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.

Sauna Scuffles

Sauna Scuffles

The first day of Lapland tour was almost like a dream, as most of us were running on inadequate amounts of sleep. I, myself, had about five hours of sleep during all twenty two hours of travel that it took to get to Lapland. I left Tartu after school at one thirty on a bus to Tallinn. We, the Tartu exchange students, took a taxi to the ferry terminal where we met the other two Estonian Rotary exchangers and a guy who travelled with us on the ferry.

We had to wait for the bus to arrive at nine in Helsinki. While we were waiting, two drunk guys came up to us and asked us something, but the guy with us shooed them away. The drunks then went over to a taxi that already had occupants and tried to convince the driver to take them. We all watched this and were laughing hysterically.

The bus ride was very long, but very fun because of all the exchange students that we could meet again.

We arrived at the hotel in Lapland at twelve noon. Out of all four busses, ours was the last to arrive. Everyone was assigned rooms and I ended up in room 160 with three others from Estonian, Michigan (state of origin that is now name), and a girl from France. Because we had a room for six, we also got a sauna in the bathroom.

After dropping stuff in our rooms, we had lunch and then dressed very warmly for skiing. We drove over to Olos to ski. When we arrived, we had to brave the crowded ski rental hut to get our equipment. Once I had mine, I put it on and immediately went straight to the top of the mountain. It was very dark, but there were rows of lights lining either side of the main trail. The lift was a T-bar lift, and was extremely hard to ride solo.

At the top off the mountain it was freezing and the wind howled all around. But as the cold bit at my face and nipped the rest of my body like a thousand pinpricks, I could see out across the rest of Lapland like a blanket spread out before me. Although Lapland is the most mountainous part of Finland, it still does not hold a candle to Vermont. Needless to say, the mountain I was standing on was the tallest for miles around and I could see others in the distance. The only mountains of similar heights were gaint piles of snow that were barely distinguishable against the sky. Those particular mountains are actually part of Sweden.

We skied for round about two hours. I did a lot of runs with Alaska and the T-bar was considerably easier to ride with two passengers.

When it was time to go my muscles were very sore and I was quite cold. Everyone was freezing, but we still had to go have dinner outside. We ate in a small cluster of huts with a fire burning in each one. Dinner was fish and potato soup with hot berry juice and pancakeish things for dessert.

Back at the hotel, we all went back to our rooms and everyone in ours tried to turn on the sauna. Eventually some boys managed to turn it on and the we were inundated with tons of people who wanted to sauna.

We only let in the three boys who turned it on and shut everyone else out. Once they had finished they left saying that they were going to cool off and then come back, but we decided not to let them in.

So, three of us girls went to sauna, leaving our clothes in the bathroom. Once we were naked the boys came back and someone let them in. They were standing outside the bathroom door and one of them said that he had left his shirt in the bathroom. Jennifer and I hid in the shower while Brittney tossed out their clothes.

Once she did that we went to sauna. It was wonderful. Then we heard a shout that there were Northern lights in the sky, so we rushed out to throw on clothes so we could go out and see them. However, when I looked for my clothes, I couldn't find them. I looked at Brittney and said, "Did you throw out my clothes?"

We all looked at each other and started laughing. Then I opened the door and there were my clothes crumpled on the ground: we laughed harder. We dressed quickly and hurried out the door, but the boys were back and they tried to get into the room. We blocked them and one, clad only in a towel, picked up Brittney and tossed her out of the way. They forced themselves inside and I gave up and ran outside to see the Northern lights, but by the time I got out there they had gone.