Sunday, June 30, 2013


We took a night train from Chisinau, Moldova, to Bucharest, Romania. (Not to be confused with Budapest, Hungary.) and it's pronounced: Book-ah-rest. Long ooooo sound. Not like in book. Wow. This is why I don't write dictionaries.

Right. Train.

It wasn't too horrible. As soon as we stepped on, I felt as if I stepped into an Agatha Christie novel, and Hercule Poirot would be in the cabin next to ours. Everything looked uber vintage from the 40's or so, with original everything. And not in the up-kept way. And whoa, bonus, our window doesn't open. 

The train left at 4:35pm and arrived at 6am. And the driver/conductor?/(i was homeschooled) must have been Estonian because cars were almost passing us. Overall the ride didn't actually feel too long. What took forever was the border officials on both sides. For some reason they thought it was really weird that two American tourists went to Moldova for two days. You and me both, dude. No one I know at home even knew what a Moldova was until I explained. Nevermind why one would go to visit.

Side note: they say Estonia is the most recovered and prospurous country, from Soviet ruling. Yes. I can completely see that. And I would put Moldova as one of the worst. It's poor and shows immensely. But then random contrast with a huge five story shopping was strange to walk around and notice all the stores were pretty much empty. 
End side note.

But all was well, and we actually got stamps in our passports! One for exiting Moldova and one for entering Romania! This made us happy and receive yet more quizzical looks from the officers. We hadn't get one for Estonia or Belgium, and want as many as possible because they look cool filling up the pages. I mean, who wouldn't?

When our train pulled into the station 10 minutes early, we woke up pretty fast, threw everything into our bags, and motored out of there. (I've just been really wanting to use that word for a week now, sorry.) Now it's hard to adjust to yet another new country and language on a normal day. Now add: On four hours of sleep, and at 6 in the morning, AND while it's literally pouring buckets of water on your head and 30 pound pack.

Fast forward to 35 minutes later when finally some police officers (after asking three other people around the station) are able to tell us where we can buy our bus ticket.

An hour or so later we arrive at the hostel, completely soaked to the bone (which makes our packs 35 pounds with all that water weight. I love creating dramatic sympathy from you guys.) only to find the door locked. We had checked and they do have a 24 hour reception. Our dismay starts to roll off in waves.

...two minutes later I try PUSHING on the door and then feel very stupid when it opens right up. 

There is a bathroom inside the room, I'm happy to report! That just kind of made my day. And there is a shower in that same room too. *fistpump* and it's just a two bed room. Once again though, we have only seen one other guest in this four story hostel. I swear all the backpackers are avoiding us. Phineas and Ferb's grandfather (from previous hostel) is staying at another,more in the city; we had asked. He took a baxi, not a train. But we may see him around.

We did laundry: 

And the carrots at the grocery store here in Bucharest proclaiming their identity in eight different languages:

Some last cool views of Chisinau before we left:

Our train!

It's supposed to be sunny tomorrow. Hopefully. We want to explore!

Friday, June 28, 2013

Parts 1, 2 & 3

Part 1:

Some noteworthy quotes from the trip so far. I hope they're not too...inside-y? Just because we crack up when we remember them, doesn't mean you won't just roll your eyes. So I apologize in advance, just in case.

"The bananas are under *your* bed. Wait. That sounds weird." -Me

"I'm holding a head of broccoli, don't make me mad." -Me

"But what if they don't lock up their salt at night?!" -Tessa (regarding midnight airport teeth brushing.)

"That's ducking awesome." -Tessa

Ivan the Russian's wise words: "Nothing's hazardly."
Me: " mean by chance?"
Ivan: "Yes, that's it."

And our favorite so far, from the Tallinn Hostel about a booking question: "Excuse free revenge isn't present."

Well that clears things right up, doesn't it?

Parts 2 & 3:

We now have a theme song for our trip.
Thrift Shop. 
Mostly because no matter where we go, we always hear it. In a bus or airport, or hostel radio in the's not just in the US that it's popular. When a slide show of our trip pictures is made, it will be to this song. And I don't even love the song or anything. 

