Rehavia, Jerusalem #24

Rehavia has got it all, an orthodox neighbourhood with lots of young mums pushing prams around. The little village of shops was just a 100 metres from my accomodation and has a bakery, a mini-market, Tommy’s burger bar, a hardware & plastic goods shop, women’s clothes, hairdresser, a news agent, laundry, money changer, ice cream shop, and a Post Office where I sent a postcard to mum.

Now I’m near Tel Aviv at Ben Gurion Airport with a few hours to spare before check in because I needed to check out of my Airbnb – but my flight is not until 8pm but I just couldn’t handle another day of getting hot and sweaty walking the streets of the Old City before a long flight. I feel I’ve seen as much as I want so for the morning I sat in the shady garden Rehavia playing guitar and drinking tea. Above I described the little neighbourhood of Rehavia that I got to like, and below, I’ll relate the things I learnt from talking to people here about the Israeli-Palestinian issue.

Alon, our guide to the Dead Sea outlined the political situation in Israel from a completely factual position. He purposely commenced this topic at the end of our tour as we approached Jerusalem because he said it’s a can of worms and people bring all kinds of half-baked ideas, prejudices, out-of-date news, and various entrenched positions to the discussion. This is what he said; broadly, there are 5 groups in Israel; the Zionists who created the place and secure it with compulsory military service for boys from the age of 18 for 3 years, and girls for 2 years. The Orthodox Jews who wear the various big hats and coats and curls – he said they don’t need to serve in the military, they just study the Torah and don’t really care about the state of Israel, they just want to live in the Holy Land. The population of Israel is 9 million, of that 6 million are Jews and only half of those are religious, so that’s the 3rd group, non-religious Jews. Then 4th, 20% of the population, nearly 2 million, are Israeli Arabs, and the 5th group, about 5% are non-Jewish ancestry who are family members of Jews, Christian non-Arabs, and Muslim non-Arabs.
 Alon went on to explain the West Bank is divided into 3 parts, it’s called the ‘occupied territory’ and was once part of Jordan but when Israel was attacked on three sides from Jordan, Egypt and Lebanon in 1967, Israel won the war and occupied the West Bank. The Oslo Accord of 1995 created the ‘green line’ and it was agreed at the time to be divided into 3 parts; Zone A, which includes a part of Jerusalem and all of Bethlehem and Ramallah, and is controlled by the Palistinian Authority, Zone B that is mainly empty desert is controlled by both sides, and Zone C that is controlled by Israel where the settlements are being established. The West Bank is not recognised internationally as part of Israel and as a result Israeli expansion into Isreali controlled Zone C is contentious. 
On the train I met Raphella with her younger brother, she was 19 years old and has recently commenced her compulsory military training. She chose the combat military division of the IDF serving her 3 years (usually 2 but she wanted to be in a combat division so is signed up for 3 years). She’s an ex-Australian whose family moved to Israel very recently and spoke English like a regular Australian. She looked a bit like Amy Winehouse, kind of cheeky but very smart and with plenty of attitude. She calls herself a Zionist, ‘Without us there is no Israel’, The Orthodox Jews?, ‘We hate them, they’re useless, and without us they wouldn’t be here,’ and she showed me a video on her phone of some Orthodox Jews being dragged away at a recent protest. What about the Arab Israelis? I asked, ‘We’re fine with them, there’s no problem there.’ She said some kids don’t like the military, others do, she likes it but the pay is only about NZ$100 a week. Netanyahu?, ‘We hate him, he’s a liar’. She then explained all the different uniforms; dark blue is the Police, green is the military and grey is the border control. Interesting.

One of my lasting memories of Israel and Jerusalem is the piles are rubbish – there’s plastic bags and empty water bottles scattered everywhere. I guess this will change in time. Here’s a pic with Mount Zion and the Temple Mount in the distance beside the entrance to the walled olive tree garden of Gethsemane.

