Saturday, May 10, 2014

Friends and Family

Right now I am watching the Eurovision finale on TV with Karel. I also watched the two semi finales earlier this week. They were amazing, although my three favorite songs did not make it to the finale. Next year I will have to watch Eurovision online.

The results of the second semi finale were delayed because there was a petition with 15,000 signatures from Russia to remove Austria from the list because the singer was a transvestite.

Anyway, Eurovision is so much fun to watch. I voted in the first semi finale for Moldova.

Now back to older news. Two weeks after St. Petersburg was the District Conference for 1420 on Soumenlinna, an island just of the coast of Finland near Helsinki. We, the Estonian exchangers, traveled to Helsinki with Anett, the single Estonia Rotex, instead of with Raivo.

It was very cold out on the island, but that didn't make it any less fun to be there. We attended the conference and spoke in our respective languages to the attending mass of old people. We also got to meet the Outbounds and impart our collective wisdom to them.

Since then I have been attending school, exploring town, and hanging out with friends. Brittney showed me a restaurant bar place that had been built in an old gun powder storage. Clara showed us the pictures her fellow YFU exchangers had made that were displayed in part of the University.

Last Monday was orienteering day at MHG. Everyone went out to Ihaste at their classes' time and followed a map to teachers with stamps in the woods around town. The goal was to see how many you could get in an hour out of the sixteen. I was partnered with Rauno and we got nine of them.

With my host family I have gone to several events. We went to have dinner with a neighbor last week and they made very good Asian food complete with delicious spring rolls. I spent most of the visit playing with Karel and the neighbor's daughter.

Yesterday we went next door to celebrate someone's birthday. Thankfully there were lots of kids so I could stay and talk with the adults. The men had a lot of interesting things to talk about so it was very fun.

Today is Mothers' Day, which is why I forced myself to type these up, so I went with Valter and Karel to his grandmother's house in the countryside. I met his grandparents, aunt, uncle, and cousin. The three of us ran around outside in the rain for a while, then came in to eat lunch. His grandmother is really a very sweet old lady.

We came back around five and then waited for Eurovision to come on.

St. Petersburg Tour

In my last post, I was on my way to St. Petersburg for the weekend. I have to say, it was so much more fu than I thought it would be. The newbies from the Southern Hemisphere were there and I made friends with some Australians, a South African, and a New Zealander.

Most of our trip was driving around in the bus to see the city, and stopping in particular places to take pictures. The first full day that we were there, we went to the Hermitage Museum. The majority of the museum is the Winter Palace and the inside is filled with magnificent paintings and sculptures and absolutely covered in gold. One of the first things our guide said was that, in Russia, everything that looks like gold is gold. The Winter Palace was huge and every room was draped in gold.

The Hermitage museum is home to an enormous collection of art, including two paintings of Madonna by Leonardo Da Vinci and a sculpture by Michelangelo. There was also a hallway that was decorated with a painted version of the bible.

We had lunch at a restaurant underground and met some Russian exchange students. After lunch we went to another museum. This one had an astronomy tower filled with old instruments used for astronomy and a big room filled with the preserved bodies of animals and babies with physical deformities. There were things like a calf with two heads, a puppy with two bodies and one head, a kitten with two faces, and a baby with an unusual number of limbs. It was very interesting and kind of creepy since, not only were they all real, but that a past Russian monarch had wanted to have such a collection.

That night we went to see a ballet in a fancy theatre. I liked it a lot, but I also thought it was way too long. The best part was that there was no talking at all, which would have been Russian if there was any. Apparently the lead female dancer is a very famous ballet dancer.

The next day we drove around St. Petersburg, stopping at different statues and scenic views to take pictures and purchase souvenirs.

Before I came to Russia, I never really thought it was in any way similar to other Asian countries. But it really does have some similarities. For instance, Russian has a distinct lack of chocolate, anything 'chocolate' like a milkshake is made with hot chocolate powder. Also, there are the street vendors. Like in China, there are people with tables of souvenirs set up in tourist hotspots. They sell magnets, pins, hats, and various other things.

