While We’ve Been Away

Just in to Riga for the weekend. Here’s a clock on the Dom Square with Riga’s name on it.

Just time to put our things down and walk down to a random terrace in the old town for “gray beans and streaky bacon with sour cream.” A bowl of goodness.

There’s no comparison, Estonia to Latvia. They look the same (same as Finland, birch, spruce and pine forests, sea and lake grass, same vegetation, all close to the sea), and we bulled right through the old pre-Schengen/EU border and the closed up pass control and customs posts without slowing down, but these are different lands.

Finno-Ugric gives way to the Baltic Indo-European Latvian, which is phonetically spelled and looks and sounds much more Russian, although I understand that Finno-Urgic Finnish and Estonian have left their mark in one way, by the stress on all Latvian words being on the first syllable, as in Finnish.

Riga, historically a much larger trading port, is much more polyglot and much more Russian than Finland’s modest projection of power across to clean-swept Tallinn, Estonia. Which was just lovely by the way, and by far this was the most fun of my three visits.

March 1992 was desperate and poor, August 2010 middling, and now, Estonia clearly has a little prosperity of its own going on, and kudos to Estonians. The road with fine houses outside Tallinn toward Riga stretches on for miles.

Here, looking back from the old town, you can see back there that Tallinn’s new town now has a center of its own:

Now here in Riga we have a bigger, grittier, more working city to explore, perhaps twice Tallinn’s size. Last trip here was also August 2010 (photos). Let’s go out and see how it has changed.

Meanwhile, while we’ve been holed up in our Lake Saimaa, Finland cabin, the world seems to have gone on without us. Let’s leave Donald Trump’s United States for later.

So just a couple of things as we come out of hiding:

A new Boris Johnson government has come to the increasingly tenuously United Kingdom. Let’s see (among a hundred other things let’s see about the new government) how much confidence and supply the Northern Irish Tories can offer up as their party back in London leads Ireland into peril.

Politics is being remade across the board in Ulster right now, isn’t it? Here is a thought on the increasing irrelevance of Sinn Fein: The concern is no longer a banner reading “England get out of Ireland”. It’s that nationalism is finding a credible face.

And Ruth Mottram, of the Danish Meteorological Institute, told CNN this week that an estimated 180 billion tons of Greenland’s ice had melted into the ocean since 1 July, raising sea levels by about 0.5mm. Can this possibly be right? 0.5mm in a month seems incredible to me.

In an article about plant-based meat in Ouside magazine, Rowan Jacobsen is surely right when he notes,

“Most Baby Boomers are going to stick with their beef, right up to the point where their dentures can’t take it anymore. But Gen Z will find the stuff as embarrassing as Def Leppard and dad jeans. “

And then there’s this:

FLIGHT ATTENDANT FOUND HIDING IN OVERHEAD LUGGAGE BIN

As you may know by now, collected photos from this long, slow trip around the world that started in April post here.

Cheers for now, back in a bit. Good weekend to you from Latvia.

Border Towns

As we continue around the world slowly, we’ve hit pause here in Finland to spend a lovely summer month or two on Lake Saimaa. Early this month we briefly visited Vyborg, Russia, and my monthly column tomorrow in 3 Quarks Daily will have the story. Here are a few photos:

Lappeenranta, Finland, about thirty miles away from Vyborg via the Saimaa Canal.

The underwhelming border between Finland and Russia on the canal.

A Saimaa Canal lock.

The round tower, Vyborg, Russia.

The Esplanade, Vyborg.

Graffiti, Vyborg.

Transfiguration Cathedral, Vyborg.

Transfiguration Cathedral, Vyborg.

Transfiguration Cathedral, Vyborg.

Esplanade Park, Vyborg.

Old Town, Vyborg.

Trolley Café, Vyborg.

The presidents of Finland and Russia, Lake Saimaa, Finland, August 2017.

Collected photos from this so far two month long, slow trip around the world post here.

Holiday

Mostly on holiday now at our little cabin on the lake in Finland. High summer here, the run-up to Juhannus next week, the main holiday of the year. Daylight round the clock and the forecast is good, not always a sure thing here.

Water temperature at 17C now, not too cold to jump in – briefly. Will be enjoying a quiet week at the lake with our new Finnish friends. The magic number this year is five – baby ducks and swans.

Collected photos from this so far two month long, slow trip around the world post here.

Quotes: Good Government ≠ Guys, Necessarily

Photo from four minutes ago, 20:08 Finnish time:

It’s a privilege to spend the best weather months on a lake in Finland. And there’s this:

HELSINKI — Finland’s new center-left coalition government has been sworn in, with the country’s first Social Democratic prime minister in 16 years assuming office along with a climate issue-focused Cabinet where women are in the majority.

The 19-member Cabinet of Prime Minister Antti Rinne — a former finance minister and trade union leader — was approved Thursday in the 200-seat Eduskunta legislature, after which President Sauli Niinisto appointed it.

