Friday, 30 November 2012

Saudi Women Are Working on Cosmetic Counters.

Riyadh Gallery
On my most recent trip out and about in Riyadh the other day it hit me how many Saudi women are working on cosmetic counters and reception desks these days.

Some time ago the King decreed that women were to be employed in lingerie shops which duly came to pass without the world coming to an end as some conservatives were trying to tell people would happen.  He followed this up with a decree that all cosmetic counters must be manned by women.  And soon, according to this report in the Saudi Gazette, women will be working in abaya shops, clothing stores and numerous other retail outlets.

Make-up counters and lingerie stores aren't the only place you will find Saudi women at work today. A recent trip to the hospital found a shifting sea of black amongst the admin/reception staff.   New arrivals to the country have complained how unwelcoming it is to approach a woman in black. It pays to remember that a year ago you wouldn't have been met by a woman at the counter, much less one in black.
This is progress.
Celebrate it. 


Keeping the youthful population of Saudi from revolting as they have in the rest of the Middle East due largely to unresponsive, out of touch, rip off leadership probably had something to do with these decisions.  

The pressure to deal with the high unemployment of Saudi women and the nonsensicalness of demanding extreme gender segregation then making strange men sell women their underwear and look deeply into their eyes to tell them what color eye shadow suits their personality was probably added incentive to implementing the changes.

As mall trawling is not one of my regular pass times it wasn't until yesterday that I met a wonderful young Saudi woman providing customer service at a makeup counter in a major department store.

At this point in my post I can hear my daughters - 'Mum, you're at a make-up counter!  OMG!' 
Make-up is not something I do, apart from a little lippy now and then.  Skin care, yes.  Make up, no.  The stop at the make-up counter was for my Saudi friend, for what is a mall trip without company.

Photo Credit:www.theage.com.au
We got to talking with this young sales assistant because Saudi women are inquisitive people and are not averse to asking whatever question is on their mind.  She was interested in how an expat came to be out shopping with a Saudi.  We were interested in how she got her job.

Her story, which N translated for me, goes something like this:
She needs the job to support her through her study course.  She has every intention of working her way to the top of the profession she has chosen to study.  The cosmetic job was advertised at the institute where she studies.  She put in her application and got the job.
She gets up in the morning and heads off to an institute to study her course from 7am till 2pm.  Then she comes to the department store and works from 4pm till 10pm.  She does this most days of the week. On days when there is a special promotion (and promotions often last 2 - 3 days), she has to give up her attendance at study to work on the shop floor all day.  She admitted she is very tired.
N and I discussed her story as we wondered around the mall.  Our discussion reminded me of two things that are oft times overlooked by expats as we comment on how different life is in the Magic Kingdom - Not all Saudi's are rich.  Not all Saudi's are lazy.


Of course quite a few are rich. 
Obscenely so.

And a lot more are...not lazy exactly.   Lazy doesn't appropriately define the current general Saudi attitude (mostly of the males) to work.  Lazy implies a lack of energy.   Saudi work ethic, or lack of, is more complex than lacking energy.  There's a whole raft of religious, cultural, economic and historical factors that contribute to the less than optimal work attitude of many of today's Saudi,(especially the men), and I'm sure someone out there is studying it and writing a thesis on it.



With so many stories circulating about how Saudi's, (mostly the men), don't like to, don't want to or don't know how to work it was inspiring to meet a young woman who is taking hold of the changes being implemented by the current King with both hands and making the most of them.  And she's working hard.

It has been said by many that the women will change this country (as they have most others - can you feel the female bias?).  If this one young woman is a reflection of the attitude that the female half of the Saudi population possesses then watch out men.  You're about to be steam rolled by women working on make-up counters!



Ka Kite,
Kiwi

Friday, 23 November 2012

Groups for Expat Women In Riyadh



If you're a woman new to Riyadh and wanting to meet other expat women or want to join women's groups to socialse then the following information may help get you started.

