De meeuwen van Linnahall

Het zijn de heersers van de Golf van Finland. De huisdieren van de cruiseschepen die dagelijks Finnen, Zweden en Russen over de golven deinzend naar het beloofde land brengen. Uitgerust met inklapbare steekkarretjes veroveren de noordelingen de alcoholschappen van menig supermarkt en liquor store. Slechts bijzaak voor de monsters met enorme spanwijdte. De meeuwen van Linnahall zijn de bewakers van de kustlijn en laten geen enkel prulletje onopgemerkt aan hun patrouille voorbij gaan. Toen de vlag nog overwegend rood was maar de harten van de Estse bevolking blauw, zwart, wit sloegen werd de uitkijkpost gebouwd. Het geboortekaartje van dit bizarre Sovjet bouwwerk luidde de naam: Vladimir Ilych Lenin Paleis voor Cultuur en Sport. Toen ikzelf minus 10 jaar oud was werden in Moscow de tweeëntwintigste Olympische Zomerspelen gehouden. Taak aan de Estse Socialistische Sovjetrepubliek om het zeilen voor haar rekening te nemen. Nu, meer dan dertig jaar later, ligt het geboortekaartje versnipperd tussen het grofvuil. Het sportpaleis is omgedoopt tot het lieflijk klinkende Linnahall, oftewel, stadhuis. Hoe zoet de naam de gehoorgangen ook betreedt, de identiteitscrisis is een feit. Linnahall is verre van een stadhuis en na de Zomerspelen werden er voornamelijk concerten gegeven. De hoekjes van dit imposante bouwerk brokkelen langzaam af. De optredens die er tijdens Estland’s jonge jaren gehouden werden galmen slechts vaagjes na in de kille ruimten omringd met gewapend beton. De fonteinen blijken geen bron van eeuwige jeugd. Het enige wat het kinderlijke nog naar boven haalt zijn de talrijke bonte graffititekeningen en het geschaterlach van de nors uitkijkende vliegeniers: de meeuwen van Linnahall. 
Het dak is een beetje sompig. De meeuwen veren langzaam op en neer wanneer ze pootje voor pootje de poreuze dakbedekking belopen. Er ligt een boek. Een dikke pil. De kustwind lijkt de pagina’s in razend tempo door te bladeren. Een van de meeuwen besluit een kijkje te nemen, scheurt vastbesloten een willekeurige pagina uit het boek en struint daarna verder naar een van de vele andere objecten die op hun gedaanteverwisseling naar stof liggen te wachten. Gerinkel doet alle koppen dezelfde kant uitsteken. Een dikke aandachttrekkende meeuw speelt een melodieus toontje door op een aangenaam ritme steeds weer een bierdopje te laten vallen. De uitgescheurde bladzijde vliegt als een papieren vliegtuigje het dak van Linnahall over. Nog voor dat de boekmolesteerder er achter aan kan gaan wordt zijn aandacht gevestigd op een glazen flesje, ontdaan van etiket. In het flesje staat een laagje water waarin een nootje zwemt. Plots wordt het rinkelen van het bierdopje vergezeld door het ritmische tikken van een meeuwensnavel tegen glas. Dat nootje is voorlopig nog wel even veilig. 
De wind komt uit het Noorden en brengt een ware lege chipszakkentornado op gang. Een frisse bries bedekt Tallinn met een dun vliesje Finse puurheid. Slechts 80 kilometer scheidt Tallinn van haar grote norse broer, Helsinki. Finland, het land van sauna, en door velen geclaimd, wodka. Het land van de bolle toeten en wipneusjes, gedrapeerd in kinderlijke maar oh zo geraffineerde designpatronen, stiekem met een toefje zwarte heavy metal. De muziekmakers in Tallinn spelen rustig verder en hebben zelfs een geïnteresseerde toeschouwer voor zich weten te winnen. Deze meeuw, het jonge ventje dat nog niet helemaal goed in de veren zit, kijkt stoer om zich heen. Hij heeft een bijna opgerookte peuk in zijn snavel. Een boot nadert de haven van Tallinn. De passagiers vergapen zich aan de skyline waarvan de letterlijke vertaling ‘Deense stad’ is. Van architecturale hoogstandjes in kantoor- en hotelbouw tot imposante kerken van diverse geloofsstromingen, Estland glimlacht via zijn trots Talllinn alle gasten tegemoet. Linnahall wordt in alle opwinding over het hoofd gezien, terwijl juist daar de meeuwen een in de vergetelheid geraakte traditie in alle onschuld en oprechtheid in ere proberen te houden. 
De boot meert aan, de alcoholshops worden bestormd. De orde van de dag, gehaast en alle details over het hoofd gezien. De uitgescheurde bladzijde zweeft nog eens voorbij. De wapperende pagina’s van de dikke pil spelen met de zonnestralen. Het bewegelijke licht wordt gereflecteerd op het half gevulde flesje. Het nootje deinst op minuscule golven, nog altijd op een veilige afstand van de pikkende meeuw. *Tik- tik tik- tik*. De aandachttrekker is nog steeds gefascineerd door zijn rinkelende dopje. *Ting – ting – ting*. De peukmeeuw loopt zelfverzekerd en op de maat van de muziek af op zijn nieuwe vondst. Hij laat de peuk voor wat het is en stort zich op een ronddollend plastic bekertje. De wind maakt zijn donshaartjes er maar toesterig uitzien. Het maakt allemaal niet uit. *Rrrrr – rrrrr*. Met het rollende stukje plastic wordt een extra dimensie aan het welkomstonthaal toegevoegd. Linnahall, vergane glorie waar het nagalmen van weleer alleen voor de rijken onder ons is weggelegd: degenen in het bezit van de rijkdom van geduld en oog voor detail.
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An ode to staying true to one’s self, friends and the attractive balance of Mother Tallinn