The Dead Sea #23

Doing the cleansing mud thing at The Dead Sea beach resort. Taken by Hannah Krausa

My last experience before returning home was a nine hour tour into the Judean desert. A group of five on the Masada Sunrise Tour with ex-Orthodox Jew, Alon, in his car. We left at 3.30am to be up the mountain in time for the sunrise, on to Ein-Gedi the desert oasis, and finally a dip in the Dead Sea. It’s also a chance to be in the desert and drive the length of the Dead Sea along the West Bank. The climb up the hill to the Masada fortress created by King Herod takes about 50 minutes and is where the rebel Jews fleeing the Romans made their last stand around 74 CE (AD has now be replaced with Current Era), and the siege took years. Finally, the Roman legion of about 8,000 plus slaves spent two years building a ramp to get up there where they erected a tower and started battering the wall, and you know the story, the 900 Jews all slayed themselves rather than becoming captives and slaves to the Romans, first they started with the women and kids . . . gruesome.
It’s a tough walk to the big plateau at the top, but there’s free chilled water on tap up there and I made the most of it. The temperature was about 28º and rises later to about 33º, and apparently we were lucky – it’s usually much hotter at this time of year.

Sunrise from the Masada fortress looking East towards Jordan across the Dead Sea.

On to Ein-Gedi the desert Oasis that’s been used to supply water since ancient times, a few of us got into the waterfalls, actually, it was mainly the Norwegians I met there, none of the coach tour crowds, but, wow, they were really missing out, it’s such a relief to bring your body temperature down – at last, I remembered what it’s like feel normal – the heat makes you half dopey – (soporific ?).
Next stop, Qumran on the Dead Sea, the wierdest beach resort I’ve ever been to. The Dead Sea is 600 metres below sea level and 33% salt, and one tiny drop in your eye really stings and soon I was heading for the fresh water tap to rinse it out. I decided to put my sunnies on to avoid more slashes and floated around for a while with the two Dutch guys in our group chatting about how weird it is. It’s such a funny feeling with the ‘water’ pushing you up, putting your head under is totally out of the question, I’m sure. All my little cuts and scratches stung. I did the obligatory coat of the special soft mud they say is full of minerals, and now my skin is all soft and lovely – awww!

Tomorrow is my 21 hours of three flights to get home to Auckland, not straightforward flying out of Isreal, it’s Istanbul then Bangkok with stop overs of 4 hours then 3 hours, making it a 28 hour journey plus the usual security checks – oh, well. This may be my last posting.
Today I’m heading back to the Old City to see Gethsemane Gardens where according to some, Jesus spent his last night before being arrested – you know the rest of the story, but there are olive trees there over two thousand years old – well, my brother and sister-in-law have a field of them that are about 4 years old – and theirs are also doing very nicely.

Tel Aviv and Bethlehem #22

While having a coffee in Old Jaffa at the southern end of Tel Aviv, I asked the waiter to take a pic and he gave me the fez and a stick, and I tipped him a few shekels, very good coffee too.

Two big day outs – travelling from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv yesterday and Bethlehem in the West Bank today, all on public transport, sometimes going in the wrong direction but I get there, there’s buses going everywhere constantly. No point asking bus drivers anything many don’t speak English, all the signs are in Hebrew and Arabic, and it’s hot, but I’m in no hurry – it’s all a challenge. The main issue is which side of the road to stand on because the 72 bus, for example, goes in both directions, lucky for me people are very keen to help an old white geezer in shorts head off in the right direction. Everywhere looks like chaos when I exit the station or step off the bus, but there is a system to it all, I tell myself – it’s just that I don’t know what it is. Asking the price of food is often tricky, I often misinterpret 15 for 50 because they put the emphasis on the last syllable, fiff-DEE which sounds to me like fiff-teen, and lunch ends up costing me 50 shekels, because I’m used to hearing the emphasis for fifty placed the first syllable – which is about NZ$20 instead of $6 – so no big drama.
Tel Aviv is an energetic cosmopolitan city full of people from around the world doing business, shopping and hanging at the beach and there’s no hustle going on as far as I could see, although it was suggested I avoid one of the bus stations that has alot of ‘North Africans‘ hanging about.
So, getting back to the beach, you buy a ticket from a vending machine to hire an umbrella and seat that’s been set up on the beach, about $7 for ‘beach equipment’ as it’s called, but I didn’t use it. There’s fresh water showers, lockers for a 5 shekel coin and everything to drink and eat – it’s the Med, and yes, I did remember to bring my togs! I returned on the train to Jerusalem sitting with IDF guys holding machine guns, it all feels pretty natural, really.

