Autumn Equinox, Hot Chilli and a Round-the-World trip through The Baltics

“Monsieur is going to leave ‘ome?” “Yes,” returned Phileas Fogg. “We are going round the world.”

“…why, I’ve just this instant found out… that we might have gone around the world in only seventy-eight days.”

Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne

Google search: London to Tallinn (return)

Walk to Putney Bridge Station
Take District Line to Victoria
Gatwick Express to Gatwick South Terminal
Air Baltic to Riga, Latvia
Taxi to Hotel (overnight in Riga)
Walk to coach station, Riga.
Coach to Tallinn, Estonia (4hr, attend wedding, overnight, wonder round walled city)

Ryanair return flight cancelled

Fly LOT Airline to Stockholm, Sweden
Fly SAS Airline to London (flight delayed in Sweden for 2 hours – hang around)
Piccadilly Line London Heathrow to Hammersmith
Taxi home (too tired to eat, so crawl into bed)

This, courtesy of a friend with a sense of humour.
50 flights per day cancelled. Some cancellations last minute (case in point – us). Some 400,000 passengers grounded. Ryanair has caused a bit of a stink in the airways lately.

We went to a wedding in Tallinn and threw in a round-the-world trip! This fly-by weekend ‘break’ was my first visit to the Baltic States.

Estonia is small, neat country in the Gulf of Finland. It’s Northern European, predominantly white, has a ratio of 2.19:1 women to men, has 2,222 islands and islets in the Baltic, invented Skype, has the highest adult literacy rate in the world (99.8%), a declining population, lots of space and enjoys the non-olympic sport of Wife Carrying!

Riga, capital of Latvia, has, over the past 500 years been occupied by the Poles, Swedes, Russians, Soviets, Germans, Soviets, Germans, with some independence thrown in here and there. There is a Soviet feel about the people most speaking Russian as a second language.The city is colourful, clean, cobbled and architecturally beautiful. The food is fishy (in a good literal way).

It’s the Autumn Equinox. Back at home Hubby and I attended the annual Chilli Fest at our local allotment.

I eyed a bowl of milk chocolate squares beside a tray marked ‘extreme’. “Try the Bahamas Goat,” said the man chopping chillies. He indicated a finely-chopped orange variety. “What’s the chocolate for?” I asked. “You’ll need the chocolate after you’ve tasted the Goat,” he smiled. Hubby was already on his 3rd tasting from the ‘extreme’ tray. “This one gets you in the throat,” I heard him say, his face red and tears in his eyes. I passed him the chocolate bowl. All in all a lovely torturous hour spent among some of my favourite colours of the season.

P.s. Question: Why are there only 3 countries called ‘The Baltic States’ when there are 10 countries on the Baltic Sea? Answer: I don’t get it!
P.p.s. Estonian is a language for which I have absolutely no reference. We could not discern a single word at the wedding or the reception.
P.p.p.s. At the wedding reception in Tallinn we sat next to a famous Estonian mezzo soprano (that’s opera ;)). A  little star-struck, we Googled her when we got home: Helen Lokuta.
P.p.p.p.s. We returned to Riga the following weekend for the opening of the Latvian Biblical Centre. We have been supporting the reclamation/rebuild of this 4 story building for 5 years. Once a Bible College attended by Evangelist William Fetler (1883-1957), it was captured in 1940 by the Soviets and turned into apartments. It was left to ruin. Now it has been returned to it’s original purpose.
P.p.p.p.p.s. One more country to visit in the Baltic – Lithuania. But for now it’s #homesweethome
P.p.p.p.p.p.s. Incidentally, we did work out that the Estonian word for ‘shop’ is ‘pood’: ‘Teepood’, ‘Linenpood’, ‘Suveniiripood’ etc.

Russia part 4: Moscow: Power, Politics and Patriots

“You must remember that there was virtually no air travel in the early 1930s. Africa was two weeks away from England by boat and it took you about five weeks to get to China. These were distant and magic lands and nobody went to them just for a holiday. You went there to work. Nowadays you can go anywhere in the world in a few hours and nothing is fabulous anymore.”

