10 September 2006

Welcome: Directions for Reading this Blog

Hello, and welcome to the blog I kept as a Fulbright Scholar to Estonia!

The blog below is reverse chronological order, starting from April 2005 when I found out I'd be going to Estonia, running through August 2006 when I left Tallinn and traveled through Scandinavia and Western Europe. To read the blog as I lived it, start at the bottom of this page and read upward! And if you're interested in talking about Estonia, wireless, or anything else, connect with me through my about.me page.

Thanks for stopping by and I hope you enjoy reading about my adventure as much as I enjoyed living it!


23 July 2006

My trip home in review...photo-log style!

Hey guys,

Here are a few photos (with captions) to show you what I've been up to on the first 2/3 of my trip through Europe with Steve. Enjoy!

Me handling last minute business in Estonia

Steve showed me a spot in Tallinn that I never even knew existed, and we found a MASSIVE Danish shield!

My last night in Tallinn

Our room on the cruise to Stockholm...not so big!

One of Stockholm's main drags...lots of tourists!

With one of Stockholm's most famous musicians,
Evert Taube

On the bridge from Stockholm to Copenhagen
And since we were in first class, the train even had WiFi-- free, no less!!

Steve really excited to see the Danish palace!

The Danish Palace

Me hanging out in front of a cool statue/fountain with one of the Greek goddesses taming bulls, which represent her brothers

The view from our balcony at the Hotel Di-Ann in Amsterdam--we picked up WiFi from a neighbor and I was able to write emails from here!

Meredith, Steve and Danielle come down the ridiculously steep stairs leading into our hotel...

Steve and Danielle marvel at how much food they got at a great Indonesian restaurant we tried, Sahid Jaya

Beautiful Amsterdam at night

Enjoying a large pancake, one of Amsterdam's specialties

You can't see the clock in the background, but it's 9:52am in Munich, Germany and Steve and I are enjoying a traditional Bavarian breakfast of sausages, beer and pretzels with my friend Astrid and her roommate Frank

Astrid brings the beer!

Steve makes a friend.

More text on it's way, as well as many more photos as we continue our journey to Milan, Paris, and home to Oakland.

Thanks for keeping up with me!

18 July 2006

Goodbye Estonia, Hello Scandinavia

It's hard to believe, but my time in Estonia is over.

It really feels like just yesterday that I said goodbye to my parents and friends in Oakland, CA, had a week in London with my sister Laura in London, and met my mentor Veljo Haamer for the first time. But low and behold, 10 months have passed, and I've accomplished a lot:

I had a lot of fun, I made many great professional contacts, I made some great friends from Estonia, Latvia, Russia, Finland, Sweden, Denmark, France, Italy, Germany, Austria, Scotland, England, Ireland and Portugal, I organized and hosted a conference on the future of wireless technologies, bringing together over 100 Estonians and presenters from 6 countries, I survived an Estonian winter, I tried real Estonian sauna and repeatedly jumped in a frozen river, and I thoroughly enjoyed the LONG days of the summer. I know I'll be back someday-- hopefully not too far in the future.

Over the past week, life has been crazy. Too put it succinctly, I've been SO busy. From finishing up at work to saying goodbye to all of the friends I've made, to having a number of Americans visit me, I haven't had any free time. Every night I've been going out and seeing different people, but this hardly is a bad thing; it's a testament to all of the good things that I'm leaving behind here. I've built a great social network, and having my American friends Mike, Ryan, Marriah and Steve visit has given me a great opportunity to showcase it.

Last week, Mike and Ryan came up to Tallinn from Athens, Greece, and they stayed for 3 days before heading to Riga, Latvia. We had an absolute blast and they didn't want to leave. Then Marriah came out to meet her 1/2 brother Viktor, who is Estonian, and we met up a few times, which was fun too. And lastly, Steve came out on the 15th of July.

After a harrowing experience getting to Tallinn including 3 delayed flights, 1 missed flight, and Continental Airlines losing Steve's bag containing his entire wardrobe, we've been having a great time. Steve's laughed throughout the whole ordeal, and I've been lending him clothes. Luckily, it seems that the airline has located his bag and we'll be able to grab it tonight when we arrive in Copenhagen.

In any case, Steve and I had a great time in Tallinn, and after a day and half where I tied up my remaining loose ends, moved out of my apartment, and did my best to pack up the ridiculous amount of stuff I've amassed over the last 10 months, we headed to the Tallinn Ferry Terminal and boarded our boat to Stockholm, Sweden.

When we got to the boat, we were pleasantly surprised; it wasn't just a boat with a sleeping cabin and a buffet, it was a full-blown cruise with bingo (which we played, though we didn't win), 4 restaurants, a few bars and clubs, and even a cabaret with dancers and other performers. We had a great time, and for some reason the other two guys who were supposed to share a cabin with us never showed up, so we had our own room.

After a good night's sleep, we woke up, grabbed breakfast and a cup of coffee, and disembarked the boat at 10am, where my friend Maya (from Stockholm) was waiting for us. She was so nice to meet us, and she led us and my mammoth amount of baggage (which I don't know if I would have been able to carry had Steve has his own bag...but that's another story; thanks for your help buddy!) to a local bus which we boarded and rode a few stops, letting us off directly in front of her apartment.

After we dropped off our stuff, Maya led us into the city and gave us a brief orientation of where we were and where she worked, before she had to run off to her work at Jarmeus, a shoe store in one of the local gallerias.

Until 7pm when we met Maya again, Steve and I just walked around Stockholm and checked out a number of sights, including Stockholm's Old Town, the King's palace, and a number of other spots whose names are eluding me right now. When I put my photos online, I'll upload captions.

In the evening we walked 20 minutes or so back toward Maya's place and grabbed pizza at her favorite place near her house, and then in the evening went back to the center of Stockholm to grab a couple beers and see some of the nightlife. Because it was Monday night there, it was a bit quiet, but we still had fun. We checked out a place called The Soap Bar and another one called Bumblebee (I forget the Swedish translation, but it meant 'bumblebee' in English). Because beers cost 50-60 Swedish Kronor each (~$8-$9), we kept our evening short and enjoyed the walk back to Maya's place, catching up and just laughing a lot about the differences between Swedish and American culture, and catching up on all that had changed since our time together in Tallinn.

This morning we got up around 10, and Maya cooked us a traditional Swedish breakfast: porridge with milk and fresh bananas, softboiled eggs, bread and butter and coffee (always a must). After we were fueled up, Steve and I finalized a bit more of our transportation for our trip and confirmed plans with a few of the friends we'll meet along the way.

Maya took us back into the city and we checked out a few more sights, including a Medieval Museum (which was really cool!) and a bit more of the 'touristy' sections, before grabbing a bite and heading back to the train station.

At the moment, Steve and I are on a train from Stockholm to Copenhagen, where for $10 extra we were able to upgrade from 2nd class to 1st class. And believe it or not, the train is equipped with WiFi, which is free for 1st class passengers, hence the reason I'm able to post to my blog directly, despite travelling nearly 100 mph through the Swedish countryside. It's tremendous, and is a great preview of the world that I know is on the horizon: a world with complete connectivity, despite motion and mobility. It's awesome.

Soon we'll go across the Baltic Sea at its narrowest point over the Oresund Bridge:

After this we'll arrive in Copenhagen, where we're staying at the Cab Inn City Hotel. We'll be here for 2 days, and then it's Amsterdam --> Munich --> Milan --> Paris --> Oakland.

More from here soon, and hopefully I'll get photos online soon.

08 July 2006

Back in Estonia

I've been back in Estonia from Cannes for 3 days now, and at the moment I'm in a place called Haapsalu for the e-Governance Academy's board meeting. It's gorgeous here, but we're also getting a lot of work done. Yesterday afternoon I briefly presented to the board about my conference back in April and was nicely received, and afterwards we went swimming at a local beach, bought a ton of food and drink, and had a nice barbeque as friends rather than purely as colleagues.