Three buses and a tour through some new looking Isreali settlements and suddenly I’m in the West Bank in Bethlehem and step off the bus to have three Arab taxi drivers trying to do a deal on me – quite intense. It went from 50 shekel to 20 shekel as I walked away in the general direction of the Nativity Church, but soon I was sweeping down narrow ancient streets with a Palestinian cab driver. There’s a long line of people waiting about an hour to touch the supposed spot where Christ was born. I didn’t bother but I did manage to get a pic of them at the point when they exit after arriving at the sacred spot – I’ve really had enough of churches, it’s the cultural and street life that I’m more interested in. The walk back to the bus stop was much shorter than the taxi ride and a couple of hours later I’m back in Jerusalem having a nice cuppa tea in my little room in Rehavia.

The lovely cool, quiet and leafy district of Rehavia in Jerusalem

Jerusalem #21

A rooftop view across the Old City looking towards the New Gate showing a bit of the outer wall and the Temple Mount.

It’s true what they say, the women in the Israel Defence Force do have tailored uniforms, no baggy combat pants for these girls toting their machine guns. Fully armed police and IDF people are everywhere usually in groups of 3, 4 or 5 – they’re on the trams, at the tram stops, on the streets and they openly patrol the Muslim Quarter of the Old City – but ironically, it feels really safe here. I feel comfortable walking around in the evening. I entered the Old City via the Jaffa Gate, it’s a fascinating maze of narrow streets and alleyways opening out to little leafy courtyards. There’s food cooking and the usual shops of souvenir trinkets. I waited in line to go up to the Temple Mount, an area Jews are forbidden to go, and left via another exit to walk through the Muslim Quarter. After a few hours in this heat I start to get really tired and regardless of how much water I drink, my energy level drops, and it’s forecast for 32º tomorrow. I’ve figured out the trams, there’s just one line with them going both directions, and I bought a travel swipe card. Everyone is generally helpful with information but there’s so much to figure out and it’s hard to remember street names – but if I can find Ben Yehuda Street, then I’m generally heading in the right direction.
Today I went to Yad Vashem, the massive holocaust museum, quite impressive and very powerful, and every historical aspect is dealt with thoroughly including the basis for how it happened – going back hundreds of years. There’s lots of multi media and I listened-in on a few guided tours.
Travelling on my own makes it easy to chat with people. Coming out of the museum I suddenly realised how overwheling the experience is. You exit with a big view out across the countryside.
I’m glad I have the little Airbnb room in Rehavia District to come back too every few hours, it’s a really nice district and the owners are two ex-Londoners, a young Jewish couple with a baby who are planning to return to London because Israel has a low wage economy, they tell me, but their dream is to live in New Zealand.

Jerusalem #20

Although a little travel weary it’s so exciting to be in Israel. My first walk along Jaffa Street where the trams run from the train station and then up pedestrian-only Ben Yehuda Street was like arriving on a new planet. Holding trusty Google Maps in my hand I had been told to get a taxi but walking is always more interesting. First impression, a cross of first world and third world. The new train system from Ben Gurion airport near Tel Aviv was like the double decker RER in Paris but that’s where the comparison ends. All the signs everywhere are in Hebrew and Arabic, of course, with occasional English, and there’s no way I can decifer those characters – this is going to be a challenge. I pass-by the Hotel Zion, that looks like a nice place to stay. Other impressions; the place is a bit grubby there’s exposed wiring and plumbing hanging everywhere, there’s piles of trash, food is on open display, and just about all the males are wearing a kippah or yarmulke. After checking in to my AirBnB, the only one I’m doing on this trip, I went for a stroll, sat at a table in the square and ate a shawarma and visited the lively covered market alleyway of Mahane Yehuda Market where I bought some sticky baklava-style treats. There’s a real vibrancy in the air – and it’s hot, getting up to 30º, but the temperature has lowered now it’s the evening to 22º. It’s been a long day and but I’m excited about what the next six days will bring.

