January, 2007 Archives

Tallinn Light Festival

This evening I ventured out to see the Tallinn Light Festival. Most of the lights on Pikk have been replaced with red lamps, and there are five installations of light along between the Three Sisters and Town Hall Square.

For all the people who’ve been asking me for photos, I’ve uploaded pictures of some of these to flickr. However it proved more difficult than I’d have liked to get even half-decent photos. The first problem was that I’d managed to leave my memory card at home! Rather than fighting my way back through the snow (I’d even had trouble getting out my front door as the snow was wedging it shut), I decided to just buy another card – I could do with a spare anyway! The bigger problem however was that I’m not really sure how to take good photographs of lights in the dark. And even aside from the purely technical questions, it’s hard to hold the camera still for long in snow and winds with an effective temperature -14°C!

I got reasonably plausible photos of four of the installations, but completely failed to get a good shot of the fifth; the Pong game that the Three Sisters Hotel was projecting onto the building opposite it. I also tried for a while to get a good photo of the entrance to the Old Town at Fat Margaret’s Tower showing the red lights stretching down Pikk. It was a good idea in theory, but I was completely unable to get a shot that wasn’t blurred, and by this point I was starting to lose feeling in my hands!

The inflatable hands near the Town Hall Square seem to get the most attention, especially as they spring to life as people go past, but I much preferred the strange installation at St. Olav’s.

Painting the Old Town Red

Late last week I got a note in my mailbox from Eesti Post. I assumed that it was one of those notes to say that they hadn’t been able to deliver something because it was too big to fit through the slot, or needed a signature or something, but it was in Estonian, so I couldn’t really tell what it said. This surprised me slightly, as their website is in Estonian, Russian, and English, and it was a preprinted note so it probably wouldn’t be too difficult to make it multi-lingual too, but as I’m just the dumb foreigner who doesn’t speak the language I’m not really in any position to complain!

The note did have an email address on it, so I typed up what looked like the key text from the note, and asked if they could explain what the note was / what I had to do. Unfortunately the text I quoted, whilst important, wasn’t really key: it was the part that said that I should bring ID with me when coming to the Post Office. And, even more unfortunately, the nice person at Eesti Post who responded to my mail only provided a translation to the part I’d quoted, rather than explaining what the whole thing was!

I could probably have replied quoting more parts until I eventually worked it out, but I figured it would probably be easier just going to the Post Office. This also backfired slightly as although they’re open pretty long hours during the week, they close at 3pm at Saturday.

So on Monday afternoon I tried again. The friendly staff there were able to tell me that I was correct in my thinking, but incorrect in my location. I wasn’t meant to go to the central post office, but to the one on Kotzebue. Unfortunately they couldn’t tell me where this was. I’m not sure whether this is because they didn’t know, or just weren’t confident enough in their English – I’ve noticed that lots of people who have otherwise great English become very hesitant when trying to give me directions.

Operating on the assumption that my mail would only be waiting for me at Kotzebue if it were my closest post office, I started scouring the area of the map up near my apartment. Thankfully I found it quite quickly – just a couple of streets below my nearest Rimi (opposite the doll museum!). So yesterday afternoon I was finally able to pick up my parcel – one of the books I’ve requested on Bookmooch, which was not only a great way to get rid of lots of my books before leaving NI, but is now a great way to get books that the local bookshops are really unlikely to carry. And as my post box has a really narrow slot, I suspect I’ll be back to that post office quite frequently!

Eesti Post

So far the weather hasn’t been quite as bad as I was expecting. When I went out to the post office yesterday (more on that story later!) it was -3°C, but didn’t feel particularly cold. A little chilly, perhaps, but certainly nothing to, erm, blog home about.

This evening, however, whilst sitting typing emails, I noticed at one point that my feet were feeling a little colder than usual. A quick check of my weather widget informed that this was mostly likely due to the temperature dropping to -8°.

At least I’m not walking home via the docks, as the wind chill is reporting -14°…

It’s getting cold in here

This week I tried to sort out my telecoms.

