Hi from Rick: Get out there, listen and learn
|Estonians can tell you stories about their lives "back in the USSR."|
I've spent this past month asking, listening and learning my way across Northern Europe in an arc from Bergen to Tallinn. During the 2-hour boat ride from Helsinki to Estonia, it struck me how great an impact a relatively small stretch of water can have on people's lives.
The Baltic Sea separates Sweden and Finland from Estonia. And the struggles of the last couple of generations couldn't have been more different on those two shores.
Traveling to Estonia is an eye-opening addition to any Scandinavian visit — especially if you connect with the people and listen to their story. Here are a few 'back in the USSR' perspectives I picked up from my Estonian guide, Mati.
With Finland a rabbit-ear distance away, Estonians were about the only people in the USSR who could pull in Western TV shows during the Cold War. Mati remembers when the soft porn flick, "Emmanuel," was showing on Finnish TV. No one here had seen anything remotely like it. There was a mass movement of people from the countryside north to be within rabbit ears' reception of Helsinki TV. Nine months later, the country experienced a sudden spike in births.
Mati would ask his grandmother, "Where has grandpa gone?" She'd answer, "He's a tourist in Siberia." That was the standard answer to shield little kids from the hell they were living in. He later learned that his grandma had kept a packed bag under her bed for the visit from the local police that she dreaded and half-expected. We all live with stress and anxiety...but imagine living 50 years with that kind of daily fear.
In Mati's youth, one-sixth of the world was technically open to travel for Estonians (the entire USSR) but there was no way to get a plane ticket or a hotel. All recreational boats had been destroyed because they were considered potential "escape vehicles." So one-sixth of the world was a prison.
Millions of people living in Estonia, Lithuania, Ukraine and the rest of USSR had a passion for travel. I had friends there who seemed to know London as well as I did...but only through books.
We are blessed to be free and affluent enough to travel if we want. That freedom and opportunity is most clear when you share a meal with people who could only dream about it.
In this month's Travel News we'll do our part to nudge your travel dreams into reality with articles on becoming a temporary European, cruising in Scandinavia and experiencing Europe with your taste buds.
The world is a story and you are part of the plot. Don't take it for granted. Get out there, listen and learn. Then pass it on.
P.S. If you've never been able to see any of my lectures 'live', my 'Travel as a Political Act' lecture is now available for free in 4 to 5 minute clips at YouTube and iTunes.