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Estonia and Life on the Border


What I remember most from almost every journey is the people I meet along the way. People who restore my faith in humanity and sometimes even ignite something within my soul. You can read about any place and learn its history from books or the Internet. You can look at pictures of beautiful scenery throughout the world, but you can't really understand a country or its people until you've actually walked the soil. Until you meet the common folk there and see the way they live. Before the trip I knew very little about Estonia, except that it was formerly under Soviet control. While I saw some similarities with Russia, what touched me the most was the stark contrast in human relations. I met these women at a market near the Estonian/Latvian border. The smiles on their faces reflective of all of the Baltic States we visited. Open and friendly people, welcoming foreign guests into their small corner of the world. So, let's take a quick peak inside Estonia...

1. Scenery in the areas in which we traveled was nice. Lots of farmland, animals and open fields. However, this isn't the reason I travel across the ocean to visit these countries. Such landscapes I can see in my own country. The same farm scenes are within an hours drive of me here in Virginia. Mountains, deserts, lakes, oceans, all a short drive or plane ride away. The beauty of America - its natural diversity.


2.  Upon crossing the border, we immediately encountered houses similar to those I saw on the long drive through Central Russia. I noticed only one or two dilapidated, sunken homes. In general, Estonian houses well kept and cared for.

3. Compare here with the recurring depressive scene on the Moscow to St. Petersburg route we drove in February. Complete devastation and abandonment everywhere. Maybe there are nice provincial towns not so far from Moscow? Where should I go on my next visit to restore my faith in small Russian villages? It's a serious question.


4. Babushka tending to farm animals.


5. Small neighborhood near a graveyard for Soviet cars. Yards well kept and clean. No trash or junk thrown about, even some colors on the homes!


6. Still some gloomy scenes in Estonia, but they are not common.


7. Young child walking home from school. I remember there were no houses or apartments nearby so maybe she had to walk for miles? Kids here don't know the luxury of a school bus. On this trip, a common pattern in all countries. Old ladies sitting in the middle of nowhere on rural highways, selling potatoes, mushrooms and other small items. Prostitutes walking or standing on the shoulders waiting to turn a trick. People with baskets in their hands, disappearing into the forest to gather mushrooms. Remember I mentioned these lost souls after my first Russia trip? They are like ghosts to me, mysteriously appearing in the strangest places. From where I have no idea, likely villages many miles or even hours away. I'm sure this is a common scene for most of you, but to me this way of life is amazing and completely foreign. I saw customers buying apples or mushrooms only once or twice, yet these old ladies probably sitting there for hours each day to bring in very minimal earnings. How else to earn an income in these remote areas?


8. I will not write a separate report on the graveyard for Soviet cars but it was interesting to walk through. Old Ladas, Soviet buses, police and ambulance cars. I sat in many of them, and even pretended to drive one of the buses. :)


9. Many foreign plates in the graveyard but only one from America - my home State of Virginia!!


10. Old Soviet toys in the graveyard.


11. If I recall, Alexander told me lots of kids had this pedal car during Soviet times. If you're interested in this car graveyard, you can read his nice and detailed report about it here.


12. Speaking of cars, roads in Estonia are very good. Even in most rural areas the pavement and lanes are normal and easy to navigate. Such a welcome relief after driving a horrible route from Moscow. However, on the way back from Belarus we were on a completely normal road the whole route to Moscow. Two lanes, nice width and the best highway I've seen in Russia. I don't remember the name, but there was no sense of panic driving on it.


13. The most interesting thing for me was the border town of Valka/Valga. On the Estonian side, Valga - the southernmost point in the country.


14. The town almost completely deserted. In fact, starvation occurred here. Nowhere to eat when we arrived late in the evening nor the following morning as restaurants were non-existent. You can see lots of old wooden buildings in this area, but none of them falling apart or collapsed.


15. Flowers hanging from resident balconies.


16. Passport control point no longer needed.


17. Now a seamless, borderless transition from Estonia to Latvia. Old and young walk straight through with no questions, hesitations or inquiries. What beauty and freedom in a borderless world!


