Sunday, May 31, 2015

Vilnius to Parnu

It was a long drive. Lithuania's A-2 had a big 4 lane highway with a wide divide in the middle. It was the only time I saw anything like in the Baltics. In Latvia, people passed within inches of oncoming traffic. I was nearly victimized twice by overambitious passers traveling in the opposite direction. In Latvia they also decided to gut one of the two lanes periodically so that we had to wait to take turns.

The day started with a trip to Trakai, an ancient castle on an island about 20 minutes from Vilnius. At first I tried to park on the sidewalk of a library, but an old man gestured no. So we parked closer to the castle. The castle was awesome, but the surrounding town is so touristy. It's old lady sitting in stalls selling faux souvenirs. It's paddle boat rentals. It's theme restaurants. Inside the castle, you were able to experience history for a fee. If you paid, you got to see a knight show in English.

Needless to say we took are photos of the outside of the castle and the gates. The water around the castle was amazing. We scampered back to our car and drove across the magnificent Lithuanian scenery.

We stopped at Hesburger. Then I tried to get gas. There were two pumps; both were occupied by big bad Latvian biker dudes. The biker dude that I needed to move wasn't filling up and then walked away from his motorcycle. I drove up close to that bike to see if the pump could reach my car's gas tank.

The other biker yelled something to his buddy and the buddy raced over. They asked me something in Latvian and I answered, "Yeah." Then the biker jumped on his bike and pulled forward ten feet to let me fill up my tank.

When we finally made it to Parnu. The town was empty. We walked around the deserted miniature downtown area. We ate at one of the few open restaurants. We ordered too much food and gorged ourselves until we were stuffed. We then saw the sunset at 10:45pm near Central Bridge over the Parnu River.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

In Vilnius

We started our day with mediocre Indian food and tucked away Jewish sites. The Jewish monuments and memorials are a bit hard to find. We saw a memorial to Gaon Elijahu Ben Shlomo Zalman and an old synagogue. The other historical sites are well signed but the Choral synagogue was the only Jewish place that had signs directing people to it.

We were looking for the Holocaust exhibition when it started to pour. It wasn't quite like a romantic movie where we were kissing in the rain. We both were trying to keep the other one dry and save the scooter and the camera. But we had different ideas about how to do that and the rain kept coming down harder.

The rain quickly quieted down, but didn't quite relent. We waited it out, and the searched the museum some more. When we found it, it occurred to us that it was Shabbat, so the museum was closed. We did get to see two monuments around the exhibition house. One was dedicated to the Dutch ambassador who saved Jews and the other was dedicated to the Japanese consulate who gave visas to Jews.

We took a break to dry off and went back out a bit later. We caught a couple of panoramic views and saw some stunning churches. We visited the faux republic of Uzupis with its ridiculous constitution. Then we had a delicious dinner.

This is a unique time in Lithuania. They've just changed over to the euro, so two currencies show up on the receipts. In all of the Baltics, restaurants have a weird portable credit card machine. There's always an awkward moment when we declare to the waiter that we're paying with a credit card. There's no place to leave a tip so it helps to have some cash.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Riga to Vilnius

On the drive out of Riga, I stopped by a gas station. The was no credit card slot on the pump, so I went in prepay. The clerk didn't speak English. I asked how do I pay for gas. He said, "No gas." I said, Petrol?" He said, "Petrol," and nodded before reconsidering and declaring, "Petrol, no!" I sneared and said that my car was right there by the pump. The clerk followed me. He motioned for the pump and I realized in Latvia you pay after you pump.

The clerk didn't like that the tube was curled so he yelled, "No!" and pointed at the twist. I untwisted the pump and a few drops of gas spurted out on him. After I finished, I paid. It cost 32 Euros for less than half a tank.

The drive through Latvia and Lithuania was filled with scenes of lush grass and trees. In Lithuania, I finally got a two lane highway with a divide between oncoming traffic.

Vilnius has proved to great so far. Its Old Town is far more accessible than those of Riga and Tallinn. Tallinn has a Medieval old town with narrow streets. Riga has Enlightenment era big squares. Vilnius has modern wide boulevards and a preponderance of cafes with outside seating. The buildings within Old Town are beautiful. We ate like royalty for a reasonable price.

The people seem to be nicer. Candace dropped her scarf twice and two Lithuanian grandmothers picked it up for her. She dropped her wallet and someone told her. She always says sorry even when someone gets in he  way. In Estonia and Latvia, people ignored her; in Vilnius, someone said, "No problem at all."