And we also have a motto.
"In Wifi We Trust." Now we are both in want of a necklace with the wifi symbol engraved on it. Kind of like people wear a cross? Yeah, it's gotten to that. Really though, wifi is our lifeline to figuring everything out, not to mention to update you like I'm doing now!

Bonus part 4:
What we are reading right now.
Tessa: Walden by Henry David Thereau
(Which just now adds another quote, really a cry of anguish, "Where's Walden??" When Tessa misplaced her e-reader. This led to a few minutes of us non-stop cracking up. 

Leah: I'm reading some Agatha Christie novels now. I still have 28 Hercule Poirot stories to go. But I'm going to start Dracula soon now that we are in Romania.

Bonus part 5: 
Fun fact! Romania's banknotes are made out of plastic instead of cotton or paper, like most countries. This is because at one point someone (maybe another country?) suggested changing over to plastic money, meaning more digital, credit cards, etc. but the Romanian bank took it literally and they changed it all to actual plastic money. Which is good for, like, rain. Or something.
A couple other countries that use plastic banknotes are Australia and Canada.


While venturing out to the train station today we stumbled upon a huge flea market thing. It was along a whole block, and about five rows. I didn't really take pictures because its not touristy at all and  I didn't want to bring attention to myself, but I have a couple on my camera. Tessa has a few on her iPhone that I'll post below. From silverware to used socks to watches to a bucket of nails, and don't forget the vintage My Little Pony thing, we were entertained for hours walking along and looking at everything.

So if the 80s went to Estonia (hm I don't think I ended up blogging about that before.) well then the 70s moved to Moldova. Talk about vintage clothes and stuff from that era. Tessa found a billion things she could potentially sell on her Etsy shop and it's all so cheap.

We haggled this down a bit with broken Russian and English. Was about $6. Now I'll really fit in when we get to Romania. People might think I'm the gypsy! 

And I also couldn't help but get some old paper money. Two of them are old Soviet Russian and one is Moldovan.  All for about $1.20. They're not in good condition or anything, but I collect it all the same. And bank notes are light, which is a bonus.

We wanted to buy everything. Tessa and I figured we could live off this place...not that we would want to live here. But it's so cheap for us, it's almost sad. 

Tessa thinks there will be huge garage sales/flea markets like this in Romania as well. Now we regret bringing any clothes at all, so we could authenticate our wardrobe here...alas...not enough room on our backs!

You can get the gist of it pretty well from those two pictures, actually.


Also! Slightly related. We're finally at a hostel that's legit, and there are books here! We found the only two English ones (as opposed to none before this) and grabbed them for the road. Sun Tzu's The Art of War, and a collection of essays by Umberto Eco. It's been a month since I've read a paper book...I need my fix!! :)

Thursday, June 27, 2013


Well. We made it with fewer mishaps than normal, which was nice. We are now in Moldova's capital, Chisinau. They speak Russian here. Once again. And all Tessa can remember in Russian is "dog" and "thank you" so it's gonna be super fun.

On the other hand, when we withdrew money at the ATM, we got 500 (their money) which is only like $60. So I feel really rich now. And everything is really cheap here, which is why we picked this route to Romania.

When we finally found the bus to our hotel from the hostel, it was on this rather dingy looking thing that we dubbed a baxi.

The ride cost about 50 US cents so yay there. The other guy who was on the baxi with us happened to be going to the same hostel, and he spoke Russian! He is from Sweden and spoke really good English. He was able to communicate with the driver, where to take us. Then after we got off the stop (Tessa had vague directions from the hostel site) we wandered around using Gustav's phone GPS and finally found the place.

Our reservation was originally for a private room with only our two beds, but once we got here and thought about how we've been glampacking antisocialites...we changed the reservation (which required just telling the guy at the front desk who's our age, that we wanted to change.) and now we are in a 10 room dorm! 
*update. Everyone left this evening, so we are all alone in here...well, we tried.