Now today we're talking about the future direction of the Academy, and because eGA is a major player in the field, it's not just the future of our Academy that we're discussing, but in large part the field of e-Governance as a whole that is at stake. The field is growing more and more, so helping to define the direction of it is fascinating. To give perspective as to where I'm sitting right now and what we're doing, I'm surrounded by 10 of Europe's foremost experts on e-Governace. Pretty cool.

In my 8 days (!) left in Estonia, I've got a lot to do, from packing to saying goodbye to friends, to finishing up my work with the e-Governance Academy. As for what's left to do at eGA, I've been writing a paper called Estonia, the Internet and Wireless Development - A Brief History and Looking Forward that I've got to finish. It will be about 15-20 pages, I suspect, so not that long, but will catalogue a lot of what I've done in Estonia in general, and will serve as some sort of synthesis of my conference...that's the "looking forward" section. I've also got to put some more finishing touches on the conference website: get the video of the conference online and truly launch the forum I created. There is a lot to do, but I'll make it.

At the moment my friend Mike is visiting me with his buddy Ryan (they arrived yesterday), and then later in the week, my friend Marriah will arrive in Estonia (her half brother Viktor is Estonian and lives in Tallinn, so she's visiting him and I get to see her as a bonus), and then next week my college roommate Steve flies out here and we'll spend a few days in Tallinn before we leave Estonia together and travel through Scandinavia and Western Europe. Again, I have a lot to do before leaving Estonia, but I'll make it.

I'll touch base before I leave, but in the meantime, I hope all of you reading this are well. Life in Estonia is good.

04 July 2006

Food and Football

As our time winds down in France, I want to stress what a great time we've had and what a great vacation this has been. Not only have we had a wonderful relaxing on the beach and by the pool (see this post if you have any questions about how gorgeous it is here), but we've been eating great food. That's one of the benefits of travelling with people from the culinary capitals of Europe: France and Italy.

Over the past 10 days, our menu has included:
-Basil, Mozzarella & Tomato Salad
-Grilled Mackerel
-Spaghetti with Zucchini and Shrimp
-Lemon Ice Cream topped with Vodka
-Homemade Bruschetta
-Grilled Zucchini & Eggplant on Endive leaves
-Tagliotore Pomodoro
-Crème Brûlée
-Quiche Lorraine
-Pasta salad with Tuna, Mozzarella and Fresh Vegetables
-Penne Pepperoncino
-Fresh, Grilled Gambala (big shrimp)
-Grilled Sausages
-Chopped Salad
-Fresh Cantaloupe and Prosciutto
-Grilled Peppered Swordfish
-Homemade Chocolate Cake
-Tarema (roe spread)
-Marinated Green Olives
-Fresh Carrots and Radishes
-French Brie Cheese and crackers

Our drinks have included:
Martini Bianco & Rossa (Vermouth…not the James Bond drink) ;)
-French Rosé Wine
-French White Wine
-Champagne (real champagne, not a sparkling white)
-Mojitos (Thank you Italian guys!)

Here is our group as we're about to enjoying some food and drink. From right to left it's Daniele, Paolo, Me, Silver, Kadri-Ann, Brett, Aurelie and Antoine:

The food and drink have been the perfect accompaniment to exciting soccer (football) matches. As France and Italy both have been winning (and now have the possibility of facing each other in the Final if they win their next games!), our Italian and French counterparts have been ecstatic. It's been great watching with them, and getting caught up in World Cup fever, despite a subpar showing from the US Squad...

[Ed. Note - July 6: France and Italy will face each other in the world cup!! Just what I, and all of us wanted to see. The rivalry will be intense between Daniele and Paolo and Antoine and Aurelie! We'll see what happens July 9...]

29 June 2006

Halfway through with Cannes :(

Are you a glass-half-empty person or a glass-half-full one? Me-- I’m definitely the latter; an optimist in almost every sense of the word. So while we’ve been in Cannes for 5 days already and time is flying, we still have 5 days left!!!

As I said in my last post, we’ve been having the best time. Since I last wrote, two Estonian friends have arrived: Silver and Kadri-Ann, who I met over new years in Otepää. It has been great having them here and they’ve only added to the group dynamic that we had before; it’s been great!

In the last two days since I posted, we’ve gone boating, swimming and snorkeling in some of the most beautiful water I’ve seen (though it has been rife with jellyfish, so we’ve had to be careful!), we’ve seen Templar castles, and I’ve tried both water-skiing and tubing! I’ll be honest, I’m not the best water-skier, but I was able to stand up for maybe 10 seconds, which is FAR better than when I tried water-skiing back when I was 12. Tubing is really fun, and Antoine, our captain, revels in the fact that he can thrash us around (in a fun way), making it hard to hold onto the tube. It’s a workout, though, and I’m sore (tubing is particularly hard on the forearms, and water-skiing on the pecs). But it’s really fun to try this stuff, and worth any pain we feel later on.

I’m just tickled I have friends that I enjoy spending time with so much and who can make these cool things happen! So even though we’re half done with the trip, we still have half left!! ALL RIGHT!!!


PS: In other news, one thing I’ve really enjoying doing is watching the World Cup games with my international friends. We watched the Italy-Australia thriller on Monday (much to the delight of Paolo and Daniele, my Italian friends), and on Tuesday night we all watched the France-Spain game while eating dinner, and Antoine (though telling us he didn’t care about the game) erupted with cheers when France scored each of their three goals. Yeah right, you don’t care about the game, Antoine!!

26 June 2006

Comin’ at you live from Cannes, France!

I won’t mince words: we’re having a total blast. As I type this, I’m looking out over the Mediterranean Sea in one of the most scenic, picturesque places I could even possibly imagine. Check it out and prepare to be jealous:

So how did I get here to this amazing place? Well, let’s just say it pays to have friends with their own sweet connections. My friend Antoine, who is one of my best friends in Tallinn, is originally from a suburb near Paris, but his grandfather owns an apartment here in a small private community called Port La Galère.

We arrived on Saturday, the 24th of June, and we’ve just been having the greatest time ever since. There are 6 of us: Antoine and his fiancée Aurelie, our two crazy Italian friends Daniele and Paolo, and me and my friend Brett, from Washington, D.C.

Even though we’re only 3 days into the trip, I can safely say that this has been exactly what I’ve needed after 10 months in Tallinn. Just laughing with friends, eating and drinking great food and drink, enjoying unbelievably warm weather, and engaging in total relaxation near a beautiful pool and on the some unbelievable rock cliffs over the Mediterranean. I find myself sighing with delight pretty much ‘round the clock based on how nice it feels to be here.

What I love about planning and spending my own vacation time is that I can make it whatever I want it to be. For some, museums are the cat’s meow, and for others, time spent laying out in the sun is how vacation days are best spent. I mean, sure, I have my moments where I want to do one or the other, but this trip is purely the latter, and I’m loving it.

We’re here until July 3, so another week(!) in France before I head back to Estonia via Berlin. After a night in Berlin due to EasyJet’s incompetence (a long story, but basically they cancelled or re-routed 3 of my 4 flights on this trip…grrr), I have 12 more days in Estonia before heading through western Europe with my college roommate Steve. Even in France we’ve been working hard on planning an awesome trip and as the plan stands now it will be Tallinn to Stockholm (where we’ll hopefully meet up with my friend Maya) to Copenhagen to Amsterdam (where we’ll meet Steve’s girlfriend Danielle and her friend Meredith) to Frankfurt (where we’ll meet my Estonian friends Uve and Ilja at the World Footbag Championships to Zurich (where we’ll hopefully meet my friend Tjorven) to Milan (where we’ve arranged to stay with my Italian friend Giovanni) to Paris (where I’ll meet my friend Morgan Sarver) before flying home.

I’ll try to post more about the trip as we go along, but for the moment, I’ll say goodbye. We’re having a total blast and I’m sure that that will not change any time soon.


06 June 2006


Hey guys,

Sorry I've been M.I.A. for so long and haven't yet blogged about my Russia trip, but I promise, I will soon. I can't do it now, cuz I just found out I'm giving a 1.5 hour briefing on long-range wireless technologies to a delegation from Afghanistan's Parliament a week from tomorrow as part of one of the e-Governance Academy's training sessions. Crazy, right?? Definitely exciting for me, but my life will be a little stressed through June 14.