 
 American Community in Riyadh, otherwise known as ACR, is one of my favourite groups for a few reasons but mostly because they organise a number of interesting activities, many being family focused. 

There is an annual registration fee to become a member though for a little more dineros non-members can sign up for activities, too. You do not have to be American to join but you do have to be an expat.

For more information visit their website http://www.acrsa.com


Corona Ladies - My second favourite group, Corona Ladies, is the Riyadh branch of Corona Worldwide, an organisation that provides worldwide fellowship for people moving to overseas posts.


Corona Ladies in Riyadh has monthly meetings throughout most of the year except the deep summer when the majority of expat women exit the country to escape the heat.  Each month Corona attendees are entertained, enthralled or updated by interesting speakers organised by the Corona Ladies committee.  Funds raised from the groups activities are donated to charities determined at an AGM at the start of each year.

Unfortunately there is no website for the Riyadh chapter of Corona ladies so getting connected is usually via an existing member.  Asking around should find you a Corona lady.  There is also an annual registration fee to join.


Womens Skills Bureau - The Womens Skills Bureau is a network for expat women to find some form of meaningful employment - whether that be paid or voluntary - as well as build your friends network.  Every few months they have events where potential employers can meet potential employees and women working in the Magic Kingdom can give newcomers a heads up on a working life in KSA, among other things. 

Women's Skills Bureau has a regular newsletter and a website http://www.wsb-ksa.com

Ladies For Networking - This group is the brain child of an entrepreneurial woman from Italy.  Every few months she brings together individuals and companies that provide services for women and families in and around Riyadh to present their wares and ideas.  It's quite an informative get together.  You need to be on the mailing list to find out about upcoming events.  To get on a mailing list keep your ear to the ground listening out for the next event then tag along.

For non-working expat women, and the occasional expat house husband (yes there are one or two), networking is a sanity saver.  Saudi isolation can drive you absolutely crazy.  If you're shy my advice is get over it - fast.


Of course you don't have to be part of the above groups in order to network and find friends.  Having children is always a great ice-breaker no matter where you live.  No kids?  Then the compound notice board, particularly at the larger western compounds, will advertise the activities they provide for all age groups.  These activities are usually only for compound residents but it's a great way to meet your neighbors.


Not in a large compound?  Then you have a bit more work to do to grow your social life.  Having been in this position myself I found the groups listed above a great place to start my networking.  Signing up on active internet forums such as Expat Blog was also a good move.  And being on the mailing list for Haya Tours has allowed me to broaden my Saudi cultural experience as well.

Of course, if you are working in Saudi then you will have work colleagues to socialize with, though if you get sick of working with, living with and socializing with your work colleagues (which is a complaint often heard in the Magic Kingdom) then it is healthy to take steps to broaden your friendship circle.

If you are fortunate enough to be befriended by local Saudis and, as in my case, be taken under the wing of their family then your expat view on life in Saudi takes on an added dimension.  It is possible to see behind the veil and find a group of people as diverse in nature as humans are capable of being anywhere in the globe.

The transient nature of the KSA expat population means that networking for expats, men and women, is an essential ongoing activity, as we are social beings after all.  Making friends in Saudi Arabia is a huge contributing factor to enjoying your experience here, so don't delay, go forth and network at not just one, but all the groups available for expat women in Riyadh.




Ka Kite,
Kiwi

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Petra


Our trip to Petra was organised by Cora of Classic Culture Tours. We actually did this trip earlier in the year, in March to be precise, but for some reason I haven't written about the experience.  A definite oversight on my part because Petra is an interesting place.

There were seven of us booked on the trip which saw us transported from Riyadh to the airport in Amman, Jordan, then picked up by a tour guide and driven down to Petra and back up to Madaba and the Dead Sea with a few tourist stops on the way.  I have to say if I was to return to Jordan and Petra, I'd skip the extra tourist stops unless there was more time because our timetable had us leave Petra a little early.

This was our transportation...


The roads were rather rough most of the way down and the person who drew the short straw and got the fold out seat looked forward to each toilet stop and swapping places.  

