This past spring I was in Estonia when I joined my wife’s business trip to the University of Tartu for a scientific convention. We traveled from Riga, Latvia to Tartu and Tallinn, Estonia and then to Helsinki, Finland.
It was wonderful to see how The Baltic Republics have gone through a revival since the demise of the Soviet Union. Three typical housing styles were evident everywhere. There was the old and elegant housing for the wealthy prior to the Soviet era. There was the bland, stark grey and unadorned housing of the Soviet era (which I didn’t bother photographing). Lastly, there was the new modern housing and where we were staying, some beautiful renovations of downtown commercial nightlife and cafe shops.
Here are a few more pictures from the trip:
I took a picture I found very humorous. It was displayed in the bathroom of a restaurant. The picture depicts a merchant selling shoes to a peasant with the inscription – Russian-American Innovative Manufacturing.
I took pictures of interesting foriegn menu items. The main course was liver and onions in beef stroganoff.
This picture shows a beach volleyball game in Tartu (hundreds of miles from the ocean), where the locals brought in sand for the occasion and planted it on a cobblestone street in front of city hall.
There were always the street musicians, even this group of Latin singers.
Everywhere I went the sun was shining, from 3AM to 1AM the following morning. The sun never really sets in late May when you are in The Baltics. The people told me that just a few weeks earlier they had sub-zero weather, which I understood, coming from New York, where the temperature can change by 40 degrees in one day. But here, the cold, dark days had been depressing and now, the people had a chance to make up for all the gloom, with endless cheer and good spirits, street music, games and family outings.
It was wonderful to share in the good spirit of the Estonians, but when we arrived in Tartu, the downtown district was covered in mosquitos. There seemed nowhere to escape them. The shop entrances were lined with mosquitoes queuing up to bite waiting shoppers. The hotels in Estonia (and I’d say most of Europe is no exception) don’t have screened windows. Air conditioning is not required for a 4 star rating and most rooms did not have it. So when the maids attended the rooms each day, it was their custom to air out the rooms by opening the windows, letting all the pesky mosquitos in. My wife spent the better part of her first afternoon in Tartu fighting the mosquitos in the room. She was so bitten up! We spoke to the hotel management, but they just shrugged and said, “Tartu in summer.” The restaurants didn’t seem to care as customers were everywhere to be had on the streets. There was no lack of business. One restaurant did provide us with DEET. The best restaurant in town was on a balcony overlooking the cafes. While the mosquitos hovered below us we were able to eat one meal totally free from mosquito bites. I wasn’t sharing that secret with anyone!
The Estonians still have a lot to learn about capitalism as I thought to myself, “I could make a fortune fighting mosquitos in Tartu in May.” There was not a single pest control company to be seen anywhere. The opportunity seemed ripe. But then again, the Estonians just didn’t seem to care. They were just so happy to have some sun that nothing else mattered. It goes to show that a pest is only a pest when it is beyond the tolerance level. For us, pests were everywhere but for the Estonians, there were no pests at all.