thoughts of a deviant
  entry created: Sunday 27 June 2004, 6:45am (NZ time)
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Location:  Krista's, Märjamaa
Local time:  Saturday, 9:45pm
Music:  Greg Johnson (good old kiwi stuff)

...Well, it's about 60° north, bordering western Russia. To the south is Latvia and Lithuania, to the west across the Baltic Sea is Sweden, and to the north is Finland. I never thought I'd end up anywhere near here.

But here I am, my 13th country (I think). This place is definitely a world-away from what I'm used to. There is still a lot of evidence of the old Soviet influence here, even though Estonia became an independent republic in 1991, after the collapse of the Soviet Union. It has flourished since, but in some ways has a lot of catching up to do, although the capital city - Tallinn - feels just like any other. There are hundreds of derelict, abandoned buildings dotting the countryside and outer city limits - ex-Soviet factories, housing complexes, even border checks. And in a country of 1.4 million, there are 400,000 Russians still co-existing with the Estonians, although, I sense a little bit of antagonism between them.

The first official day of summer was a couple of days ago, yet you wouldn't really know it... it's nice and hot when the sun is allowed to peek through the clouds, but unfortunately they seem to want to cover most of the sky, most of the time. The days are kind of reminiscient of a mild winter's day in New Zealand ("Uus Meremaa", to the Estonians). However, the warmest months (July and August) are yet to come, thank God.

On the 23rd, Krista and I travelled to Saaremaa, Estonia's largest island, 90 mins drive and 30 mins car-ferry ride from here. There were 5 of us in the car, including her cousin, cousin's partner and son (9). We camped on the edge of a quiet bay, and along with 7 others, celebrated "Jaanipäev" - the summer solstice (longest day), which is apparently quite a big deal here. It's traditional for Estonians to head to the countryside on this day and get drunk around a big fire, which is pretty much what we did! The weather was kind to us, but turned to shite the next day. In between the rain, we managed to visit Kuressaare Castle, built in the 1600s, a large lake formed by the Kaali meteorite impact, and a huge lighthouse at the southern-most point of the island. We then (only just) caught the last ferry-ride back to the mainland, at 11pm.

One thing I'm finding it hard to get used to is the almost constant daylight. The sun sets at about 11pm, but only barely. It never really gets pitch-black dark, and the sun is again rising at 4am. So going out in the afternoon/evening can be a little deceiving, as I lose all track of time thinking it's still relatively early. I think I'd go insane here in the winter, with almost constant darkness and temperatures dropping to -20°C. Yikes!

The Estonian language (closest to Finnish than anything else) seems to be full of 'oos' and 'icks' and lots of dots everywhere, but it's a bit easier on the ear than Dutch. My Estonian vocabulary increases by a few words each day, but it's a bit of a challenging language and resembles English much less than Dutch does. I guess languages interest me a lot, so I always try to make an effort with them, but it's also making me realise just how much Dutch I did actually know, when comparing it to what I can say in Estonian. Strange though, coz I felt like such an ignorant novice at Dutch while I was in Holland.

The money is another thing to get used to. The notes range from 2 EEK (Estonian Kroon) through to 500 EEK. We went out for dinner the other day to a mid-range restaurant, and the bill came to 109 EEK. I think immediately "wow, a hundred and nine, that seems pretty steep!" but then I convert to Euros in my head, and it's about 7 Euros. Dinner for two!! A 600mL bottle of coke is about 7EEK, or roughly 0.45 Euros, or 85c NZ. This place is cheap man! However, if you're earning Estonian Kroons, it ain't that great I guess, considering the average monthly salary is about 6,700 EEK (429 Euros, NZ$816).

As for the Estonians themselves, I'm still a little undecided. Krista's family are absolutely fantastic, and although there's a bit of a communication barrier (her father and I can communicate on a basic level, but her mother is a little shy to use her English skills, although she tends to understand most of what I say), it's obvious they're very warm and caring people and are trying to help me out any way they can. However, the rest of the Estonian people, such as in shops and on the street etc, tend to be a bit cold and impassionate. Apparently once you get to know them they open up, but I guess it's one of the throwbacks of Soviet occupation - a tendency to be reserved, cautious and suspicious. And I'm still undecided whether the Estonian women are sexier than the Dutch.

Oh, and as of today, I have been away from Sint Maarten for one month, and from New Zealand for 15 months. I don't really miss my home country, except for a few small things that only become apparent once I don't have them. I do miss the people though - my family and friends, but I don't long for the country. Yet.

Raekoja Plats - the main square in Tallinn's 'Old Town' - the older, original center of Tallinn.

Pikk Street. A fairly typical street in Tallin's Old Town.

Some random dude.

Traditionally-dressed youths selling yummy sugary caramel-coated
nuts of some sort. Num num!

The house I'm staying in. Notice the Estonian flag.
They are FINED for not displaying the flag during the summer solstice.

Krista and I camping in Saaremaa. Oh how I miss my tan!

The view from our camp site. Estonia seems to get some spectacular sunsets (albiet rather late in the evening!).

The Kaali Crater, formed by a large meteorite over 7,000 years ago.

"Oh, THERE it is!!"   The Kuressaare Castle

"Hmmm, I thought this lighthouse was supposed to be bigger!"

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