Friday, August 31, 2007
Thursday, August 30, 2007
Note self, avoid flying via the US.
I learned a valuable lessons this month about travel; if at all possible, avoid traveling via the USA.
With the increased security and down right terrible airlines going through the US only causes delays and anxiety. My flight to Stockholm was suppose to be with US Airways but because of a delay in Toronto I was forced to get my baggage, switch terminals and get on a Lufthansa's flight via Frankfurt instead. This turned out to be a blessing considering the mess on the way back.
Through no fault of their own the flight to Philadelphia was late arriving 1.5 hours. This left me 1.5 hours to get my bags, check them in again, go through security and catch my connection to Toronto. I thought it was tight so I asked the stewardesses (normally airlines have offered to help when you're late, no so with US Airways), if they could help ensure I made it through quickly or made sure I was confirmed on the next connection if I miss mine. Their answer was no, I'd have to wait in line like everyone else. They were rude the entire flight and didn't think it necessary to help the few of us who knew we'd miss our connections. When I landed and then proceeded to wait 40 minutes for my bags I knew I wouldn't make it. So after proceeding all the way through security I made it to the desk where the gentleman told me that I just missed my flight and the last confirmed spot on the next flight, all that was left was stand-by. Had the "nice" flight attendants bothered to call ahead and help me I wouldn't have to sit in Philly for the next 6 hours.
Turns out that Philly has one of the worst cancel/delay rates in the US, 39.6% of a planes leaving there are delayed! Amazing, but after sitting there for hours I believe it. US Airways overbooks most of it's flights, then scrambles to find passengers willing to go on the next flight in exchange for a coupon. The staff is incompetent at best, not knowing how stand-by works, how many seats are on the plane or have any idea where your bags may be.
Thankfully I made it home eventually and learned to avoid the US at all costs when flying overseas.
Wednesday, August 29, 2007
A few days in Stockholm
After Tallinn Liisa and I decided to take the ferry to Stockholm and spend some time there with her friends and family. I enjoy taking the ferry once and awhile. Unlike Liisa I haven't taken it too many times so I'm not sick of it and there's still some novelty to it. One odd thing about Tallink is the pricing schedule, the cheapest price we could get was for a "cruise", which is basically a return ticket in a suite with a double bed that you need to come back with the same day after spending 8 hours in Stockholm. Obviously we didn't use the return part of the ticket but I'm not sure why they make this the cheapest ticket when there were cabin with 4 beds available that I'm sure are less desirable. Anyways, the ferry was relaxing and got us early enough to leave most of the day to do things.
After dropping our bags off at Liisa's apartment we decided to take the train up to Uppsala where Liisa goes to school. I'd never been there so it was nice to see where she spends a lot of her time. We took the local commuter train (think GO Train) there, it cost about $25 round trip which is pretty expensive if you have to do it often but still a decent deal considering the distance you travel. Uppsala itself is a very nice university town with a lot of history. It's one of the oldest universities around, has the largest church in Sweden next door and am active student life. Later that evening we met some of Liisa's cousins for drinks in downtown Stockholm. I'm always shocked at the price of beer in Sweden, at about $10 a beer we didn't stay out too long. In one sense it's an outrage but then prices like that may force me to cut down my personal consumption of beer. :)
The next couple of days were spent mostly with Liisa's family, most of who I hadn't met even after 3 years together. Aside from me not understanding a lot of the conversations due to my poor (read: non-existent) Swedish skills it was really nice to meet everyone and get a feeling of her family.
One nice surprise was that I managed to go to the Summer Days event held by the Estonian Fraternities and Student Unions. It was held at a lakeside camp ground known as Veski-Järve where Stockholm-Estonians have been going for years. The event was not very large and was mostly represented by EÜS members but it was interesting to talk to them none the less.
The night before I left we went to Liisa' friends house for dinner and then briefly to a private party at some yatch club. The party was much more affordable than bars (10 drinks for $25) which is probably why these types of events are much more common than in Toronto. The next days Liisa and I had to say our goodbyes as I got on a (long) flight back to Toronto.