Jordan, we decided, is a lot poorer than its large southern neighbour.   Our tour guide told us that the Arab Spring that has swept the Middle East has severely affected Jordan's tourist industry.  Most overseas visitors include Petra and the Dead Sea on their list of places to see as part of a larger Middle Eastern itinerary which usually includes the pyramids of Egypt and Damascus in Syria.  With both these places on the 'Travel With Caution' list, Jordan does not provide enough of a draw card on its own to bring large tourist numbers.

Photo credit:www.blog.com.pk
We came because Petra was on our bucket list and Egypt and Syria were off the safe travel list so now is as good a time as ever.  Plus we wanted to compare Petra with Made'in Saleh in Saudi Arabia.

The drive from Amman to Petra which was long and uneventful, unless you consider our driver playing it safe - which means he drove really slowly all the way - as an event.  We were doing our best to hint,  suggest and then outright ask if he could put his foot down because we were all chomping at the bit to get out of the vehicle and on with the show.  His pace served to make a long drive a lot longer. 

Eventually, after a couple of pit stops for food, dunny and the usual 'lets fleece the tourist' souvenir places  and a religiously significant pool we made it to our accommodation.   The suggestion was made that we go for a night walk.  The language issue made this suggestion a bit confusing.  Our Arabic was zilch.  His English was not quite enough to do away with guess work about exactly what he meant.

So we went for a night walk otherwise known, we discovered later, as Petra by Night.



Petra by Night is a walk at night (no kidding Kiwi) along the Siq path lit by hundreds of candles that ends at Al Khazneh, or The Treasury.  Its quite an other worldly walk, especially with the full moon shining brightly in a clear blue-black sky, but if your eyesight is a bit on the dim side, or you're a bit of a klutz, beware of taking a tumble on the path which does get a bit uneven in places, particularly where the cobbles from the old paved road still exist.

At the end of the line you're greeted with chai (tea) and directed to seats in preparation for the musical entertainment, the haunting sounds emanating from a traditional flute, and a poet.

Petra By Night has become quite popular with tourists but I wish we hadn't done it.  Not our first night.  Why?  Because part of the excitement of going to Petra is imagining how the European explorers in the early 1800's must have felt when they came upon the sight of the Treasury through the gash in the mountains for the very first time. 

For me, that first view at night just did not have the kick I'd imagined and detracted, just a bit, from the impact of the same view the next day.  

 
But that aside...

Our tour included a walking tour guide who picked us up at the gates and gave us the option of a horse and saddle ride to the beginning of the Siq (the narrow gorge path to Petra) or horse and cart ride all the way to The Treasury.  We opted for horse and saddle which meant we got to walk the Siq path again in the daylight. 


The path is an easy walk in the brightness of the day and if you're fortunate enough to get there before the hordes of tourists, the Siq has a tranquil quiet that allows one to consider, as you run your hands along the water channels carved into the gorge sandstone walls, how mankind for centuries has managed to carve out his existence in different environments around the world.


For an organism with sufficient brain power to figure out survival techniques so many years ago and supposed advancements in thinking today it is frustrating how we seem to keep stuffing things up with each other in the modern world.  But hei aha - let's move on.

Petra, the lost city, covers a vast area of land.  We had half a day to site see through it - not nearly enough time which is why our tour schedule got a little blown off course as we all took slightly longer than the stated itinerary to get our butts back to the bus.

After an initial talk by the tour guide most of our group headed off in different directions and the poor guide was left spending more time trying to keep track of everybody, who had their own sight seeing agendas, than guiding.


One good decision we made was to hire some donkeys to carry us up the 800 steep and uneven mountain steps to the Monastary.  Donkey riding technique is explained and basically consists of "hold on".  For some in the group it was a test of character to put their faith in the sure footed-ness of a small beast to get you up the rocky incline safely.  But get us up they did.  And after a look around, they also took us back down.


