December, 2006 Archives

Arriving in Tallinn approximately one week after the winter solstice I was pleasantly surprised to find that daylight lasts slightly longer than I had feared. Although I was only moving a few degrees North (from 54° to 59°), I’m less than half a degree below St. Petersburg and its famous summer White Nights. So I was slightly concerned that at this time of the year I might only have a few hours of daylight. But although it’s getting dark by around 3:30pm, it’s also getting light shortly after 9am, giving a good 6 or more hours of daylight.

It’s also considerably warmer than I was expecting. Although it was 0°C when I landed early in the morning, the lower temperatures don’t feel as cold to walk about in here than in Belfast. Today was 6°C, which is impressively high for this time of year, and apparently tomorrow will be the first New Year in quite some time with an ice-free Baltic Sea.

However, my weather widget has also been predicting rain for much of the next week, so I decided today I should really buy myself an umbrella. (In case of emergency I could probably have blagged one temporarily from just inside the entrance to the 3 Sisters hotel, which is fairly close to my apartment, but I figured I should really get my own!)

This proved slightly more difficult than I had imagined, presumably as Estonians seem generally to favour hats (often of the very silly variety) over umbrellas, but I eventually managed to track one down. My timing was perfect, as it started to snow just as I left the shop, and has continued to do so all evening.

The Old Town seemed to overrun by tourists today, so I’m sure the Town Hall Square will shortly be full of people taking photographs of a snow covered Christmas tree whilst waiting for the fireworks to start.

Snow is falling …

When I was in Tallinn in October I noted with some surprise that none of the supermarkets seemed to sell Rice Krisipies. They had a wide range of other breakfast cereals, and all even had Coco Pops (although they’re known here as Choco Krispies), but Rice Krispies were conspicuously missing. Thanks to the wonderful “community layer” on Google Earth, I’ve discovered that there’s a Rimi supermarket only a couple of hundred metres away from my apartment that I was previously completely unaware of and that is much closer than the only other two I knew of nearby. Unfortunately they also have an absence of Rice Krispies, but at least I won’t have to walk quite so far to do my grocery shopping in future.

This afternoon, however, I was in the food shop in the basement of Viru Keskus, and discovered that they were now stocking Rice Krispies. This means I won’t have to alter my breakfast habits just yet, and armed with the knowledge that they are indeed available, I might even be able to convince my local Rimi to carry them. I’ll wait until I find someone there who speaks fluent English though, as my Estonian skills are still extremely basic, and this sort of request doesn’t appear in any of the “useful phrases” lists I’ve seen so far!

In Search of Rice Krispies

The ridiculous departure time of the Dublin-Tallinn isn’t so much to do with it being late at night, so much as the flight not being long enough to really class as ‘overnight’. It’s a 3 hour long flight, plus a 2 hour time difference, so you leave at 01:30, and arrive at 06:30. So, technically you get on at night and get off in the morning, but three hours is a really nasty length to actually try to sleep. And, unless you’re one of the rare breed of travellers who can sleep through takeoff and landing, the actual “lights off” section of the flight is only about an hour and half. This of course is the optimal period to gain negative value from sleep and wake up feeling much worse than when you started.

That is, of course, if you can actually get to sleep on the plane at all. The seats aren’t particularly comfortable, and the headrests have way too little padding, and all far too low in the seat to be useful unless you’re ludicrously short. The plane seemed full of people contorted into strange shapes to try to find some level of comfort somewhere. One girl with exceptionally skinny legs even managed to sit rotated around 90 degrees in her seat, with both legs squeezed under the armrest into the aisle, in just the right place to trip up everyone trying to pass.

Arriving in Tallinn that early in the morning also seems to have another negative: only one exit lane open at passport control. On my previous visit there were 3 lanes open, and everyone got through in under 5 minutes. This morning it took almost half an hour.

Being able to fly from Dublin was certainly convenient but I certainly wish they flew during the day, rather than just at night!

Estonian Air

Getting from Belfast to Estonia is fairly inexpensive, but also involves travelling at rather anti-social times. Easyjet fly from Stansted, which would be a straightforward change were it not for the 6am departure time. This isn’t too bad when you know someone who lives close to the airport and is willing to get up an an unearthly hour to drive you there. Otherwise the overnight in a hotel will easily cancel out the ludicrously low fares.

Alternatively, you can do as I did this time, and fly Estonian Air from Dublin. This is a direct flight, but has an even more troubling departure time of 1:30am. Nothing on my ticket told me what time I needed to check-in by, but as boarding was listed for 12:45, I guessed that the desk would probably close around then. So leaving Belfast at about 10pm should give plenty of time.

The plan itself was fine, but the execution left a little to be desired.

The main problem was my complete state of unreadiness. I didn’t leave myself anywhere near enough time to clear out my apartment. When my mother arrived to pick me up at 9:30 I still hadn’t finished even boxing up all the files that would need to go back to the office, never mind actually packing my case! We loaded as much as we could into two cars to take to the office, and I threw what I could randomly into my case, and then some more into a second case on the basis that it was less hassle to pay the excess than to miss my flight by spending too long packing properly.

Unfortunately I took just too long doing this, ensuring that we were too late to get through the main gates to the harbour estate (which are closed at 10pm), and had to drive the long way around to the office. Eventually we got away at about 10:45. Being on time was now looking a lot tighter!

As I had had to leave far too many things un-sorted in my apartment, I spent most of the start of the journey texting various people trying to arrange with them to come pick up things that I had promised them, but ran out of time to actually deliver. As such I wasn’t able to pay much attention to the roads, and was shocked to discover at one point that we were fast approaching Dungannon, having missed the turn at Lisburn and continued merrily down the M1.

At this point I was sure I was going to miss my flight.

Thankfully we managed to get back across country to Newry via Armagh and on to the (Southern) M1 at Dundalk in a fairly decent time. I scrambled into the airport at 12:55 and dashed to the check-in desk. Thankfully they were still open, although they’d already shut down the luggage conveyor, so I figured I was just in time. Each of my suitcases was heavier than the total luggage allowance so I was braced for a hefty excess baggage charge, but I was let off with merely a warning that I would certainly be charged on my return.

Of course, in packing everything so quickly, I hadn’t had time to consider what I could and couldn’t take in my hand-luggage. So I had an interesting 10 minutes whilst the security staff went through my bag removing far too many things that I wasn’t allowed. (I still have no idea how the fork got there though!)

When I got to the gate I discovered the flight had been delayed, which I suspect had some bearing on my being able to check in so late. Although we seemed to take off almost an hour late, we still managed to arrive only about 15 minutes after the scheduled arrival time, and the driver was waiting patiently outside to bring me to my apartment (The free airport pickup is a really nice bonus when renting from RED Group!)

The airport dash