Firstly, I tried to switch my mobile to use a local provider, rather than international roaming. It was relatively simple to get a pre-paid SIM card, although the instructions with it are only in Estonian and Russian, so I don’t know how to do things like check my balance etc. The bigger problem, however, was that my phone is locked. It seems that when you get a phone in the UK it’s locked to the network you’re on, and when you change the SIM, you need to provide an unlock code. There are lots of sites that will sell you codes for £5, but I managed to find one that provides them for free. Most of these sites warn that you only get 3 or 5 attempts before the phone locks up permanently and you need to reset it with cable, but I tried at least 5 different wrong codes before I even worked out that the whole unlock code thing was (the info with the SIM listed at least 4 PIN-like numbers each of which I tried, and the girl in the phone shop claimed that the Nokia default was 12345). Maybe the try count resets each time you get back up and running with the original SIM in?

For my more general telephony, however, being in Estonia I think it’s compulsory to use Skype! Again, getting set up with Skype itself was trivial, as was getting SkypeOut credit, but actually getting hardware was less simple. I don’t particularly want to have to physically be at my laptop to make calls, so I was going to get a cordless skype phone, like the Linksys CIT200.

But then I discovered the Belkin Skype WiFi phone, which lets you use any wifi you can find to make calls. This seems perfect for someone like Tallinn which has ridiculously high free wifi coverage. The biggest problem seems to be the short battery life. Plus, of course, I still haven’t found where to actually buy one.

So, in the meantime, I had to just go buy a traditional headset to actually be able to make calls until I work out what handset I’m going to get!

But I should now be properly contactable. Mail me if you want my new mobile number or skype id. I’m also considering getting a UK SkypeIn number as well so that if anyone does need to ring me they won’t have to pay international rates. I can’t get an NI area code yet though, so it would still have to be a national call for most people. If you’d like me to get one, please let me know!


My sleep habits have been seriously disturbed since moving here. The overnight flight to get here knocked things out straightaway, and in some ways I still haven’t really recovered. I always have difficulty adjusting to the time difference when moving east, and although I didn’t really expect two hours to be significant, I’m mostly having to work on UK time so I often find myself automatically subtracting 2 hours when I look at a clock. The bright streetlights outside my bedroom window aren’t helping much either, as I’ve gotten used over the last 8 years to living far enough outside the city for there to be no artificial light at night.

Then, for much of this week, I found myself in the interesting position of having to do work in the middle of the night UK time, when servers would be at their least busy, whilst having to discus the plans for this on Japanese time! I don’t think I’ve managed to get to sleep before 4am all week.

Until last night, when everything caught up with me, and I fell asleep at 8pm. Unfortunately I then woke at midnight and couldn’t get back to sleep, so I got back up again. By 8am I was really tired again, and went back to bed until noon. I’ve considered experimenting with this sort of sleep pattern before, and in some ways now would be an ideal time to start. But I think I’ll leave that for another day.

My key question for now is what time I’m going to get to sleep at tonight…

Going crepuscular

Generally I’m not a big fan of laptops. I don’t like the small screens, I hate trackpads, and my wrists complain if I have to type on a laptop keyboard for too long. But they are considerably easier to travel with, and so I’ve been working off one for a few weeks.

I did however plan ahead, and also brought a proper keyboard and mouse with me. Unfortunately I was far too stupid to actually test these in advance, and upon arrival discovered that I had no way to actually connect them! I have therefore spent the last few days in search of a USB/PS2 adaptor.

When I was last here in October I forgot to bring a power adaptor, and had to seek one out locally. The electronics department in Kaubamaja proved itself up to that task, but has let me down on this one. They said that I would need an actual computer store and suggested I tried the Kristiine Centre.

Kristiine has been on my ‘to visit’ list for a while, so I today I set off in search of it. Getting to it on foot is slightly trickier than I had expected, due in part to having to cross the railway line. The most awkward part however is the number of places where there are only pavements on one side of a road and thus junctions where you can’t just cross straight over, but need to cross two roads to continue on the opposite side of the same road. With a lot of building work going on everywhere as well, there are also the perils of temporary wooden footpaths which were much icier than I was expecting.