The Monastery is an impressive pinkish hued structure carved into a mountain top.   Over time it has been used as a temple, a church and a tomb.  My photo doesn't do the size of it justice.  Once you make it to the top, and many a soul actually walked the stairs in the blazing heat of the sun, there is a cafe opposite where you can drink in the enormity of the Monastery's creation along with a welcome glass of cool beverage.  You can also walk to a higher vantage point for a better camera shot.  We didn't make it that far.


Dotted up the mountain path and spread throughout Petra are the souvenir shops.   Their presence, or rather the tactics utilised for getting a sale, can get a bit pesky.   Even the young donkey handler tried his best to sideline me into a stall while still atop the donkey on the way down.  This is the commercialism we have heard many a traveler to Petra complain about and, though it didn't spoil the visit, it's a less than positive memory.

It was time for us to head to our meeting point in Wadi Musa, the township that acts as host to the many tourists that come to Petra and there was so much we still hadn't seen.  Here's a few more pics from what we did see on our half-day in Petra.


Camels waiting for riders in front of tombs.


A look back at more tombs

Old road.
We figured a horse and cart was the fastest way back so hitched a ride on one.  It only got us half way.  The cart was waved down by two blokes with horses and after an exchange of words in a foreign language it was on to them that we were directed to complete our trip back to the gate - for an extra fee.

The tourist can quite literally be taken for a ride in Petra.  We figured out that these two were cowboys and the words exchanged were likely something to the effect that everyone should share in tourist dollars.  We were on a time schedule and besides, Hubster liked the idea of another horse ride on a beautiful afternoon, so we saddled up.  Once all the crew were rounded up we were taken for lunch at a local joint before the we packed back into the van for drive from Petra to Madaba.

In comparing Petra to its smaller cousin Made'in Saleh I have to say although Petra does have some spectacular tomb facades, is of enormous size and is cradled within stunning mountain scenery it does not allow the hands on interaction that you currently get in Made'in Saleh.  Most of the tombs in Petra are closed off to tourists and the commercial factor is also a huge turn off whereas Made'in Saleh allows entry to all tombs and there are no pesky hawkers.   That being said, Petra is probably easier for the tourist to access simply because tourist visa's into Saudi Arabia are, well, practically non-existent.

I'm glad we went to Petra and though there are some aspects of it we didn't get to see due to time constraints I can say I've been there and, all things considered, it is a fabulous place.


Ka Kite,
Kiwi

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Cycling in Riyadh.

Cycling-Riyadh

Cycling in Riyadh is beginning to take off.

It wasn't hard to notice the increase of cyclists amongst the populace given that for the first two years of living in the country bicycles in Riyadh's great outdoors were virtually nowhere to be seen. (Bikes ridden by kids on compounds is, of course, a different story).

Cycling-Worker-Riyadh


The first bicycle I saw being ridden down a Riyadh footpath in the central city was by one of the city's many workers (you can read more about them on my post Worker Bees). It was an old bike, a classic one gear beauty, but it was peddling along just fine.   This bloke obviously started a new trend because he is no longer a lone cyclist in the city.  Not that the numbers are excessive, but of late there is more than 1.

In fact, on our walk through the city last night we were passed by six Worker Bee blokes on bicycles in the space of five minutes and spotted more bikes chained to posts and poles along the street.  Perhaps having a Wheels bike shop recently locate to the vicinity, on Sulamaniya-Thalateen, has pushed up cycling interest
.
Wheels-Bike-Shop-Riyadh

Do Saudi's cycle?
I would say generally speaking - no. 
Why  not?  No idea.  Perhaps the heat.  The thobe isn't really conducive to cycling either.  Whatever the reason Saudi boys aren't really into cycling.  Football yes.  Cycling no.  (Not yet, anyway - perhaps the bike shop will change all that).

Surprisingly the bike shop stocks a few bikes for women, although only males were cycling about the street.  Hubster was less than happy for me to haul out one of the women's bikes and give it a try.  Apart from the fact he didn't want to attract attention he had an opinion on the cost (too much) but mostly he wanted to know where, exactly, I intended to ride the bike should I purchase it given that, just as women can't drive in this country, the general consensus is they should also not ride bikes - not in public anyway.