Rue des Martyrs #19

There’s a book by Elaine Sciolino called The Only Street In Paris about the Rue des Martyrs in the Montmartre, I haven’t read it but gather it’s an interesting place to go for an afternoon stroll. I took the Metro to Abbessess near the top and continued up the steps to Sacré-Cœur. The place was really crowded at 3.30pm and the restaurants in the little leafy square near the top are certainly doing good business. The Rue des Martyrs starts quite narrow and the prices are quite reasonable and as you go down the hill the shops seem to get more stylish and the prices for a main course keep going up. The street takes you through the Pigalle region and I walked along to the Moulin Rouge. One day Julia and I must go, it’s totally overpriced of course, 87Euro, NZ$144 for a seat up the back, and for the dinner, show & half bottle of bubbly it starts at 230Euro NZ$380 per person, $760 for a night out, and why not – it’s a beautiful room glowing in red and I see from YouTube the show is total razzamatazz cabaret – and it’s booked-out everynight.
I found a tea shop, Maison de Thé, and popped in as I’m running out of Assam. I love these shops with the big rows of tins. I paid 10Euro for 100grams, I know, $NZ16 for a little bag of tea – but everything is expensive in Paris except eating out if you bother to look down the side streets. On the other hand if you buy food to picnic with, from all the lovely boulangeries and chatueseries, it’s also really pricey, the only cheap way to go, I guess, is the supermarkets like Monoprix – but that’s no fun.
The most expensive coffee, a double espresso, I observed from a menu at the terrace cafe of the Louvre Museum, but didn’t have one myself, was NZ$12.50.

Paris #18

Policeman in bullet-proof vests on bicycles with tasers, Glocks, batons and cable ties.

Sensory saturation, I just can’t take any more, memory almost full, for someone who is interested in just about everything I’ve reached my limit. It might have been three days of racing from one side of Paris to the other but suddenly I realise I need a break. It occured to me at the Musée d’Orsay looking at the Van Gogh self-portrait and just thinking I need a coffee. At 11.30am there’s already a long line at the café and people are already lining up for the fancy restaurants that haven’t even opened – all this sightseeing is exhausting. I can understand how the package tourists feel, a quick stroll around the museum, lunch at 11.30am, buy some junk at the gift shop on the way out and head back to the hotel for a nap.
It’s 28º in Paris, just perfect for evening strolling but the forecast according to my phone is that it’s going up 38º and 41º this week – but I’ll be gone on Monday. But I’m heading for Isreal where it’s averaging 31º, so, a rest day here in this cool courtyard might be in order.
I must say that e-bike was perfect for getting around because of all the stop-start of city riding, but as soon as the lights change with one kick of the pedals . . it’s woosh, and I’m swept up to speed straight away instead of doing that awkward wiggly thing to get going – this is great. It cost me about NZ$40 a day to rent.
I played at the Le Tennessee in L’Odéon district that borders Quartier latin, great fun, nice people – seems Queen songs are the favs at the moment.
Visited the Père Lachaise Cemetery where Oscar Wilde and Jim Morrision are buried, massive place but very peaceful, not gloomy at all. And the perfect place to read a book seems to be Le Jardin du Luxembourg in the 6th Arrondisment that covers 23 hectares, with tennis courts and people playing pétanque, of course.

Paris #17

Riding around Paris on an e-bike is the best fun I’ve had. The traffic is frantic, scooters duck and dive around you, the cyclsts ignore the lights and the cars and buses toot and nudge one another – you need to look around constantly especially when circling the Arc de Triomphe – I love it.
La Villette has the canal pools where I went for swim and then back down the long straight Rue La Fayette to Opera to have a healthy low cost lunch at IKEA. Suddenly I’m on the big wide Champs-Élysées or Boulevard Haussmann. Some of the main roads are bumpy cobbled stones and there are cycle lanes everywhere but there’s also road works and construction creating bottlenecks – it’s a mess. The only reason I can travel this way is the phone on Google Maps clipped to my bag in the front basket and wearing my progressive glasses so I can read both the map and the street signs. Hurling along on e-power I briefly glance to see I’m passing by the famous Les Deux Magots cafe on Place Saint-Germain des Prés, completely full, of course, with tourists happy to be severely overcharged for the experience of sitting at a table where André Gide, Picasso, Fernand Léger, Hemingway, Sartre and Beauvoir once had their espresso.
Earlier in the day I took a 3 hour walking tour of the Marais district with our guide Léo, many parts still with elements of the medieval streets, ending with Place des Vosges and the old Jewish district. Got a slot at the open mic night at The Highlander cellar, I stayed for an hour and then cycled towards the Tour Eiffel along the Seine where people gather in the evening to hang out and drink at the Quai d’Orsay beside the river. People from everywhere have been drawn here and accept what it has become in mid-summer; a kind of charming chaos that works.

