Solo Travelling In the Baltic Scandinavian States and Russia
The mindset of a solo traveller is cut out of a breed not so common as ordinary. Their insatiable curiosity overturns every impossibility of any travel endeavor that they set their minds into. To solo travellers, impossibility is not an option. When the world says no, solo travellers say a big resounding "YES". Their minds transcend limitations and they are independent of the opinion of others and the consequences that may happen as a result of their wandering ways.The call of far flung seemingly unreachable places beckons them and propels them to think out of the box and creatively device unorthodox ways of accomplishing their travel goals. I'd like to believe that I am part of this elite group.I feel it in my pulse. It is in my bones.Solo travellers' belief system is so that their determination to see and conquer the world is unshakeable without doubt.Their minds skyrocket to uncharted territories far beyond your average Joe's perception of the world. Their focus is undeterred. You can trap a solo traveller into an abyss and he will find a way to get out and explore the world. You can't fence in solo travellers.They embrace impossibilities with open mind.To them,confronting impossibilities head on are all in a day's work and they are all part of the thrill.
The recent trip in the Baltic states was born out of insatiable curiosity to discover this untainted part of the world in my point of view. Finland was my first conquest on this trip. Prior to this , Finland was a complete unknown in my equation of travels. I imagined reindeers, Santa Claus and scores of endless ice sheets as far as the eyes can see. These images imbedded in my mind were carved out purely from travel readings and watching endless travel documentary films. Packing for clothes and necessities were based on these stipulations.The biggest surprise for me about Helsinki is that, it is a relatively big metropolis that can rival any cosmopolitan European city. There is an extremely reserved demeanor in its populace but nevertheless accommodating and helpful.You can approach them for help and they are willing but they keep and guard their distance.At first this was mind boggling to me, coming from a vibrant culture where friendships are forged with ease and almost hard wired into our genetic make up.The world where I come from is a playground of happy and easy relationships. It is inconceivable for me not to say hello to a person I meet in the streets. After thorough and simple common sense examination, I came to the conclusion that it must be the Finns' exposure to extreme subzero weather temperatures that keep them isolated from human contact thus their concept in forging relationships maybe totally different from my own. Finland is extremely safe and crime is kept at a minimal level. Another surprise when I landed in Helsinki Vantaa airport was its warm summer temperature which rendered the winter clothes I packed unusable.Helsinki is not given the recognition it deserves as a travel destination by the travel industry. There are definitely merits why there should be.My unfounded presumptions about Helsinki were immediately put to a halt when I began to walk and explore its beautiful, refreshing and extremely safe streets.
We learn from the characters we meet in our travels. And traveling solo, we tend to meet more interesting people than if we were with others. Traveling solo, we’re not focused on a companion, caught up in their needs and conversation with them. No, we’re following our interests, pausing to engage with interesting people who are eager to engage with us. They may do so because they want us to enjoy their city or just for the joy of meeting people from elsewhere or even perhaps because they want to ensure that we are safe.So true about the people you meet while traveling solo. I have just met Alex a young man from Latvia and a university student in Helsinki studying to be a Phd in Music Composition. Alex is also staying the same house I am staying.Very interesting young man who is also polyglot.Speaks 5 languages fluently and all learned through the internet but never been to any of the countries that speak the languages he speaks.Needless to say, I immediately put my French into overdrive and chatter away with Alex in my version of French Parisian accent.I sound delusional but in my little mind ,speaking French in my level, however imperfect it is, is my only little claim to fame.You bet,my 15 minutes is up. Real Parisians are not going to be amused by my claim.
I have been asked many times by many people if there is a danger in travelling solo especially for a woman.I have done solo travelling on several occasions over the 25 countries and 3 continents I have visited , even to places uncommon for women to go it alone. I have yet to encounter a situation wherein my safety had been compromised or threatened. Just the opposite, I have met wonderful people who had become friends along the way.I have been invited to their homes, ate with them, met their families and slept in their beds.Had I had a companion in these travels, I believe I might have missed opportunities to meet these wonderful people and wonderful opportunities that only solo travelling can offer.If you have the free spirit and allow the wind to guide you to where you go ,no personal agenda to follow , travelling solo is definitely the way to go.It takes a different mindset to pursue solo travelling and it takes a different kind of gut to convince yourself that the world is not a scary place to explore.Down the line,you begin to associate with like minded individuals whose interpretation about the world rhyme with your own. You can dream big when you travel solo and the only limit is your imagination.Personal experience tells me so.