Front desk:

Now the mall ( incredibly punny) is only around the corner from our hostel, so we can shop easily! 

Here's Tessa's post upon arriving:

We only stay here two nights, and we overheard a conversation at the front desk that a bus to Bucharest is only $20 and I'm really liking that price..aaand we just heard that the bus is actually a 12 hour baxi ride...train it is then! I need a bathroom sometime in 12 hours, thank you very much.

And guys, you should google earth these places I'm mentioning, because they're even new names to me. It might give you some bearings to where in the world I am. :)

I've been gone almost an entire month now, what's up with you people at home?

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

On the road again.

You guys caught up now? I took a day or two off writing posts just so you wouldn't get too behind... (Not because I was lazy or anything.)

A few days of new places for us before we can hang out in one spot for a longer period of time.

After touring Tallinn for the day yesterday, we trained back to Pärnu on the slowest train ever (really, cars were passing us) and left this morning with some very sad goodbyes...Sandra's grandmother was pretty much crying as we left. Really, it was awesome staying there. Now we will miss our five traditional meals a day from our legit Estonian grandmother. 

Our bus arrived at the Riga airport (bad memories.....) and we took a city bus to the hostel. Which kinda sucks considering we have to bus right back to the airport in the morning to Chisinau, Moldova.

 On the corner near our hostel was a grocery store so we bought a jar of tomato sauce and a head of broccoli to go with our pasta we have been carrying around since Paris. We miss Estonia already. Have you gotten that impression yet? 

Now after cooking in an actual kitchen, not a hallway, we turned down an offer to explore downtown Riga with some very nice Spanish people. It's almost 9pm, and they seemed like genuinely nice people, but Riga is kind of known to be Amsterdam's younger sibling. We could tell they were as poor as us and wouldn't go all partying or anything but we really have no interest in Riga. It needs to make it up to us somehow. Maybe next time.

At this point, after watching them walk down to the bus stop together and out of sight, Tessa and I kinda looked at each other and thought, wow, we are really antisocial people right now. We've realized since we are traveling together, it's a level of comfort and "well I'm not by myself" so why would we need to interact with other people? 

This is a very bad state of mind to be in while backpacking Europe, obviously.

So we decided the next opportunity that comes across looking benign and interesting, we will probably take it. In the Crap Hostel of London, we did chat in the Hallway while making dinner, with an older Italian guy who was pretty funny, but other than small conversations with a few people, we haven't gotten to really connect with any other backpackers/travelers yet. We haven't needed to. So now it's time we two introverts start branching out.

From this point on, as far as we know, it'll all be hostels and maybe some couchsurfing. No more staying with friends. This will help, I think. Community kitchens and hang out areas of hostels are perfect for that kind of thing, right?
We'll work on it.


Some pics from the last few days:

We took a side trip to hell; here's the devil himself.

We took a hike in the woods outside of Pärnu and it was very beautiful. The woods turned into bogs at the end of the trail, before looping back. Lots of people swam, but since the bottom is unknown, we decided not to.

(Top of a random watchtower from ages ago. See where it gets light green? That's the bogs/marshy/swamp area.)

In Tallinn I had an orange cinnamon coffee at a small cafe, or Kohvik as it is in Estonian. There were actual slices of oranges in it. (In the background is Sandra's banana coffee)

This is some more of the food we miss:

Some chocolate cake thing, baked aubergine, and a radish sandwich. Their radishes are very sweet, like a dessert, and they don't find this out of the ordinary at all. YUM.

Egg and till (dill) on toast, which is what they call a sandwich, always open faced. And then a creamy oh-so-tasty soup that touched my soul almost as much as the  porridge.

(Mini strawberries, porridge one last time, yogurt to drink, and a carrot pastry) (and a walnut pastry in the middle, but we were too full to try by then....)

Ah, I will miss this toit. So much. So, so much.

Oh and this is from the website of the hostel we are at right now. Read: "squee!" .....mhm. Well they are nice.