Paris #16

The Metro just has too many steps and not enough escalators, and after using it for two days I’ve had enough and hired an e-bike to get around Paris. The crowds at this this of year are staggering, the shops and restuarants are full, the streets are crowded, and compared with Berlin, it’s intense. I visited the Quai Branly Museum on Anne’s suggestion and later the Centre Pompidou that had an exhibition on Dora Maar, Picasso’s friend and muse and an artist in her own right.
I’m lucky to be staying with French people in a house with it’s own quiet courtyard off the street and situated over the road from the Champ de Mars and the base of the Tour Eiffel, incredible. I fulfilled a long ambition to have my birthday, July 14th, in Paris. The day starts with an endless military parade; the Legionnaires carry axes instead of guns and there’s a big fly over. The evening had a magnificent classical concert and the fireworks display went on for at least half an hour and included lasers, projections and spotlights and music – it must have cost millions. Earlier in the evening Elo took me to her favourite restaurant where Obama also went, apparently, the small La Fountain de Mars – still a family restaurant. On the way home we watched the fireworks and then once home we watched the concert on TV and I saw numerous soloists and opera singers, and the amazing Khatia Buniatishvili playing Rachmaninoff. click on the link to see the performance.

Berlin #15

Only four days and not enough time to do everything I planned. Must come back – Berlin is an edgy place but it’s relaxed too – everywhere you go there are people sitting drinking beer outside cafés and talking together – it’s a social place, there are people from all over the world – it seems to be a magnet for young people especially, the universities must be popular. Around every corner is a surprise, and that Hauptbahnhof (Central) railway station is an engineering masterpiece.
Now on a train that just departed from Koln and heading to Paris Nort. This Thalay French train not as fast and new as the Duesche Bahn DB that reached 199km/h for a while. An hour in Koln to eat bratwurst – there’s hot food everywhere as well as all the pastries you could want. In Berlin I used the urban public transport but I think bike is the way to go – it’s so flat. An E-bike would be ideal although the hourly rates would soon mount up. By absolute co-incidence my school mate Bill, his wife Bettina and their daughter Saki and her baby Arthur were in town – Bettina was origionally from Berlin, we had lunch at the Mokkabar in the nice part of Kreuzberg. They suggested I go to the Jewish Museum afterwards, it was nearby so I did, only to find there’s hardly anything in it, except the gift shop which had a ton of stuff – the architecture is magnificent . Finding I’m getting tired around 3pm because I’m getting up so early. Sharing a 4 bed dorm with 3 other women, two from Mexico one from Germany, they get lower cost rooms in a mixed dorm than in a female dorm, and end up with me. Everyone’s very polite and considerate.
The highlight last night was seeing the musical Cararet in a Tipi Am Kanzleramt, a stretch-tent venue complete wth a chandelier, we all sit at tables, it was a full house, very glamourous and the show was really superb, all in German, of course. I enjoy any music production if it’s done well. The band wandered around at interval playing like a gypsy band. Talking to the cast after the show I was encouraged to go to the real Kit Kat Klub – that would be something to see. But I never went to any of the big famous clubs nor any of the big galleries – maybe next time.

Berlin #14

Folk night at the Laksmi Bar in Kreuzberg.

Suddenly a whole new place far from the Baltic north; the gritty, graffiti streets of endless bars and cafes of a big city full of people – and those long German street names to grapple with. It’s my 4th language to deal with but it seems to be getting easier to remember names and places as I go along. Apart from the buses and trains I soon learn there are three forms of urban transport in Berlin; the S Bahn, which is the older raised-level network of trains, the U which is the Underground, and the M, the Trams. One ticket gives you 2 hours on anything long as you verify it in a machine to time stamp it – pretty easy.
But I start with a Bike Tour for six and half hours, absolutely fantastic with Matilde, a French woman who gives a very good summary of the history of the war and The Wall in a chalk drawing. We wander through the maze of the Memorial To The Murdered Jews Of Europe. Later that evening I use the Underground, (which actually goes over ground mostly), from Oranienburger StraBe, change lines to the Kruzeberg area and get off at Schlesisches Tor and walk a few streets to the Laksmi Bar open mic night. Apple Maps for the transport and Google Maps for the venue location seems to be a good system. It’s a dimly lit place with the smell of hash and a crowd that actually listens and seem to like that Cohen and Nico-style of folk music. Lucas, the host, gives a few of us one song each at the end the night and I give it my best shot, the only performer there who’s actually throws their voice, seems to go down ok. I leave for the Underground but at 11.30pm it’s shut and I share a cab with two others who also played at the Laksmi Bar, and get dropped off back to my hostel.
It’s interesting how the wifi at the hostel is not as good as the 4G and 3G on my phone. For example, I can’t access my Westpac account via the wifi but the mobile network is fine. The connectivity thing is the most important asset of all and I’m constantly charging and recharging both my phone and my power pack – I’m pretty well streaming two maps apps, auto-uploading pics, running a calender, storing tickets, emailing, WhatsApping, and reading guide books on-line continuosly – I’m a heavy data kinda guy <-;\