Ladies-Bike-Riyadh

Cycling isn't encouraged for Saudi girls due, mostly, to the cultural value placed on the status of a females' nether regions, more specifically her hymen.  The importance of being a virgin bride is one of the reasons given for restricting girls in this country from participating in numerous sporting and exercise activities that would benefit their physical and mental well-being.  Obviously, being a bright, happy and healthy female is less attractive to the Saudi psyche than being virginal.

Living in the 21st century one could argue the archaic-ness of this belief and call it Saudi nonsense but it pays to remember that before the Wicked West became wicked (or is that educated and enlightened) tradition preferred Pure as Snow brides at the alter.  And Saudi isn't the only country around the globe that still likes their brides to be innocent flowers.


What's confounding about Saudi is the conservatives continued stance of discouraging female involvement in sport or exercise even after the marital sheets have been bled on and long after offspring have sprung forth.  What is their rational?  Principal!   If you aren't already aware of what those principles may be this article, Two Steps Forward, by Eman al Nafjan on the Foreign Policy website, gives a little insight.

Of course, even without cultural and religious restrictions not all Saudi girls are intent on rushing out to go bike riding though one does wonder how many would, if they could.

My friend recounted a story about a Saudi family on holiday outside of  Saudi Arabia.  The father was trying to teach his daughter (14years) how to ride a bike.  He was teaching her on this holiday because he would be frowned on for teaching her in his own country.  My friend thought this was a sad story.  I had to disagree.  What a great Dad!  What a fabulous thing for him to do!  By all accounts she was determined to keep trying and he was perfectly happy to keep teaching.  Definitely a story with a lot more positives than negatives.

I have often wondered whether this young lady mastered her bike riding while on holiday and, if so, whether she continued her riding after returning to Saudi.   "Where would she ride?" I hear you say.

Two places I have seen youngsters, boys and girls, enjoying the great outdoors on their bikes in Riyadh are out in the desert on family picnics and along the wide walk ways beside Al Elb Dam on a balmy Saudi evening. 


Granted these kids were quite young (pre-teen), but it was heartening to see the parents didn't restrict their young daughters from the enjoyment that cycling can bring.  And I have to admit that, though these families (my vast experience is drawn from meeting both of them) were of Middle Eastern origin, neither of them were Saudi.

What do you do in Riyadh if you're a serious cyclist just itching to get on ya bike?  One expat I know throws his mountain bike in the back of his truck and heads for the hills outside of Riyadh with a couple of his friends.  He is, admittedly, a little bit crazy.

Keen cyclists (including a couple of women) have also been seen pedaling the walking tracks around the DQ though, be warned, it's not a smooth ride by any means.

Riyadh-Wheelers

If you're looking for a cycling club in Riyadh then this site - Riyadh Wheelers - may be of interest to you.  According to their website the club, which consists mostly of expats, has been in existence since 1992 and there is a raft of other information about what they offer as well.

For those looking for a more leisurely ride there is a walkway that runs through Wadi Hanifa that a few cyclists (mostly men I gather) are known to ride along.  It has cross my mind to cycle through Wadi Hanifah with Hubster one weekend and I even contemplated designing an abaya specifically for the purpose.  However, Mr Noor may have to come along too, as wheel man, in case we need a quick exit due to locals unhappy with feminine-ness cycling in public in Riyadh.




Ka Kite,
Kiwi

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Graffiti in Riyadh


Graffiti in Riyadh has been noticeably increasing since my arrival three years ago.

In Kiwiland tagging is the popular term for graffiti and we have, along with many other western countries, long debated whether graffiti is an art form, a way for someone to express themselves publicly, though secretly.  Or is it vandalism.


The first graffiti I saw in Riyadh was a phone number in large blue paint scrawled by an unsteady hand across what used to be large, bare, brown wall.  My guess is that gender segregation was the catalyst for this young person (presumably a male) to advertise his existence is this way.  I wonder if he got any calls from girls.  (Rumour has it he got calls from people unhappy with his form of advertising - though his number is still on the wall).

