Monthly Archives: October 2010

Exploring Russia: Псков и Москва

Last Friday, I was given the opportunity to participate in a 4-day trip tp Russia, including 2 nights in the country’s sparkling capital MOSCOW! Of course, the preparations have started weeks ago, since I had to make prepayment and leave my passport in the hands of the local travel agency.

On early Friday morning, a group of around 25 people gathered in front of the dormitory at Raatuse, waiting for the bus to arrive. Among those I  could count more than 10 Germans 🙂 The bus would arrive with the woman from the agency who was going to guide us during the trip and take care of all (language-related) problems and obstacles. It turned out to be more than necessary…                                                                                                        After about 3 hours of driving, we arrived at the Estonian-Russian border. It took a good 2 hours to first exit Estonia, drive through a 2oom “no-mans-land” and finally to enter Russia, including several check ups on the passport, the pictures and, in my case only, a good look into my luggage. Once done, I witnessed the first heavy snow of this season.After we have successfully entered Russia, we stopped to pick up a tiny old woman, who turned out to be our tour guide for Pskov (NB: Tartu’s partnercity). We drove to this old (over 1,100 years) city and spend a couple of hours visiting the local Kremlin. It was rather interesting, yet the omnipresence of the snow and cold was a drawback to this excursion.

“You are not allowed to take pictures of the nuns and the monkeys!”

After  about 2 hours in the very extreme cold of Pskov, we drove to a small café where we had the opportunity to get some lunch. Next to that place we found a small supermarket and bought the groceries for what we believed should be a quite relaxing trip in the night train towards Moscow. I was mistaken… 😛 The bottle of really cheap vodka (100 ruble, around 2,30€) I took was to get us in a dizzy sleeping mood so we could have gotten up in with explordinary ambitions in the morning, ready to experience Moscow. However, what stood between this idea was the comfort of the train + 150 russian soldiers, who just finished their military service as paratroops and were looking forward to finally going home to their families, girlfriends, wives and kids (the soldiers’ ages: 20-25). At first, I was afraid my “non-russian-looks” could be the cause for an unpleasant night with 150 bold headed drunken ones staring at me. But then I opened my bottle of vodka, saluted to the next guy I could see and drank – the ice was broken! Following this was 4 hours of drinking, learning Russian (us), learning English (them) and experiencing a typical russian-style rooster fight, when the train militia tried to prevent the soldiers from excessive drinking. At 11pm, we were told to go to “bed” and sleep. Surprisingly (or maybe not, taking into consideration the gallons of booze those people drank) everyone obeyed. Everyone? No! 1 brave tall and very drunken German from Rostock decided to fight for resistance against this, what he called “Stalinist” idea of suppressing authorities. He was chased up and down the train for about 1 hour before being convinced by both our guide and the militia that sleeping would be a much better solution than spending the upcoming 15 days in a prison in Moscow – he was a very smart kid then 🙂

Saturday morning, 6.30am. Moscow. Cold. Windy. But still: Moscow! We took a bus to the hotel but unfortunately it was still pitch black outside, so I cannot much recall the first impression of this city. The hotel was…all right. The rooms were fine (I even got a single room, not the worst idea after having travelled in the same shoes for almost 24 hours!), and the view from the 16th floor could not have been better (I have never seen so many blocks of houses in my life – and I have been to Berlin Marzahn) but it was the breakfast that made me realise I finally came to the capital of the former Soviet Union: Noodles with cheese for me (with 1 sausage for those who eat roadkill), 1 yoghurt, 1 teabag, a little bit of hot water. Taking a second teabag equalled the amount of 15 days of prison as I am convinced…

Having eaten, having freshened up a little, were ready to hop on a bus and get our first guided bus trip around the city – big fail! 5 minutes after I was seated comfortably, I fell asleep. I was woken around 40 minutes later for a stop at something which I cannot recall. It has not even been the first stop we have made. The first one was something called “Kreml”, but that did not seem to be too interesting, so I haven’t missed a thing. Now since I do not remember what it was that we visited, I will just post the picture and whoever guesses correctly will help me a lot. Next to the unknown spot, we drove by the Moscow State University, the Olympic Stadium from 1980 and finally stopped at some tourist spot for taking photos, given the explicit order not to buy anything from the sellers, something we almost obeyed.