18. On the Latvian side, the town of Valka - the northernmost city in the country. In the middle of the town sits this lovely church, surrounded by trails of colorful leaves. Autumn - the most wonderful time to travel! Cool, crisp air and the smell of smoky firewood everywhere.


19. Latvian yard. I remember when my Ukrainian friend first came to my apartment she was amazed that I had both a washer and dryer. What a convenience! And how do you dry clothes in winter time? I see them hanging on the lines or from apartment balconies. Icicles don't form on the clothes? It was here in Valka that an old man stopped me on the street and tried to speak. So curious that a foreigner was walking in his small town. I spoke to him in broken Russian and then Alexander came along and explained that I was American. He kissed my hand, invited us for coffee in his home. But there was no time so we had to decline. A real pity because I would've enjoyed hearing his life story.


19. Both Estonia and Latvia are ranked very high when it comes to freedom of press. According to 2013 statistics from Reporters Without Borders, Estonia is ranked #11 (even ahead of the U.S.) and Latvia is # 39. And where is Russia ranked? #148 out of 179. To some these statistics are meaningless, but to me they are symbiotic of human relations in these nations. When people are free to express themselves without fear of judgment, suspicion or retribution, the society is more open as a whole. You can see this in the way Estonians and Latvians treat foreign guests. It became most apparent to me at the outdoor market in Valka. Just look at the photos. I believe they speak for themselves.




You see the warmth in the eyes? The smiles? In this tiny town, I felt most welcome. Even treated like a celebrity to some extent. Maybe an American has never walked their streets, spent money in their market, or attempted to communicate with them. Language barriers in all of these countries huge for me. Absolutely no one speaks English, but there are universal signs of warmth - a smile, a nod, offering free berries, even posing for photos without me asking. A genuine interest to know someone different, someone unusual. This is what I search for each time I travel in Russia, but it's rarely found. Instead, cold and unfriendly faces. The ability to photograph anything very limited - a market, food in a restaurant, groceries. All met with immediate suspicion and condemnation. Yes, there are friendly Russians but the culture as a whole does not warmly welcome outsiders in the way these Baltic States do. Perhaps it's time to take a lesson from your close neighbors.

I can't claim to be an expert on Estonia or any of the countries we visited. The pace of this trip was so fast that parts of it are a blur at this point. We saw only glimpses of each nation, but I definitely want to return to Estonia. Perhaps to Tallinn to see if Estonians in a larger city are as open and kind as those in the rural routes we passed.

Do any readers live in Estonia? Who has visited the country and what did you think? If you know interesting facts about Estonia, please share. Eager to know more.


( 77 comments — Leave a comment )
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Oct. 21st, 2013 04:04 am (UTC)
How to start good day
1) Prepare Turkish Coffee
2) Put some dates on plate
3) Open LJ
4) To find new interesting post from Shannon
5) Leave comment ))
6) Thanks !!!))
Oct. 21st, 2013 05:54 am (UTC)
Re: How to start good day
Good for you! But, I can say that there are also many other ways worth trying!
For example, the other day I went to the bar, got a bit drunk, picked up a girl, invited her to stay overnight, then we got into the bed, cuddled up together, took my laptop, and were reading, reading, reading Shannon's blog all over the night until got so completely exhausted that couldn't keep any longer and fell dead asleep! :)
That was so interesting, so magnificent, so exciting! We couldn't even think about doing anything else! :)
Re: How to start good day - peacetraveler22 - Oct. 21st, 2013 11:57 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: How to start good day - peacetraveler22 - Oct. 21st, 2013 11:56 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: How to start good day - fesma94 - Oct. 21st, 2013 02:10 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: How to start good day - peacetraveler22 - Oct. 21st, 2013 03:06 pm (UTC) - Expand
Oct. 21st, 2013 05:32 am (UTC)
Nice country, I was there.
Language barrier - yes, strange language... unless you know Finnish :)
Oct. 21st, 2013 06:18 am (UTC)
Every language could be called "strange" for foreigners. Do you know how strange is Russian for most Europeans?
(no subject) - ypolozov - Oct. 21st, 2013 07:10 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Oct. 21st, 2013 11:58 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - ypolozov - Oct. 21st, 2013 06:58 pm (UTC) - Expand
Oct. 21st, 2013 08:17 am (UTC)
Loved your report, thanks for sharing! The car graveyard seems to be an awesome place to visit.