By the time we finished the tour and got off the bus to do our wandering around to buy things and have lunch in small groups of friends, at least half the bus had the fuzzy Russian hats. I went with Brittney, and my new friends from the Southern Hemisphere to a random restaurant where most of us got these things like giant dumplings for lunch. We did a lot of walking and shopping and got back to the bus on time.

Then we went to a beautiful church and took pictures outside and then went in to look around in silence because it was still in use.

That night we went to see a folk show with dancing and singing. That was the best part of the whole trip. It seems that courting is a big part of Russian dancing. The singers and dancers were simply amazing.

The next day we left St. Petersburg and headed for the border. We had to go through more checkpoints to leave Russia then to enter, but both ways it still took forever with all the checking and rechecking of passports and visas and the thorough search of the bus for stowaways, then driving a little way and having passports checked again.

Anyway, the trip back to Helsinki from St. Petersburg was much shorter than the one back from Lapland.

The three of us Estonians got back home with only one minor screw up, again, unlike Lapland. My ferry ticket on the way there said my name was Dykstra, Molly Anderson and when Brittney went to get the tickets the woman at the desk was confused because it didn't match my passport and Brittney had to explain that Dykstra was Erick's last name and whoever had ordered the tickets had mixed up our names.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014


I've been meaning to write this post for a while now, but it was like my kimono presentation for History: just not happening. So now I am sitting on a bus to Tallinn to meet up for the St. Petersburg trip and I figured that I had three hours to kill so I really should get this done. The bus is pretty empty, given that it is a 1:30 bus on Wendsday, so I am really not all that surprised. Brittney took the bus that leaves a half hour earlier, so I am making the trip alone. Being alone makes me feel very grown up and independent, especially because I'll have to take a taxi to the ferry terminal from the bus station in Tallinn.

In older news, I changed families last week. I now live with Aime, Valter, and Karl Keis. They also have two dogs: a Shitzu named Trago and some sort of mastiff named Hera. Hera doesn't like strangers so she barks at me a lot and the first time I walked out of the house she tried to bite me, luckily I was wearing my ski gloves so it didn't hurt. She likes me now though. Trago on the other hand is very friendly and soft. He loves being picked up and cuddled with, which is great because I do that a lot.

Karl is eleven years old and we get along really well, almost like genuine siblings. I get a great vibe from this family and they all like having me. My host father stopped by the house today just to make sure that I was picked up as Eve had promised I would be.

Yesterday I went out with Brittney for pizza at Runni Pizza, which is a favorite for students because of the good quality food and low prices, and when we were walking back across Raekoja Plats, we saw a group of people demonstrating in front of the fountain. Several of them were handing out candy and one girl approached us and told us about what was going on once we had gotten a candy. Apparently they were from Belaurus where it was Indepence Day and also the last dictatorship in Europe. The pictures taped to the edge of the fountain were political prisoners being held in Belaurus.

In Kesklinn, the city center, across from Kabumaja, the old Kabumaja has been torn down over the last couple of weeks. The first day I noticed the deconstruction, I stood and watched for a little while and took some pictures. The machine that was being used to tear it down looked like a gigantic iron snake reaching out to tear out large chunks of concrete with its powerful jaws. As I watched the iron snake became a dog retrieving steel meshed concrete bones to drag over the ground to a pile of similar prizes. Stone dust blew through the air and the smell of it in the air reminded me of the Stone Bench Workshop I attended two years prior. I stayed to watch mesmerized until I could bear the choking dust no longer, and left.

School is going great and I haven't been homesick very much at all, especially since I learned exactly what my parents were stalking the fridge with back home.

I had a week off school last week, and I talked with Leann Friday night. It had been such a long time since I had seen or talked to her that I was very excited. During the holiday I also discovered a rather fun pastime: staying up all night and not going to sleep until the next night. I did it twice during the holiday, but the neither time was on purpose. I just wasn't very tired.