Now it is possible to drive through Riyadh and find phrases in English and Arabic spray painted on the numerous large canvases that the walls, designed to enclose the people and its problems, this city provides.


Graffiti in Riyadh is in its infancy when you compare the style and taglines appearing in Riyadh with the sometimes elaborate wall paintings found in cities where graffiti is more established. Compare for example this effort on a Riyadh wall, seemingly inspired by the football world cup...



...with these two pieces - the first from Stockholm the other from Tallin, Estonia.

Stockholm

Tallin

What is the official Saudi stand on graffiti?  According to an article in the Washington Post, Frustrations Drive Saudi Youth to the Graffiti Wall, they are divided.  Most say graffiti artists should be punished.  Others say that until the reasons for young men tagging throughout the city is addressed, let them go.  Of course, should they be expressing anything too politically or religiously frowned on no doubt the official tune would quickly change.  Freedom of expression tends to be quite closely monitored here.

As avenues for self-expression in this country are extremely limited and many of the changes that youth want to see happening in society the conservatives don't want a bar of, my guess is that graffiti will only gain in popularity as a way of venting.

In two years the style of tagging that we see in our local vicinity is already starting to change and I commented on such to Hubster one day when we drove past this effort...


And if you visit this website, FatCap - Street Art in Saudi Arabia, you'll find the more creative amongst Saudi youth have been out and about creating some real gems.  And according to this CNN report, How to rebel, Saudi style, it's not just the boys making artistic comments on life in Saudi Arabia.

Admittedly I find the walls with a multitude of untidy scrawl is, well, untidy but then who am I to deny Saudi youth their opportunity to express themselves.   Perhaps offering them art classes might help graffiti in Riyadh become a lot more artistically pleasing to the eye, but I don't really think that is the point of graffiti, is it?



Ka Kite,
Kiwi

Monday, 5 November 2012

Cruise to Stockholm and Antique Shopping


Our itinerary in Finland included a cruise to Stockholm and antique shopping.

Mr Finland loves looking for antique bargains and we are not averse to tagging along.  There is lots of old stuff here.  Our issue, when we see something wonderful like wooden doors with decorative door knockers that would look fabulous on the Pink House up at the farm, is how the heck to get it back to NZ.

The Pink House
 Hubster also likes looking at old knives and swords - not much chance they'll get back through NZ customs with ease.  I have a thing for bells.  And teaspoons.  We've found a few but the prices are...well, just a bit Euro pricey in the center of Helsinki.  So we are happy to just dream away on our antique forays in Finland.

Our trip to Stockholm was for a completely different purpose - a quick look around the city and, while there, a visit the Harley Davidson shop.  Why?  To buy a T-shirt!


The boat from Helsinki to Stockholm provides an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone - say you've been on a cruise and say you've been to Sweden.  There are two lines that leave Helsinki early evening, sail overnight and arrive in Stockholm around breakfast time the next morning. 

Our passports weren't checked at the Swedish port which surprised us.  Apparently if you're booked on the boat back to Finland they figure it's not necessary.   Had we opted for a train trip, border security would have been in full swing.  People in the Scandinavian part of the world seem a lot more trusting than else where, we decided.

With this boat trip, you get a day to look around Stockholm and that evening jump back on board for the return trip to Helsinki.  Quick.  Easy.  And apparently cheaper than paying for a night in a hotel in Sweden.

The cheaper line, according to Mr Finland, has the most youthful (aka cash strapped) and drunk clientele.  Having matured somewhat just recently, we didn't go for that option.



This was our first cruise so we decided to splash out a little.  We booked a class A berth with a sea view.  The trip over was smooth and easy.  We explored the ship from top to bottom, wondering around the boulevard deck in the fresh, freezing cold, trying our hand in the casino, warming up with coffee and Baileys in the bow bar and thinking how lovely the full moon looked shining through our window from a clear dark sky.  It was so peaceful.  Our return was a little more rough and queasy.