And Estonia is lovely, I used to come there and to Lithuania in autumn, too - a very special kind of beauty and tranquility.
As Russians, we were warned in advance that Estonians wouldn't like us (that was back in late-Soviet times), but we never encountered any unfriendliness (maybe because we looked sort of decent)) - only amazingly polite people always ready to help. Very warm memories.
Oct. 21st, 2013 12:03 pm (UTC)
I was traveling with a Russian and there was no hostility at all. The people we encountered were happy to speak Russian and always polite. We looked like normal people, wearing jeans and hats. Nothing fancy, so I believe Estonian politeness is inherent regardless of the social status of the person encountered. A nice change from Moscow rudeness!!
(no subject) - general_denikin - Oct. 23rd, 2013 01:15 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Oct. 23rd, 2013 01:17 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - general_denikin - Oct. 23rd, 2013 01:23 am (UTC) - Expand
Oct. 21st, 2013 08:44 am (UTC)
I love Estonia. I have been to Tallinn twice and think that it is amazing! And Estonia is beautiful!
Oct. 21st, 2013 12:05 pm (UTC)
Estonians were also friendly and open with you in larger cities like Tallinn?
(no subject) - krisa_rat - Oct. 21st, 2013 03:53 pm (UTC) - Expand
Oct. 21st, 2013 12:29 pm (UTC)
I like your post and photos!
Oct. 21st, 2013 01:24 pm (UTC)
Thank you, Denis!
Oct. 21st, 2013 04:37 pm (UTC)
>>Maybe there are nice provincial towns not so far from Moscow?

Sure. Kolomna for example.But Sasha does not like to walk in such towns:))
Oct. 21st, 2013 04:38 pm (UTC)
It's not necessary to always walk with Sasha. Next time I'm there, readers can show other places. :)
(no subject) - yarowind - Oct. 21st, 2013 04:41 pm (UTC) - Expand
Erik Shindler
Oct. 21st, 2013 04:54 pm (UTC)
talking of geniality, its more evident in southern countries , including that of former soviet union rather than in Baltic states. Even if you go to Iran you would be surpised by cordiality of their inhabitants.
Russia is separate issue, dont forget that only 20 years ago its was closed society and older generation still didnt threw away shackles of total suspicion.
Oct. 21st, 2013 04:56 pm (UTC)
Yes, Russia a bit unique in this regard. I hope this mentality will eventually filter out with new generations, but I''m not sure it will happen in my lifetime.
(no subject) - qi_tronic - Oct. 21st, 2013 05:11 pm (UTC) - Expand
Oct. 21st, 2013 05:06 pm (UTC)
Estonia and Life on the Border
User 1way_to_english referenced to your post from Estonia and Life on the Border saying: [...] about Estonia, please share. Eager to know more. Оригинал взят у в Estonia and Life on the Border [...]
Oct. 21st, 2013 05:08 pm (UTC)
I rarely visit villages but small towns around Moscow are OK. No devastation.
Of course they do not look like towns in Germany but we cannot demand that from Russia, right? :))

I invite you to visit towns reachable from my dacha, those that I personally visit frequently.
These are Mozhaisk with historic Borodino field, Ruza, Borovsk where the historical town center is well preserved, Zvenigorod.
Three monasteries in these towns are also interesting.

A good road you travelled back from Belarus is M1, Minskoe shosse.
I told you in advance that it's good :)
My dacha is right on it.

