You can read the first two updates to this journey here (part 1) and here (part 2).
Well friends, I finally made it to my destination – Tartu, Estonia. Even though I arrived pretty early this afternoon, it’s very late as I write this so I will be quick.
We woke up this morning in Latvia, just outside Riga. Seeing the motel in the light, I am told by the professor that it embodies a very Soviet style of architecture. I think it is cute.
After a very much appreciated coffee at the hotel, we decide to head into Riga for some breakfast. I pick a place off of google maps based on the strict, discerning criteria of “nearby” and “open now”. My choice, it turns out, was prescient. The buffet we stumbled upon rivaled the best middling-to-decent hotel breakfasts I’ve ever experienced. At least they had baked beans. Also, I know what you think of me, but that’s apple juice in the glass. Sicko.
Now that our blood sugar is back to levels more appropriate for operating heavy equipment, we head back to the car. On the way, we pass through part of the old town of Riga and I try to get a sense of the city. As far as I can tell, the character of the Baltic states is more or less an exactly even mix of Eastern Europe and Scandinavia. I refuse to elaborate further, but I think the following picture proves my point.
We press on, enthused by the fact that we only need to drive about four hours from Riga to our final destination. After we pass some soviet-style block houses that I didn’t bother photographing, we are back on the highway. As far as I can tell, outside the city, Latvia pretty much looks like this:
As we drive, we are exchanging jokes from our cultures, and hoo boy am I getting a cultural education in Russian jokes. Apparently there is a stereotype that if you tell a Russian a joke, instead of laughing, they will simply reply, “I’ve got a better one”. Anecdotally, this is one thousand percent correct. Here is one that comes to memory: “Kruschev is out in the countryside visiting some farms to see how the Soviet Union agriculture is getting on. The photographer snaps a picture of Kruschev surrounded by some pigs. Later on, as an article about the visit is being prepared, the photographer is struggling to come up with a caption to the photo. After some thought, he decides on: Comrade Kruschev, third from left.”
Ba dum tsss.
One other thing I forgot to mention about driving through Lithuania and Latvia is that tractor dealerships are absurdly common. Within a half an hour of my noticing this as we drove down the highway in Lithuania, I counted eight different tractor dealerships along the road. What is going on with the economy of the Baltics that they can support this? Who is buying all these tractors??
A little further on, we stop at a gas station (a normal one this time) to switch drivers. I have nothing to report from this stop except that this gas station minimart was selling something called “Slow Cow Mind Cooler”. Your guess is as good as mine.
We press on and enter a series of country backroads as we approach the Estonian border. We see yet more storks, bringing the total count of stork sightings on this trip up to the hundreds. Soon the Earth will be covered in an enormous stork nest and all life will begin anew. Somewhere near Valka, just before the Estonian border, I became convinced that a) the gods of irony exist and b) they think my suffering is hilarious. This was proven to me by the following statue, which was placed just off the side of the road.
Do you see it? I sure as hell did.
We finally arrive to our destination in Tartu a few hours later. Thankfully the hostel in which I will be staying seems to be largely spider free. We go out to dinner and I become concerned about the architectural stability of the buildings around me.
I’m sure it’s fine.
As we walk further through the city, I notice the street signs posted everywhere. As far as I can tell, these are meant for an extra-intelligent race of Estonian-speaking cat people that have developed a widespread habit of disrespecting traffic laws when they ride their bicycles. I am joking, but I also must emphasize, this is not a unique, graffiti-ed sign that I thought looked cool – this is a legitimate road sign in Tartu and all the other instances of this sign that I saw looked like this.
After dinner, we walk across a pedestrian bridge lit up with yellow and blue – the colors of the Ukrainian flag. As we’ve traveled throughout Eastern Europe and the Baltics, I have noticed that the public support for the people of Ukraine has been ubiquitous and palpable. As far as I know, the Slavic countries of Europe have thrown their doors wide open to Ukrainian refugees essentially without conditions or qualifications. While everyone we come across seems to be vocal about their disgust at the Russian invasion of Ukraine, it is also a bittersweet thing to see these people pull together on their common roots and leap to help their neighbors so fervently.
Also on this pedestrian bridge, we pass SO. MANY. SPIDERS.