That didn't stop the on board entertainment though.  Mumu still did his thing for the youngsters and, as Mr Finland had brought his young daughter on the trip, we got to enjoy Mumu and Madelaine twice.  (I have to say Madelaine was actually quite talented).

Mumu.
We also stopped in to check out Finnish karaoke in the ships tail end (lots of tuneless youthful shouting at this point) then headed up to suss out the band playing rock 'n' roll on the bow stage.  Unfortunately the high sea rockin' and rollin' wasn't good on the stomach so a seat amidships listening to a young lady playing a range of pieces on the piano was more to my liking.


Helsinki has a number of islands off its shores so one morning we caught a ferry out to Suomenlinna, a UNESCO heritage listed sea fortress.  It was an absolutely beautiful day.  Mr Finland gave a tour of the island and its many cannon placements then it was back to his place (he has a residence there) for a Finnish lunch.  Hubster decided he quite liked the idea of island living and thought we should invest in something like this...


... he'll need to buy more Lotto tickets!

This year Finland is the design capital of the world.   So a trip to the design museum was in order as well as a trip to an antique show.   Not to mention rummaging our way through a few more antique shops and dinner in Lappi, a restaurant that dishes up traditional Lappish fare, and where I tucked into a beautifully cooked reindeer shank while Hubster tried Finnish whitebait.


We're very grateful to Mr Finland for inviting us to his place to sight see, cruise on ships, dine, drink beer, walk in snow, shop for antiques and learn about design and would recommend putting a trip to Finland fo some antique shopping and a cruise to Stockholm on your bucket list.



Ka Kite,
Kiwi

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Finland to Tallin, Estonia


Our first day in Finland was a boat ride to Tallin, Estonia. Apparently loads of Finnish locals do this trip for the cheap booze they can bring back by the trolley load. That wasn't our rational for the trip - we don't own a trolley.


We boarded the boat to Estonia because the name sounds so old world and Mr Finland assured us it would make a fabulous day trip. The fact that an unusually early cold snap brought a heavy snowfall only served to make the trip more inviting.  Hubster was looking forward to walking in falling snow...


...and sampling the local brew.

A stroll through old Tallin allowed him to marvel at ancient torture methods,

...wonder why so many shops had life size dolls out front...


...and chow down on the local food.  Bear stew was on the menu as was elk soup which prompted us to ask exactly what the bear and elk populations were like in Estonia.  Eating something endangered just wouldn't have felt right.


Sufficiently satisfied that Estonions closely monitor their hunting activity (Hubster rather liked the idea of going bear hunting) we decided to try a traditional elk fillet meal at the atmospheric Olde Hansa restaurant where you could half expect Robin Hood or the Sherrif of Nottingham to come a-calling in the dim light cast by candlelight. Making sure the place didn't go up in flames with all the wood and drapes about the place also crossed our minds.

No travel is quite complete unless you meet a local or two and we came across two lovely local lasses who regaled us with tales of Estonia's life and history as they knew it. Estonions, we noted, have an accent similar to the Irish and when we mentioned this to the ladies they agreed but weren't sure why. They were a little camera shy so we found a suitable replacement....


Meeting them made us almost forget we were staying in a hotel built for the KGB with a top floor full of listening devices that, we were assured, were no longer utilised for the purpose but kept as a museum. Mr Finland, who is a man of many talents, gave us a personal guided tour of Tallin city that has sprung up around the old town, pointing out architecture and other points of interest that reflect Estonia's more modern history which includes occupations by Germany, Sweden and Russia.

As we cooled our coke in the ice on our roam around the town the next day...
...we talked about how much we enjoyed our short trip from Finland to Tallin, Estonia and how we would love to come back and see more of the country. Mr Finland is also keen to have us close to his home town so, as per this Kiwi's request, is keeping his eye out for a property we can purchase suitable as a bear hunting lodge. Hubster is yet to get excited about this action.


  Ka Kite,
Kiwi

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