Oct. 21st, 2013 05:17 pm (UTC)
This highway - I never imagined such a road could exist in Russia! Next time I'm in the Moscow area I'll try to make arrangements to meet with some readers. Interesting to hear other perspectives, see different areas, and give Sasha a break from me. :) How far is the dacha from Moscow?
(no subject) - qi_tronic - Oct. 21st, 2013 06:26 pm (UTC) - Expand
Oct. 21st, 2013 08:39 pm (UTC)
I am from Estonia (Tallinn), now living in Virginia, and in fact right now visiting back home for a few weeks. I'm glad to read you enjoyed the people and your time there. The country is truly beautiful and your comments on these mysterious apple-selling, backpack carrying, or mushroom picking people appearing from nowhere or wandering the highways are spot on! I may be partial but I think one of great and most unbelievable things about Estonia is also its diversity despite being so teeny-tiny. There are pockets and villages in various parts with different dialects and folk clothes, nature, and culture - as if you were in a different country. So I do invite you to go back and explore more. As for tallinn, I think you'll find a whole different feel and rhythm from the rural areas- still friendly (although really may depend on who you meet), but mostly modern, fast-paced, growing, sometimes touristy city with a gem of an Old Town and a few soviet era suburbs). As always, best to experience a place in the company of a local host, so I hope you'll get that chance!
Oct. 21st, 2013 08:41 pm (UTC)
Hi! I believe you're Kelly's friend. She told me about you. :) Enjoy your stay back home and I definitely look forward to returning to Estonia some day! Perhaps you can hook me up with some locals if I visit. :)
Oct. 22nd, 2013 03:22 am (UTC)
Does your faith in humanity really need restoration? ;)

Estonians are really very warm people. Once I spent a couple of days there. Learned a dozen Eesti words and felt myself pretty well in that country. Naturally, everyday somebody asked me for directions: How can I get here and there ?
Oct. 22nd, 2013 01:20 pm (UTC)
Yes, I work as a lawyer in a big firm in big city America (DC). Constantly surrounded by people who in my view have very skewed priorities in life - chasing money, titles and prestige over everything else. So I go to these small towns overseas and in America and meet real people with real values. People who aren't tied to iPhones and artificial electronic communications. People who still know how to communicate and value human relationships and simple things. It restores my faith in humanity. :)
Oct. 22nd, 2013 09:32 am (UTC)
The soviet propaganda!
Where should I go on my next visit to restore my faith in small Russian villages? (с)
My answer is "nowhere". But I will explain why, using the Marxist's philosophy. So it will be interesting, because you will be able to recognize the falsity of the explanation and point to it. It's a great competition, "Marxism vs the American exeptionalism".
We proceed. Before the start of the industrial revolution and the development of capitalism, most people lived in villages. The development of the means of production has made the existence of large villages is not economically feasible. Therefore, the agricultural landscape began to look like small towns and detached farmhouses. This was the case in industrialized countries, but not in the USSR. In the USSR the cultivation of the land was carried out large collectivist enterprises, called "колхоз". The employees of these companies were living in villages. They could not live in farmsteads, because they do not have their own land. At that time, the village had a tendency to empty too, but much slower.
The collapse of the Soviet Union led to the collapse of the collectivist farms. The land became the property of farmers, agricultural enterprises, part of the land turned out in desolation. Farmers and agricultural businesses do not need a significant number of permanent employees, but only seasonal workers. Thus, the villagers are forced to either leave their homes or looking for a job in the distance. Thus, we are now witnessing the destruction of the Russian countryside and small towns, as the small town is economically connected with the villages. When this process is completed, the village will disappear and agricultural terrain begins to look like a "small towns and farm houses," only then you will see "pleasing for eyes" Russian province.
About the Baltic states, and the village. The Baltic countries became part of the Soviet Union after the Second World War. By that time, capitalism has destroyed the traditional villages there, basically. And when, half a century later, capitalism has returned to the area, and its effect was not so destructive to the villagers.
This is the Soviet propaganda, you cann't resist it :)

