Brief diary about my active and fun autumn holiday

Hello dear readers! Once again an update from Tallinn, Estonia. It’s always a delight to check my web statistics. So many visitors from so many exciting destinations. Thanks, I like that! 
While enjoying a mouth full of Finnish Salmiakki I thought over all the happenings from the past few days which I’d briefly like to share with you all. Previous week I didn’t have to attend any classes. Teachers used to call this a ‘study week’, while it’s commonly known as ‘holiday’ for students. I was very pleased to host my father for several days. He has visited me in all three Baltic countries now. I personally think it’s very important/useful that loved ones can kind of create an image on where I live, how and in what kind of cultural circumstances. In this way, whenever I’m back home in the Netherlands, my stories come across so much more vivid, simply because a realistic image can be formed by in this case my dad. 
A short diary of my activities…
Thursday 17 Oct: I got the joyful news I passed my first German exam and straight after I picked up my dad from the airport. We had pea soup and pancakes (which is actually a typical Swedish thing to eat on Thursdays). Afterwards I proudly presented my dad Tallinn’s magic Old Town by night, concluded with a beer and cider on an outside terrace at Raekoja Plats.  
Friday 18 Oct: Finland day! We went to Helsinki where we ended up having a great time, accompanied by some snow. We visited some exhibitions (a.o. about Lithuanian Press Photography and Art Nouveau) and we discovered Helsinki’s diverse architectural treasures.
Saturday 19 Oct: We had a closer look at the harbor and at Kadriorg park. Afterwards we were picked up by Kalev, the Estonian balloon pilot. We went to Paldiski where we spotted a lot of abandoned military barracks. Very exciting and rough. The nature there is so pure. We ended our day in a tasty way at an American-like restaurant.
Sunday 20 Oct: During the morning my father and I visited the KGB museum located on the top floor of Viru Hotel. This venue can only be visited when booking a guided tour. I highly recommend visiting this Soviet experience! Since the weather was perfectly flyable we joined Kalev for a ride above the outskirts of Tallinn. What a lovely flight.
Monday 21 Oct: My dad’s last full day in Tallinn, time to finally see Old Town during day light! I guess we saw every little street. During the evening we went to Solaris Kino to see the 3D movie Gravity with Sandra Bullock and George Clooney. Normally I’m not such a big fan of watching movies but I absolutely loved this one. I enjoyed every second of it. Well, better check it out yourself.
Tuesday 22 Oct: Before I joined my father to the airport we took one last walk around Tallinn. We ended up at the Seaplane Harbor, a charismatic place with a lot of old military equipment. I was very sad to say goodbye to my dad already again, but nevertheless we had some awesome days together. During the afternoon I joined Kalev and Enn for a balloon inspection somewhere just outside Tallinn. On our way back the gearbox broke down so it was an exciting way back home with just one gear to use.
Wednesday 23 Oct: Back to reality, studying for an exam…
Thursday 24 Oct: Studying + exam.
Friday 25 Oct: I joined a full day conference at Tallinn’s German Gymnasium. The theme was ‘German language opens doors’. I expected some more students there but the majority of all conference participants were Estonian German language teachers (sweet elderly ladies). One of them called me Käsekopf…
Saturday 26 Oct: Just when I decided to take it slow Kalev called. ‘Want to join to Haapsalu for some sightseeing?’. Ok! So, that taking it slow didn’t really work out. I did however have a great day once again. Haapsalu is such a happy place with a lot of colorful wooden houses. The weather wasn’t that wonderful so I’m definitely planning to go back there once during summer.
Sunday 27 Oct: This day consisted of eating chocolate and going to the gym. A nice combination.
So, that was about it. Now I’ll procrastinate my homework about Possesivpronomen and Personalpronomen by baking some pancakes first. If you want to see a lot more pictures of all the events mentioned above, feel free to have a look at my Facebook page!

Some thoughts on Finland, timeless Nordic design and future home/tableware

Are you guys already fed up about my Finland fascination? No? Ok, then here once again another ode to this attractive country. Even though every single Baltic country has conquered a valuable place in my heart, I think Finland is my favorite country in Europe till now. Finland is just a bit different than the rest, and I like that, of course. 
Ever since my first visit to Finland in 2009 I was amazed by Finnish design for everyday use. I for example really like Arabia’s Moomin cups, Finlayson’s dish towels, Marimekko’s playful fabrics and Iittala’s timeless tableware. When visiting my dear friend Astrid in Copenhagen, Denmark, I was once again confronted with my desire to buy only high quality Nordic design items as soon as my wallet would allow it. At the moment it certainly doesn’t, but who knows, maybe in the future while having a successful (and most important: fun!) job, I’ll be able to make my dreams come true at the cash desk of Illums Bolighus. With a small dream fulfillment I’d be already more than pleased.