As I have stated earlier, it’s not always easy to be surrounded by party minded foreign students. Especially if you’re not much of a night time socializer yourself. It happened to me many times before in Riga, Tartu and Kaunas that others don’t really understood the lack of desire to go out, party, and get wasted. I must however say that in Kaunas it felt already a lot better than it had been before. There I met people who respected my love for adventurous weekend walks and didn’t proclaim me as the most boring person in the world when not setting off to a club at 23.00 during any random day of the week. Here in Tallinn it feels even better.
Even though Tallinn University welcomed over 500 international students for this semester I don’t really feel like being part of the foreign student gang. I have two precious friends here, Kalev and Arthur. Kalev is Estonia’s only commercial balloon pilot. We met during a fantastic balloon event in Riga earlier this year and ever since we share many stories and laughs. He still enjoys every flight to the fullest. His passion is respectable. I often proclaim Anu my ‘Finnish mom’. I spent two wonderful summers with her during my summer school programme in Mikkeli, Finland. Kalev is kind of like my ‘Estonian dad’. With him I can talk about balloons for hours and besides that he always takes me to the coolest places for the most fun action. I for example joined him during two balloon flights here in Estonia already, he arranged my Antonov An-2 flight and we furthermore explored the Northern coastline of Estonia by motorbike. Some hovercraft craziness is already scheduled.
Arthur is a first year full time Bachelor student from Russia. He is incredibly bright and knows all ins and outs of pretty much any political system anywhere in the world. His curiosity is enormous, however, he’s not into drinking and clubbing. I’m very glad we met each other during the opening of the academic year. Ever since we take walks, the longest one was all the way to Viimsi. He is for sure the only Russian I know having a complete Britsh accent. I had to let go all of my stereotypes about Russians, a good thing. Comparing cultures together with Arthur always leads to interesting stories. I’m really looking forward to visit him once in his home town Moscow.
Even though I don’t have many close friends here (yet), I’m extremely thankful for the precious friendships I did manage to establish. It’s such a pleasure to hang out with people having the same interests. It makes my time in Tallinn so relaxed and yet so diverse. For a long time I thought something was wrong with me because of this disinterest in partying. Now I feel so completely fine with it. In Tallinn I can be who I want to be without any pressure at all of foreign student norms. Of course I don’t want to make all international students seem like party addicts without any interest in their host culture. On the contrary. But still, I guess ‘Erasmus exchange’ often equals a fair amount of alcohol and night life. Let it be clear once again that this doesn’t have to be bad, at all. It’s actually a fantastic way to get to know others and the facets of their culture. Yet, this method is just not working for me. I get my satisfaction and culture knowledge through observations, walks and through the not so ordinary interest in ballooning. As a small child when my dad infected me with this (ok, I actually don’t like this expression so much) balloon virus I could have never imagined that this particular interest would connect me with so many lovely people all over the world, seeing this very same world from such a different but fascinating angle. If my dad wouldn’t have chased his ballooning adventures back in the middle 90s my life would have looked so different right now. 
All in all, to conclude, it’s such a pleasure to be in Tallinn. I’ve not seen any person judging my clothing style with a slight degree of disrespect out of the corner of one’s eye. I’ve not heard anybody stating it’s boring not to go out. I’m just living a little egoistic life here all the way up in the North, just doing what I want, when I want it. It sounds so wrong but feels so right. And don’t worry, I’ve been going to my classes ever since the semester started. That duty is one impossible to get out of my system. You know what… I think Tallinn is the perfect combination of what I’ve often been searching of. Its Nordic vibe is heavenly attractive. The enormous desire to resemble Scandinavia is so big it often really makes me feel like being in the hands of a protective Nordic good-life society. Yet, the inner adventurer can still be pleased with a little hint of Soviet when properly hunting for it. This balance of trustworthiness with a slight degree of tension is all I could wish for at the moment. The autumn semester of 2013, a crown on my plastic Baltic throne, decorated with shiny and priceless memories instead of kitschy diamonds.