I will do my best to catch you up on my life soon. The 1 sentence version is that life has been hectic since getting back from Russia, and I've just been catching up on 2 weeks of emails and other tasks that amassed while I was away, which has resulted in my unintentional break in blogging.

I'll write more soon but in the meantime I'd love to hear from anyone who might come upon this. How is everyone doing?


10 May 2006

A quick stop in Riga

After 6 days in Estonia, it was unfortunately time to leave Tallinn. The good news, however, was that we were headed for Riga, Latvia, en route to Moscow!

Our trip to Riga was in many ways an afterthought, but it ended up being extremely enjoyable! Originally, when my parents were planning our trip, we had expected to go straight from Tallinn to Moscow and on to St. Petersburg, Russia, but it turned out that the train took too long, and there were no direct flights; everything went through Riga. The quickest option included a 6-hour layover, which was just ridiculous, so instead of sitting around for 6 hours, I arranged with AirBaltic to split the flights over a 2 day span, so we had 27 hours in Riga. This ended up working great, as we got in early on Wednesday and left Thursday afternoon, and managed to squeeze seeing a ton of sights into just over one day.

We started our day by going to the top of St. Peter’s Cathedral in Riga, where we had an incredible panoramic view of the city.
After seeing St. Peter’s Cathedral, my parents and I strolled back towards our hotel, which was just around the corner from Riga’s Domed Cathedral, where we met Tom and Lucy Sponsler, Fulbright friends who I had met back in August in the Bay Area, and all headed to lunch. Tom is a law professor teaching at Riga’s largest university, and he and Lucy had invited me and a bunch of other Bay Area Fulbrighters to their house in Moraga, CA back in August. Having met back in California, it was very fun to all get together in Riga—not only to see familiar faces, but also because I knew that Tom and Lucy would get along well with my parents. We got lunch at a Latvian place called Lido, all had a great time.

Tom had a class to teach shortly after our lunch concluded, so after gaining as much insight as we could into Riga and the "sights to see" from Tom and Lucy, we parted ways and checked out more of the city.

Highlights included walking through a MASSIVE market that spanned 5 former airplane hangers, where one could buy anything from fresh vegetables, seafood and fruit to fake designer goods, antiques and even underwear.
Again, here we got to see real Latvians in action, not the pre-packaged ones that are designed specifically for tourists. This was my kind of place, even though I chose not to buy pigs feet or jellied eel.

After successfully navigating the maze of vendors, we had a lovely stroll through one of Riga’s many parks, walking along a river that was home to paddle-boats, canoes and gondolas that clearly hadn’t been in the river a few weeks before. Just like in Tallinn, the weather was gorgeous, and the people walking around the city also radiated with energy, just like Tallinn had the past few weeks.

As Tom and Lucy had told us, part of the energy was obviously attributable to the fact that Riga was playing host to Hockey’s World Championships while we were there. In fact, in one of the parks they had set up a giant TVand were broadcasting all of the hockey games for people that could not make it to the games. The day before we arrived, Latvia played a make-or-break game in order to get to the next round of the tournament and won (!) and the city erupted. A lot of the energy carried over to our day in Riga, as was evidenced by general jovial spirits and many Latvia hockey jerseys being worn all around the city.

Our walk through the park took us to Alberta Street, a 2 block stretch that is famous for its unique buildings with art nouveau façades. Lucy had recommended we check it out, and we were glad we did.Here you can see the figures and faces that make these buildings different than others in Riga.

As the day wound up, we walked back towards our hotel, cleaned up, and then went back around the corner to the Domed Cathedral where we heard a tremendous organ concert along with saxophone and bell accompanists. The organ in Riga’s Domed Cathedral’s is apparently “renowned throughout Europe” (it sounded great, but I’m not an expert by any means), and all of the selections sounded good. I particularly liked when the organist would play the ultra-low tones that make your body (and the church) rumble. There’s something about feeling music within me that I just love, and this was no exception.

After the early-evening concert, we wandered around the old town near our hotel a bit more, looking for both an Internet café and a place to grab a bite to eat. We found an Internet café first, and as we were asking the prices, a woman who was just leaving the place said, “Hey, you’re Americans!” And just as she had done with us, we identified her accent as American, and we got talking as we all left the place.

It turned out her name was Ilze, and she was a American (from Iowa) with Latvian heritage who had recently moved back to Latvia to take care of some family business. As we were walking and talking, we asked her for a suggestion on a place to eat, and she enthusiastically suggested a garlic-themed restaurant called Kiploku Krogs, that we just had to try. So when we asked how to get there, she offered to walk us there, and we continued talking, which was nice, so when we arrived, we asked if she’d like to join us for a drink. She gladly obliged, telling us more about herself and about Riga, and asking us about what we were doing, and the conversation was just great. So as we talked and had a beer, we invited her to stay for dinner (as she had recommended the place, after all), and she accepted and was extremely appreciative. She was tickled that strangers could and would be so kind (her words), but we were also happy to have made the connection we did, not to mention ending up at a place that real Latvians enjoy going to. So, taking her to dinner was no problem, and we were glad to do it; it was fun for everyone.

After dinner we said goodbye to Ilze, and after checking out the big screen showing hockey for a few minutes, we called it a relatively early night, as we had to pack up our stuff for Moscow and see some last-minute sights the next day.

We wrote a few postcards, walked around town a bit more and I even found an unsecured wireless network (thank you OptiBet!) so I checked email and signed onto Skype just in time to get a call from my buddy Joe Barbato who is about to graduate from Wheaton in a few days. It was great timing on Joe’s part, as it was was 3am for him and 10am for me. So when he (and the people he passed the phone around to) heard that I was sitting on the streets of Old Riga talking to them, they were just blown away. I can only imagine how I would have felt if I had been on the other end of that call, and it was just so great to hear from them, knowing that they were thinking of me at such a joyous time. Big shout out to you Joe, and to all of Wheaton 2006!! Congrats guys, I’m thinking of you all!!

After momentarily tying up our ends, we spent the last of our Latvian Lats on a taxi to the airport, checked our bags, and boarded our Fokker 50 to Moscow.

We knew Moscow was different, but little did we know how different it would be when we’d disembark.

More soon...

09 May 2006


On the morning of Day 3-- we all met for breakfast before arranging for a rental car to meet us at the hotel, and then driving across Estonia to Saaremaa, Estonia's largest coastal island, from where I am writing to you now. Our drive through the countryside was beautiful, and even though it was the means to the end of getting to Saaremaa, it felt like a great thing to do in its own right. Castles and churches (in varying conditions...some well-preserved and others run down) scatter the countryside, not to mention many farms that pop up all over the place amidst dense forests and countless rivers. Estonia truly is a beautiful country-- and this assessment applies to more than just Tallin's Old Town.

We made relatively good time down to Virtsu, where we caught the ferry across Suur Väin to Kuivastu, the port on Tallinn's 3rd biggest island, Muhu. We took our own 'scenic route' around Muhu, meaning that we just followed random roads on our map around the island to see some more countryside. Because the island isn't huge, it wasn't like we were really going out of our way to drive along the coast (which was beautiful, by the way), and we even found a geocache!! [note: it just blows my mind that people even on the Estonian islands are participating in this game my parents love, but that's the nature of the Internet-- creating a global society. Very cool in my book.]

After driving around Muhu, which was completely desolate because it was Sunday-- the locals were in church and the tourists had all gone home (we seriously felt like we were in the Twilight Zone because it was beautiful and one would expect a place like this to be packed with tourists, like the rest of the world), we took the bridge across Väike Väin to Saaremaa, and continued our journey into the capital of Saaremaa, Kuuressaare, where we were staying at the Hotel Rüütli.

We got settled in the hotel, and got set up in a room with our own personal sauna (!) and an amazing view of a medieval castle that was just breathtaking. The castle was literally in our backyard, as it was just a short walk (~3 minutes) from our hotel. We could see this castle from our balcony!
The castle was extremely well preserved, and we went and checked it out the next day, but for the moment we took it easy, unpacked, and had a sauna in the private one adjoined to our bathroom. Talk about living it up!!