Friday, June 21, 2013


Midsummer is a big deal here in Estonia. That's why we originally planned the trip around this week to be here, now.

Today we walked around with Sandra doing slightly touristy activities. It was pretty hot and humid, so we got our vitamin D in, making up for three weeks of rain following us. And we went inside buildings a lot. I got a pin, and a postcard to send.

Estonia, and other Baltic countries like Latvia and Lithuania, are known for amber. You can find it in any souvenir shop, and in stands along the street. It's pretty cheap too. I got some earrings and a ring today, for under 10 euro together.

There are a number of malls in town, and we wandered in a lot of them, observing everything, and Sandra kept laughing at things we took pictures of. We went into a bookstore that was pretty much a B&N. I started eyeing all the foreign editions of my favorite hard to resist....and I couldn't. I just found a book by my favorite author, it was in Estonian, and normally 15 euro but was on sale for 3 euro!!! How could I pass that up!? Well I didn't. Not sure how it's coming home yet. And I don't know a lick of Estonian or anything related to it, but it looks so cool!

Another place we found in the mall was a small science centre place, which was very odd, and we lost about 12 years of maturity while looking at things inside.

Also a cheese store! A whole store just for cheeses. We got to sample one that was 7 years old, one that tasted like pizza, and the one that won the world championship last year. Yup. It was actually really good cheese, too. Juustupood. Cheese shop.

By now it was about 8pm and the sun was still full blast in the sky. We wandered toward the opening festivals and there was a band playing near the water, fireworks off some boat..pretty neat. The weird thing was, everyone, the whole crowd, was just quietly standing there. It was so odd. Sandra kept apologizing for the laziness and lameness of her people, but we thought it was amusing. A big name band was even playing and people just stood and watched them without even moving to the beat at all. If you YouTube this, you will find the band and song:

Põhja-Tallinn - Meil On Aega Veel (Official HD)   

It's been stuck in my head all day now, but I really like it! Notice though, how non-expressive everybody looks. They're like that in real life, too. Estonians are just super low key here.

While waiting for the bus to come take us back home, an old woman came up to us. She started talking to Sandra in Estonian, and then...she started to sing to us. Sing! It was so random and cool! After she left about five minutes later, Sandra translated for us, what she said and sang. Apparently she took one look at us and decided we were young enough not to have "found a man yet" and she said there's still one for us: Jesus! Sandra even explained we were both atheist, but she said it was fine, there was still time. And her song was about God loving you, and Jesus loving you, and just lots of love. It was hilarious. We had no idea the whole time, and she was about 86 years old. After, she shook our hands and walked away. Very strange ending to the day.

A couple other words I learned in Estonian:

Thank you: aitäh (eh-tah)
Water: vesi (veh-shee)

The population of Estonia is only 1.3 million, and about 20% of those are Russians. Estonian is dying out because only about one million people speak it. I think it's very pretty looking and sounding, even though I have no idea what people are saying.

And also, did you know pretty much the whole country has wifi? Like everywhere?  That's pretty cool.

Food (Toit)

The main thing we have done here in Estonia, is eat. A lot. It is wonderful. Sandra's grandmother is magical. Every time we leave the kitchen, and come back like an hour or so later, there's another random and delicious meal waiting for us. Usually something traditional and we have no idea what it is.

Our absolute favorite food is porridge; it's pretty much the best damn food on the planet. You can put jam on it, or as Tessa did, Nutella. Or even plain. It's that good.

Toit is food in Estonian. Pronounced pretty much how it's spelled, long "i".

Piim is milk. Homemade apricot and strawberry jam, and porridge! I'm drooling as I write this. The only thing that made me go to sleep last night was the knowledge I would get some for breakfast.

(Tessa's Nutella porridge.)

