Sunday, June 20, 2010

A Retrospective Day in Finland

I started writing this article about three weeks ago, but never got to finish it. Well until now that is......
As you may remember, two weeks ago I managed to get a bit of time of work and Una and I did a bit of travelling, one place that I haven't already mentioned was our day trip to Finland. It was an early start as we had to be onboard the ship by 7.40. As with every other method of transport over here, even the ships leave on time. It was a typical two hour ferry journey on a fairly typical ferry, with the occasional exceptions such as giant cat and dog litter box on one of the decks and the equally unusual sight of someone actually winning on the slot machines and winning big.

We were in Helsinki once before and it was still pretty much in the same way we left it. Its just like any other major city, with lots of people and familiar brand name shops. Speaking of shops their biggest book shop was absolutely massive, dwarfing in the likes of chapters. In Estonia new history books (written in English) come out about one a month, but in this store there had to be at least thirty.I was picking them up and replacing them with others at such a rate that I was starting to get dizzy. I could easily have spent four days in there. Oh yes I nearly forgot, I was about to buy the "Daily Mail" which costs about 1 Euro, when I noticed the shops own price of 5 euro 40 cents. Wow, when people say there is nothing in news papers but bad news, they really weren't kidding.

Now I don't know if it because I've been out of Ireland for a long time and have lost track of how much items cost, but 5.40 for a news paper and 1,94 euro for a can of coke in supermarket still seems pretty extreme to me.
Apart from that Helsinki can boast quiet double decker trains, a science museum with some weird exhibits such as two unattached satellite dishes that can be used as telephones, a mask of Einstein that plays tricks on your eyes and a bed of nails that was actually more painful than I was led to be believe. But the main reason for going to the Heureka Science museum was its planetarium. I'd hate to guess at how long its been since I was last in one, but it was well worth the visit, especially for Una as this was her first.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

In the army now

On Thursday having fully recovered from our trip to the countryside, it was time to get back on our bikes and a 30k.m. round trip to the town of Viimsi and the "General Laidoner (Military) museum At the start of the week the weather forecast predicted rain for nearly every day, yet here we were in another warm day and even had time to hang around at the beach. As with all the other military museums I've visited I would like to thank Una for not complaining as quietly putting up with it and me (yet again). However this was a museum with a difference. Of course it had the usual military vehicles, weapons and posters, but this time there was a great toy. An automatic rifle with sensors that the public could use to fire at an electronic target. Being the typical male that I am, I blasted away and barely hit the wall, but then Una stepped up and hit the target time and time again including the bulls eye. Was it humiliating to be beaten with a big boy's toy by a woman, I hear you ask? HELL NO. When you're good, you good. And she is really good. As you may not be going to Estonia any time soon allow me educate you a little. The twentieth century was for Estonia an especially bloody and oppressive time, being occupied by Russian and German armies for most of that time. But did you know that in its war of Independence against Lenin's Russian volunteers came from Denmark, Sweden, Finland and White Russia to aid this little country. The Royal Navy and American cash also made its way here, but unlike Afghanistan they didn't put soldiers on the ground. Ironically the now independent Estonia is only one of a handful of countries who are still sending soldiers to that new battleground.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Plenty of Time

It was the desire to do something during my holidays rather than letting the days slip by, that drove me out of bed and of to the local train station yesterday morning. Normally it's a twenty minute walk away, but with less than fifteen minutes before the train pulled out, Una and I ran there in ten. Tired and sweaty I took my seat grateful for the fact that we had made it on time, yet completely unaware that this was the start of a great adventure and panic driven day.

The journey down to the town of Paldiski took seventy minutes, giving us time to relax, talk about the day ahead and politely make fun

of some of our fellow travellers.

When we got off the train, Paldiski looked like the kind of place that was famous for absolutely nothing, in fact I had barely heard of the place and I've been over here for a year and half now.

In fact I was so wrong about this place that it's almost funny. My first clue should have been that the majority of the population were Russian, the second was the numerous and now abandoned military buildings scattered along the coastline and the busy harbour.

We stopped at one such relic an hour or so into our walk which according to the map was 15 Kilometers away. Fifteen km's is indeed quite a walk, but with seven hours to do it in, we would have plenty of time to spare and hang around the beach at the train station. At first I thought that these military relics from a bygone age were rusting machine gun emplacements built by the Germans in World War two, but unlike those dotted along the Swedish coastline, these seemed ill-designed and badly constructed. Why would the Germans have built anything so badly? The answer, is that they didn't. These rotting metallic and concrete shells belonged to the Soviet army of occupation. Yet even at this point I hadn't realised that I was standing in one of the most secret of secret former Soviet military bases in all of its once conquered empire. Paldiski was actually the home for Russian Submarines and the base for a nuclear reactor. Just of the coast are two small islands, the first of these was the location of the reactor, while the second was unbelievably used by the Soviet air force for bombing practice from St. Petersberg. Even today these islands are still considered unsafe as numerous anti-personnel mines litter them. One fact that I still haven't uncovered yet, is that how come the last Russian naval vessel didn't leave these island until 1994, a full three years after Estonian Independence. Having recovered and rested with the assistance of a couple of cans of ciderr and pastries we set of for the last hour or so of our walk. At times the road became no more than a trampled down path that wound out along the edge of a cliff face, as we passed old trenches and bunkers that were overshadowed by new giant wind turbines At what we believed to be the halfway point we came across nature at it's both its finest and ugliest, as we spotted deers, swans, storks and then the awful site of some naked guy sun bathing.

With over four hours to go before our train was due to leave I said that we should keep on going, after all we already know whats was behind us. Apart for one memorable stop along the way, which may be the source of another blog (but that pretty unlikely) we found ourselves following the coastline with greater and greater urgency as we realised that 15 km's on Google maps, is a hell of a lot more and takes a lot longer when you are covering every contour of the coastline, on a ground that changes from hard to soft sand, pebbles and then completely disappears as the water licks the base of the cliff and we were forced to move inland. Whilst walking along the shoreline, we were stopped in out tracks by the sight of an otter running across our path and headlong into the water. As its sleek black body dashed quickly in front of us, I was momentarily convinced that this long tailed creature was a puma or some other wild cat which lives in Estonia. After this excitement we had to leave the shore as the sea rolled in and it was here that we encountered those most hideous of creatures. Mosquitoes. Those wretched little insects were everywhere and bit me so many times that my dislike, no, my hatred of them has now risen to even hired levels. What possible purpose can their existence serve.? I'll tell you what. NONE. None at all. They are horrible worthless little creatures who should be exterminated. Actually, maybe they are part of some secret long term plan by the Russians to get revenge on anyone who comes this way. Yeah, now that makes sense. Continuing our journey we began to consider the possibility that maybe four hours wasn't going to be enough to get us to the station in time. Should we miss this train there wasn't to be another until the next morning and there was no where to spend the night. As we walked past one bend on the coast, another would appear behind it and tease us. At one point we were even cut off by the sea and had waded through the cold water. With our trousers rolled up and shoes and socks in-hand we made our way through the cold water.

Yet even with time running out we still had time to bury our cider cans in the sand, a few hundred meters ahead of a couple of treasure hunters who were searching the beach with a metal detector.

It may have been because I had little idea of how far we actually had to go that I never stopped believing that we would make it. Then suddenly through a clearing of trees Una spotted our train waiting at the platform a mere hundred meters away. We had made it and with forty minutes to spare.

When we got back to Tallinn that same twenty minute walk which had started of our day, now seemed like a trip to the garden. If we had a car we certainly wouldn't have had such a great adventure.