However, despite my needlessly circuitous route, I managed to find the centre. It has a few interesting stores, including a bookshop with lots of seating and a relatively large English language selection, a Euronics store with several interesting LCD monitors at significantly reduced prices (I mostly need to decide whether I want the widescreen one…), and the largest hypermarket I’ve discovered here yet.
Unfortunately the computer store in it is rather tiny and I wasn’t particularly hopeful that I’d be able to get my adaptor. Indeed they seemed rather puzzled by my request, which made me think they had never heard of such a thing (although it may of course just been a language issue). They did however helpfully recommend that I try the computer store in the Ülemiste Centre.

This is meant to be the largest shopping area in Tallinn, and has also been on my to visit list for a while. I’ve been past it in taxis a couple of times, as it’s right beside the airport, but haven’t been down that side of town on foot yet at all. I’m meeting someone down that way at the weekend, so I’ll be able to check it out then.

If I have no joy there, then my next option is to try to find one online. I’ve found a couple of sites so far that sell computer gear locally, but both have only been in Estonian. I actually made it quite far through the registration process in one, but then they started asking questions that I just couldn’t translate at all, and couldn’t work out from context what they might even conceivably be asking.

As a last resort I’ll have to fall back on ordering from the UK, but as I’d take that as a personal failure, I hope I don’t have to do that!

A-wandering I Will Go

I believe it is my duty to offer a translation, or at least interpretation, of part of a seemingly random toastpost. It has long been suggested that most such posts only make sense to at most one other reader. As, on this occasion, that person is me, I feel responsible for inflicting this on the world, and so I shall explain.

After my recent discovery of the Estonian version of Chess, I was reading up on some of the history of the musical, and discovered, much to my surprise, that Murray Head (of One Night in Bangkok) and Anthony Head (of Buffy) were brothers, and that both had played the same part in the London run of Chess.

Were that not surprising enough, I discovered that same evening, completely coincidentally from unrelated reading, that Anthony Head had also sang on the first Red Box album! (It may appear to the casual observer that I could have discovered this from the Anthony Head wikipedia page. However, that page was lacking that information until after I discovered it and added it there myself.)

This information needed to be shared with one who would surely appreciate it, and in turn led to an interesting discussion on other forgotten music of the 80s, including, but not restricted to, Ruby Blue, and the (interestingly unknown to Wikipedia), Bliss.

This is all a very roundabout route to sharing some more information on local musical taste. My previous references to Holly Dolly may have inadvertently scared many people into thinking that everything here is bad Europop. To give a much fairer reflection though, I shall include the current MTV Baltic Top 20:

  1. Brainstorm – Tin Drums
  2. Depeche Mode – Martyr
  3. Tanel Padar – Hopelessness You
  4. Justin Timberlake – My Love
  5. Robbie Williams – Lovelight
  6. Madonna – Jump
  7. U2 + Greenday – The Saints Are Coming
  8. Take That – Patience
  9. Beyonce – Irreplacable
  10. Nelly Furtado – Promiscuous
  11. Paris Hilton – Nothing In This World
  12. Slide Fifty – Believe Me When I Wish Good Luck
  13. Gwen Stefani – Wind it Up
  14. Bob Sinclar – Rock This Party (Everybody Dance Now)
  15. Pink – Nobody Knows
  16. The Killers – When You Were Young
  17. The Killers – Bones
  18. Genka feat. Metsakutsu – Miks Mitte Tana
  19. Reamonn – Tonight
  20. VOSTOC – Pastnieks

Other than a few ‘local’ songs, most of this list should be familiar territory to readers back home.
I’ve found myself growing to quite like the Brainstorm song that is currently #1. Thankfully these days you no longer need to bother with dodgy sites or software looking for mp3s just to check something out. Now I can just direct you to youtube!

The Heads

One significant difference between by life in Belfast and my life here is the amount of walking I’m doing. In part this is because I have little option but to walk here, but it’s also because I can walk here – I’m pretty much living in the city centre and everything I’ve wanted so far has been within a 20 minute walking distance. Here I can walk to my local supermarket, do my shopping, walk back and unpack everything in less than the time it would have taken me to walk to my closest shop in Belfast.

A few days ago, however, I stretched this much further than I planned. I decided to go in search of alternative routes to my local Rimi. It should be pretty much in a straight line, but there’s a lot of building work in the way, which means I have to take a detour around it. I had a theory that by going up the street rather than down it, I might be able to find a way through further up the road, but still still end up slightly quicker. Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be any way through, so cutting through the hotel is still the shortest route.