Eleven of the Cabinet members are female, reflecting Nordic gender equality in the nation’s politics.

from the New York Times

Photo A Day, Around the World Slowly. Helsinki

After a little more than a month in boiling Southeast Asia we’ve come north to enjoy the rare weeks when Nordic cities empty out into summer cottages and saunas around the lakes.

As we’re a few weeks ahead of the great migration to the summer cottages and saunas all along the lakeshores, we stopped in Helsinki and enjoyed a spectacular spring day in the unpredictable month of May. We’re already on our way to Lake Saimaa where a little cabin awaits us. We’ll leave you with these:

A view back toward town from the Skywheel Helsinki, a newish waterfront attraction.

And from the same vantage point, the Uspenski Cathedral, the largest orthodox church in Western Europe, completed in 1868.

Collected photos from this slow trip around the world post here.

Oodi

“Finns are ranked as some of the most literate people in the world, as well as some of the most prolific users of libraries. On average, every resident of Finland borrows 16 items from a library each year.” – from Finland.fi.

When I was seven or eight years old I guess, my mom regularly took me to the public library behind the big shopping center on what was yet to become Elvis Presley Boulevard in Memphis.

I think it has been all those years since I had the general light euphoria and sense of well-being that came with being in such a lovely, peaceful, well-meaning place as Oodi, the new main Helsinki public library last week.

Opened to acclaim last December, on Independence Day eve, Oodi (“ode” in Finnish) is a library, but it’s more than that, it’s a gathering place, a community center, and a dramatic demonstration of one of the ways Finns feel it is appropriate to spend €98 million of public money.

Besides books for borrowing, there are conference rooms, studios for recording and editing audio and video projects, a theatre and various workshops with sophisticated equipment for, for example, laser cutting. There are 3-D printers and extra-wide photo printers and there is plenty of space to spend the day working on your project, or just lounging about.

Again from Finland.fi:

“The biggest technical innovation by far is the ‘Cube,’ a room with smart walls,” says Vänttinen. “A person can use huge touch screens to transform the room into almost anything through 3D virtual reality. Artists are already planning to use the Cube for digital immersive art exhibitions, and medical students would like to study surgery there, using it as a virtual operating room.”

Let’s have a look.

It’s in a central downtown location, just off Mannerheimintie, main street. It’s beside Musiikkitalo, the Helsinki Music Center, home to the Helsinki Philharmonic, the Kiasma Contemporary Art Museum, close to Finlandia Hall and across the street from parliament.

Spacious and well attended.

This is a 3-D printer. There’s a suite of these for hire.

Sewing machines, all in use.

These folks are inspecting the industrial-sized printers available to print your advertising banner, or whatever you might need that’s over a meter wide.

The kids behind glass in these adjacent suites are playing virtual video games.

Three floors, seating throughout.

The top floor, with books in Finnish and other languages. Borrow games, comics, graphic novels, cds, movies, training courses for any number of languages and disciplines.

For a sense of the pride of place with which people hold Oodi, this row of chairs faces an outdoor terrace for events, and beyond it, that’s the parliament building across the street.

See collected photos from this slow trip around the world here.

Photo A Day: Back in the Air

First trip in an Airbus A500-900. No overhead bins in the middle, only on the sides. Makes for a roomy feel. Here’s the route, BKK – HEL:

A great feature of this Finnair Airbus is the tail-mounted live camera. Here, in the queue to leave Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport:

Here, jukin’ out over the Gulf of Thailand:

Here, over the Gobi Desert:

Collected photos from this slow trip around the world here.

Road Trip Photo a Day

Our countdown is on now toward a three month+ round the world trip starting in mid-April. I’ll be traveling with my wife, the fearless Finn Mirja Murray. She and I will set out next month bound first for Saigon, ATL-IAD-BJS-Saigon. We’ve rented an apartment for three weeks:

It’s just off Le Loi and just above the Ben Thanh Market. We are coming from the ethnic food-constrained southern Appalachians and looking forward to eating well. Destinations beyond Saigon are up in the air for now. While we’re in Vietnam we hope to get up to Hue for a look at the work my friend Chuck Searcy is doing with Project RENEW. Chuck says, “A visit there brings into sharp focus the continuing legacies of the war that we’re trying to mitigate, unexploded bombs and mines (UXO) and Agent Orange / dioxin.”

Our ultimate mission is to make it to Finland by the time it’s summer there, sometime in June. We have a mökki, a cottage by the lake there. We’ll have to work out the route between Southeast Asia and Northern Europe. Just now I’m keen on flying HAN-IST-Tbilisi and enjoying some fine Georgian hospitality while we wait another few weeks for Finland to warm up, but that is subject to, even likely to change. Any other suggestions?

Meanwhile, from now to then, we’ll try to post a photo a day from previous trips to Vietnam on Twitter, where I am @BMurrayWriter, please follow, and all the photos we post will propagate day by day on Earthphotos.com, too, at this URL: https://www.earthphotos.com/Other/Around-the-World-Slowly-2019/.

This is a wide open, open ended trip. Please help us by lending your expertise. Do weigh in. Or, if you’re local in any of our destinations, please allow me to buy you a beer.