Durvysecks with a pickle

Trip Start Jul 07, 2009
Trip End Jul 26, 2009

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Flag of Estonia  , Harjumaa,
Sunday, July 19, 2009

Today we toured some of the country of Estonia. We docked in Tallinn, the capital, very early this morning and had a 7:30 start to our tour (yawn!). We travelled from the port into the city of Tallinn and into the old part of town which was first settled in the 1300s. It is high on a hill and is surrounded by a magnificent wall with many large round towers. It is very beautiful with lots of parks, large trees, very old cobblestone streets.

We saw the old palace which is now being used for government offices and went in to a Russian Orthodox cathedral where mass was taking place. It was very interesting, there are no pews and everyone stands up for the service. Outside at the bottom of the steps to the entrance there stood about 5 elderly ladies in baboushkas who were begging. When you give them something they are to pray for you.

From Talinn we drove east to a town called Rakvere where we stopped at a distillery museum. As we walked in the door they gave us a short of vodka and a salty dill pickle. We knocked back the vodka, preceded by the Estonia version of "cheers" which is "durveysecks" (some of the group heard it as "dirtysex") and then ate the pickle. Interesting.

After a short tour in the museum, our tour guide asked for 5 volunteers to take a vodka sampling. Avis, Bob and Charles all volunteered. They all had to take six shots of different kinds of vodka and then rate them as to which they thought was the best. It was good fun and each of them got a certificate to take home.

From the distillery we went on to the medieval fortress which the town residents have turned into kind of a cheesy amusement park. They had turned some of the dungeon rooms into a "haunted house" and they had activities to try like putting on armor and playing with swords. You could walk on stilts or try blacksmithing or archery. It was all kind of strange.

We had a typical Estonian lunch there which consisted of roast pork (very good), sauerkraut (OK), mushy peas (don't even go there) and a barley dish (not bad). To go along with it we had a delicious local honey beer.

The Estonians have been independent from Russian rule for less than 20 years and they are having a challenging time. It took them a long time to get on their feet and they were doing not badly until the global recession. Now they have unemployment at 11% and rising, 1000 people per week are losing their jobs. This is serious in a country with a population of only 1.5 million.

The landscape is similar to Alberta in many ways. Mostly flat with lots of pine trees, birch trees and other deciduous forest. Lots of farm land but a lot of it is sitting idle, the fields full of weeds. They do have some cattle but you can see that agriculture is not really that successful at this time.

The average Estonian makes $1400 per month and pays a flat rate of 21% tax. Their VAT (same as our gst) is 20%. The price of gas here is $7.00 per gallon. They have free medical care but long, long waits to see a doctor.

This is another place that doesn't see much sunshine - 50 or 60 days per year - 20 of those in the summer.

We are constantly reminded of how lucky we are to be Canadians.

Now we are on our way to Stockholm, Sweden and arrive there about 8 tomorrow morning. We get to move our clocks back again and our tour doesn't start until 9:30 a.m.

I wonder how you say "cheers" in Swedish.
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