Tallinn #14

Leaving Tallinn and the Baltic with temperatures that about the same as they are Auckland at the moment, slightly warmer averaging 18ºC and about 12º at night, and heading south to where the temperatures are much higher and the crowds are bigger, in Berlin it’s 23º. When that wind from the arctic sweeps through it can suddenly drop to 12º in the day. Visited the Communist-era prison on the edge of town, pretty grim of course, ordinary people arrested and incarerated for no reason, just having the wrong ideas, or having someone in you family with the wrong ideas, anyone who owned land or worked in administraive role was suspect, it was a cruel regime and there is plenty to read as you walk through the place. The history of Communism continues well into 1968 and I remember being at University in Wellington in flats in the 1980s where people enthusiastically discussed the virues of Engles and Marx. It’s chilling when you think there has been about 90 million people who were casualties of Communist; 20 million in Russia, 65 million in China, 2 million in Cambodia, and then there’s North Korea currently adding to the totalitarian total. It comes from dogmatic and intolerate ideology that can not challenged and people get called out on any premise who may have no political allegiances at all. I see the activist left in New Zealand with similar intolerances, especially in the unversities where debates are closed down and speakers are banned because they hold ideas counter to their own – need to keep an eye on that stuff.

Tallinn #13

This is a pose up with Dimitri and Anastasia, both from Moscow, who played along with me at the Euphoria Hostel venue, Dimitri wanted to learn the chords for the outro of Hey Jude, (the na, na na, na na, hey jude bit), and Anastasia who played oboe and piano wanted to play Riders On The Storm, the Doors song that I used to know and I jammed along – it’s a cliché but true about how music is the international language.

On the Saturday a parade of the choirs leads off from the city centre to the showgrounds and it went on for hours with all the beautiful costumes. On the Sunday was the main event. I found a spot and stayed there for 7 hours from 2pm to 9pm with my pack of food and drink, binoculars and sunnies, and was completely enchanted. I had no idea what was going on because I don’t know a word of Estonian. There was a massed children’s choirs, a huge wind ensemble of about a 1000 players, an orchestral feature with what looked like three combined orchestras, a male choir, female choir and finally, all together with a 22,000 piece choir. Talking to people afterwards I learned the music is secular and non political and to my ears the music is quite sombre, it’s not ‘light pops’, and many of the songs date back to the middle ages, there are also premiers of new choral works. The song festival was initiated about 150 years ago when the Germans occupied Estonia and continued during the Communist period and is now a big national day with plenty of flag waving. The Estonians finally own their country and many of the older chorusers were very emotional, the big LED screen showed their faces – as a country they have been through so much to get were they are today. Interestingly, there were no soloists, it’s a people’s event, there are no star performers or celebrities apart from the conductors. This event happens every 4 years and I felt privledged to be a able to experience it.

Tallinn #12

Suddenly Tallin has become fascinating, what an amazing and tough history the people have endured here, at one time having to choose between supporting the Communists or the Nazis. There’s tiny shops and endless cafes and restaurants. I found a linen shop and thought of Linen Tea – must buy an embroided cushion case – but which one? Today I took the walking tour around the Old Town with Maria, our guide, a maths student and so articulate and knowledgable about everything. We didn’t go inside any of the churches and battlements, that’s for tomorrow. There are hoards of cruise ship people everywhere with two ships currently in harbour and they crowd everything out – fortunately they all go back to the ships at 3pm and the place is easier to get around. There are many people in town for the singing festival and this year is the once every five year extra big one. There will be 45,000 singers and an audience of 100,000, who also sing – that’s why I’m here. A procession leads off from the main square on Sunday morning and we walk to the festival site. A great meal out tonight at the Must Puudel restaurant down a tiny alley with Ken a New Zealander on an extended journey around the world, he’s been everywhere, man – plenty of stories and a good laugh, and we got the window seat.

