Monday, March 30, 2009

If its Thursday, this must be Sweden

I felt like the proverbial American tourist last Thursday as I landed in my forth country in a week. I didn't quite do Europe in a week, but it was pretty close. Having left Ireland on Sunday, passed through Latvia on the Monday, then a day or two in Estonia before taking a ferry to Stockholm.

I was in Helsinki last summer for a day and expected Stockholm to be pretty similar. But it was so much better. There was something fresh and bright about this city, it was more like Paris than its neighbouring capital cities. It was cheaper for food and drink than Finland and for that matter, Ireland, there seemed to be so much space, large shops, buildings and harbour. The tourist sites were all in easy reach such as the Royal palace and the metro was so clean and quiet.

If you go to Stockholm yourself one day, a piece of advise is to buy your train ticket in one of the shops in the station and not at the ticket office. For some unknown reason the ticket office charge a euro more.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

A Living History

Estonia has vast open fields stretching out to the horizon, it's a country that makes it impossible not to relive the history that passed this way. As the snow turns this country white, laying a meter deep in places and temperatures dropping to minus fifteen it was so easy to imagine Hitler's and Napoleon's troops retreating this way.

With their animals and trucks collapsing, their weapons seizing and their armies just lying down and succumbing to the cold. Okay, so Napoleon didn't exactly pass through Estonia, but rather a couple of hundred miles to the south in Latvia, but you know what I mean.

Well today I went to the Maritime museum and clambered aboard the Estonian World War II Submarine Lembit and this history was literally all around me. The closest I've gotten to a submarine before today was watching one pass by a cross channel ferry many many years ago. But today was something completely different, although it was free of diesel fumes, the pounding sounds of its engines or the voices of its crew, this was the real thing. I could picture the submariners standing where I now stood beside the torpedo tubes preparing to fire or crouching as depth charges exploded all around them. Yet the cramped working conditions, bunks resting above torpedoes, small compartment doors and the famous periscope, these were all still here.

This particular submarine had quite a history. Built in Scotland for the briefly independent nation of Estonia, it was then taken over by the Soviet Union in 1941 when they occupied the country while the majority of its officers were "Removed for being untrustworthy". This last comment usually meant that they were put against a wall and shot, for believing that Estonia had any rights to be a free state. It actual war record is still something of a secret.

For a bit more info on all this, click on the link.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Book Review Number 4

Once more I return to the fictional world. On this occasion its Tom Clancy's "Red Storm Rising", an old fashioned boys own adventure of Tanks, planes and lots of things going BOOM.

Please click on MY BOOK REVIEWS on the right hand side of this page.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

I MISS YOU............

Tiiu, its been three long days since I left for Ireland.
Realy, really, really looking forward to being with you again on Monday.
You are amazing.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Freelance Writing

Recently I applied for a job as a Freelance Editor for a company in Stockholm. Although I wasn't successful, part of the application was that I write up and submit a news article, which was enjoyable.

So here it is.............

A Very Big Small Market

Hidden amongst all the tales of the credit crisis is a small success story that has gone relatively unnoticed, namely the boom in the second hand clothes market.
Prior to 2007 thrifty shoppers went into such stores out of curiosity or the hope of finding a designer label left in during happier times, back when we could buy what wanted and when we wanted it.

Yet even back in the pre-credit crunch days many of us were already shopping in the world’s largest second hand store that is EBAY. This global player may belong to the twenty-first century, but many of the products on its virtual shelves belong to yesteryear.
Ironically while this American giant has seen its own net profit for the final quarter of 2008 fall to $367m (£264m) from $532m for the same quarter the previous year, its much smaller competitors are experiencing happier times.

In the Baltic country of Estonia shoppers are saving their cents while also easing pressure on the environment by purchasing items in the local second hand and charity shops.
A spokesman for the country’s National Statistics Office said “that in January 2008 to 2009, sales in household goods fell by one third, but during the same period there was nearly a 40% increase in the sale of second hand items”
Although there has been a steady increase in business from this sector since 2004, it was after 2007 that this increase became so dramatic.
However, the Statistical Office offered a word of caution, stating that although the increased turnover was remarkable in its own sector, it was still a small percentage in the overall economy and will have little impact upon it.

Meanwhile in England two hundred million tonnes of stock are disposed of every year, with only 16% being left over for recycling. In an interview with the B.B.C. Beverly McDermott from the Saint Bernardo’s charity stated that “in the economic downturn more and more people are visiting their stores, but at the same time donations are falling, leaving more and more shelves empty”.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Another First

My first eight weeks in Estonia have been full of new experiences.
A First time to go hole fishing, ice skating, walking across a frozen a sea and now I've been skiing.

Arriving at the resort I was handed my skis and a pair of those sticks. There's probably a better name for them other than "those stick things", but right now its all I got. The skis simply clamp onto your boots by pressing the toe of your boot against them.