We stumbled upon a concert of traditional Lithuanian music by the president's palace. People were dancing in the aisles. They all knew the steps too. The dances all involved a lot of hopping. Then we walked up to Gediminas castle. The scooter couldn't handle the cobblestones on the way, so Candace was determined to walk it, even though the way we took was very steep. I was so impressed with Candace's tenacity.

Our hotel is right outside the Gates of Dawn and is quite nice. The toilet paper is so soft. I've essentially been wiping my ass with bark for the last week plus. It's such a treat. Plus we have a fridge so we get cold drinks, a rare treat.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Indian Ass and Grocery Store Confrontations

We saw Riga Synagogue, an understated well-guarded building tucked in an alleyway in Old Riga. Then we had Indian food in a beautiful square under St. Peter's Lutheran church. Many Latvians are Lutherans though few attend religious services. In the Latgalia region, people tend to be Catholic. While perusing the menu at the Indian restaurant, Candace found out that the Latvian word for spicy is "ass." Google translate disagrees. It says that Latvian ass is English axis.

We then walked by the huge shopping center and a grittier part of town. On the other side of the tracks, we got close to the huge and interesting science building. We reached our destination at the plain Holocaust memorial and ruins of another synagogue.

Latvians have a resting face that often shows scorn or disdain. They are absolutely fascinated by Candace's scooter. People drive crazy, but they are respectful when they walk. A lot of people ride bikes in Riga. Across the bridge from city center is relatively undeveloped and a great real estate investment.

We went to a grocery store and were waiting in line. A guy left his basket in line and went to go grab some more items. A few shoppers stepped past in line. When it was my turn to get in front of the basket, the guy came back and barked at me in Latvian or Russian. He then slipped in front of me. He was older middle age with a bushy Stalin-like mustache. I was upset. I started speaking out loud in English about how he can't just leave his basket and do some more shopping. If that was the norm, there would be chaos. People would be leaving their empty baskets at the front of the line as soon as they entered the store. If you have more shopping to do, whether in Latvia or anywhere else, back of the line with you.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

In Riga

We were far more impressed with Riga today. The partly cloudy weather helped. We took a two mile stroll in the the Old Riga passing by the funky national library and over the Daugava River.

I caught the Occupation Museum, which did mention the Holocaust but naturally downplayed Latvian collaborators and focused on Latvian victimization. We saw the Freedom Monument with two motionless guards standing underneath. We also appreciated the Batejkalns with its love lock bridge.

Next we ate a kebab place. Candace hated her falefel and hummus sandwhich. The chicken in my sandwhich was good, but I didn't like the rest of it, especially the copious amounts of cabbage. We ate at a steak house by the Riga Dome.

Candace and I vehemently disagree over the comparative accessibility of Tallinn and Riga. I think Riga is more accessible. It has some nice curbcuts and even some ramps. The rain gutter divots aren't as bad. Tallinn's accessibility is based on making things easier for bicycles.

After dinner, I saw parliament, an imposing building with drab colors. Not far away was a heavily fortified building with a camera in front the moves to watch passersby. I haven't found out what the building is yet. We also saw Riga Castle where the president lives. It was built in 1515. A fire in 2013 caused considerable damage.

Since being in Latvia I read about the eastern region of Latgalia. About 100,000 prople speak the language. In Latvia, Latgalia is officially considered a dialect of Latvia. Some people in Latgalia want more recognition for their language. But some feel Russia is hoping to foster separatist feelings within the region to create the same chaos as in Ukraine. People in Latgalia tend to sympathize with Russia more than the country on the whole.

There is a large minority of Russians in Riga and in Latvia. Cansace has tried to watch tv since we've been in Riga. She's mostly watched E and the music channel, because they're pretty much the only English channels. The are quite a few Russian ones though. We also saw the music video for the Latvian group Musiqq's song Abrakadabra and a cool Russia video centered on events in an elevator that I can't find the name of.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Tartu to Riga

We were tired after a big day yesterday. We woke up at 11am and raced to make checkout by noon. Then I saw checkout was actually at 11. The hotel was cool about it.

The drive to Riga was similar to the drive yesterday. At one point in Estonia, road construction not only had one side diverted into a lane adjacent to oncoming traffic, but actually had both directions directed into one lane!

We entered Latvia with little fanfare. I had to convince Candace that we were in Latvia. The bus stops on the side of the road in Estonia are cute little open huts. In Latvia, its a concrete slab. It my limited experience Latvians drive crazier than Estonians, but that might just be in Riga. I saw a news story mocking Estonians for being the least friendly people in the world. Latvians might give them a run for their money. But seriously, that's overstated. People aren't the friendliest, but they're not jerks either.