After introducing my parents to Estonian sauna, we ventured into the center of town to get dinner, and we ended up at a place called "La Perla," an Italian restaurant in the center of town that happened to be run by an American guy who used to work in Tallinn and had retired to Saaremaa! As both he and all of us were surprised to run into another American, we got to talking, and when I told him I worked with the e-Governance Academy, he told me he knew two of my colleagues, Ivar and Nele!! [If you haven’t yet realized, Estonia is a small country, and it’s a small world in general.]

The next day we walked over to the castle where we found a geocache someone had hidden (YES!), and after marveling at the magnificence of the castle and how well it has been preserved, we explored more of the center of town. Many cute little shops with traditional Estonian handicrafts (kasitöö) like knit sweaters and socks as well as wooden serving utensils and carvings.

Later in the day we drove around the island, with the goal of seeing some windmills, which are the traditional symbol of Saaremaa. We figured that we’d better see some if Saaremaa was known for them, so we picked up some sandwich makings and drove to the middle of the island where we saw 5 really well preserved windmills, although none of them were in working order. We even got to go up inside a few of them to see the inner workings.

It was fun to see the countryside as we drove across Saaremaa, and what made the trip even better was that we had the place to ourselves. Literally. It almost felt a little “Twilight Zone”-ish to have no one around while having such beautiful weather in such a nice area. But the occasional car passed to let us know that we were, indeed, still in the real world, and that we were just fortunate to have such little traffic on and around the island.

After checking out the windmills, we were smack dab in the center of Saaremaa, so we decided that it would be a good idea to see some more of the island, so we engaged in my favorite type of sightseeing: pick a place on the map and just go there, without knowing what we’re getting into. It’s really fun, actually-- sometimes you end up at magnificent places, other times you end up at quite normal places, but no matter what, you see the countryside and what is more, you see real people living real lives.

I can’t stand being a tourist when I travel, so getting out of the city center is the best thing for me to do. It’s just terrible when people can instantly identify you as a non-local, and thus continually peddle their wares to you in a slightly harassing way. So getting off of the main drag was good, and plus, having my mom, the extreme geocacher, with us, we found spots outside of town that had caches, and ended up seeing a great deal of the island.

On Saaremaa, we found something like 5 or 6 different caches, and I had a great time driving (for the first time in 8 months!) on both paved and unpaved roads, at times even abandoning our map to pursue single-track “roads” (since it was a stretch to call some of them that), that weren’t on the map and we only knew to go on based on the direction my mom’s GPS was pointing us in. We had a great time geocaching, not only in terms of finding caches, but more so because we got to places that we would never have arrived at otherwise. For instance…

We called it an early night after checking out the hotel pool (with waterslide!) and taking another sauna in our room (my parents might be hooked now...), and the next day we headed back up to Tallinn, which, despite being a foreign city, felt nice to return to. There’s something nice about returning to home base.

Check out all of Saaremaa photos here.

Tuesday night, back in Tallinn, my parents and I got dinner with Trudee and Andrew, two of my fellow Fulbrighters, at Kathmandu [LINK?], our favorite restaurant in Tallinn. Yummy food and an early night, as we had an early flight to Riga the next morning…

More from here soon!

06 May 2006

Parents in Estonia

As I mentioned in one of my latest posts, my parents are here visiting me in Estonia!

Our trip has been fantastic so far. We started in Tallinn on Thursday, May 4th, and hit the ground with a running start. My parents, despite having been up and travelling for more than 24 hours straight, wanted to get started sightseeing right away.

I met them at the airport, called us a cheap taxi (rather than just grabbing one at the airport that would undoubtedly rip us off, as they do all tourists), and we headed to their hotel. I set them up at Hotel Olümpia, which is only about 2 blocks from my apartment, and to our delight, we were able to get a room with an absolutely amazing view of the entire city. Even I hadn't seen a view like this, so it was a bonus for me as well.

After marvelling at the view and sending a quick email to my sisters, we dropped off their bags and walked by my apartment en route to the old town, where we got sandwiches and fresh squeezed juice from my favorite place.

After getting our food, we sat out in the sun on Raekoja Plats (Town Hall Square) and just caught up, which was really nice since it had been 8 months since I'd seen my mom and dad. It was hard to believe that it had been so long since we'd seen each other, since we're able to readily keep in touch with email and with Skype.

After scarfing down our tasty sandwiches, I gave my folks a walking tour of the city, where we hit up all of the viewing platforms on Toompea-- the hill on which the upper part of the old city rests. We saw all of the important sights around Old Town, including a variety of churches, courtyards, towers, and sections of the old wall. We meandered along the narrow cobblestone streets in the Old Town, and it seemed like every other comment my parents made was something to the extent of how cool the city was. It made me really happy to show them around and to hear their excitement about where I had been living since last September.

Tallinn really is a diamond in the rough, but people have been starting to discover it. So just as I've been glad to live here before it is fully discovered by the rest of the world, my parents were glad to visit at this time. I know that when I come back in 5 or 10 years, the city will be dramatically different, and it's very possible that some of the city's charm will have been lost to globalization, or just that there will be MANY more people around, which will detract from the atmosphere we all have loved on this trip. Despite some small tour groups that are around the city, we really have had a lot of it to ourselves, which my parents have loved.

After seeing the old town, we wandered around a bit more of central Tallinn and I showed my parents my office in the e-Governance Academy, the opera house and national theater. Before too long, it was dinner time, and I picked a place that is just a stone's throw from Raekoja Plats, called Peppersack. The food was wonderful, and in many ways resembled a medieval feast. Yum!

We finished dinner around 9ish, and because it's getting to be summertime, the days are getting longer, and it was still quite light out on our walk home. In fact, the sun was just setting behind the Russian Orthodox and Lutheran churches in Vanalinn (Estonian for Old Town), so instead of heading straight for my apartment, I walked my parents back to Olümpia and came up to their room, where we had one of the most amazing sunsets of my life. Check it out:

Day 2 centered around a trip to Kadriorg park, where we began our day by checking out Tallinn's brand new art museum called KUMU-- which is an abbreviation of the Estonian words for Art Museum: Kunsti Museuum. The museum was fantastic, and I recommend it to anyone who either lives in Tallinn or might visit. The museum catalogues Estonian art throughout history, which was fascinating given all of the different occupiers that Estonia has had over the past 500+ years. Most interesting to all of us were the pieces from the periods of Soviet occupancy, and the pieces from directly after these times. It was obvious from seeing these pieces of art that expression and innovation were severely repressed during Soviet times, and that after Estonia regained independence, people made up for lost time.

What was also interesting to see were the works that Estonians who had managed to make it to cultural centers like Paris were turning out in comparison with those that remained in Soviet territory. Those who were expats were experimenting with impressionism, cubism, and the like, whereas Estonians in Estonia were creating Soviet iconography, undoubtedly influenced tremendously by the political climate of the day (and who knows under what conditions the works were created-- by force, perhaps?). So what we found in KUMU were two strains of Estonian art of the last century-- one that was obviously repressed, and another that was highly experimental. Very interesting.

After seeing KUMU, we wandered through Kadriorg park, enjoying being outside in nice weather and seeing the trees that were almost ready to sprout their buds. Just outside of the museum is the presidential palace, home to Arnold Rüütel, and next door to this palace is Peter the Great's former summer palace, complete with statues and scultured gardens. Here are my parents in front the gardens:

After seeing the gardens and walking through a bit more of the park, we walked to Lauluväljak, which, in Estonian, means "song grounds." Lauluväljak is a massive outdoor amphitheater where all types of concerts are held throughout the year, including Tallinn's big choral festivals. In fact, Lauluväljak can hold 15,000 singers and an audience of up to 100,000 people!! Check it out:

One of the highlights of the trip has been going geocaching with my parents in a variety of locations around Estonia, including Lauluväljak. Now, for those of you that don't know what geocaching is (cuz I sure didn't until my parents first told me about it), geocaching is best described as game based around GPS (Global Positioning System) technology, played by people around the world.