Edited at 2013-10-22 10:39 am (UTC)
Oct. 22nd, 2013 01:37 pm (UTC)
Re: The soviet propaganda!
Soviet propaganda, it's all a very interesting mind game. But why does Russia ignore the devastation, not take efforts to remove the dilapidated, sunken and abandoned homes? The same could be said about ruined parts of Detroit suburbs, but efforts are underway to correct the problem. Recently, a large amount of federal funds dedicated to certain areas in Michigan to remove the wreckage of abandoned homes and clean up the communities. You can read about it here - http://detroit.cbslocal.com/2013/10/14/flint-saginaw-kick-off-new-blight-removal-efforts/.

Of course, the devastation in Central Russia is so expansive that the country doesn't have the financial resources to completely eradicate the problem. Sad to say but I think the people who remain in these villages are simply lost souls, completely neglected by the country and living in a sense of hopelessness.
Re: The soviet propaganda! - andrey_kaminsky - Oct. 22nd, 2013 02:11 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: The soviet propaganda! - peacetraveler22 - Oct. 22nd, 2013 03:20 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: The soviet propaganda! - nar_row - Oct. 22nd, 2013 06:23 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: The soviet propaganda! - arachanski - Sep. 29th, 2014 05:23 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: The soviet propaganda! - peacetraveler22 - Sep. 30th, 2014 03:29 pm (UTC) - Expand
Oct. 22nd, 2013 12:24 pm (UTC)
Thank you for your post Shennon!
We looking forward to read more stories from you.
ps. Could you please do a post about comparison of American and Russian women? Thank you!
Oct. 22nd, 2013 01:23 pm (UTC)
You're welcome! It's hard for me to write about Russian women because I don't know many that well. I know a lot of Russian men though. I wrote a post about the differences between Russian and American men, but they were not my observations. I summarized an article written by a Russian woman who has lived in both countries and dated both nationalities. You can read it here - http://peacetraveler22.livejournal.com/43770.html. Comments to the post interesting. :) However, I'll write a post soon about some general observations regarding the differences between American and Russian women. Some of them are obvious.
Oct. 22nd, 2013 01:10 pm (UTC)
Don't they really speak English in Estonia? I guess the younger generation should do pretty well -- if I'm not mistaken, according to the last Eurobarometer survey, about 50% of Estonians claimed to know English.
How come you didn't meet anyone of these 50%?
Oct. 22nd, 2013 01:15 pm (UTC)
We were not in any major city but rather small, rural villages with old people. I think the Estonians who speak English are mostly from younger generations, which aren't present in these locations.
Oct. 22nd, 2013 03:52 pm (UTC)
Beautiful pictures, insightful observations, so much sensitivity in every line. You have a keen eye for beauty. Thank you for sharing all this.

I had a pedal car like the one in Picture 11 when I was a kid. It was blue in color, I loved to drive it all over my grandmother's large backyard in a small town in Belarus where I had been born. Interestingly, I was remembering it a couple of months ago and asked my mom what had become of it, but she didn't know.

FYI, you missed an indefinite article in this line: "Yes, there are friendly Russians but the culture as whole does not warmly welcome outsiders in the way these Baltic States do." :)
Oct. 22nd, 2013 04:07 pm (UTC)
There's a similar variant in the U.S. This red, push car that most kids have during their toddler years. In every American neighborhood, you will see parents pushing and walking kids in it. Here's my nephew when he was a tot. :)

 photo 223232_1062766207783_7474_n_zpsf8b5e31b.jpg

Thanks for the grammatical correction. Please always bring typos or missing words to my attention. I try to reread everything I write, but after hours of working in a post my eyes blur. :)
(no subject) - pasha1980 - Oct. 22nd, 2013 04:53 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Oct. 22nd, 2013 05:17 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - pasha1980 - Oct. 22nd, 2013 09:58 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Oct. 22nd, 2013 10:08 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - pasha1980 - Oct. 22nd, 2013 10:58 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Oct. 22nd, 2013 11:02 pm (UTC) - Expand
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