However, when I found my way back to the Rimi from above, I decided to take a walk down the road alongside it. At first glance it looks like this should run south, roughly parallel with the western wall of the Old Town, sweep down around Toompea, and take me down towards Kristiine, which is on my list to visit.

However, to achieve this goal I needed to be on the next road over, as instead Kopli actually sweeps around in a semi-circle and heads up to the north west! I ended up seeing little more than a few housing districts. I did however encounter what seems to be the local equivalent of Lidl, only even scarier. I was sure that the security guard was going to give me grief for pushing my way through a gate with a big ‘no exit’ sign on it, but as there was only one till open with a queue of about 30 people at it, and I wasn’t actually buying anything, I couldn’t see any other options. Thankfully he just looked sternly at me and didn’t challenge me.

I also passed quite a large furniture store, Mööblimaja, that seemed like it might be interesting, as I still need a few things for the apartment, but unfortunately it was closed.

I ended up doing about a five mile round trip, with no real usefulness, other than getting to see a little more of what the city is like outside the Old Town/City Centre. My feet also hadn’t been expecting this, so they complained for about 24 hours afterwards. And I still haven’t made it down to Kristiine.

‘Chess’ is one of the stranger musicals around. Written by Tim Rice and the two blokes from ABBA it started out as a hit album, with two big singles in the UK, then became a mildly successful London West End production, and was then hugely rewritten to become a Broadway flop. The general opinion is that the songs are excellent, but is let down by a ‘difficult’ main story, so there have been a number of attempts to put together new productions to try to get the balance right. None have had any significant success.

I’ve been a fan of the original album for years, but never had a chance to see a production. However, that looks like it’s about to change, as the latest rescue attempt is an Estonian version. It opened in Tartu last summer, and I’ve seen a few billboard signs for it around Tallinn. However, I can’t tell yet whether it’s going to be playing here, or whether they’re just advertising this year’s performances in Tartu!

Estonia has a long history as a chess country, and one of the all time great chess players, Paul Keres, is a national hero (and apparently the only chess player to appear on a country’s banknotes). So perhaps Tim Rice’s complaint that although Chess is as good as anything he’s ever written, people generally aren’t intelligent enough to understand it, won’t carry as much weight here.

Even if it’s not going to be playing in Tallinn, Tartu isn’t that far away, and it will be playing irregularly there between February and May. So hopefully I’ll be able to persuade someone to come visit me whilst it’s on, for what will no doubt be a slightly bizarre night’s entertainment!

In the last few days I’ve been investigating the various other shopping options at the north of the city. Google Earth had pointed me to two other locations: Nord Centrum and Sadamarket. Each of these is further away from my local Rimi, but closer than the Viru Keskus.

Nord Centrum is interesting. It’s tucked away just below the docks, in a location that seems like it would be quite difficult to stumble upon if you didn’t know it was there, and I suspect my routes to and from it were each much more complex than they really needed to be. But it contains a much bigger Rimi than my local, with a much wider selection in most categories (and stocks Rice Krispies!), as well clothing, books, DVDs etc. This now looks like it will become my second choice supermarket, for things that my local doesn’t stock. The centre also has a variety of other shops that seem much more for locals than tourists. (One of the problems of living just outside the Old Town is that you’re never quite sure what a reasonable price for something really is!) There’s a useful little shop for general household items, where I was able to pick up clothes-hangers (there were only about 6 in my apartment!) and quite a decent pair of gloves really cheaply. I really wanted some bigger glasses than the ones provided for me – preferably pint sized – but despite a wide range of various drinking vessels they didn’t have anything bigger than about half a pint.

Sadamarket, on the other hand, is a scary, scary place. It’s like you took all the worst shops from the Hi Park Centre in Belfast, moved them to the docks, and targetted them at day-tripping Finns. The amount of Lordi, Kimi, and Muumi tat was overwhelming. If there were any redeeming features I’ve already forgotten them. I doubt I’ll be returning there any time soon, unless I have any visitors I want to scare!

Sad sad market