Where's Sam the Man

48 countries, 12 months, one man, half a brain

Name: Samuel Hathaway
Location: Roaming..., Germany

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Baltic States

The Baltic States -- an sweeping term that covers the distinctly different countries of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania -- have been some of the great success stories in Europe. Despite being squeezed by Sweden, Poland, Russia, and, most recently, the USSR, the peoples of these countries have maintained a proud national identity and culture that lead to their recent independence. Although young as independent nations (this is only the the sixteenth year of Latvia's independence) and left with a crumbling economy by their retreating conquerors, the Baltic States have risen to join NATO, the European Union, the United Nations, and have built up some of the fastest growing economies in Europe.

After taking a train from St. Petersburg, Russia, to Tallinn, Estonia, my father and I began our bike tour in the thick pine forests and wonderfully preserved old towns of these states. The unmistakable touch of communism is still seen, with stark grey cubes rising alongside medieval towers, but much of the historical towns still remains. Everything seems to be built on a charmingly miniature scale -- from the castle wall to the carefully-tended parks. It does not, like St. Petersburg, awe you with size and grandeur, but it does not overwhelm; you can wander the delicate gardens and cobblestone streets without a 20-foot stone giant swinging his dagger at you from a pedastel at the fortress gate. They are built on a refreshingly human scale, instead of that of gods and godesses that Peter the Great had in mind. The people take great pride in their countries, and one of of the first steps they seem to have taken after independence was to restore their cities to their former beauty. It took some fierce scrubbing to clean away the communist grime -- indeed, some still remains -- but the sparkle of Estonian, Latvian, and Lithuanian culture is beginning to show.

Although we biked and strolled boulevards in each country, our real experiance came in Riga, the capital city of Latvia. Rather than our ignorant strollings, we had the pleasure of a guided tour by the charming Miss Zanda Treija -- a native Rigan who actually became acquainted with my family in Montevideo, while she was staying with Paul and Sandy Thompson. She played the gracious host of two sweaty, spandex-clad bikers (people I certainly wouldn't want in my house), and lead us around her city. It's exciting to see a city in the midst of such a wonderful transformation: to see smog wiped from copper domes, Art Nouveou facades shining again, streets laid with fresh cobblestone, etc. Although there are still reminders of their difficult past, these brilliant monuments to prosperity, blooming throughout the city, gives evidence of the energy and enthusiasm of the Latvian culture. We not only saw this during our walk, but we had the opportunity of hearing it for ourselves from Zanda. She never tired of explaining her history, pointing out the present delights of her culture, and envisioning how her country would develop.

You can't help but leave the town full of admiration for Latvians' drive, and excited for what's in store for their country. At least, not if you had the guide that we had! To the Treija family: best of luck, and thank you for sharing your country with us!


Blogger Ginger said...

Is anyone besides me wondering how many times they went to the Baltic States?

October 3, 2007 3:02 PM  

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