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A trip round the Baltic. Estonia

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The Baltic -- Estonia Part 1

I look out of the window, down through grey and white clouds to little squares of wet-green fields. What fun to be back in England after the boring blue skies of the south, and the heat of forty degree summer.

Wait a minute. Iíve just left the UK. Have we turned round and come back?

The person sitting next to me shrugs. Thatís Estonia. Itís been wet for months.

Thereís something immediately welcoming about the place. I stop and read the legends on the pictures along the corridor from the landing portal. I look out of the window at the city beyond the airport. The Estonians around me smile a lot, and are friendly. Is it just me? I feel comfortable arriving in a country I have never visited before.

Downstairs things start to change. There are odd remnants of an old Soviet regime. The lifts are built to a size that doesnít make much sense. The wheelchairs only fit with great difficulty, and anyway, you can only get one in at a time, so waiting for the disabled bunch to get through the system is a trifle tiring.
 However, the airport building is modern and charming and just the right size. I look down at the shops from our raised walkway. They are bright, colourful, and look to be fun.

Once through the passport control I find the restaurant, which is very pleasant. Lunch is from noon till five in the afternoon. The food is okay, and the waitress charming. Outside, the car park is wet black in the drizzle. The trees are wet green. The clouds have that English look about them, and I have a strange feeling that I am back in the UK.

The apartment, on the other hand, has a slightly Russian feel to it, with the high ceilings, the mock beams, and intimidating furniture as if it is modernised Stalinist efficiency with no soul. From somewhere comes the drone of a vaguely Indian contemplative music. The second floor is devoted to a yoga retreat. Downstairs there is a courtyard with marquis-styled tents containing tables where we can eat and smoke from a hubbly-bubbly. Not my scene, but I try some concoction with a strong mint flavour. I have a brief cough and remind myself that I dont do drugs any more. My days of psychedelics are sadly over, and mint flavoured cooled smoke is not quite the exciting trip into the unknown that I remember from my debauched youth.

We venture into the wet streets. The wide dual-carriageway with the tramlines up the middle remind me of other Russified towns. In fact, as I look up and down, I could almost be back in Hull in the sixties just before they axed the trams. Although Estonian trams are single deck with two carriages instead of the quaint buses we rode back in Hull.

The pavements are deserted. The shops are almost hidden as if shy of showing themselves to the passers by. I walk past the supermarket without noticing it, and have to turn back and enter through what looks like an office block.

After perusing a shelf with twenty different brands of vodka, and grabbing a red wine called Old Tbilisi we make our way back to our apartment and the ground floor restaurant. The predominant cuisine seems to be Italian. The fashion seems to be ladies late fifties: flowery summer dresses, and wide skirts.

Upstairs I sample some local cheese. It is bland and undistinguished, but Old Tbilisi looks a clean bright red, smells rich and delicious, and tastes fine: a good choice. For the record, it does, of course, come from Georgia.

Itís late, and perhaps we ought to crash in our rather nice apartment. ďWhat time is it?Ē calls my friend. Iím tempted to say ďWho cares? we dont have a tram to catchĒ. Instead I tell her to wait for it to get dark, because then sheíll know itís after eleven.

Somehow, I had not thought that much about the long Scandinavian summer days. One tends to think of the daylight going on almost till midnight, and then getting dark. That doesnít happen. Mid evening the light starts to fade. Iím surprised, but the fade is so slow that one wonders if we havenít been enveloped in thunder clouds. Half an hour later, the light is clearly fading, but with what might be called a darker shade of pale. An hour later I begin to wonder if Iím imagining the fade. I guess itís something else one eventually gets used to.

An evening in Estonia: whatís it all about? Quiet, slightly dark and definitely damp. Subdued, but within that atmosphere are bright faces, summer clothes, dreary streets, life behind walls, and twilight stretched almost to infinity. But what about tomorrow morning?

Part 2 >>>


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