Overall, I'm always impressed when I'm in Stockholm. Aside from the high prices and taxes, Swedes appear to live a good life. Liisa says that there's quite a class system in Stockholm that is unpleasant but other than that it's a great place. What amazes is the infrastructure that the city has. The amount of tunnels, bridges, overpasses, good roads and great public transit puts Canada to shame. Toronto can't even fund it's daily life let alone do any major infrastructure investments so seeing a city that does it well is a nice change.
Tuesday, August 28, 2007
Back in Eesti, briefly.
I spent the past two weeks in Eesti and Sweden on vacation so I'll spend a couple of entries to summarize my short time back in Europe.
The plan was to spend the first week in Saaremaa at Liisa's cottage so I decided to take an uncommon route and flew Toronto-Frankfurt-Stockholm-Kuresaare all in one leg. It was a long day and didn't go as planned thanks to US Airways (more on them in a later post) but leaving Toronto and landing in Kuresaare is quite a world of difference, but once I got there it was well worth the wait. I spent most of the first week simply relaxing by the sea, reading, catching some sun and enjoying Eesti õlu.
Unsurprisingly Saaremaa has changed little since I last visited, aside from a newer airport all seems the same and life goes slowly by. Liisa and I talked about what life would be like living in a place like Lümanda, the next day we got a bit of real life when we went to the local store to buy some milk and other small items. We were the only ones in the store not buying alcohol, it was only 10:30am. It Reform was to actually live up to it's not and make some serious changes they could tackle the drinking problem that exists in Estonia instead of ignoring it and ordering special beers for holidays.
After winding down in Saaremaa we decided to go to Tallinn for a couple of days before heading to Stockholm. Back in Tallinn I immediately headed out to a couple of my favorite haunts for food and drinks. I managed to meet up with some old friends, old colleagues and even some fellow Canadian-Estonians that were in town. There were a number of people I didn't get to see and I apologize for that, I simply had too little time in Tallinn and was there mostly over the holiday long weekend when a lot of people were out of town.
Liisa and I managed to do a couple of touristy things while there, there aren't many things in Tallinn that I haven't seen but we decided to go visit the Bronze Man in his new resting spot (a bit hard to find, much nicer location imo) and also visited the newly opened tunnels under Toompea (very interesting). We also spent some time checking out some of our favorite neighborhoods should we ever decided the real estate market has dropped enough. We caught a modern dance performance at the Kanuti Gildi Saal in Tallinn. Thankfully we knew what we were getting ourselves into so when two naked, middle aged men started dancing around stage (and at one point in the audience) we weren't as shocked as some of the people sitting close to us.
One thing I noticed was the steady price increase on pretty much everything has continued since I left. Prices on certain items (ie. food and beer in restaurants) seems to have risen 30% or more since I moved to Tallinn in 2004. It's at the point now where it's no much cheaper to go out in Tallinn then it is in Toronto, the only big difference is the deplorable service you get in most places in Tallinn (yes, I'm mean you Double Coffee).
I also managed to catch a screening of Signing Revolution, the new documentary about Estonian independence, appropriately on Taasiseseisvumispäev. I'll write more about the film at some later point, it hasn't been release wide as far as I know but if you do get a chance to see it I highly recommend it.
Overall being back in Eesti, albeit for such a short time, was great and I plan on coming back as soon as possible.
Friday, August 10, 2007
Dinner with Mart
Last night I had dinner with Mart Laar who is staying at my mother's house for a few days while he's in town.
I'll skip over what was discussed for privacy sake but will say that my respect for Mart as a politician and intellectual rose dramatically last night.
Tomorrow I'm off to Saaremaa!
Wednesday, August 01, 2007
I was just reading the reader comments over at Postimess attached to the article about Ansip's visit to Toronto. Man, there are some angry people around. According to a lot of these people Canadian-Estonians should keep their mouths shut.
MIDA KÜLL RASKEL AJAL KANADASSE PLAGANUD EESTLANE IKKA NII VÄGA TEAB.MINU JAOKS ON NAD LIHTSALT LIHTSA ELU OTSIJAD JA HINGE KODUMAA EEST NEIL KAH EI OLE.KANGELASED OLID NEED KES SIIA JÄID.kODUEESTLASED MA MÕTLEN.