See that covered plate above? This is what was inside. I thought it was meat but Sandra said it was red cheese. "Why is it red?" - "Well why wouldn't it be? It's red cheese." :)

The most interesting and, to use Tessa's word, "intense" pizza we have ever tasted. Sort of like a Chicago style quiche thing. Estonia is known for this restaurant. And there is a place among the tables where you can go get a plate of salad (coleslaw stuff) and a bread roll if you want. Very unique experience.

This is Tessa's favorite food, it's a kind of  a cheese spread, but not cream cheese. We still can't find a translation to it.

And after a long day of Midsummer, we come home to this on the table, strawberry over a kind of signature yogurt/cheese/stilll looking for translation/custard. And a surprise biscuit near the bottom. Yuuuum.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Pärnu finally! And food.

Sandra had gotten food ready for us, so we ate (porridge!! So tasty!!) and then slept for four hours, and then ate again. To wake us up, we explored the town with Sandra. Pärnu is very, to use her term, depressing. Our walk took about an hour and a half, and you can see the flats where Russians live, and the overall poverty of the town. It's a safe area, but there's just no money to renovate old buildings or build new ones. I'm learning a lot of history here, firsthand. I took some pics:

Tallinn Bus Station: in Estonian.

Look guys. Slippers for house guests!!!!!!

This whole area of the world kind of reminds me of back east. Maybe it's because I've never been to Northern Europe before. I like it a lot.

Tessa and Sandra looking to see if the Russian church is wasn't.

At the grocery store I bought some plum flavored ice cream!

Salsa nuts! Blue cheese nuts! I just love foreign packaging way too much...

Last day in Paris

Didn't rain...but it was cloudy. We had reserved this day to see the Catacombs before we left in the evening, but of course as soon as we walk up..."Catacombs closed 17 June - 19 June." Of course they open the day after we leave! Not cool. So that was sad. We sat there for a while trying to figure out what to do for three hours. I finally remembered the Military museum near a station, that had Napoleon's tomb.  (We usually had to plan things out before leaving our room, and wifi, since we didn't have a city map to look up places/attractions in particular.)

Took the Metro over there and walked a ways, and this place is huge! Cannons line the entrance and there is a great view  in all directions.

After wandering around for about an hour, we headed back to pack up for our train. But I did take a couple pictures on my iPhone, so here they are:

Hehe. In the Metro. Minions!!

Ha. Crooked and dark. Sorry. Impressive courtyard of the museum.

His tomb is on the other side, behind the glass.

No hats.

This seat in the Metro was missing, but I only noticed it when a guy came to sat down, then promptly yelled as he fell right through. 

I love how these just go on and on and on....

Welcome to....Latvia? (14 hours of hell)

Oh boy! Where do I begin. Today has been the most interesting and stressful part of this trip! Right now I'm on a bus leaving the Riga (Latvia) airport, and heading to Tallinn, Estonia. It's almost 1am. And this is how it happened.

We arrive at the Paris-Charles de Gaulle airport without mishap and plenty of time to spare. Our flight on AirBaltic is two different flights. Paris-Riga, then hour layover, Riga-Tallinn, our final destination.

Going through security is kind of different, they scan your boarding pass three different times, and a conversation pops up like this:

"Miss, do you have anything in your pockets?"

I realized earlier that this would probably come up, but I wanted to see what happened anyway.

"Yeah, my pant legs."

"No, anything in your pockets?"

"The rest of my pants."

See, I was wearing zip offs, and had put the pant legs in my pockets in case it got cold or rainy.

"Nothing in your pockets?"

"Nope!" I was cracking up by then. But the security guy just kind of smiled in a confused manner.

Past security, we eyeball expensive food, because our flight arrives in Tallinn just after midnight, and we will probably be hungry. While we browse for snacks suddenly the power goes out. Everywhere. My first thought: "Oh god, where are the zombies?"

Ten seconds later the power flickers on, and we look outside and see nothing, because a torrential downpour has started, and we can't even see the parked planes at the gates. Thunder is booming and the power flickers here send there. This goes on for about half am hour. We soon realize there is no way any plane can land in this weather, and sure enough the boards all read delayed. Much frustration.