But this simple process wasn't as simple as it sounded, as I struggled and swore with those devilish devices.

Sometime later I eventually stood up and was ready to go. Unfortunately the only place I went for another ten minutes was back on the ground. In spite of Tiiu's best efforts and my insistence that not only was I listening to her but understood perfectly what she meant.

However understanding and doing, turned out to be completely different things, as I got up, fell down got up again and yes fell down time and time again. Attempting to get up for the tenth time, I put a bit too much pressure onto the Ski-stick and it snapped.

I'm not sure if it was because of my laughable efforts at speaking at Estonian or the pitiful look on my face as I brought the damaged equipment back, the owner just grinned and gave me a new one free of charge.

Knees bent, leaning forward and not crossing my skis, it started to look as though there may be hope for me yet as I slid along a prepared route. Picking up speed as I moved along, I suddenly realised that not only did I not know how to turn, or slow down, so I stopped the only way I knew how.

On the way home we passed by a small football stadium, where the pitch was being prepared in the Estonian way, with a groundsman sweeping the snow of the pitch with his plough attached to his quad bike. Yep difinitely a day for firsts.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Ice Skating

Today was another first. I went ice skating for the first time. In the space of sixty minutes a went from an "ice skating novice" to an "ice skating novice with sixty minutes of experience".

Actually it was a lot better than that. In fact I loved it. My sixty minutes on the ice passed in what seemed like twenty. Yes Yes I absolutely loved it. Cant wait to go again. Indeed my next spin on the ice, apart from walking and sliding on the roads every day, should be one day next week on an indoor rink.

But enough about what will be and back to what is and what was.

The rink as you can see from the pictures was outdoor, surrounded by the medieval towers of Tallinn and a bunch of English tourists, who for once weren't here just for a stag night. Fully aware of my inability to stand up on ice on the street and my wonderful ability to fall over, even on escalators. I made sure that I was well padded, so that when I would fall, which I was bound to , at least I would be well padded this time.

Wearing bright orange skates, I was given my instructions, to lean forward, bend my knees, stand in a "V" stance and push off. Knowing all this I still looked like what I really was. Namely a terrified amateur, convinced that I was going to fall and fall again.

Yet to my surprise and those around me, I only fell once and within the hour I was picking up speed and leaving the safety of the side railing far behind me.

Snow, Ice, Frozen coast lines, this is what travelling is all about.

Oh yes, one more thing. Having convinced myself that I can now skate, I went out and bought a pair of roller blades. I'll let you know how that works out in a later episdoe.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Book Review No.3

My Third Book Review is "The Union of 1812, the men who fought America's second war of Independence" By A.J. Lannguth.

Please click on MY BOOK REVIEWS on the right hand side of this page.

Monday, March 2, 2009


After eight weeks away from the constant rain, frustrating traffic congestion and over charging  of every product and service that is Dublin, I felt a tinge of nostalgia. OK maybe nostalgia is too strong a word for it, but yesterday evening as I sat down to watch Ireland beat England at Croke Park, I heard an Irish accent for the first time since arriving here. 

No longer did it sound like the background noise that once blurred into nothingness that I used to hear a million times a day, but now it was rather unique sound, if not exactly the voice of an angel.  With tricolours  flying around Croker and the BBC cameraman offering a birdseye view of Dublin it somehow seemed cleaner, fresher and better than I remember. 

Perhaps it wasn't nostalgia afterall, but rather an awarenes of my Estonian assimilation. I found myself looking at these images of Dublin and saying to the Norwegians, Germans and Estonian who were about to watch this "strange version of football" beside me and saying “Yeah, yeah, Dublin looks like a nice place to visit“.

At the bar and to my immense pride, I not only ordered a round of drinks in Estonian, but was complemented by the staff for my efforts. Later on I even exchanged a few words with one or two of the locals.  

I'm now finding my way around Tallinn, the transport system and currency exchange no longer present the problems they once did and although I still look the wrong way when crossing the streets I'm feeling more and more at home.

Times they are a changing

Last night as I watched Ireland beat England at Croke Park, from what is becoming my local pub "Nimeta Bar" I noticed the first signs of my Estonian simulation. 

Before kick off,  as I watched Liverpool kiss goodbye to their last chance of Premiership glory I heard an Irish accent for the first since I arrived over here. How strange it sounded, no longer was it the blurred background noise that you hear a million times a day in Dublin, but instead it was unique and bizzarely, welcoming.
The person in question was reversing the economic trend and returning to Ireland with a new job lined up after many many years away. 

With the BBC cameraman panning around and outside Croke Park, highlighting  the Dublin skyline I started to feel a little bit nostalgic for the "Old Country". 
Yes, yes I know iƤve only been away for eight weeks and it cant realy be nostolgic