lidl's. Lidl's are the McDonalds of European shopping. Every single shop, regardless of which country your in, looks the same, as does the expression on the staffs faces when you ask them a question. Generally supermarkets are a good financial barometer of it's customer base. As are a scattering of BMW's and, Audi’s in the car park.

    I tell you this only because it was the first place we went once we had parked up. The local supermarket was a cross between Sainsbury's and Asda, not what I expected. (He's led such a sheltered life. Ed).

    We are leaving tomorrow so making a tourist visit to the Capitol later today, full report tomoz.





 Friday 26th July 2013 Estonia week 109


    Don't ask me!

    Human settlement in Estonia became possible 13,000 years ago when the ice, from the last glacial era, melted. This period also coincides with the last time anything was painted around here. I don’t know if they have a ban on painting their buildings or all the painters and decorators have moved to Basildon, but there's nothing that wouldn't benefit from a lick of paint. It's the first thing we noticed while out browsing. I suppose it could be a legacy from the Soviet era. I say this because they are still some dreadful buildings built in the old soviet style here. Great cubist structures in concrete. While concrete ensures the thing will last a thousand years it also ensures they are devoid of any architectural merit. Perhaps people feel there’s no point in painting them. However there are some nice detached homes, especially up where we were -the posh end of Tallinn- and they are a little better.

It's panaramic! soon after this shot the camera bust!

    That said, the city of Tallinn is an odd, yet impressive, mix of old and new buildings. The ancient mediaeval stone walls of the old town sit in the shadows of modern smoked glass and chrome office blocks. Within the city walls the town is unspoilt and quite charming. It is however given over completely to tourism. All day cruise ships and ferries arrive from around the Baltic and spill thousands of them out. Finns and Swedes come here to shop, booze is half price and a pack of twenty cigarettes is a lung filling £2.20.

    Any-ways we increased the number by just two yesterday. While walking around I did miss an opportunity to be a tad mischievous when we came across a group of lost Americans. Since we were pushing bikes and not burdened with cameras like everyone else. they may have assumed we were locals because one asked: “Excuse me Sir, can you speak English? - note she asked can I, and not do I, like speaking English is a gift,..... doh! you wacky yanks- .

Tallinn the old town, wonderful colour roofs.

    Now not wanting to boast (Never stopped you before, Ed) but I do a golly good, and dare I say humorous, verbal impression of an eastern European plumber. Had my brain been in gear I could have had a bit of fun with them. Instead I told them, in pitch perfect English, I was probably as lost as they were. As it turned out they were completely lost and we were able to set them on the right path. By coincidence ten minutes later I was asked, this time by a German lady, if I knew where a particular Museum was. Being a helpful sort of chap I studied her map and then gave her authoritative directions. Being German she responded well to them and marched off in the direction I indicated. Five minutes later I passed the museum while walking in completely the opposite direction. Serves her right for asking an Englishman for directions in Estonia.

    On route into town earlier, we spotted a blue gazebo tent tucked behind a few trees on the seafront promenade but took little notice of it. On our way back, as we approached it, we noted a police car parked by the kerb. Being a naturally inquisitive couple we slowed to snails pace to see what was going on. It was Hazel that spotted it first. Emblazoned on the side of the awning was the intriguing slogan:

    'Blow jobs 5 Euros'.

    As we slowly passed we noted a girl sat on a wall with her head in her hands. A young lad was sat in a van looking thoroughly worried and two uniform policemen were doing what policemen do the world over, standing there write stuff down.

    Now I know that since the Russians left Estonia has embraced entrepreneurial enterprise, but come on, you telling me they can't get jobs as decorators?



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