Naughty Bilingual Sign In Tallinn Airport, Estonia

Tallinn, Estonia, Estonia airport
I think I’m going to like Estonia …

This country of 1.3 million people only has a little more than 900,000 people who speak Estonian as their native language yet they’re confident enough with their national tongue to make a bilingual joke right as you enter the airport in the capital city of Tallinn.

Language was politics in the old Soviet republics, and for the long decades during which Estonia was part of the Soviet Union the people had to learn Russian. Many also learned Finnish through TV stations broadcast from Helsinki that were never jammed (more on that story later in the series) while English was something few people ever learned. Now all the younger generation is learning English and it’s easy to get by without knowing any Estonian.

A lack of Estonian, of course, doesn’t lessen the impact of this sign!

Check out this new series: “Exploring Estonia: The Northern Baltics In Wintertime.”

Coming up next: Tallinn’s Medieval Old Town!

[Photo by Sean McLachlan]

Clever Travel Terms You Won’t Find In Any Dictionary

Whether it’s funny, bizarre, rude, confusing or downright inexplicable – there are some travel experiences that just leave you speechless.

If you’ve ever been at a loss for words to describe what you’ve seen or felt while on the road, you’re not alone. That’s why Lonely Planet has come up with its own mini dictionary of travel terms that don’t exist but should. Here are a few of our favorites:

afterglobe
The warm, fuzzy feeling one gets after a long, immensely satisfying trip.

below see level
When you’re seated directly below the drop-down movie screen on an airplane and the other screens are all too far away to view comfortably.

bratpacker
Someone who believes they have a revolutionary system for packing luggage and insists on explaining it to anyone who will listen.

crankophone
Someone who tries to make themselves understood in a foreign country simply by speaking louder in their own tongue.fearenheit
Panic felt by Americans when attempting to comprehend temperatures in other countries.

overhead din
The disturbance caused by people trying to shove too-large bags into too-small compartments.

Of course, the Gadling team couldn’t resist adding a few terms of our own:

Pam Mandel: manventure/ mancation
A men’s-only getaway filled with manly activities like fly-fishing, hunting and motorcycle riding.

Grant Martin: gate lice
Passengers who hover near the airport gate prior to their boarding zone being called.

chatteratti
Travelers who spend more time talking about travel online rather than on the road.

Robin Whitney: pavlov’s attack dogs
Travelers who hear the ding chime of the post-landing “unfasten seat belt” light and instantly spring into action to aggressively crowd the aisle – even if there is no where to go for 15 minutes.

Chris Owen: tourons
Tourists that are not too smart

Reena Ganga: exstress baggage
The frantic rush to remove stuff from your bags at the check-in counter after being told your suitcase exceeds the weight limit.

scareport scanners
Fear of going through airport security scanners due to radiation concerns and privacy issues.

To read the rest of the Lonely Planet list, click here. And tell us, do you have any travel terms to add to the collection?

[Photo credit: Flickr user greeblie]

Ten Random Observations About Iraq

Iraq, Iraq travel, Iraq tourism
While traveling in Iraq I noticed some interesting things that didn’t fit into any of the articles in my series. Some of these observations may be obvious to those more familiar with the country, but odd first impressions are one of the fun things about travel!

1. The traffic police have these cool kiosks that imitate their uniform. Looks like this guy left his tie at home.

2. Spongebob Squarepants is popular here. The best photo I didn’t take was of a woman in an abaya at Kadamiyya shrine, one of the holiest spots for Shia Islam, carrying a Spongebob balloon. No child was in sight!

3. The TV commercial for Vaseline Healthy Soap shows a mother washing her son in the bathtub. In an almost identical version the child in the tub is a girl and she’s wearing a bathing suit.

4. None of the hotels I stayed at had plugs for the sink, but the caps for the mineral water bottles fit perfectly.

5. There were many imitations of Western snacks, such as Mountain Rush soda and Wrinkles potato chips. Oddly, these were made by Western companies and distributed by regional ones. I suppose that was a way to get around copyright infringement.