Boy: Tales of Childhood by Roald Dahl

The Russian Federation
Seems I’ve not covered much ground in the Russian Federation.
Midnight. Every now and then a sharp whistle and a flash or two of light illuminated the cabin from the crack in the window blind. I lay on my narrow top bunk in a state of semi-sleep. The train rolled south, the clank and blatter of machinery somehow peaceful. I slept. Smoked fish, pine forests and icons visited me in my dreams all the way to the capital.

Moscow. A city of squeaky-clean-newness, works-like-clockwork-efficiency, labels and bling.

Why? Like every proper W.A.G., Moscow has found a perfectly good reason for a make-over –  FIFA World Cup Football 2018. Continue reading Russia part 4: Moscow: Power, Politics and Patriots

Russia part 3: Karelia: Petrozavodsk, Taiga, Kizhi, Valaam

Onego Lake Embankment, Petrozavodsk

“For this I weep all my days
and throughout my lifetime grieve
that I swam from my own lands
and came from familiar lands
towards these strange doors
to these foreign gates.”

The Kalevala by Elias Lönnrot

The train stopped. The announcer spoke first in Russian then in English. Five minutes, she said. 10:37. I looked out the window. Travellers poured out onto the platform and lit up. Venders met them with trays of smoked fish and wild berries. I watched smokers cough into their berry breakfasts and then rush back onto the train. It jerked back into action, leaving the sleepy hollow of Svir. 10:42. Five minutes exactly. Continue reading Russia part 3: Karelia: Petrozavodsk, Taiga, Kizhi, Valaam

Russia part 2: Saint Petersburg

“Red wine with fish. Well that should have told me something.

From Russia with Love by Ian Fleming

Our first view of Saint Petersburg (pronounced Sankt Pyterborrg or just Pyterborrg by Russians) was from the window of the Meteor (hydrofoil vessel) from Peterhof. A cheerful, high pitched woman’s voice shrieked and crackled over the loudspeaker in Russian – no doubt telling us the mysteries and wonders of Saint Petersburg. However, the Meteor was packed full of Chinese tourists and we three auspicious caucasians squished like sardines in among them.

Nobody had any idea what she was saying. Continue reading Russia part 2: Saint Petersburg

Russia Part 1: Pavlovsk, Pushkin and Peterhof

“If so, better let him be named after his father. His father was Akaky, so let the son also be Akaky. Thus it was that Akaky Akakievich cam about. As the child was being baptised, he cried and made such a face as if he anticipated that he would be a titular councillor.”

The Overcoat by Nicholai Gogol

A South African in RussiaIt seems that Putin and Zuma have formed an unholy alliance. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. I hear your groans. I see your rolled eyes.

But there is a silver lining.

As of 31st March 2017, South Africans have visa-free travel to Russia and Belorussia.  If you itch to travel the world and experience different cultures, now is your chance. Go! Go to Mother Russia! Continue reading Russia Part 1: Pavlovsk, Pushkin and Peterhof

Lacking the creative juices

“There are books of which the backs and covers are by far the best parts.”

Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens

The great artist in the sky is poised, pencil in hand, en train de dessiner.

He is drawing me.

Imagine the cartoon me. I’m sketchy and one-dimensional at present. I sit on a park bench along the Thames in the shade of a great plane tree. Millions of bottoms before me have sat on this very bench. Seagulls fly and cry high above me. Ducks drift past on the tide. I sit. I stare. Continue reading Lacking the creative juices

A schvitzing summer

“As I sat in the bath tub, soaping a meditative foot and singing, if I remember correctly, ‘Pale Hands I Loved Beside the Shalimar,’ it would be deceiving my public to say that I was feeling boomps-a-daisy.”

Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit by P.G. Wodehouse


I love a good transferred epithet. I spent a restless night. I hauled my embarrassed bikini out of the cupboard. It’s happy hour.

They say a lot about my life.

Today this schvitzing summer was broken a little by a cool breeze and some welcome rain (did you see what I did there?). Many South Africans dub England ‘Mud Island’ and complain constantly about cold wet weather …

But Hubby will tell you that’s all lies and propaganda. Continue reading A schvitzing summer