From Leith to Beijing, by train
THE LAST SEVEN days have taken me on a Leith - London - Helsinki - Tallinn - St.Petersburg journey - so what have I been thinking on route?
In London I saw New Order, The Specials and Blur play at Hyde Park for the closing of The Olympics. Added to the football at Hampden and it was my second ‘Olympic’ event. Not sure if I short-changed myself or not - I'll always go to see football and I'll always go to see The Specials - should I have tried something new at The Olympics? Anyhow, the Olympics were a great success; there was a great buzz about the events and the cybernats were furious about the whole thing - an added bonus.
I then had to faff around with visas - Mongolia, China, Russia, Belarussia, as I'm exploring the Trans Siberian / Mongolian / Manchurian railways.
Mongolia was quick and easy, China efficient, Belarus such a hassle that I changed plan and entered Russia though Estonia and Finland instead!
The Russians gave a good old-fashioned view of how to make money on the side of an overly complex system.
“you need a letter of invitation and an itinerary - ver you will stay and ven”
“I don't know were I will be and when - I'm drifting towards Beijing, that's about all I know”
“Call this number - for £14 they will write you a letter and itinerary and email it to you. Print it off and bring it back to us”
This done, my visa was quickly with me. All the permits and papers and paying of people to give you permissions to enter and leave frustrates me at many levels - intrusive questions I cannot answer, “every country visited in last 10 years and dates” proved too taxing for me. For all my anti EU ranting, I do love the freedom of movement it offers us.
Anyhow, the main thing learned so far is how high up Estonia is in my estimation. Whilst the world famous self-styled best fans in the world were booing Ian Black as he made his debut for Scotland I was at Estonia Vs Poland. The national stadium was a bit green for my liking (being a Jambo), but the atmosphere was great from start to finish.
Allowed myself a couple of pints of full strength beer from my seat in the stand - against the law in the UK - but funnily enough managed not to be a danger to myself or other people. Why we tolerate such nonsense as laws prohibiting us to have a beer at the football is beyond me.
A friend introduced me to some good folks in Tallin with the warning - they don't much like Communists, money printers or eurosceptics over there! As I would only describe myself as one of the three I figured I'd be fine.
Turns out Estonia is doing very well compared to most of Europe - 6% growth last year and a small surplus, expecting lower, but still positive growth this year.
This surely cannot be anything to do with having a low, flat tax system, and low levels of Government debt whilst running the country on the basis of making a surplus could it?
Sign me up - so far it's Estonia for me!