Tallinn #11

The lovely Vete Kitchen in Stockholm is a well-known cafe I was planning to visit but only passed by on my last day but I had a quick glance at those delicious-looking creamy cakes as I rushed back to grab my bags to catch the flight to Tallin.

I was sad to leave Stockholm, it really has a nice atmosphere even though there is so much construction going on, the tree-lined streets are clean and safe, there’s no homeless and everyone looks healthy, and many indeed look quite stylish. Arriving in shabby Tallin my heart sank, why did I want to come here? The hostel was so hard to find being in a precinct of buildings rather than at a street address. The receptionist covered in tattoos looked bored and there were laminates of ‘the rules’ on the counter, nothing charming or welcoming like my hostel in Stockholm with pastries on the counter and free tea and coffee. I hated the room, not like the website pics at all, and I just wanted to check out next morning. But strangely, next morning I bumped into two New Zealand travellers in their 40’s. Frank said he was pretty happy with the place compared some of the dives he’s been to, and the other, Ben agreed and suggested I give Tallin a chance, ‘it will grow on you’. Everywhere there’s hard-looking Russian guys with severe haircuts taking loudly. The other hostels are in the Old Town, Ben said to check them out but they’re all a bit run-down in comparison, and a quick look at confirmed it with often-repeated comments about broken things and dirty facilities. At least this place was clean and modern if a little too functional
This morning I checked in for a 2.5 hour cycle tour, the sun came out and the Old Town started looking quite fascinating. Edmund, the young Russian guy taking our group spoke pidgin English with a heavy Russian accent, the others in our group were Dutch and Germans. Edmund tried but he didn’t know much about anything. I have met a few Estonians today and they were genuinely friendly and have the time to chat – they seem different. I found the local tea shop and bought some Assam and returned to my accommodation for a cuppa and a lie down. Only 5 days to go. The singing Festival is on Sunday, I’ll take the free walking tour tomorrow and next day I’ll get an electric bike to cruise to the old prison and the beach. During the commmunist era the Soviets killed a fifth of the Estonian population – I got a pic of myself by a statue of Stalin, now part of a sculpture garden. Estonia only became independent from Russian in 1992 but they still don’t feel entirely comfortable. The Old Town is actually quite incredible with surprisies down every little cobbled lane – it’s growing on me.

Stockholm #10

I thought it was a joke, placed in front of me a plate of warm raw mince-meat with a raw egg yolk on top. I wanted to experience a good restaurant meal to end my week in Stockholm and went to Broms in the wealthy Östermalm district.
Never wanting to be squeamish I tucked in. The menu had said Steak Tartare and I had imagined a regular grilled steak with tartare sauce. The waiter asked about my meal and I said, ‘Well, actually, I had sort of expected something different’. He immediately offered to replace it with an alternative at no extra cost, I accepted, and was given the classic Swedish dish of meatballs, mash, cucumber and lignonberries – delicious. The waiter was wanting to chat and I said I had observed the whole restaurant was full of middle-aged women, some wearing leopard print tops. He said that’s because they’re all cougars. The staff, apparently, refer to them, the Swedish equivalent of ‘latte-momas’. They come in the morning and stay most of the day – Broms was a well known hangout. The places you end up sometimes – crazy.
Earlier in the day I returned my hire-bike, did my last shopping, shipped a box back to NZ and took the Metro Walking Tour. All the underground stations have amazing commissioned artwork – they have been blasted out of solid rock and are enormous caverness spaces. There’s an even deeper new network of tunnels for the faster commuter links to distant suburbs – those Swedes, talk about investing in infrastructure – it must have cost them billions.

Stockholm #9

I wrote about the above images and was about to post when I was logged out by the wi-fi service at this hostel, grrr, so it all got deleted – too tired to do write all over so will do another day . . . suffice to say have managed to visit many of the places I missed last time I was here: Djurgarden Park, Skansen Village, National Museum, Vaxholm, and played at the cellar bar in Stampen with the groovy psychedelic light show on the cieling.