24 hours – 10 pictures

One of the classes I’m taking here in Tallinn concerns digital photography. The first assignment was to take 10 pictures (no specific topic) in 24 hours. The maximum of time in between taking two pictures is four hours, which meant I also had to photograph during the night. I’ll just share my work with you accompanied by some comments. The day I covered was Saturday, September 14, 2013.
 Around 08.00: This is how I started the day, taking a shower.


 Around 11.00: The ferry from St. Petersburg looking rather unusual.


Around 13.00: Interesting corridors without privacy in Viimsi.


Around 15.00: After a long walk to Viimsi it was time for a picknick in the sun at Viimsi beach with my friend Arthur from Russia.
Around 17.00: Taking the bus back to Tallinn, spotting this bride. Worried looks upon the people’s faces…
 
Around 19:00: A stroll through Kadriorg park. Such a pleasure to see these bike facilities at the KUMU Museum!
Around 22.00: Fountains at Kadriorg park.
Around 0.00: The result of the many kilometres I walked, a blister!
Around 03.00: Cold feet. Night time. Didn’t want to get out of bed to take a picture elsewhere.
Around 06.00: View from my kitchen window.
So, that’s about it! As you can see it was an active day, mainly spent outside. The weather was exceptionally good for the middle of September. I guess I like the ferry picture the most since it’s kind of creative. I however don’t really like the last few ones since they miss out on something special. Yet, I didn’t find anything else that inspired me to take a picture of in the middle of the night. I’m curious what the next photography assignment will be!