As I travel towards Tallinn today, I occasionally look around at the landscape surrounding us. Estonia is really very flat. The ground goes on for miles all around and it gives me the feeling that I'm standing on a paper landscape, one that could drift away beneath me at any moment. The feeling gives the landscape just a hint of subtle fabrication, just a small element of disbelief in its existence.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Paper Wars

In our Civilizations Outside Europe class today we talked about the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Sadly, I discovered that people over here know a great deal more about US operations in those countries than I do. It makes me think about how little we hear about our own military operations in school and in the news. Personally, I have heard only vague statements about where in the world troops are, but I don't know much of anything of how long they have been there, how long they plan to stay there, and what they are trying to accomplish.

Brittney knew a bit more than I did because in her school in Kansas they have a current issues class where they discuss such things and debate over the merits. I dearly wish we had such a class in Rutland.

I also learned that there are or were Canadians in Iraq and most Canadians support pulling out.

In other news, I went to the Rotary party two Fridays ago. I got my hair done and wore my new dress. My host sister also helped me do my make-up. The party was alright. There was mingling and lots of speeches, and then finally food. I talked to quite a few people and met my next host father. He is very cheery and acts like Grampa, but not quite as boisterous. On that note, I saw another man that reminded me of Grampa at the bus station the other day. He was loudly singing what sounded like a folk song while trying to get people to join in. I'm pretty sure he was drunk though.

Anyway, back at the party there were performances of dancers and a bartender and lots of couples dancing. I met Linda, a Rebound who went to Florida, and we talked for a while.

The party went on until three, but we left around midnight.

For more old news, a couple weeks ago, my History class that we have with the whole class went to the printing museum for a field trip. It was great; unlike most museums, they didn't keep the old printing equipment on display, instead they put it to use and used it for making all kinds of cool printed materials. While we were there, we got to make notebooks for ourselves. We also got a tour of the all of the equipment.

The tour started in Estonian, but when she realized that four of us weren't fluent, she switched effortlessly to English after confirming that we all spoke it. We got to see the letters for printing as well as the frames that they were held together in and we got demonstrations of most of the machines, except the one that is really hard to set up and hardly ever works right anyway.

There was also a cat as well. There were four people there, and I saw an instruction sheet for volunteers. I'm pretty sure most of the people there were volunteers, and almost certain that at least three of them weren't from Estonian at all. One of the guys wasn't from Europe, maybe from Russia.

I had a great time, and I have to say that it was one of the best field trips I've ever been on as well as the best museum by far. I wish we had one at home in Vermont somewhere. I am certainly of the opinion that museums are better when the old things are being used for their purpose instead of sitting behind glass.

I got sick a while ago with the flu and Brittney had it for a long time, almost two whole weeks, but she's back now and feeling better.

I have started feeling slightly homesick and missing my family and friends, but I am good at distracting myself. I don't feel it too bad, but it's still there.

Estonia's day of Independence was Monday so we didn't have school. There were song festivals all over the country and we watched them on TV. We had a nice dinner with celebratory champagne which I was assured was non-alcoholic, but it still tasted like alcohol none the less. I definitely like the kids stuff better, but champagne is alright.

I made brownies yesterday from a recipe that I found online. They turned out really well and were very fudgey. I brought some to school today to have for snacks. They did not outlive the first class.

I managed to gather up the paper work for my visa application and sent it yesterday. With luck, it will arrive on time.

That's all I can think of for now. I will try to update more often, I promise.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014


Today I walked into school and was told that there was no biology today. That means that I did not have to come to school until 10:45, two hours and fifteen minutes from now. I could go to town, but honestly, it is freezing as all hell and the wind is sharp, stabbing the body with slivers of cold. So I decided to sit in the library and write this as well as getting my English newspaper homework done.

It hasn't been a great couple of weeks. I was under the weather for all of last week and then got worse over the weekend. I ended up staying home from school on Monday and now I feel much better. I think it was the rapid change in temperature that wreaked havoc with my health.

Last Saturday I went skiing with Eve, my Rotary Counselor, and her daughter who is in her early twenties and snowboards. The "mountain" was very small and flattish, but still one of Estonia's only ski areas. It was great fun and I'm glad I went even though it probably wasn't good for my health because I was already sick. Oh well.

