Even before I started out on my life as a nomad I didn’t watch much television. Still, when a friend of mine recommended I watch the new show “Vikings”, a surprise hit for the History Channel, I couldn’t resist the chance to get some free entertainment that I could pass off as education. I was even more delighted when the first scene of the first episode featured mass carnage in what it described as the Eastern Baltic, the part of Europe I’m exploring now.
The Baltics have come a long way in the last thousand years, but the region – now made up of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – is still largely unknown to the rest of the world. I’ve been lucky enough to explore these out of the way countries lately and after a winter that lasts six months, it’s an exciting time as spring is finally making an appearance.
In fact, for those of you living farther away from the Earth’s poles – and that should be just about all of you (except my lovely Scandinavian readers) – it’s hard to appreciate just how shocking the shift from four-hour days full of frozen darkness to 20-hour days full of warm sunshine truly is. Actually if there is one thing that seems to unify this region, aside from strong feelings about the former soviet occupation, it’s the powerful presence of the seasons.
With populations roughly equivalent to the Bronx, Queens and Brooklyn, it’s not too surprising that the area isn’t particularly well known. After all you’re more likely to meet someone from New York than all three of these countries put together or, to put it another way, for each Estonian on Earth you have roughly one thousand people form China. That makes this region among the most exotic places in Europe and a perfect out of the way place for me to explore.
Despite the region’s relatively small population, it benefits from an amazing diversity, both linguistic and cultural. Estonia is one of four non-Indo-European languages in Europe (for the curious the others are Finnish, Hungarian and Basque) and Latvian and Lithuanian are the closest existing relatives to Sanskrit, the ancient, holy language of India. With a fascinating influx of Scandinavian, Germanic and Slavic culture mixed into the existing local culture, the area has plenty to offer. All that and the region remains largely unspoiled by the flocks of tourists that frequent much of the rest of Europe.
This diversity means that each country will need a post of its own, but as most people lump the three countries together, probably because they all regained their independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, I thought I’d give everyone a chance to hop on Wikipedia and see where I am before I dived into the details. In fact, as is so often the case, I won’t be handing out to much general information about the area, rather just a small peak at some of the strange and beautiful things that I’ve enjoyed.
“To move, to breathe, to fly, to float,
To gain all while you give,
To roam the roads of lands remote,
To travel is to live.”
― Hans Christian Andersen