Mingitel kanada eestlastel pole küll sel teemal õigust sõna võtta. Mis nad teavad okkupantidest või kommunistides? Las elavad edasi oma vahtralehe varjus, ei tea nad midagi sellest mis siin viimase 60 aasta jooksul toimus, ja vist tahagi teada, sest eriti nad tagasi tulema ei kipu.
I'm not totally sure why some "kodueestlased" have so much animosity towards "väliseestlased", some people say they are pissed that some got out in the 40's and others didn't but I don't know what the real reason is. I never personally experienced much of this sentiment when I was living in Eesti but I know it exists. There are only so many Eestlased around, we should at least try and be civil to each other.
All I know for sure is that reading comments to articles can be maddening.
Ansip's excellent summer vacation
Apparently I'm not the only one going on vacation. Estonian Prime Minister Andrus Ansip is currently vacationing in Canada with his family. He's been staying in central Ontario at a relatives cottage which is a great vacation choice. If you ever get the chance to visit the Muskokas I highly recommend it.
Ansip did fit in a couple of official work days into his schedule. This past Saturday he visited Jõekääru summer camp which I attended as a child and so have many others over the years including President Ilves. Last night there was an official reception for Ansip in Toronto, it was held at the Estonian House and the place was packed with people.
The evening started out with some nice words from the new Bishop of the Estonian Lutheran Church and then a couple of other speakers before Ansip took the podium. He spoke for about 10-15 minutes, primarily on the Estonian economy (that is suppose to be Reform's specialty right?) and how he does not see any crash in the future, the Bronze Statue incident and at length about the struggle that Estonians who fled in the 40's endured and their role in maintaining Estonian culture during occupation. His speech was decent but nothing special. After his speech he took some questions which I'll outline:
1) The first questions was regarding Eesti's birth rate and what can and is being done about it. Ansip started off his answer by talking about the Bronze Soldier again, he linked it to a increase in patriotism or something like that. He then went on to explain that his government has passed legislation to provide new mothers with 1 years paid maternity leave and plans on raising that to 1.5 years in order to jump start the baby making. He explained that the longer parents are allowed to stay at home with their child and not worry about income the more likely they are to have more kids.
2) Second question regarded the events after the election and why Mart Laar was excluded from the Foreign Ministry position, was it because he was jealous of Laar as the Economist recently suggested? Ansip started off by saying he's answered this question many times and the it essentially boils down to the fact that the PM should be able to control 3 main ministries: Justice, Finance and Foreign. He never really answered the question directly and was clearly playing the position of politician on this one.
3) Next question was about the Euro and how will Eesti ever join it at this rate. He started off by saying that this is probably a topic foreign to most of us in the room (I guess can we don't know about Euros?) and then went on to explain how well the economy was doing and that the only reason we haven't joined already was because the qualification rules were unfair. No real explanation as to what his government plans of doing to actually join the Euro zone was included in his answer.
4) Next question was about the Estonian language and what more could be done to preserve it. Ansip answered that Estonia was the only country looking out for the Estonian language and that lot's of hard work needs to go into ensuring that it is kept alive and healthy. (I didn't listen to most of the answer as I needed to refill my wine glass.)
5) Last question was about a statue of Lenin that resides in Narva and why it hasn't been removed. Ansip said it should be removed and those types of statutes shouldn't exist in Eesti but that the time was just not right.
I'm not a huge Ansip fan and don't agree with a lot of his politics but overall he did a decent job. Canadian-Estonians tend to have different views on Estonian politics since a lot of the internal and domestic issues don't affect them directly. This comes out in the questions that are asked so it was nice to see that some good domestic issues were brought up as well.
After Ansip's Q&A there was some very nice performances followed by dinner. Unfortunately the after dinner portion was long and drawn out. Instead of getting to hear more from Ansip or meet him personally we sat through representative after representative from virtually every Estonian-Canadian group still active. Instead of doing that they could have had a 1-2 hour meeting beforehand where each representative got 5 minutes with Ansip personally to express their views. All these speeches meant less time for us to hear from Ansip and more time to hear from people we hear from all the time.
Overall the night was interesting and enjoyable and aside from the after dinner speeches very well organized. It's not everyday that we get to meet top Estonian politicians in Canada so I appreciate Ansip taking the time to come and visit us on his vacation. You could say he was doing it to get votes and boost his popularity but I don't think many Canadians voted for him last time, that may change now but I doubt it.