So Helsinki, I came and I conquered.I settled into a comfortable home in Sipoo ,30 kilometers outside of Helsinki which I found in AIRBNB.com. Part of solo adventure is finding accommodations in out of the way and undiscovered places. Thanks to AirBNB. Hunting for nontraditional places to stay is a lot easier and more accessible now. I no longer have to be confined to big city accommodations which I am not too keen about as that takes the fun in travel adventure.I prefer smaller out of the way places where locals live to immerse myself in the culture and ways of life. Hello tree houses and igloos! Hahaha!!!! You're on the list. Finland,as I came to know, used to be a Russian occupied frontier ,thus the Russian influences in the architecture that dot the Helsinki landscape. When my hospitable Finnish hosts Antii and Paivii picked me up from the airport and driving through the wheat and barley fields in the countryside, I immediately felt that Sipoo feels like the backwaters of old Russia. The Finnish language has a resemblance with the Russian language. Finland, like most of the Baltic states which are surrounded by water, thrives on the ship building industry.Here,the first icebreaker ships that cut through ice sheets in the polar circle for scientific research expeditions were built and continue to be the main thoroughfare for this industry.I took a lot of nature walks here in Finland, ran and jog through its forests, walked by its lakes and cruised on its straits.Finland, in my opinion, is underrated as far as its worthiness as a travel destination.It has a lot to offer to occasional tourists and professional travellers alike.
FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE
Continuing on to this Baltic adventure, I set out to sail to Saint Petersburg,Russia through St Peter Line cruise ship Princess Maria .Since I was a child growing up in the Philippines and watching Dr Zhivago reruns, Russia in general, was always a far flung place, unreachable in my young mind.The images in this movie shaped my desire to visit it one day.There was a certain romance and fantasy that were locked in my mind when I think of Russia.It is for this reason why I wanted to experience it.That day has come.When my cruise ship finally approached St Petersburg harbor,I felt a sense of fulfillment.So, this is Russia and this is St Petersburg.Will I meet Dr Zhivago ? Probably not but nevertheless I was not disappointed.St Petersburg is a living museum par excellence.Visiting the Winter Palace of Catherine the great was mind boggling and mesmerizing both.I could not fathom how could someone like Catherine The Great live in obscene gothic opulence when the whole of Russia was in turmoil and was waging a revolution to capsize her for her hideous anarchic rule? But this was a different time.The laws and ways of governance in this period is something I will never fully understand as a citizen of the 21st century and a resident of the free world.Thrones,serfdom and nobility by bloodshed are remnants of history that have to be fully explained to the people living in this present age. Nobility has definitely served it purpose and it is best that it is left at where it ended. One thing that definitely stood out in my experience of St Petersburg is the stoic and rigid personality of the Russians. This is a country where smiles are not welcomed but frowned upon and pleasantries do not seem to exist in their daily life. I felt like I was always being watched by the KGB and always kept my guard. At the passport border control, I was interrogated with questions like: what is the purpose of my visit, how did I arrive there, how many days am I staying, what hotel am I staying, how much currency did I bring and I have to produce my travel itinerary to the letter. Visiting the Hermitage Museum and the Winter Palace was another plethora of rules I should follow. No thick coats worn, no professional cameras with tripods, leaving my purse with my passport, credit cards and my money in an open cloak room. Well, traces of Marxist Lenin is definitely still alive here in St Petersburg or the whole of Russia for that matter. And I thought Communism is dead .In my perspective, this is still modern day communism disguised as a free world. These restrictions imposed to an honest to goodness simple traveller like me put a damper in my visit to St Petersburg. I am an American and Americans do not treat Russians they way Russians treat Americans who are visiting Russia.Interesting fact aboard the Russian cruise ship Princess Maria.An on board cultural entertainment was a mix of American 60's music, Kirov Ballet performance,part gymnastic, part ballroom and part pantomime. The ballet was flawless,the ballroom dancing was impeccable but a slew of Frank Sinatra,Tony Bennet and James Brown renditions? I still have to figure out that one.
COME TO TALLINN,ESTONIA
When I decided to visit Tallinn, I never really know what to expect nor do I know anything about it.The only fact that I know is that it is a breakaway state following the capture of the Bolshevik Russia.Arriving in Tallinn by the Viking Express ferry, I was pleasantly surprised how quaint the town is. It looks like this is what fairy tales are made of.It felt like time stood still.The cobbled stone streets, red turrets , orthodox dome churches,the church steeples,the red roofs all bear the fragments of a rich unforgotten history.I believe parts of it has been restored from the original but the whole town makes you feel like you are gliding through the golden age when life is graceful , peaceful and beautiful.It did not take long for me to love Tallinn.I walked its cobbled stone streets, climbed its steep hills and admired its wholesome beauty which seemed to be untouched by modernity,ate at its restaurants and shopped in its souvenir stores.Russian influences are evident everywhere in its architecture.Very quaint little town that you can explore in a day just by walking.
This adventure trip to the Baltic States was of mixed emotions. Part thrill and part critical thinking. However,this will not deter me from mapping out for the next adventure. Where to next? I see Pluto on the cosmic horizon.Any takers on this? Hahaha.Voluntary solitary confinement in a Buddhist monastery in Myanmar in February is a more realistic goal. Happy travels.