A GREAT NIGHT OF SLEEP IN -5C???? YEP!Jukkasjärvi’s Ice Hotel exists just 4 brief months out of every year. The nearby Torne River is relieved of tons of its ice, which is then used along with well over 30,000 tons of snow to form the ethereal exterior structure, central supports, shimmering rooms and infamously surreal ice bar. At the end of the spring, what remains is recycled and stored for next year’s incarnation — which is just one of several eco-friendly efforts (including self-generated renewable energy) that add to the hotel’s carbon negative aspirations that they intend to achieve by 2015.
This week we introduce…..ESTONIA
Estonia is a Baltic state in northeastern Europe. It has land borders with Latvia and Russia. With a coastline on the Baltic Sea and Gulf of Finland, Estonia also has sea borders with Finland and Sweden.
Estonia is a Baltic gem offering visitors the chance to see an ex-Soviet occupied country that is now part of the European Union. Traces of the Soviet era are still there to be seen — e.g. Paldiski, a deserted Soviet army base that was once off-limits to Estonians themselves, can easily be visited on a day trip from the capital, Tallinn. Tallinn’s medieval old town was built by the Germans in Middle Ages and is in magnificent condition, with the medieval city walls and towers almost completely intact and it rates as one of Europe’s best medieval old towns. Glorious beaches pepper the extensive coastline, although the swimming season is short. After all, the Baltics are not renowned for warm weather - something that any visitor to Estonia must be aware of — the summer is short and the winter is severe.
After 7 centuries of German, Danish, Swedish, Polish and Russian rule, Estonia attained independence in 1918. Incorporated into the USSR in 1940, it re-gained independence in 1991 through its Singing Revolution , a non-violent revolution that overthrew an initially violent occupation. Since the last Russian troops left in 1994, Estonia moved to promote economic and political ties with Western Europe. It is now one of the more-prosperous former Communist states, enjoying a high-tech environment, an open and liberal economy and a transparent government system. On the other hand, it is faced with a fairly low (but growing) GDP per capita (in a European Union context), as well as a very low birth rate, which is creating a population decline. Between 1991-2007, the country saw rapid economic expansion, leading it to be among one of the wealthiest and the most developed of the former Soviet Republics. However, its economy was badly damaged during the ongoing global recession, although more recently, it has been recovering quickly. In 2011, the Euro was adopted as the official currency.
Since accession to the EU, Estonia is becoming one of the most popular destinations in North-Eastern Europe with (EU highest) 30% growth in the number of visitors in 2004, according to Eurostat.
- Tallinn — capital city with an enchanting medieval core
- Tartu — Estonia’s second-largest and oldest city, intellectual hub famous for its universities
- Haapsalu — seaside resort town
- Kuressaare — home of the Kuressaare castle
- Narva — the easternmost point of the mainland European Union
- Rakvere — known for its castle ruins and unique character
- Pärnu — historical resort seaside city with a small harbour, Estonia’s summer capital
- Valga — border-town with Latvia
- Viljandi — home of the annual Viljandi Folk Music Festival
The official language is Estonian which is linguistically very closely related to Finnish. At the same time many in urban areas (especially younger people) speak English well. According to the Eurobarometer poll of 2005, 66% of Estonians can speak some Russian. This does not include native-language speakers. Russian is often described as Estonia’s unofficial second language and 50% of Tallinn natives speak Russian as their native language. Thanks to heavy tourism and TV broadcasts from the other side of the gulf, Finnish is also spoken quite well by many people in Tallinn, the capital. German is taught at school in Estonia and a large number of people can speak some (22% according to Eurobarometer).
There is a large Slavic minority, particularly Russian and Ukrainians (some 25%).
Later this week…
- Estonian food
- Getting around Estonia
- Estonian currency and the cost of travel
- Top sites in Estonia
- Cruising to Estonia: just one day to see it all
Although the smallest of the Baltic countries, Estonia (Eesti) makes its presence felt in the region with its lovely seaside towns, quaint country villages and verdant forests and marshlands, all of which set the scene for discovering many cultural and natural gems. Yet Estonia is also known for magnificent castles, pristine islands and a cosmopolitan capital amid medieval splendour. It’s no wonder Estonia is no longer Europe’s best-kept secret.
Travelling in PNG can be challenging. With almost no tourism infrastructure and limited information available in books and on websites, it can feel like you’re stepping into the great unknown. But this is exactly why travellers find this country so compelling. Nothing is contrived for tourists and every experience is authentic - even the main island of Bougainville is a largely DIY travel experience. The striking natural beauty and myriad complex cultures offer some riveting and truly life-affirming experiences. The island of New Guinea, of which Papua New Guinea is the eastern part, is only one-ninth as big as Australia, yet it has just as many mammal species, and more kinds of birds and frogs. PNG is Australia’s biological mirror-world. Both places share a common history going back tens of millions of years, but Australia is flat and has dried out, while PNG is wet and has become mountainous. As a result, Australian kangaroos bound across the plains, while in PNG they climb in the rainforest canopy.
For a glimpse into PNG’s fascinating tribal cultures, the Highlands is where you should head (the town of Tari is a good place to see traditional Huli wigmen), while the Central, Oro & Milne Bay Provinces are home to gorgeous reefs and historic wartime sites - including the country’s foremost attraction, the Kokoda Track. Also part of these eastern provinces, and about as far off the beaten track as you can get, the D’Entrecasteaux Islands are like the land that time forgot, mountainous, jungly and totally undeveloped. The gritty capital Port Moresby, on the other hand, is big and sprawling and even a bit intimidating until you get under its skin and see past the bad press.
PNG is one of earth’s megadiverse regions, and it owes much of its diversity to its topography. The mountainous terrain has spawned diversity in two ways: isolated mountain ranges are often home to unique fauna and flora found nowhere else, while within any one mountain range you will find different species as you go higher. In the lowlands are jungles whose trees are not that different from those of Southeast Asia. Yet the animals are often startlingly different – cassowaries instead of tapirs, and marsupial cuscus instead of monkeys.
The greatest diversity of animal life occurs at around 1500m above sea level. The ancestors of many of the marsupials found in these forests were derived from Australia some five million years ago. As Australia dried out they vanished from that continent, but they continued to thrive and evolve in New Guinea, producing a highly distinctive fauna. Birds of paradise and bowerbirds also abound there, and the forest has many trees typical of the forests of ancient Gondwana. As you go higher the forests get mossier and the air colder. By the time you have reached 3000m above sea level the forests are stunted and wreathed in epiphytes. It’s a formation known as elfin woodland, and in it one finds many bright honeyeaters, native rodents and some unique relics of prehistory, such as the giant long-beaked echidna. Above the elfin woodland the trees drop out, and a wonderland of alpine grassland and herbfield dominates, where wallabies and tiny birds, like the alpine robin, can often be seen. It is a place where snow can fall and where early morning ice coats the puddles.
Travel Alert: Papua New Guinea is troubled by a high level of serious crime, particularly in the urban centres of Port Moresby, Lae and Mt Hagen. Travellers should use common sense to avoid any trouble - don’t travel alone, especially at night and respect any local advice regarding safety. All travel to the Highlands region, except on essential business, should be reconsidered because of high levels of crime and inter-tribal violence. This includes the Southern Highlands, Enga, Western Highlands, Chimbu and Eastern Highlands provinces. Travellers should stay away from the no-go zone around the former Panguna mine in Bougainville. Check travel advisories and news services before travelling. See Safe Travel for updated government warnings.
This is why my nanna says you should always look up when you travel!