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
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
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