My Rotary Club has its tenth anniversary party in about two weeks. And I'm going to wear a dress. One lady from my club is making the dress. I went to her house on Tuesday so I could try it on and she could finalize the sizes. I will go back at some point to try on the whole thing put together so we can finalize the lengths. The fabric is dark purple with vertical lines of light green flowers. Also Eve and I are going to find shoes at some point since when we went on Sunday we had to end early because I was very sick.

Also, as per request, my host mother's name is Tiina, my host father's Marek, sisters Gerli 16, Gerda 14, Marta 5.

Clara's birthday is on Friday, and she's turning 17. I have been invited to her birthday party on Saturday.

That's all I can think of for now. Facebook reminders to write on my blog are great. Thanks Mom.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

New Years

December 31st we had dinner together at six in the evening. There was meat, potatoes, cabbage, tomatoes, and gravy, and champagne to drink and use to toast the upcoming year.

The TV was turned on after dinner and we watched the pre-New Year shows together on the two couches in the living room. The shows ranged from music performances of popular music to peoples dancing to knocking down piƱatas to all the bloopers from the years news and films. The best of the latter was an Estonian news reporter stopping a woman on the street and asking her a long complex question in rapid Estonian, and then the woman immediately responds, "Thank you, I'm visiting from America and I have no idea what you just said." At which point I burst out laughing at something that strongly resembled me at the beginning of the year.

Just before midnight we put on hats and coats and went out into the street to meet up just down the road with a couple other families. The sky overhead was dark with one horizon colored the ever present shade of orange from what I can only assume is light pollution from the city.

Distant fireworks popped quietly along the orange strip of clouds. From the opposite horizon reddish orange lanterns drifted upwards one at a time from behind the trees. They glided over the houses and into the distance. After a brief struggle with the wind, we managed to light a multitude of sparklers that ecstatic children and teenagers whirled about.

With a crack, fireworks began to explode around us as the people on the next street over began to send them up from the driveways and backyards. Then light cascaded overhead from behind us and I turned to see the people a couple doors down setting them off from their driveway. As I spun to take in the colors blasting away in the dark heavens, I noticed a box sparking just down the road and soon enough fireworks began to whistle upwards to explode right overhead.

The fireworks from those three source seemed to war across the sky overhead to the backdrop of swirling and bursting color of the fireworks along the horizon. The rockets shrieked and screamed blasting our eardrums with waves of concussive sound. The whole sky lit up with dazzling color as the ground was covered in smoke the reeked of rotten eggs.

As fireworks battled for attention in the darkness, the New Year arrived with cheers, hugs, and beer (or wine, I really don't know). Everyone shared enthusiastic hugs and handshakes, drunk on excitement and the spectacle of the explosions overhead.

More sparklers flared, illuminating the dirt road for short intervals before fading away. Dozens of boxes of fireworks went shooting into the night sky in just under an hour, at which point they all but stopped completely. There were a few to keep going as people fought to expend all the ones they had bought for the holiday.

I now realize exactly why I kept seeing fireworks stall everywhere I went. New Years is definitely a holiday that Estonians take celebrating seriously. It was a like a canopy of ever-changing light and color or one of those overhead IMAX theaters.

We also set of a couple of on the ground spinning fireworks, some of which only flared off and on in such a way that left spots on my vision afterwards. One man had a hand held firework tube which he used to send up four more fireworks, but his hand dipped on the second, causing it to explode a couple meters above the ground.

After all of it stopped, some of the neighbors came back to the house for more alcohol.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Mishaps Mayhaps

The sky was dark when I woke up at seven thirty and a small window had been left open, so everyone with beds on the floor, four out of six people of which I was not one, was cold during the night and all of my clothes were freezing.

After breakfast, most of us left to ski, but several people stayed behind to do snow sculpting. At the mountain I got my stuff on and began to ski immediately. I went up the lift with Alaska the majority of the time, except when I lagged behind to help someone up after they had fallen or lost a ski.

Then one time, as we were being pulled up the steepest part of the slope, the rope attached to the T-bar snapped and sentAlaska and I tumbling off to either side. We lay there shocked for a few moments before collapsing into helpless laughter. It took a little bit before we could stand up and everyone on the lift was dropping off on the exit below us. When we made it onto the trail, I had to carry the plastic T-bar down which attracted odd looks from those that had not seen what had happened.