The way it works is that people create what are called "caches" (sounds like "cash" but plural), which contain various trinkets and a log book. After they create a cache and hide it so that "regular people"--a.k.a. non-geocachers-- don't find it and mess it up, they use their GPS unit to mark the exact coordinates (Latitude/Longitude) of the cache, and they post this information online in a geocaching forum. Finally, we, the end user, look up the location of caches that are nearby where we are, and we go hunting for them in real life, using our GPS unit.

When we find a cache, we exchange a trinket with whatever's in the cache, which can be anything. People usually leave tokens that reflect where they have come from, so my parents like to leave bicentennial 50 cent pieces that will be fun for other people to discover. What I really like to leave (and to find!) are "Travel Bugs" or "Geocoins." These are items with unique codes that you enter on the geocaching website and track the progress of online, so you can see where the trinkets you have left and have found travel around the world. My parents loved bringing the Travel Bugs they'd found in America to Estonia, just because they know how much the original owners of the Bugs will like finding out that their item is way the heck out in Estonia, and wherever else it may travel. So we live a little vicariously through others. But regardless of what you find in or take from a geocache, you write a note in the log book, and later log your visit online at the geocaching website. It's a great game in that it often takes you to very scenic locations that you otherwise might not get to, and it bridges the gap between the real world and the online world-- connecting you with people from all over the place who all love being outdoors and enjoy a type of "treasure hunt."

So after geocaching at Lauluväljak, where we found a geocoin from Finland(!), we walked back toward the center of Tallinn along the beach boardwalk, and then stopped by the bus station to pick up my Russian visa. After freshening up at our respective residences, my parents stopped by my place and we all walked back into the old town, where we had a lovely dinner at Controvento, an Italian place on a tiny cobblestone alley. Again, as my folks were still adjusting to Tallinn time, which is 10 hours ahead of California, we called it an early night, especially as we were heading to Saaremaa, Estonia's biggest island the next day.

Here are the photos my parents and I took from Tallinn!

01 May 2006

Fulbright Award Given to former President Bill Clinton

For anyone interested, a few weeks ago the J. William Fulbright Prize was awarded to Bill Clinton. This is just a quick post in case anyone is interested in seeing the video of the awards ceremony. In total, the video is about 1 hour long, and President Clinton speaks for about 30 minutes. He talks about his relationship with Senator Fulbright (which is a great story), about the importance of international understanding in today's world, and about the Fulbright in general. His speech is great, and in many ways flies in stark contrast to some of the things being said by the current administration. I recommend everyone view it if you can spare the time.

To read more about the award, click here.

29 April 2006

Same Spot, Different Day

Once again I come to you live from the 3rd/4th floor balcony on Kentmanni 22, though today is a little cooler than the last few days (at the moment at least), and it's not yet sunset. But nevertheless, I'm outside and I'm wearing the 3 S's: Shorts, Sandals and Sunglasses.

The constant techno music from the apartment below mine booms, but as usual, I can't make out a melody, just pulsing bass. Normally I love the feeling of music with bass that booms within me-- that is, when I have control of it in my own apartment. But this... this isn't music. This is random vibration at its best. On scattered syncopations my chair shakes just enough to be annoying; it's like a giant fly is buzzing beneath me, coming and going as it pleases, along with some inaudible melody.

Tallinn has changed into a different city over the past 4 weeks. It's evolved from snow on the ground and daily temperatures hovering around freezing to mid-50s pretty much every day, and sometimes it even gets up to 60, with a good deal of sun. This might not sound that great to you, but when we were looking -30 in the eye this winter, the change is remarkable. Not only are the days warmer, but they're longer too and the general attitude among Tallinners has obviously improved. There are more people outside than I've ever seen, and there's just a general vibrance that's definitely something you pick up on. People have been cooped up for during a long winter, and it's evident in their disposition.

So what have I been up to over these past few weeks, you ask? Well, I'll be honest, a lot of my time was spent on this conference. But I did manage to have some fun, which is what I blame in large part for my momentary sickness.

See, what you may or may not know about me is that I have a really hard time saying no to a good time or to what I know will be a good opportunity. So when friends call me to hang out while I might otherwise be sleeping, I don't want to miss out. Yeah, I know, sleep is good and in some ways necessary, but it's something that can happen anytime. My friends won't always be around, and I certainly won't always be in Tallinn with all of them, so I might as well defer sleep, right?? I mean, I might miss the greatest evening of my life, or some other great memory that I'll forever look back on. So, I go for it, at my own peril.

Sickness happens when our work and play collide in a manner that yields less sleep than we actually need, and our bodies are done putting up with bad treatment. So you deal with it. At present, I've placed myself on "house arrest" with extra sleep for the nights of this weekend. Plus, my parents get here next Wednesday (!), so I'm not that upset at missing some time with my friends for the sake of my health. It's hard to tell them no, but it's just something you have to do, as I want to be healthy when my folks show up.

So, what I've been up to when I'm not working or recovering. Well, a few weeks ago, two of Jon Fougner's friends from college, Ashley and Hillary (who were randomly travelling through Europe and Russia), popped through Tallinn, and Jon put us in touch. I got to show them around, which was fun, and it was cool to hang out with some more Americans who have been out of the country for a while, and can relate to missing certain things from home. We caught up on politics, degrees of seperation, and a number of other things, and got dinner and a few beers at Hell Hunt, Tallinn's first pub (though it hasn't been operating continuously, and has been rebuilt from its original state). It's a really cool Estonian pub/restaurant with a number of homebrews, and good Estonian food that's not too weird.

Here Ashley and Hillary are at one of the lookouts, and you can see the snow on the ground. This was taken April 2, and needless to say, it's pretty different here now:

Ashley and Hilary only stayed in Tallinn one night, as it turned out their whole trip through Tallinn was based around the fact that they could get cheaper flights back to the UK and France from Tallinn, as opposed to St. Petersburg. But I was glad to play host, and the girls were a lot of fun. We met up the next morning and grabbed continental breakfast at their hotel, and I called them a cab to the airport, and hitched a ride to work. I'm sure we'll cross paths again someday when we're back in the US. Here we are one last time, in Hell Hunt:

Over the next few weeks, I got caught up in conference business a lot of the time, putting in nights and weekends to make it as good as possible, but I did find time to go to a housewarming party for some of my international friends, and do stuff like meet up with my French buddies Antoine and Guillaume for lunch and coffee at a members only cafe called NoKu, which Fortune Magazine describes as "almost impossible to find, on a cobblestone street behind a pair of old, unmarked wooden doors that unlock only with a magnetic keycard, and up a set of rickety stairs."

Upstairs in NoKu, however, it's a chill vibe, as the whole keycard deal makes tourists non-existent, and relegates the crowd to a funky, artistic-hipster crowd. Sure, you could wait outside for a member to come out and go in through the open door, but it would likely be obvious that you didn't belong, unless you're with an Estonian, or someone they recognize. In certain circles, Tallinn is a very small place, and this circle is no exception. But it's not a bad thing-- in fact, NoKu prides itself on this. Inside the restaurant/bar/hangout is an almost homelike atmosphere, with couches around a fireplace in the center of the place, as well as tables where people can study or eat/drink, a computer with Internet access that is free for anyone to use, and larger tables for groups that ebb and flow throughout the day who want to hang out with one another. But the best part?? The shelves full of board games!! They have a ton of stuff, including an old game I used to have when I was a kid-- The a-MAZE-ing Labyrinth-- which Guillaume and Antoine prefer playing and have engaged me in their rivalry. Did anyone else ever play this game?? Good times...

And then this past week, I actually had another set of visitors! A fellow Wheatie, Caitlin Deighan (who is a Fulbrighter in France-- though she's teaching Engligh there, not doing research) and another American friend of hers named Crystal (who also teaches English in France, but to elementary schoolers) decided to take a trip to Prague and Tallinn! So after they saw Prague, I had more guests. They stayed with me for a period of 6 days, but took an intermediate trip to Helsinki for the day of my conference and the day preceding it. I wasn't sure how it would all work out, as I was afraid I'd have to work for a lot of the time they were here, but it turned out to be no problem, as their trip to Finland coincided perfectly with the times I was busiest.