 My friend Astrid with her Marimekko bag, checking out Arabia’s Moomin cups in Illums Bolighus, Copenhagen.
A while ago I wasted my time strolling around in Solaris shopping centre’s book store in Tallinn in stead of learning for my German exam. Let’s just call it a well deserved break. All around the store comfortable chairs are placed where sweet looking Estonians calmly flip through the pages of the books they’re eventually not intending to buy. I found myself a wobbly legless chair which was fixed to the ceiling of the English book section with a chain. I snuggled up with the book ‘Culture Shock! Finland’ by Deborah Swallow. She wrote amongst others that Finland isn’t the cheapest country, but that the products that are available are worth the high prices because of their outstanding quality. 
What I also find quite special on Nordic designs is that they can be some extremely timeless. Let’s for example take the Aalto Vase which was created by the Finnish architect and designer Aivar Aalto in 1937. It’s still very popular nowadays. Another case can be found in Sweden. The design of the beloved Fjällräven Kånken backpack I own since a couple of months still looks pretty much the same as it did during the 70s. It’s simplicity survived several decades. I never thought I would wear a square-like backpack, but I’m so in love with my brick colored Kånken now. So much stuff fits in it and it’s nicely waterproof. Yeah, worth the money.

 A perfect travel companion.
I’m aware of the fact that this is not really my most consistent story ever, but what I actually wanted to write about is Iittala’s Sarjaton collection. This is a collection of cups, plates, bowls and glasses. Sarjaton means ‘no series’ in Finnish. It can be freely combined and no matter which pieces from the collection you take in any random color, it just always fits greatly together. It became my favorite range of tableware as soon as I touched the pieces for the first time. It feels a bit strange to describe it in this way, but the quality of the softness and the detailed completion of all Sarjartons’ pieces just give you an instant shot of coziness which no IKEA cup ever equalized before. Here I realized I’d rather pay a little extra for products which will be used for many years on a daily base.
But… a Dutchman wouldn’t be a Dutchman without going to the extreme to get more for less. Oh well, not that extreme in this case. It was just a coincidence. A while ago I went to Prisma, a supermarket chain owned by the Finnish S group. It was an early morning and the shop was almost completely empty. While heading towards the knäckebröd and cookie section I passed a table with ‘Sarjatons’, accompanied by yellow action price signs. Awesome, this entire collection hardly ever being sold beneath the retail price suddenly in discount (and no, no damages, no fakes). Even though I just wanted to do some food shopping I ended up buying the first high end pieces for my future Nienke-home. Yes, in a supermarket. I know that doesn’t sound too well. The softness of the cups persuaded me to have sense-sensations within years from now. In addition to that the reminder of Finland and Estonia. Even though it was still expensive, the discount made me a happy Dutchman. Pity that this stereotype is confirmed even here in Estonia. My teacher in Ecotourism studies made fun about it already, telling he once had a Dutch couple making several expensive phone calls towards Estonia because they wanted their ten euro’s for some kind of silly issue back. Their phone costs were probably a lot higher that those few euro’s. “Matter of principle” is what a typical Dutchman would reply then.

 Sarjaton!
To come back to the tableware while expanding to homeware… Now the end of my study period is in sight I have been thinking about my future accommodation. I cannot imagine myself renting (not even to mention buying) a house for a long time yet. Nevertheless, I can also not live in my old room at my parents’ place for ten more years. That would be a bit strange. Maybe after some more exploring in Northern Europe I will eventually kind of settle down (I don’t like this thought yet) somewhere. Let’s keep in the middle where and with what kind of job conditions. I have been thinking how a typical Nienke-home would look like when I stumbled upon something I don’t really understand. This is sort of a connection point with the Sarjaton tableware because of its diverse appearance while still fitting nicely together. I don’t like these interiors which make you feel you enter a showroom in a dull furniture shop. I like character; a room that shows the soul of its owner. When imagining it all now, my own living room would be filled with drawings, maps and arty prints from the Baltic States, (non-cheesy) souvenirs from my adventures, colorful books representing my interests, piles of papers and notebooks, pillows with Finnish designs, natural elements like minimal processed wood in lighting sources and tables, my cozy blanket that kept me warm during my student time in Tallinn and an empty can of hernekeitto (pea soup) filled with coloring pencils randomly standing around. Not everything should be hidden behind the doors of cupboards.
Then now finally the issue that confused me, before I stop this rather long article. I’m very bad in making decisions, which brought me to the following thought. Why do people have 10 towels of the same kind, 4 pillows of the same kind, 6 tea cups of the same kind, etc.? Especially now I’ve seen so much Nordic design lately I just don’t want to choose for one single kind of object with so many wonderful and diverse designs being around. Why not having 10 differently designed, happy towels, 4 completely random pillows which each bring you another memory and 6 awesomely different tea cups? There are no rules for this kind of stuff, so why not enjoying diversity? I think that would work for me.