%Gallery-170776%6. Most restaurants only serve the same half-dozen meals: lamb or chicken kebab, chicken tikka, roast chicken with rice, and roast chicken without rice. They’ll often have a nice long menu listing lots of other meals, but you won’t be able to get them.

7. The various security services have a bewildering variety of uniforms. Nearly all of them are available for anyone to purchase in the various shops in the Baghdad souk.

8. Arabic music videos have credits.

9. Iraq uses three types of outlets. Most are UK style, some are EU style, and there’s a third plug that’s unlike any I’ve seen anywhere else. You can see one below.

10. No Iraqi I met thinks Obama is a Muslim.

You might also be interested in my ten random observations about Ethiopia and Greece!

Don’t miss the rest of my series, “Destination: Iraq,” chronicling my 17-day journey across this strife-ridden country in search of adventure, archaeology and AK-47s.

Coming up next: “Visiting Iraq: The Practicalities!”

[Photos by Sean McLachlan]

Crazy Video: Wild Arabic Dancing In Texas


Arab culture has an image problem. Most outsiders think they don’t have any fun. As one acquaintance informed me, “Arabs are a dour lot.”

He’d never actually hung out with any Arabs. Anyone who has can tell you that they do have a sense of fun, as this video shows. Uploader noxalicious tells us this was filmed in Cafe Layal in Houston, Texas. This guy gets so into the music that he ends up on a table shaking what he’s got for all it’s worth. I’ve seen guys dance like this at weddings in Egypt and parties in Syria, but they weren’t quite so … jiggly.

If you want some more Arabic humor, here’s a video about Saudis in Audis, sent to me by Facebook friend and British Muslim activist Shelina Zahra Janmohamed. Somehow it was funnier coming from her.

Whatever Happened To The Lake Conway Monster?

Lake Conway, skunk apeCould a reservoir in Arkansas be the favorite watering hole of a southern Bigfoot? Maybe it once was, but it doesn’t seem to be anymore.

When I was a kid in the 1970s, I loved tramping through the woods, and so of course I loved hearing about monsters lurking in the woods. I vaguely remember a rash of sightings of a big, hairy monster in the woods of Arkansas. It had several names, the most popular being the Fouke Monster, which was sighted by numerous individuals and was the subject of some atrocious films that freaked out 10-year-old me.

There were also sightings at Lake Conway just north of Little Rock. It’s 6,700 acres in size, making it the largest man-made game and fish commission lake in the country, and a popular fishing spot. Most of the sightings come from fishermen in remote parts of the lake.

According to one anonymous testimony (the sort of thing that constitutes evidence for cryptozoologists hunting these critters) it was about 7 feet tall and completely covered with dark hair. It stood at the edge of the lake watching a fishing boat for several minutes and showed no fear or comprehension when a gun was pointed at it.

Sightings of the Conway Lake monster date back to the 1940s, according to this article in the Saline Courier, which cites no sources. They continued until the 1970s before trailing off to nothing.

Several witnesses noted that it had a terrible odor. This led some cryptozoologists to suggest it’s a skunk ape, a mysterious beast shown here in a photo courtesy David Barkasy and Loren Coleman. This shot was allegedly taken in Florida. Skunk apes are found throughout the South although, of course, none have ever been caught. Sadly, no photos of the Lake Conway monster have ever been reported.

So what was the Lake Conway monster? Skunk ape? Bigfoot? A hairy refugee from a nudist chili festival? Did it go extinct like some people said Nessie has? Perhaps it moved away as Little Rock has expanded and more and more fishermen use Lake Conway. It seems a shame, though. The folks around Lake Champlain have kept their monster alive and kicking. So come on, Arkansans, go find the Lake Conway monster, or at least take a blurry nighttime photo of an orangutan!