With all of these visitors, I've gotten a decent walking tour of Tallinn down, and I thought of this (while very fun with my friends) as a practice run for when my parental units are here. So, we got sandwiches from my favorite little shop off Raekoja Plats and then walked around town, and just caught up. Like everyone who's seen Tallinn, C&C were blown away. We had a great time and there was a great dynamic between all of us. Caitlin and I had a particularly fun time, because we only became friends at Wheaton at the very end of last year-- when we both found out we won Fulbrights. It was really fun to have her here, but also kind of weird to realize that we had so many mutual friends at Wheaton but still managed to miss each other for the most part during our 4 years. It was definitely fun to play the "Do you know XXXXX?" game though, and I realized Caitlin and I are really similar in a lot of ways. So, good to get know her better, even if it is a bit late in the game. But as they say, better late than never.

Other highlights of the trip included getting dinner with Trudee and Andrew, who also really clicked with my guests. As I've been discovering being away, it's nice to have American contact, even if the people are all different in their own way. We're still more similar to each other than we are to any of the Estonians around us because of the common language, and sometimes we forget this. So, speaking English with native speakers and just joking around and making puns that only a native speaker would get was fun, and reminded me of what I left behind and am coming home to in just a few months.

Which brings me to the fact that I'm less than 3 months away from being home in California. And in only 2.5 months, or 10 weeks, I will be leaving Estonia, which really puts things in perspective. And of these 10 weeks, my parents will be here two, and I'll be in Cannes, France for 10 days as well. So, in actuality, I really only have 6 or 7 weeks left in country. That is just CRAZY!!

Caitlin and Crystal haven't yet sent me any of the photos from their trip, so I can't post one here, but when they do I'll try to remember to post one here. They left just two days ago, and made it back to their home in Orleans, France alright, which was good to know. But we had a good time, and again, will likely cross paths again a bit later in life. But with Caitlin, it won't be at least for another year, as she was just accepted into Trinity University's (in Ireland, not CT) International Peace Studies program! Way to go Caitlin! It should be noted that in an odd case of extreme small-worldedness, there are only 30 students in this program, and one of them is a friend of mine and former next door neighbor from Wheaton-- Adar Cohen-- who won a prestigious Mitchell Scholarship to study in the same program. Talk about a small world; Wheaton is everywhere!!

As for what lies on my horizon, I am just taking it easy, gearing up for my parents visit and our trips to Saaremaa (Estonia's largest island), Riga, Moscow and St. Petersburg. I'm looking forward to it, and we'll talk lots of pictures!! So until next time, I miss all of you!!

PS: Feel free to comment directly on my blog-- it's always fun to get comments! -J

26 April 2006

Good News/Bad News

So... Do you want the good news first or the bad news first?

To tell you the truth, I actually hate it when people ask me that, because I never like bad news. So inevitably, I take the bad news first, so I can neutralize the bad news with good news, rather than be brought down by bad news. I guess I prefer to go on with my life on a positive note rather than a negative one, so I'll give you the bad news first. And the bad news is that I am sick again. It's not strep this time, but it's still a throat ailment-- some type of relapse from last week. UGH, it's terrible.

I guess it's a product of trying to bounce back from sickness too early, as well as being stressed about my conference and working really long days in order to get it as good as it could possibly be. So yea, here I am, sick again. And it's all the fault of my conference...

Which brings me to the good news: My conference took place last Monday, April 24, and it went great!! I honestly couldn't be happier, and I think everyone who attended took something away from it.

Just a quick recap: the title of the conference was The Policy of Broadband Wireless Access Technologies, which refers to the technologies that broadcast wireless Internet over long distances and to many people, but at high speeds. For the sake of ease, Broadband Wireless Access (BWA) technologies can be thought of like the WiFi many of you have in your house on around your school campuses, but instead of having ranges of 300 feet, BWA technologies can extend over distances up to 35 miles!! There are some between BWA technologies and WiFi, but the general idea is the same.

In any case, about 100 people registered for the conference, and even more showed up on conference day, which filled the room I booked in the Sokos Viru Hotel here in Tallinn. [note: When I initially planned the conference, I posted on my website that registration would end on April 17, the Monday before the conference. On April 17, I had a total of 25 people signed up for the event.] Everyone in my office had told me that Estonians are notoriously late conference-signer-uppers, but I was still nervous. So when ~100 people showed up at the conference on the 24th, everyone was kind of like, "Toldya so..." I didn't mind though, I was just happy that people, had indeed, showed up.]

The Sunday before the conference I was in the office until 9:30pm, making the final preparations on everything, and then I was back in the office before 8am to take all of our materials over to the hotel. Registration started at 9 and the conference itself started at 9:30, with my eGA boss Ivar Tallo welcoming everyone to the conference and framing the issue for the audience. He spoke for about 20 minutes and welcomed our first presenter, a man from France who also spoke generally about BWA technologies, but about a specific application called WiMAX.

As the day went on, we had presenters from Sweden, the U.S. and the Repubilic of Macedonia in addition to France and, of course, Estonia. The presenters spoke about both technical and social aspects of the technology, and tried to bridge the gap between the technologists in the crowd and the politicians and social scientists that attended.

A major highlight of the day was hearing Glenn Strachan talk. Glenn is a native Californian who has been involved in computing for 30 years, and has spent the greater part of the last few years wirelessly networking all of Macedonia's schools, and ultimately all of Macedonia, making it the first country with a fully wireless urban-rural network. [note: some small island nations have been completely networked for longer than Macedonia, but it doesn't nearly what Macedonia's case does. Macedonia may not be huge, but the fact that all of this mountaneous country is wirelessly covered is tremendous, and it's already bettering the lives of Macedonians everywhere.]

Glenn uses BWA technologies other than WiMAX, so the fact that he already has had so much success and has strayed from the biggest name technology is intriguing, especially in a country like Estonia, which is only about 30% larger than Macedonia and has many fewer geographic boundaries. Thus, many people were eager to hear that Glenn's solution actually works today and isn't just a pipe dream, like many worry WiMAX could be. Thus, when he gave concrete examples of his work, people (including me) were blown away. I was fortunate to have had Glenn agree to participate in the conference, but I know he was glad to be there.

Two other big highlights were the panel presentations that we had, the first featuring representatives of all 4 companies that currently hold WiMAX licenses in Estonia: Elion, Levira, Baltic Broadband and Norby Telecom. According to Veljo, my mentor and Estonian WiFi guru who also spoke at the conference, this was the first time that all 4 companies had been on the same stage and gave presentations about what the actual statistics are with WiMAX. They gave projections for mainstream deployment of the technology, which ranged from 2007-2009, and they also gave projections of what costs would be. Both pieces of data had previously been unknown, so when each participant announced their projected rates and timeline, you could see the looks going around the room (even between panelists!) about who was where in the game, and who might be the ultimate winner. Now that the companies know where each other stands, perhaps it will create more competition, lowering prices and bringing the product to the market more rapidly. Pretty cool stuff, if you ask me.

The final panel was hosted by Linnar Viik, who is aptly named Estonia's "Mr. Internet." Linnar was not only the main visionary in spreading Internet technologies across Estonia, but he was the first person I read about in Estonia, and was one of the major inspirations for my coming to Estonia. We invited many of the conference participants back to the stage and Linnar led them through a series of questions and even engaged the audience in thinking about where the technologies would head. It was the perfect capstone to a fantastic day that many people helped make possible. To see the whole agenda of the day, check out this link.

After the conference ended, I was overjoyed. 4 months of work had finally paid off, and despite my nerves and the lack of early registration, the conference was a hit. The audience left and I received congratulations from everyone I talked to. What a feeling.

A few hours later, most of the conference participants met in the Old Town and we got dinner at Restaurant Kuldne Notsu, a.k.a. "The Golden Pig" in English. It specializes in pork dishes, but I actually got salmon and a great desert, called the "Apple Bomb." It was essentially apple cobbler inside out-- a baked apple stuffed with the sticky granola and raisin combo. Yum!! The participants all had a good time and enjoyed their dinner and we toasted (me with water, since I'm sick) throughout the evening to the success of the group and the contributions of everyone. It was a lot of fun, and we got to know each other on a friendly level, whereas before we had only been colleagues. It was a fun end to a busy, but successful day.