Antonov An-2 experience: the movie

As you might have read in my previous blog post I managed to have an active weekend up in the air in lovely Estonia. During my flight in the rusty old Antonov I made some movie shots which I edited into this little experience video you might want to take a look at: My first Antonov An-2 flight with ES-BAB
Especially notice the little bouncy screw at 0.35. This detail made me feel like being in an adventurous movie. Nevertheless, the old fellow brought us back safely into the arms Mother Earth. The young child from the airbase’s boss however took the quote of the day for his account. While standing on the ground he watched the parachutists jump out of the aircraft. “1!…2!…3!…4!…5!…uh… I can’t count any further!”. Sweet. That’s exactly how far my Estonian counting capacity reaches. Üks, kaks, kolm, neli, viis :). Oh, and I randomly know what ’22’ is: kakskümmend kaks. And, another thing foreigners like about the Estonian language is ’12 months’: kaksteist kuud, which sounds exactly like ‘cocks taste good’. Till so far counting in Estonian. 
Obviously my health wasn’t that pleased with all the fun activities from previous week. Especially the sauna visit and watching the Milky Way covered by a towel only made me vulnerable for catching a cold. I’ve been coughing and sneezing pretty much non-stop this week. Luckily the raspberries, bananas and of course a fair amount of chocolate make it all seem to go into the right direction again. 

Antonov 2, paraglide and balloon fun: just a cool day in Estonia!

Last week contrasted the very first days here in Tallinn. Right after I left Copenhagen I felt a bit lost, not really knowing how to spend my days and with whom. Surprisingly I ended up having an extremely fun, busy and sociable first Uni week. The courses I took so far are inspiring and all professors seem very friendly and open. The atmosphere reminds me of the one in Kaunas, which is good. Wednesday I joined Kalev for a balloon flight. He’s Estonia’s only commercial balloon pilot. He showed me some paper work dating back from 2009, when Estonia’s first commercial balloon company became a fact. Only then! The flight was lovely. From above we saw Tallinn and even a small piece of the coast of Finland, which is just a two hour boat ride away. After having lived in every single Baltic country I can now also state I flew in a balloon above them all! I furthermore have to note that I absolutely loved all the Estonians I met during this flight. In the little red guideline book for international students I read that Estonians are quiet and do not ask many questions. It was furthermore written they avoid handshakes and hugs in a private sphere and that if you put four Estonians together you’ll end up seeing five different parties. Well, the people I met were so not like that. We shared so many laughs. 
When I thought I fulfilled my portion of ballooning for this week I received a text message. It was Saturday morning. “Nienke, wake up and join. We’re going to do some paragliding and ballooning”. Ok! Within half an hour I showered, ate a pack of cookies and packed my beloved rucksack for yet another adventure. And oh yeah, what a great day it was! Interesting, how people with the same hobby can make you feel so much at home. I still cannot believe I made three flights that day. It started off with a very special one in a rusty old Russian Antonov 2. I joined some parachutists but I myself stayed inside the plane, nicely settled in the co-pilot’s chair. I was so surprised how such a short way this beast needs to get up in the air. When all the passengers safely jumped out the pilot was obviously interested in landing as soon as possible. The crazy nose dive we made tickled my stomach. Wow!!! Too awesome for words. So, that was number one.
The next flight I joined Jaano in his duo glider. With a winch we were carried up. I guess that was the most scary part, this running before lifting off. When being up in the air I noticed how incredibly wobbly it is to hang under a paraglide. I honestly didn’t expect that. Secretly I felt a little bit fly sick, even though I never experienced that feeling before (not even during the flight with the Antonov!). After around 20 minutes we came back to mother earth safely. Nice. Another success. 
I took a short nap in the sun and then continued with the third flying activity of that day. A balloon flight! We took off with eight people in total and dropped three on the way. They were wearing a parachute of course. Since we flew somewhere in the middle of Estonia with a clear sky we could even spot the huge Peipus lake which borders Russia. There were hardly any possibilities to land, that much forest over there. Kalev flew very low over a beautiful swamp. We made a little break there and I was offered some sour berries which grew there. We almost didn’t spot any wildlife, but still, the nature was breathtaking as well as the upcoming sunset. Everything smelled so fresh. It quickly cooled down. A wool cardigan and outdoor jacket could just keep me warm. Luckily before we took off the sauna at Jaano’s place was already prepared for some cold and tired balloonists. What a perfect way to end this adventurous day: beer and sauna. Wonderful. Oh, and then I didn’t even mention yet that I spotted a moose crossing the road that day. The cherry on the cake!  