Time passes. Our plane is able to land once the storm clears up an hour later, we board, and we are trying to figure out what we are going to to when we touch down in Riga...

An hour is lost when we land, and it's 11:40pm. The airport is very closed looking, but we stick with people from our flight. (By the way, there is apparently a Jehovah's Wittness conference in Riga, so we were surrounded by them on the plane. They have name tags and are easy to recognize.)

What we are thinking now is, since we missed our flight and (looking at the boards) the next flight to Tallinn is 9am the next morning...where's our luggage? We need our deodorant and toothpaste.

We are redirected to the baggage claim area by an AirBaltic representative, who says nicely "We will figure out hotels and flights for all of you, just go downstairs and get your baggage and then go to the ticket office upstairs."

After a few anxious minutes, we are happy to see our packs on the belt in one piece, and not soaking wet, and we head upstairs again. Unfortunately this time of night the immigration booth where you get your passport stamped, is closed... :(

Tessa and I are now excited by this mention of a "hotel" development, and this keeps us going, because we are already really tired.

Upstairs at the office with the dozen other people who missed their flight, the lady is working on getting everything in order so we are there for about 45 minutes. Finally she calls, "Tallinn, this way!" And heads outside. We are crestfallen when we spot the huge charter bus waiting on the curb.

I guess they figured it was cheaper to bus us all directly to Tallinn, than a hotel and put us on another flight (which is probably already booked) the next day. So what else are we to do at a deserted airport at one in the morning? We board the bus. 

A plane ride is only 40 minutes, but the bus ride is just over four hours. And the whole time we're facing where the sun is not setting, so that's weird too. Pictures below catalogue our journey, because it's easier that way.

Three hours in we realize we should have asked where the hell this bus is taking us. We only find out when our bus stops at Tallinn Airport and drops all of us off. Nobody from AirBaltic is there and they don't have anybody in the whole airport from the company to help us. They pretty much abandoned us there. Like, "See! We got you to the airport! Just 6 hours late!" 

By now our moods are more than annoyed. The best thing is to go to our hostel and see if we can sleep or something, because it's hard to think. At 5:30am on no sleep or proper meals from the last 12 hours. Carrying 25-pound packs.

The one silver lining of Tallinn: our taxi driver who got us from the airport to Hostel Tallinn 4 miles away, was very kind, sounded a bit Irish, and said to be careful in town, because he is a parent too, and worried for us. :) He also gave us a map of the town in German.

Once we actually got inside the hostel though, the reception was closed. Well. Tessa worked on getting her phone to work Internationally, and managed to call the number posted on the door. (This took about 30 minutes.) Upstairs there is some commotion, and this guy shuffles down the stairs past where we are sitting. He is half asleep but buzzes the reception door open and we try to check in.


We were supposed to check in the night before, at whenever our flight landed, so just past midnight. The guy says the dorms are booked for tonight, so we can't change our reservation. Thankfully we didn't put any money down so none is lost.

Tessa finally finds Sandra's phone number, (her pen-pal, whom with we are staying) and she is up! It's only 6:15 or so. Anyway she is happy to hear from us and tells us to go next door and take a bus to Pärnu, because she was about to leave for one to get to us.

For once, everything actually works out.

Murphy's Law happenings today:
-Catacombs in Paris are closed for something, for yesterday and today only.
-Zombie apocalypse almost begins.
-We miss our connecting flight by ten minutes.
-AirBaltic sucks.
-these aren't all Murphy's, but I'm tired as shit right now and can't think properly, but I want to write it all down before I forget, and think it was all a dream or something.

Okay now I am finishing this post in a most sleep deprived state, at seven in the morning, making our way to Pärnu, to Tessa's friend Sandra's house.

Want. Sleep. 


We often followed the guy with red hair, with all our confusing flight stuff.

In Latvia: Stopp is not spelled wrong for them. :)

It's very hard to sleep with the sun in your face. At 3am.

Arrival at Tallinn Airport.