Toole Castle on the Gulf of Finland [again, courtesy of the panorama setting on my camera]

Friday, October 29, 2010

Back in the Saddle

Okay okay okay. I've really fallen off the blogwagon this time. (Spelling that as one word makes it sound like some sort of ominous, repulsive swamp thing. I don't really feel that way about blogging, it's just hard to be disciplined sometimes. It's a little like flossing. And I have never fully boarded that wagon.)
Anyway, I kind of want to talk about Barcelona, but I think Morocco is much cooler. A couple pictures from Spain should suffice, and then a quick explanation of Morocco, and then it's off to class for me.

So, #1: Spain 

Montserrat. How cool is this? There's a monastery up here, and tons of old fortifications built into rock faces. The mountains are unlike anything I've ever seen. The cathedral is pretty touristy-- everything smells like ice cream cones and cotton candy in a way that reminds me of Disneyland. But the trails are great and the views are breathtaking. 

#2: Morocco
Sorry, I have no time right now. Class starts in two minutes. I promise I'll return soon and tell you all about Morocco. For now, let me entice you with the promise of a video clip of my winding walk home through bazaars and alleyways.  


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Entry IX: In Which I Ponder Something Dumb, and Should Just Not Worry About It

     I worry that I am leaving the impression on my host parents that I am an asocial recluse. I spend a lot of time sitting in my room scrolling through PDF files of class readings, and paging through my textbook. I feel like an all-around useless member of this quasi-family, emerging from my room to lounge around with them for mealtimes, and occasionally watching the news or some Estonian TV program, but generally staying anchored to my upstairs bedroom. I'd like to hang out with Riina and Aivar more, but it's hard to stay glued to a news report or sitcom I can only partially understand when papers require writing, articles and chapters must be read, and friends and family overseas should be corresponded with.
     I have been telling myself that they understand I am busy, that they know it's nothing personal. I have to tell myself this, because otherwise I feel like I'm playing the part of a broody and ungrateful adolescent, taking up space in the house but not really making myself part of the home. I am aware that this perceived dynamic is starting to edge into the way I interact with Riina and Aivar: I think I'm being a little awkward around them. I need to get over this, to shake this feeling and just relax. That's all that will improve the atmospheric disturbance in the house, whether it's real or all in my head.
     Another way to look at it is really quite simple: it doesn't matter if host family relations aren't sunshiney right now, because I'll be in a different country in a little over a week.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Entry VIII: In Which We Excurse For The Last Time

Well, I've done it again. I've successfully put off chronicling a weekend excursion until a week after the fact. I could blame technical difficulties again, but I would only be fooling myself and insulting your intelligence, gentle reader. In any case, this waiting game will continue no longer. Allow me to tell you a bit about last weekend's trip to the south of Estonia.

Last Friday, we piled into the bus at 8:30 and puttered out of the city center. I felt tired and a little ragged around the edges. My mouth was dry and filmed over, thoroughly flavor-scorched with Riina's garlicky beet salad from breakfast. Speaking of the morning meal, it seemed like my food was upset with me; it had formed an angry ball in pit of my stomach and proceeded to tumble and twist malcontentedly every few minutes. I wouldn't say I was hungover, but I definitely drank a little the night before, and my body knew it. [side note: I went to a club called Plink Plonk the previous night, where I saw some excellent music. The first and best band was a hip-hop/jazz/blues ensemble whose show I stumbled upon in a street fair back in September. I was ecstatic to see them again, and this time I remembered their name: Külalised, meaning "the guests."]
Well, excursions wait for no man -- or his physical malfunctions -- so I would just have to get over it.

On our walk through Viljandi
Our first major destination of the day was Viljandi, the artsiest town in Estonia. It is home to the Viljandi castle ruins, originally built by --you guessed it-- Teutonic Knights. The ruins are cool, as ruins tend to be, but the real point of interest in this town is the Viljandi Culture Academy, a school specializing in art, music, theater, traditional handicrafts, and more. We got a tour of the main university building by a soon-to-graduate student of cultural event planning. Swimming in scarves and clinking her bangles, our guide proudly led us through art studios, set shops, dance studios, and black boxes. Overcrowding was the theme of the day; she would introduce rooms by stating their holding capacity, then proudly follow that with how many people they actually fit inside, which always exceeded the limit by at least 100 people. 

After an hour it was time to go, but our tour guide promised she would see us at the folk music festival later that night; she had helped plan this particular cultural event. We toured a manor house in the afternoon before returning back to town for the folk music festival. There, I fell in love with a folk quartet called Gjangsta. Cameras weren't allowed inside, so I have nothing to offer you but a hearty recommendation.

It seems that I've already spent a few paragraphs of this entry and I haven't really said all that much about the excursion. So, time for a shotgun retelling! Here are some highlights:

Sangaste Loss is either a red brick castle that looks like a mansion, or a red brick mansion that looks like a castle. Whatever you choose to call it, it's beautiful, and heavy with the history of about three hundred years. And it's bigger than any human could ever need. In my wanderings, I went down an extra flight of stairs and ended up pacing the long halls of what seemed to be a haunted hospital in the basement. It was immaculately clean but completely uninhabited, with some doors spookily ajar to pitch black rooms. Outside, the place is itching with decadence: rolling lawns, serene ponds, mighty oaks just beginning to shed their leaves...the place practically screams for a match of croquet.

Pastoral Estonia.
Suur Munamägi (Big Egg Mountain) is the highest point in the Baltic states. By all accounts, this isn't saying much. The hill (it's less of a mountain and more of a hill) is only 1,043 feet above sea level. But still, superlatives are always nice for bragging rights, and Estonians are very proud of their Highest Point status. They lord it over their Latvian neighbors, whose tallest peak is a full twenty feet lower than Suur Munamägi.
Suur Munamägi tower. The observation deck up top was inhabited by a middle-aged couple who made out for the entirety of our visit.

At one point we drove through a slice of Russia. This piece of the country protrudes into the Estonian road system, and travelers are permitted to drive through. However, getting out of the vehicle is strictly forbidden. I don't know what would've happened if we had stepped out of our van. Our driver made it sound like the forest would explode in siren song, and Soviet tanks would come crashing through the underbrush flanked by armed guards. We decided not to test this theory, instead choosing to take pictures from inside the van. Now I can say I've been to Russia (for about 35 seconds).

Well, that's all for now. I have a paper to write and an accordion to play. And I'd like to take a walk --it's supposedly the last day in a string of nice weather. Rain and sleet are on the way, which doesn't bode well for me. I didn't pack enough warm clothes for the Estonian autumn, so I have resorted to using my travel towel (super absorbent and compact!) as a scarf. If I tuck the ends into my jacket, it looks like an honest-to-god article of clothing. I'm not sure how the towelscarf will perform in the rain; I think the absorbency might work against me in that case. I guess I'll find out soon. Nägemist!