Some random observations in Estonia…

– What about this beige shoe obsession? Is it Estonian or secretly just a Russian issue? I’ve spotted quite a lot of men wearing beige suits, something you wouldn’t see that quickly in the Netherlands I guess. But combining a beige suit with beige shoes? No.
– Our Academic library owns a magic machine. When you place a pile of books on a simple looking glass plate it can somehow identify all single books in the pile.
– It is expensive here! A few weeks ago I bought a deodorant in Germany for 1.15 euro’s. Here the exact same one is 3,20 euro’s. Also dairy products are way more pricy than for example in the Netherlands, or, do we pay over one euro for one liter of normal yoghurt as well?
– Unfortunately I discovered I still cannot hear the difference between Estonian and Finnish.
– If you’re a Dutchman with English language skills and you have a slight dirty mind you might giggle about how the Estonians call Pippi Longstockings. Pipi Pikksukk it is!
– Every time I start something new I face some innocent start-up problems. I’m always curious if I’ll be able to make new friends, if the courses I’ll take won’t be hard enough,… those kind of things. They however do not fill my mind with sorrows, so that’s pleasant. Still, also now here in Tallinn, my parents keep on calling me ‘Trabant’, from the East German car producer which made vehicles which needed some time to get started. But, once they finally got started everything turned out to be fine!
– I’m still a bit disappointed when the Dutch cheese I buy here doesn’t taste as promising as the nice package (decorated with Dutch old fashioned mills) makes me wish it does.
– Estonia is very proud of its quick internet. Unfortunately at the dormitory I can only watch video’s at the lowest bandwidth and then still they pause every couple of seconds.

– From my window I often spot planes which are about to land. I like that.

– I’m quite surprised how well I can find my way around in Tallinn. Seems I remembered a lot from the week I once spent here in 2009 and the business trips I made during my internship at the Institute of Baltic Studies.
– In one of the Swedback offices I saw a coin machine. Several people went there with a bag full of small coins in order to let them count by the machine and get paper money in return. What a lovely invention. Another thing I noticed there was a three-colored stripe attached next to the door. I had only seen this in Sweden before and it’s used to estimate the length of suspicious people.
– I’m intensely sad I didn’t manage to find my beloved Finnish Fazer ‘Salmiakki’ here in the shops yet. Nevertheless, it’s good to know that there are a lot of other products from Finland to be found in Tallinn. The bread is delicious as well as the Karelian pasties. I’m enjoying a bag of Moomin winegums now and my notebook for school is from Marimekko. Thumbs up for Suomi!

– I like supermarkets. The ones in shopping malls Kaubamaja and Solaris are expensive but offer good quality. Comarket is situated next to Tallinn University, but still, I guess Rimi stays my favorite. I used to go there when I still lived in Riga and I love to walk around seeing all these familiar products. Till now I found one Maxima supermarket and I’m probably not going there again. There were too many smelly people. 

– I forgot about the smell of heavy alcohol users. You know, these kind of people from which pure spirit seems to come out of their pores. Well, being here reminded me again how awful it smells. It occurred already a few times that I caught an unpleasant smell and then discovered a homeless boozer was hanging out in a radius of around ten meters. If they are of the worst kind the smell is even combined with a crap-in-pants aroma. DIS GUS TING !
– A dilemma at the gym… Two changing rooms, ‘M’ and ‘N’. One person walked out of the ‘N’ room but then still I didn’t know what the male or female section was. It happened to be a very masculine looking woman afterwards. ‘M’ is mees (man), ‘N’ is naine (woman). Some more words to be added to my Estonian vocabulary list.

– On one of the first pages of my ‘guide for international students’ from Tallinn University Estonian people are described. During the introduction week we were told to be very patient when it comes to Estonians and communication. Here some examples of what is written down: “Estonians are individualists, put four Estonians together and you’ll get five parties. Estonians are not prone to emotional extremes. Estonians are quiet and do not ask many questions”.

All in all, with a little patience and proper down-to-earthness I’ll hopefully manage to find my way in this mysterious country.