Around eleven or eleven thirty, the horizon began to turn magnificent shades of pink and orange graced by slivers of light blue. The sky remained darkened, with only the east horizon coloring for the rest of the daylight hours. Sunrise melded seamlessly into sunset and the sun never actually rose over the mountain, leaving the biting wind to scour the landscape.

We had lunch at the base of the mountain near the ski rental building, hot juice and cooked sausage, cold juice and cold sandwiches. After lunch, we had two more hours to ski.

A couple runs later I spotted a guy tele skiing and stopped and talked to him about the transition from tele to alpine for a bit. I was really wishing that I had brought my skis just for those two days of skiing because I was really missing them.

After a while, Alaska got me to go with him down a trail covered in deep powder, one that we later found out was closed, but there was no indication of that. The powder was almost knee deep over most of the trail, and much deeper in the rest.

My first run I fell early on and it was a struggle to get out, even with some friendly unhelpful help from another skier. I had forgotten how hard it was to ski powder and I had to stop frequently to rest.

The second time I managed to stay close to Alaska until he tumbled into a snow drift. I glided closer while laughing at him, and tripped and fell sideways down the trail. We were both laughing then and he got up. I couldn't get up because my leg was fully extended up the trail and the ski was stuck. It hurt to move, so I had Alaska release my ski. Once I got it back on, we skied to the bottom with no further mishaps.

As we rode the lift up for the third run, we saw a man teaching a little girl how to tele ski. It reminded me of Dad teaching me when I first started several years ago.

The third run I collapsed into knee deep snow and spent at least five minutes trying to free myself. It has been so long since I had to get up on alpine skis, so I found myself trying to do it the way I usually get up, and failing spectacularly because the alpine boots don't bend that way. Eventually, I gave up and detached both skis so I could stand up and then put them back on.

After that run, I did two more on the main trail before deciding that my muscles could not take any more.

At two everyone had returned their skis and was on the bus back to the hotel. The sunset faded from the horizon, leaving the sky dark and cloudy.

After we returned, it was time for sauna. The hotel had a huge sauna that could fit a ton of people. The girls got the sauna rooms in the hotel and the boys had the ones outside by the river. The sauna also had a door that led outside so people could cool off by jumping in the snow. I, myself, jumped into the snow twice.

 I got really hot in the sauna and then ran outside. I threw myself face first into the snow and immediately felt the cold start to seep into my bones. I quickly rolled over and jumped to my feet and ran to the door. As I ran, I could feel the snow crystals melting in rivulets down my naked body. I felt my hand almost stick to the frosted metal as I yanked the door open. Once I was back inside, I hurried to return to the warmth of the sauna.

After sauna we had dinner. Then we got back on the buses and drove to a nearby school for a Rotary gathering. During this we sat down and watched some performances. There was a group of four girls who danced and sang two songs and an old Sami man sang several songs in the Sami language. He had a beautiful voice and was dressed in the traditional Sami garb: reindeer skin shoes and pants tied with colorfully threaded belts, a dark blue tunic with colorful embroidery, and a tall embroidered dark blue hat with four points, one for each compass direction. The hat also had ribbons hanging from it. They functioned like the triangles on Nachi women's headpieces: they indicate marital status, but these are for men. Worn on the left means that the man is married, right means engaged, and down the back means "still looking for beautiful ladies". Worn over the face the mean, in his exact words, "woohoo, carnaval!"

After him, groups of exchange students went up in country groups to perform. The Australians sang Among the Gum Trees, which I half sang along to, the Mexicans made a flag backdrop to Alejandro doing his spinning tricks, and the Canadians went up and apologized for not having anything one at a time until the last person said, "yah, we're sorry, eh." in a stereotypical Canadian accent. Then Alaska decided to go up on his own and did a very excellent impression of Golem. He voice was dead on and it was quite hilarious. Then someone forced the single girl from South Africa up there and she sang a traditional song in African about an old man pushing a wheelbarrow.

After that there were a couple weird contests and a snack before we went back to the hotel and went to bed.