The next day, Glenn met with Veljo about the future of Wireless Internet in Estonia, and I got to sit as a fly on the wall, and it was really interesting to hear two visionairs compare notes. I had a few things to interject, but I definitely took a backseat and enjoyed hearing the guys talk shop. This is what my whole Fulbright is about!!

Glenn and I arranged our own meeting later in the day at my eGA office, and we had a great time. We had a certain connection just due to the fact that we are both Americans, but more so because we're both Californians, and have similar interests and ideologies. Glenn gave me some suggestions about where I might think about working next year, and one of the coolest places he suggested was Inveneo, a San Francisco company that everyone should know about. They install sustainable wireless networks in rural Africa, that are both solar powered and mechanically powered. He put me in touch with one of his friends via the industry, and I've just gotten in touch with them. They sound fascinating, and I have no idea where the dialogue will lead, but at the very worst, I'm really eager to hear more. No matter what, they'll be a company on my radar, just because they're using a technology I'm interested in for a humanitarian purpose. We need more of this in the world.

Lastly, I arranged with my friends Peter and Jaak, who are film students at the Baltic Film and Media School, to video the conference and edit it down into a series of clips and a 2 hour DVD. They said they'd have it by next week, so there is a chance I'll be able to post it online. We'll see!

So even though I'm sick again, there has been good news. And another piece of good news: I just found that the WiFi from my apartment stretches down to this tiny balcony on the landing between my floor and the one below us, so I am outside watching a beautiful sunset, wearing shorts and sandals, and typing to you. Needless to say, it's warmed up here tremendously, and was about 15 or 16 C (~60 Fahrenheit). Just to give you a flavor of Tallinn at 8pm and what my life is at the current instant, here is what I'm looking at right now:

So I'll leave you here. I'm going to meet up with my Portuguese friend Joanna for her birthday. Happy birthday Joanna!! Or rather, I should say "Feliz Aniversario Joanna!!"

Cheers everybody, I'll blog about less work-oriented stuff next time, which hopefully will be tomorrow. Miss everyone!!

[ed. note] I found out that it's not really Joanna's birthday today, but rather, she is headed back to Portugal tomorrow for a few weeks, so it was a "see you in a bit/farewell" party-- not a birthday. I wonder where I got that idea...

17 April 2006

Happy Easter!

Happy Easter, everyone!!

My dad asked me in an email whether Easter was a big deal in Estonia- both in the Church and in it's more western forms (bunny/eggs), so I thought I'd share a little of the answer here, and catch you guys up on what's new in my life over the past week.

In answer to his question, Easter is a semi-big deal here-- people were in church yesterday, but it's not the crazy Easter-Bunny-fest that is in the U.S. There is a little of that-- people die eggs and there are a few cartoon rabbits around the city on store windows and stuff-- but there is no egg hunt. Weird, right?? I thought that the whole point of dying the eggs was to hide them and find them. But apparently not in Estonia... (and FYI, this information is coming from an Estonian coworker of mine, so in the off chance that what I am telling you is incorrect, don't hold it against me.)

The streets in old Tallinn were quiet yesterday-- at least in comparison with Saturday, 2 days ago. It's official: "tourist season" in Tallinn has begun. Elderly vacationers, British stag parties, entire former soviet families exploring what used to be the USSR-- everyone was out in full force this weekend. 2 weekends ago there were a few tourists in the city, but nothing compared to Saturday. The sun was out, the outdoor seating is back on the town square, and the streets and shops were overflowing with people. It honestly feels like a different country than the one I have been in for the past 7 months, and as bad as this may sound, I couldn't be happier.

So, maybe you're curious what I was doing on Easter while you were dyeing eggs and biting the ears off of chocolate bunnies. I'll start by saying that I'm finally healthy after a horrible last week. All last week I had strep throat, and Saturday was the last day of my antibiotics. So, I slept in on Sunday, and despite not having a particularly "Easter"-ly Sunday, it was nice. My Estonian friend Karmen and I got sandwiches from this little hole in the wall place directly off of the town square, and-- oh my god-- it's so good!! They have fresh squeezed juice-- so far I've tried Apple-Ginger, and the fresh OJ was divine. I just discovered this place last week (my friend Trudee only just told me about it), and I'm now convinced it's the best lunch place in Tallinn for value and quality. 50 kroons (<$4) for a tasty sandwich and a big juice. YUM!

Karmen and I just sat on the town square people watching, and she was semi-laughing at how giddy I was from just being out in the warm sun. Let me clarify, "warm" = ~55-60 degrees Fahrenheit, but this was a major victory for us here in Tallinn-- but especially for me. We had fresh snow just 4 days ago, believe it or not. But really, it was nice just to sit and think about how crazy it is that I am living in ESTONIA. I mean, I am here 24/7-- obviously-- but it doesn't always pop into my head just how ridiculous this is. Not everyone does this. I have crazy onion-domed churches outside of my window, and arguably the most well-preserved medieval city in the world in my backyard. Not to mention the fact that English is not the native language, or even 2nd on the depth chart, here.

But what grabs me most of all, and I'm sorry if this sounds obvious to you guys, is that I am living in a place that people get really excited about, and choose to come to to spend their hard-earned vacation time. Let's just say that these thoughts weren't exactly at the forefront of my brain during the.......extended.....winter. But now that the warm weather is back and the sun doesn't set until after 9pm (seriously), I am just in the greatest mood. This coupled with the fact that I was bedridden last week makes me feel as I've just exploded into summer, bypassing spring entirely. Let's hope the weather keeps getting better!!

09 April 2006

Spring......Where are you???

So we're supposedly 2 weeks into Spring, but no one told Estonia...or if they did, Estonia's taking its sweet time in terms of catching up with what the weather is supposed to be.

Over 2 weeks, we've had two seperate "warmish" days, complete with blue skies and sun, and I've been overjoyed. But it's as if some higher power is just teasing me, for after each sunny day in the plus column, what do we get?? Snow. That's right, SNOW.

Three days ago was gorgeous-- not a cloud in the sky, and everyone was buzzing about how Spring was finally hear. But then the next day, what do we get?? Snow, then Sun, then Rain, then Hail, then Sun, some Clouds, more Snow, more rain, and then the beloved wintery mix in the evening. I was out playing soccer ("football," in Europe) with some friends from Skype, and it was (while extremely fun) quite miserable weather, and I think it got me sick. Coupled with the extremely long work hours I've been keeping, I guess it's my own fault, but still...c'mon Tallinn!!! Make up your mind!

Today was quite warm-- according to our thermometer in the kitchen, it got all the way up to 12.6 C, which is almost 55 degrees Fahrenheit!! I've been bedridden most of the day, so I'm not sure I believe it, but regardless of that, I'm not sure it will stick around, even if it is true. I'm hoping for the best, but for now it's a waiting game as we find out whether or not the weather gods are just playing another bait and switch game with us.

Here's hoping for the best!

27 March 2006

4 months later...

WHA....2 posts in 1 day?? I know, crazy, right!?

I just wanted to share the good news that the article I wrote last December (I posted it back on Dec. 6) was published in the most recent Fulbright Newsletter. It's a little outdated in terms of what I'm up to now, but still fun to see my writing in print. You can access the article here:

Tervitused Eestist! Greetings from Estonia!

by John W. Heywood
Information Sciences and Systems, Estonia

The date is supposed to read December 5, 2005, but for some reason the year reads as 2000. It'd be pretty impressive if I'd written this as a senior in high school! :)


Well folks, better late than never, eh? Let me start you off, quickly, with the photos from my trip

Visiting Jon in Oslo

Jon and I had a great time, and were even graced with the presence of an old friend from Oakland/Berkeley, Sophie Linnett. Even though Oslo was cold and snowy, it still brightened all of our moods to be around familiar faces after living in very different worlds for 5-6 months. Jon's been in Oslo since last August, Sophie in Edinburgh, Scotland.