Driving in downtown Riga is insane! There was so much traffic at 3:30pm. We arrived at the hotel 30 minutes after the gps estimated and it was all because of traffic in Riga. We passed by haunting brown and gray buildings as rain poored down. Latvian drivers swerved into our lane only inches from us. My nerves quickly became frayed.

We found a bar and ate our only meal of the day. The bar played rather terrible music including the 1990s feminist anthem Shut Up and Sleep with Me by Germany's favorite son Sin With Sebastian and theat ode to racial tolerance, Queen of Chinatown by Amanda Lear.

The bar had a ramp and the hotel is accessible which would have made Candace ecstatic if she wasn't annoyed by the rain. The rain divots in the sidewalk were much more manageable for the scooter. Because of the rain, we had a quiet night in the hotel, which is a couple miles outside the city center.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Tallinn to Tartu

A disheveled and dirty man helped me get Candace's scooter down the stairs of the hotel yesterday and the said, "Be happy," and left. Today we took a taxi from the hotel to the car rental place. The driver smelled bad, but was very nice. The car rental guys advised us to watch out for flying pebbles and animals in the road. The also warned us that Estonia has lots of speed cameras.

Driving in Estonia is fairly easy. Route 1 did have on entire direction diverted into a lane inches from oncoming traffic, which is unnerving. We listened to Skyplus, Estonia's self-proclaimed best radio station.

We drove through Lahemaa National Park. It was so green; it was energizing. There were so many thin trunk trees. We hiked a trail that began just north of route 1 off 85 near the town of Kolga. It was incredible! At one point there's a long boardwalk that clears the bogs in order to take you to a lookout tower. A ramp will get you pretty far up the lookout tower. From there you see sparkling crisp blue bogs and all sorts of colors of bogs.

It's ironic that to protect so much moss, so many trees were cut down to make the boardwalk. The bog is called Viru Bog. When something goes wrong, Estonians say the expression, "It has gone to the bog." The smell of the hike was an overwhelming pine scent.

After that incredible hike, we drove Tartu. The drive was a feast for the eyes. It was over-stimulating and after a while, I became tired. There were so many fields of golden topped crops. We saw picturesque forests.  There was a five minute red light, the only traffic light from Tallinn to Tartu. It was a memorable drive.

Tartu is a hip city with open walkable streets, particularly Ruuti, which passes by the town hall. Emajogi passes through Tartu and we walked along the river at 10:45pm dusk. Candace loved the ramps we encountered in the city. She took pictures of Liberty Bridge and an adjacent bridge. Tartu is nearly 1000 years old and we love the combination of old and modern.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Tallinn Not to Helsinki

We tried to take a ferry from Tallinn to Helsinki for a day trip, but apparently on a Sunday in late May a reservation is required. We tried a few different companies, but nothing panned out.

We ate by the harbor. I had anatomically in tact flounder and Candace had salted cucumbers with honey, which she did not enjoy. Candace noticed that Estonians love mayonnaise on everything. We then snuggled in the shadow of Fat Margaret tower. We also dealt with our ferry rejection in a rather morbid way. We snuggled by the monument commemorating the ferry accident of 1994 when over 800 people died.

My body isn't holding up, so after a stop at Hessburger Estonia's version of McDonald's, we went back to the hotel to rest. Later we went our for some pizza and took an 11pm stroll at dusk through Skoone Bastion.

A couple of interesting facts about Tallinn. The city is very WiFi friendly and public transportation is free for residents of the city.

Saturday, May 23, 2015


We changed to a different hotel today. This one is just north of Old Town. In our last hotel, the owner kept calling Candace's scooter a small car. The new hotel has crumbling old stone steps for me to lug the scooter up. The receptionist called the scooter "very modern."

We walked to Kadriorg park, which was green and beautiful. It has Kadriorg castle and the presidential palace. We also saw Lauluvaljak- the Song Festival Grounds- where 300,000 people protested Soviet oppression in 1988. We also saw the sun shimmering on the blue Baltic Sea. Ferries dotted the horizon.

We had cheeseburgers drenched in an orange sauce and tons of vegetables. The hamburger meat was good if the sauce was weird and the vegetables were terrible, because I hate vegetables. I had a steak later for dinner, which was pretty good.

The dinner was in Old Town. Candace was a bit frazzled because of all the cobblestones. The scooter started to lose its charge, so I pushed it some of the way back to the hotel. But we made it.

Friday, May 22, 2015

In Tallinn

Candace: "What time is it?" Me: "4:30am." Candace: "Then why is it light out?!"