 Joyful, colorful textiles from Finlayson, Luhta Home and Hemtex.
After having said all this, my future living room seems to be a chaotic place. But yet, it will be home, because all my adventures and memories will be right there with me, covered in a lot of playful Nordic patterns.

The interpreters class and Abdul Turay

This afternoon I attended a lecture given by Abdul Turay. He’s a British journalist and political columnist from England. Nevertheless, in March he received his long term Estonian residence permit. He is running for a seat in the Tallinn City Council, representing the Social Democratic Party. Because I obtained an Estonian ID card I received an invitation to let my voice be heard as well. What a pleasant surprise, I didn’t expect that. The elections will take place Sunday October 20th and since my education path indoctrinated me with the idea that not voting is coming close to being a sin, I decided to orientate a little on the Estonian political party landscape and their focus points. A lecture in English to start off with. Good.
I actually expected many students would be interested in what this rather well known famous fresh citizen of Tallinn would have to say. Guess I was wrong. I ended up in a class with future interpreters. As soon as Mr. Turay was about to start his lecture they basically all disappeared in their dark interpreter boxes. Only two other students remained seated, which made the total audience consist of three people only. My main goal of this meeting was actually to sit in a corner, listen, make up my mind and then disappear, but now it seemed I had to actively participate as well by asking questions. 
Even though Mr. Turay does speak sufficient Estonian to carry out duties within Tallinn’s City Council, he delivered his talk in English. Interestingly enough there are in fact some council members not being able to speak Estonian at all, as was told by Mr. Turay. They rather stick to the Russian language, something I personally find hard to imagine in a country where Estonian is the only official language. He also told about not being the very first expat running in the elections. A Dane once managed to get a seat and I just coincidently discovered that even a Dutchmen with an unprofessional looking website will give it a try this year. Hm.
Turay spoke about the financial crisis, the possibility of the adoption of the Euro in England (“there is no public will”), Estonians and their Hummer per capita rate before the crisis and Tallinn’s Mayor Edgar Savisaar, being the leader of the Estonian Centre Party too. “Mickey Mouse would even be better than Savisaar”, Turay stated. He criticized that Savisaar is too much into cosmetic issues, like fancy road signs for building activities, while on the other hand using cheap and low quality building materials. Not even to mention his focus on Russia.
The main issue for Mr. Turay to get involved into politics is because of the future of his new born son in Estonia and to get Savisaar’s Centre Party out of power. There are two issues Mr. Turay is mostly keen on. Firstly, he wants to establish more kindergartens. With that he furthermore strives for warm meals at schools and better salaries for teachers. Secondly, he wants to represent Tallinn in trade businesses, using his excellent communication skills to persuade people to invest in Tallinn.
Silence… The right time for me to come up with a question. As the only foreign student representative present I asked why foreign students, many of them being able to vote during the upcoming elections, should vote for him. A lot of international students are here to follow a complete degree programme of a couple of years. So, a little insight in possibilities for their future in Tallinn wouldn’t be too bad. He responded that universities are more of a national thing so that from his position not much influence would be able to reach us all. He did however emphasize again that trade is an important issue he wants to focus on. The more money reaches Estonia, the more money will also be made available for universities. To conclude, Mr. Turay mentioned that many people in Europe still see Estonia as an Eastern European country, stressing I’d probably be familiar with this because it’s also the case in the Netherlands. Abdul Turay, being the first black person in Estonia to be possibly elected while furthermore being an expat, shows Estonia is not the Eastern European country as people have in mind, as explained by Mr. Turay himself. Yes, he has a point. Estonia Eastern European? No. Estonia North East European? Better already. Estonia is not what most people think it is.
All in all, it was a cozy small-scale meeting. In my eyes this is typical Estonian. During my internship at the Institute of Baltic Studies in Tartu I managed to meet some Estonian politicians already. I was surprised that they were all so approachable. At that time I furthermore noticed how many young people can make a career in politics and easily climb up the ladder of success. Not such a surprise in a country with just over a million inhabitants. By the way, it was during this very internship that I met Abdul Turay for the first time. He spoke about his life as an expat in Estonia during a conference of the British Council in 2011, here in Tallinn. That was mainly extremely funny. His political ambitions have a serious undertone though, luckily. I’m curious what his results will be during the upcoming elections…
I still don’t know whom to give my vote yet. I do however know that the interpreters I shortly met were very friendly and happy they could translate questions asked in Estonian into English for me. They did a good job :).