I'll try to keep this brief, since the photos (and the captions I put on them) do a lot of the explaining for me, but this commentary will help fill in the cracks. I only had 24 hours in Tallinn after returning from a whirlwind trip to Berlin and back. And I'll admit it, I didn't do a great job recapping that trip. Hopefully Trudee's post on her blog, and my photos did an OK job of conveying our fun to all you out there in Internet-land.

After barely recovering from Berlin, I took the 2.5 hour plane flight to Oslo, and was immediately faced with the task of navigating my way to Jon's house, as he was in class at the time I was scheduled to arrive. Luckily, he'd put together a packet of information/maps for me, so it was as easy as it could be. I got through customs, the duty free shop :), found an ATM, asked for some help (thank goodness everyone in Oslo speaks English!), and got pointed toward the right train. I had to get to the National Theater stop on the train, and since all the names of the stops were in Norwegian, I was afraid I'd miss it. Luckily, some locals on the train were friendly enough to answer my question and let me know where I was to be headed.

It's not easy, though, navigating your way through the public transport systems in a foreign city while hauling around a big piece of luggage. But after taking the airport train to the National Theater stop, I found ticket office, bought my 7-day, All-Oslo pass, and switched over the light rail train. I tracked down the #5 train and 3 stops later I was at Forskningsparken, Jon's stop. Now, here's where things get tricky.

Jon had "created" a map for me-- that is, he took a map off-line and edited it in Microsoft Paint, adding a path to his apartment as to show me the walking route to where I was supposed to go. For fun, I'm including the map here, but to Jon's credit (and artistic ability...), I did make it to his dorm. Now, this is all well and good, except that by now it's 8pm, dark out, and I'm wading through a foot on snow on the ground with a decently sized piece of luggage-- one that has wheels and is supposed to roll. It ain't happening, people. But after only one wrong turn that I quickly realized I'd made, I did manage to find my way to Jon's and I gave him a call and we met up. Success!

Sophie didn't arrive from Edinburgh until the following evening, so Jon and I took it easy that night, cooked up some great tacos (I hadn't had Mexican food for ages!) and met up with Jon's friend Robert- also a Fulbrighter- for a beer. We had a relatively early night, but still enjoyed sleeping in and then cooking ourselves some (amazing) breakfast.

After this, we took a hike around Oslo's Olympic training center, which happened to next to Jon's old residence. We had a great time catching up and just joking around, which is always our M.O. when we get together. Laughing with a good buddy is something I definitely have missed here in Estonia-- even though I've made some great friends here, nothing compares to old friends. I know Jon shares this sentiment, as does anyone who has spent as much time away from family and friends as we have. Even though we didn't see anything major (by sightseeing standards) the first full day in Oslo, it was nice to see Norwegian nature and to catch up with one of my best friends.

It was great to see Sophie when she arrived. Even though she and I had been at Head-Royce at the same time, I admittedly didn't know Sophie that well-- only through Jon, with whom she had gone to high school at CPS. But we all clicked, and found ourselves laughing more often than not.

To be honest, my trip has kind of blended together in terms of what we did and when we did it, but it doesn't mean anything about how much fun we had and all we did. One highlight was seeing the tremendous sculptures of Gustav Vigeland, one Norway's most famous artists. The park is officially called Frognersparken, but is more often referred to as Vigelandsparken-- Vigeland's Park. Lots of amazing work; I definitely recommend you check out my photos from there. The most famous statue is Sinnataggen-- or "Angry Little Boy" as it is known in English-- but the marble statues were also just great. You can take photos with them and even climb on them if you want-- it's just so fun to see people interacting with art like this. You definitely can't see anything like this place in America, and I haven't seen anything like it in Estonia either. Very fun to visit; highly recommended.

After Vigelandsparken, the three of us walked around Oslo a bit more, and I took some photos of the local architecture, which I absolutely loved. We made our way to Oslo's central square, on which Stortinget-- the Norwegian Parliament building-- is situated, along with the Grand Hotel (where Nobel Laureates stay for the ceremonies, held in Oslo) and Grand Cafe, where we met Jon's Fulbright friend Jen for coffee. All very picturesque!

That evening was a Mardi Gras Fulbright party, where Jon introduced us to a few more Fulbrighters, and we all went with masks on. In Norway, there is a kind of unspoken law called "The Law of Jante"-- or Janteloven in Norwegian. It says that no one is supposed to be better than anyone else, in terms of attitude and dress. It's definitely more of an "olden-days" thing, but it still exists. Needless to say, as we dressed up in the craziest clothes we had (I was in a pink shirt with collar up, purple tie and pink sweater with blue pants!) and adorned masks, people gave us weird looks.

To make all this even funnier, and to mess with the heads of the Norwegian people that we would later meet-- combined with the fact that I had been clamoring for Jon to teach me a phrase or two in Norwegian, I learned the phrase "Har du aldri hørt om Janteloven?!" What this means is "Haven't you EVER heard of the Law of Jante?!" When a few girls gave me a weird look in my ridiculous outfit, I kind of shockingly asked them this question, and their jaws just dropped. They asked me the same question, "Haven't YOU heard of the law of Jante??!!?!?" At this point, I had to concede that I didn't speak Norwegian, and that it was all just a joke. Everyone who confronted us and was faced with this scenario just laughed and realized we weren't the jerks they thought we were, and we became the life of the parties we went to. Great times with friends.

Later in the trip we checked out Oslo's City Hall, which is replete with gifts from dignitaries from different countries-- tokens of good will from visitors to Norway, if you will. The art in the City Hall was tremendous too...there were gigantic murals on every wall telling Norway's history, and only with Jon as our guide did we understand any of it. But hey, that's what friends are for.

After City Hall, we explored Akershus Festning-- a very cool Norwegian castle, and had great views overlooking Oslo's harbor. Very cold and occasionally windy, but the sun we had was nice. Lots of history here, and it was cool to see old cannons and towers, and they even had guards on duty, in full uniform. Unfortunately I couldn't get a picture up closer of these guards, but you can imagine. Kind of Buckingham-Palace-esque, but Norwegian.

After this, we headed back to Jon's place and relaxed for a while, and were lucky enough to be invited to dinner at the house of Jon's Aunt and Uncle. It was so nice to be in a home and be with a family, even if it wasn't our own family, and the food was great!! Caviar, a lovely roast, great desert, and a lot of good wine. We stuffed ourselves to the brim and all had a lovely time.

Sophie had to leave the next morning, which was too bad, but it was great to see her. After saying goodbye, Jon and I took the train up to Frognerseteren, a popular cross-country skiing and sledding desination. We had an amazing view over the whole of Oslo, and did some more off-road trekking, climed trees, and just laughed a whole lot. After narrowly missing hypothermia (ok, I might be exaggerating a little), we took the train back down the mountain, stopping at Holmenkollen, Oslo's massive ski jump. We hiked up the jump, but decided not to launch ourselves off of it. Again, check the photos-- it's a lot scarier to be up there than to watch it on TV, that's for sure!!

Unfortunately, this was the last full day in Oslo, but Jon, Sophie and I had a great time. After Holmenkollen, Jon and I grabbed a beer with his Norwegian-American friend Anders, but kept it a relatively early evening, as I had to be up at 5:30am next morning to catch my 8:15am flight. I said goodbye to half-asleep Jon and caught the same series of trains I had taken to Jon's in the first place, but this time in reverse. At 8:16am, I off the ground on the plane back to Tallinn, sound asleep.

A great trip.

26 March 2006

Spring Forward!

Let me just tell you how much I love daylight savings time.


Seriously though, we're getting a preview of how great the summer's going to be here. The sun didn't set tonight until 8:00pm now that we have this extra hour, thanks to Daylight Savings. It's always annoying to lose an hour of sleep on this day, but it's totally worth it, in my book.

I can already feel myself regaining a lot of the energy and happiness that was missing during the cold, dark days of winter. Maybe this sounds foolish to you guys reading this less extreme locations, but I have this feeling like "I made it." The hardest parts of this experience are over (I hope!), and I'm still alive and kicking. Alright!!

Stay tuned for (hopefully) more frequent updates.