We walked around Old Town today. The old towers and churches were not quite jaw dropping, but they were cool. Some buildings date back to the 1300s. The age of the buildings made it a memorable experience. The Russian church was the most eye opening.

Candace's scooter did ok with the cobblestone streets, but she needed me to push her when she got stuck on occasion. Just outside Old Town the sidewalks are better, but they have dents for gutter water. Candace's scooter has small wheels and she kept getting stuck in them.

We ate lunch at a food court in a mall. The decorations were Estonian houses inside the  food court. The staff wore what seemed like traditional Estonian clothes. The food court had latkes and blitzes although they didn't call them that. We didn't try any new soda, but later we ate Tutti Frutti gummies. Each flavor had that same bubble gum/cotton candy flavor.

On the walk back to the hotel, a very drunk man nearly stumbled right into Candace. I was there to push him away if need be, but he stumbled in the opposite direction just in time. When we reached the hotel, our host offered us some strawberry cake and hot chocolate, which were delicious. One layer of my cake had fallen over. She said that in Estonia that means I'll never get married, but since I'm married, it doesn't count. Thank the lord we didn't come last week.

It's amazing how quickly Old Town becomes the sleepy suburbs. I like how much green is around Old Town. Oh, and I forgot to mention we saw a guy roller skating with skiing poles.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

DC to Tallinn

After an incredible wedding on Sunday, we left for our honeymoon yesterday. We took SAS, Scandinavian Air, which bills itself as the second most punctual airline and the third most comfortable on long haul flight. My wife Candace and I joked that SAS's motto should "Fly with us because we happen to be traveling to your destination."

The entertainment choices were lackluster. The movies started at the same time for everyone, so it limited your options.

We had a long layover in Copenhagen. Candace keeps bragging that she got to hold the hands of multiple hot Danish guys. Said in a different way, some workers helped Candace in and out of some wheelchairs. Candace can have her memories of holding hands with hot Danish guys, on the flight from Copenhagen to Tallinn, a fat Estonian guy nearly wacked me in the face with his hairy partly exposed ass, so we're even.

On that flight, Estonia Air offered free wifi. It was cool, although a bit misleading. You couldn't access the internet. You could only access a few things related to Estonia Air.

Candace was so happy to get a Denmark stamp on her passport, but really bummed not to get one from Estonia. Apparently you only need a stamp when first arriving into the EU.

We walked about 3 miles from the airport to our hotel. The signs are great about telling you what streets are coming up, but not as good telling you what street you're on. Even so, we didn't get lost until the end. At one point after we had been lost for awhile, Candace gave me five minutes to find the hotel before she would ask for directions. I found the hotel 2 and a half minutes later.

Once we got to the hotel, no one answered our knocks, doorbell rings, or screams after 15 minutes. I decided to jump the fence to the backyard and get someone's attention that way. Just then, the owner opened the front door to welcome Candace in. Then we went to the grocery store and picks up lots of candy!

We also grabbed some limonaad which is some kind of cotton candy or bubble gum flavored soda. We got back to the hotel at 10:30 pm and it was still light out.

Saturday, May 02, 2015

Mayweather-Pacquiao Preview

Manny Pacquiao's best chance is to out hustle Mayweather. He needs to throw 100 punches around from different angles and move constantly like he used to five years ago. Unfortunately for Pacquiao, he hasn't shown that level of sustained activity for quite some time.

Pacquiao struggles against counter punchers the most. Juan Manuel Marquez is an adept counterpuncher, who knocked out Pacquiao and has fought him tough three other times. Mayweather is big and faster than Marquez. Mayweather's defense is also better.

Pacquiao's southpaw stance shouldn't be a big issue for Mayweather. He's done well against lefties recently, but it may take longer for Mayweather to settle into a good rhythm.

Mayweather did seem sick and worn down in an interview on TNT on Thursday Night., If he's sick, it could change the dynamic. Mayweather uses hand speed and timing to succeed.

If Mayweather is well, his counter right should control the fight during the earl portions. Pacquiao should get a couple of hard lefts in and that will mean Mayweather will get a tad bit more touched up than usual. But by the middle rounds, I expect Mayweather to be firmly in control and Pacquiao's punches becoming more and more sparse. By the late rounds, Mayweather will pot shot with lead straight rights from the outside. Mayweather will control the fight, but the scores will be a little closer than they should be because Pacquiao will try to steal rounds late with activity. Mayweather will win with scores in the 8-4, 7-5 range, but it won't be that close in reality.