American MeatHeads In Europe - Days 5-7 - 6/23/09
Drinking Our Way Through the Eastern Block

I think we have our plan. Our Moscow flight has a layover in Kiev, Ukraine; if we can make it there by next Thursday, heading down through the Eastern Block and going around Belarus, which also won't let us in, I think we can make it. 5 countries in 5 days. It sounds like a stupid idea. Maybe just stupid enough to work.

Before we leave Scandanavia, here's Spot the American Signs, part 2:
Again, there are three. Answers below.

From Helsinki we took a second (much less luxurious, and much more sober) fartygets down to Tallinn, Estonia to begin our romp through the Eastern Block.

Most bigger Eastern Block cities have a new part, which is fairly modern and not all that different from American cities, and an Old Town, which is where all the historic buildings and tourist traps are. It's also where the traditional and ridiculous food dishes are, for instance this "Meat Feast" thing that Mark and I had to split between us because our teeth were getting tired of chewing on pork.

In Tallinn, Old Town was also where the party was. We caught the coat tails of a couple Estonian girls who showed us through Estonia's lively nightlife, kept afloat by a constant stream of bachelorette and stag parties from Helsinki and even the UK who come down for the night by boat to live it up Estonian style. Having somebody show you around is much preferable to taking the recommendation of the info booth lady at the bus station, and we found ourselves in better basement-clubs and backdoor-pubs than anyplace so far in Scandinavia. We even got a tour of part of Old Tallinn we'd missed during our day tour, up on a hill where some of the more historic stone buildings still stood from ancient times. We passed a Soviet-style, prison-looking building that I noted had been converted to the Russian Consolate. The girls grew silent.

"What, you guys don't like Russia? Because neither do we."

"Russia has done many terrible things to Estonia," one of the girls said, somberly. "During the occupation, they shipped thousands of our people to Moscow in cattle cars. Dissenters. Intellectuals. Many of them died."

We walked in silence for the rest of the trip until we said goodbye to the girls. You learn much more during a night out on the town when you're with local guides.

This marked the end of our stay in Estonia, save for several more beers Mark and I had in a bar that was open until 6am followed by a fight we had on the way home where Mark pushed me into a potted garden display and I retorted by taking a huge plant out of its holder and smashing its dirt-encased roots directly on Mark's neck.

Our drunken idiot brawl spilled back into our hostel room, where Mark got me in a headlock and I started ramming his head on the wall, until he pinned me down on the bed as I made loud choking noises. I can only imagine what this must have sounded like to anyone in the next room at 6:30 in the morning. Finally I got a fist free and put it in Mark's face, and told him if he didn't let go, I was going to "start punching and not stop until one of us was unconscious." At this point, we called it a draw.

Quick side note - we still haven't come across a washing machine on the trip (not that we've been looking that hard), and I've started a policy of just throwing throwing socks away after I've worn them three days in a row.

Our day in Latvia was spent A) being hungover, and B) taking a bus from Estonia down to Riga, the capital city. The scenery along the way was fairly unmemorable, possibly because I spent half the bus ride in the bathroom throwing up. Hangovers are worst in Eastern Block.

As we get further south, the percentage of people who speak English is really beginning to fade. We checked into an actually decent hostel in by far the most gangster part of Riga, and I checked off a box on the registration form that read: "With technics of fire prevention it is acquainted." After a nice bowl of stew and beef chunks, we could really do nothing else in Latvia but pass out early. Our livers needed a day off.

In the morning, having done nothing the night before, we decided to start the day off right by firing some guns. The Regro S Shooting Gallery, our guidebook said, promised "Shooting with real guns in an underground Soviet fallout shelter," a prospect that had Mark and I so excited we could barely get to sleep the night before. Apparently, Regro let you fire about anything you wanted into crumbling cement walls of this bunker, including "a wide varieties of pistols and even automatic weapons from old Lugers to Uzis to AK-47s. But after several dead ends and lots of us making the "gun-firing" gesture to frightened, non-English-speaking shop owners, we finally found the location of Regro: in a chain bunker that was closed for the day. Something having to do with Midsummer's, although it had been three days since we celebrated that holiday in Finland. Apparently anything with Soviet origins closes the minute there's a holiday in any of the surrounding countries. Sneaky fucking Russians.

On the hunt for the Soviet gun range... ...Mark is sad when we find it closed.

We climbed on another bus that afternoon and headed to Kauna, Lithuania, which really sounds like it should be a town in Hawaii.

It's the point in our trip where things are starting to look the same. I mean, I suppose in way they ARE the same; 20 years ago, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania were all just parts of western USSR. But the trend of these Eastern Block cities continues: Old Towns where the buildings are historic and the citizens are reminded that they hate Russia, and newer towns where they have movie theatres and malls with skating rinks in them. Mark and I took a break to watch the American move "Fighting" (all 7 movies showing at the theatre at the time were American). The movie was in English and subtitled into Lithuanian; I'm pretty sure the rest of the audience liked it more than we did. Still, it was nice to hear people speaking English for a couple of hours.

Our cultural exposure was somewhat limited in Lithuania, unfortunately, tethered by the brevity of our stay there coupled with the fact that again, all the historic buildings were closed, either because it was Monday, or because it was still near a holiday. Hopefully we will make this up when we head to Poland and Auschwitz next. We had our sights set on the Lithuanian Devil Museum, which according to the lady at the bus station was the only one of its kind in all of Europe, but it too was closed. I can't think of anyway to blame this on Russia, but I'd like to anyway.

Spot the American Store (part 1) ANSWERS:
A) Subway, B) 7-Eleven, C) BK. C'mon, that was too easy.

Read the whole trip! Day: 0 - 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5-7 - 8 - 9



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