We also saw the ski-jump tower which has never been used, as it could not have been guaranteed that the athletes could land within the designated area. After that part, we went to the city to get some “typical russian food” which in my case was potatoes with salad, a vegetable soup and some ice cream for dessert. Afterwards, we were given 3 hours of spare time in the All-Russian Exhibition Center. Once a sparkling area for demonstrating the economic and agricultural success of the Russian republics it is now a rather sad place for buying old garbage, spending money on touristic products and saluting to the Lenin-statue every now and then. 3 hours was way to much, except the pavilion of Armenia, which hosts a fiddle, half the size of a match. And, of course, the amazing 5D cinema. For 500 ruble I was given a 3D-glass, was seated in a movable chair with wind blowing around my face and drove through outer space, the midwest and many rollercoasters. Big fun! The 90 minutes it took me afterwards to convince my stomach to remain on the inside were less fun, still it was worth the money 🙂

Later, we drove with the monorail (!) to a shopping mall, ate some overpriced (but nonetheless extraordinarily cheap) food, did the groceries in the supermarket and took the metro back to the hotel. After this really long travel and this long day with a lot of walking, I fell asleep at around 10pm.

Waking up in Moscow! After a morning shower and another Russian-breakfast-experience, we again took the metro, but this time to outer town. Kolomenskoye was the destination, which used to be a residential place for tsars of the Russian Empire. The museum was quite interesting, as many information were given about the time this place was of major importance to the empire. The areal has many beautiful-looking churches, the main one being the Church of Our Lady of Kazan, which seemed to have hosted a baby convention on that particular day… After yet another typical Russian lunch, salad, soup, deep-fried califlower (for all vegetarians!), we drove back to the city centre, buying tickets for the Moscow Circus! Before we entered the circus, we had yet another 3 hour trip to the Tretyakov Gallery which can be considered as the best art museum for Russian fine art in the world. As I prefer walking around a museum without getting explanations about 250 different paintings, I started comparing the tour guides from different countries. Obviously our Russian one was unwiling to make our trip anything but static, but the Germans were way more enthusiastic (did you hear that, Germany!!!). And to a much wider extent the Dutch guide was sort of reanacting certain historical scenes captured in paintings – fantastic! I also developed some talent in alternative interpretations of art… 😀

Finally, it became evening. Finally, we could go the circus! The famous Moscow Circus! It was worth every ruble (I have waited all my life to actually say this sentence with justifications!). Unfortunately I was not allowed to take pictures with flash and those I did without are sort of useless, but I’ll let you decide. I have taken videos though with promising footage. Everything one could expect was shown during the show. However, a great amount of time was dedicated to humiliating animals in the arena, namely horses, dogs, lions and even car-driving bears. In general, the show was sparkling and I am very glad to have gotten the opportunity to see it 🙂

After the show, we driving around the city at night, but the concentration among all of us was rather low, so I am sorry to not be able to provide you with any stories and/or pictures. Once back at the hotel, we hoped to get to the supermarket in time for a bottle of vodka, but it seems that strong booze can only be bought before 10am, which meant we came in a quarter of an hour late. Well, a couple of beers and some snacks would also do it, so we stayed in with a bunch of people in someone’s hotel room for some time, then went to bed.

Monday morning. I showered, I ate (no comment on the what I ate), I packed my suitcase. Then we left to enter the Kreml, this time from the inside! To be honest, I had no idea what to expect from that since I ever really paid attention to the pictures on the news, but I was only partially impressed. I mean, the areal itself looks just stunning, with plenty of huge buildings used for a lot of very important political reasons, but nonetheless I had always pictured it differently. We entered nearby the famous Spasskaya Tower and quickly made our way across the roads towards the “Tsar Canon”. We ended up in the “Cathedrale of the Assumption” where we again compared tourist guides, again with the same result 🙂

And then it was time…

Time for the Red Square! Within walking distance from the Kreml, we reached it. Words cannot really describe the moment I have seen it for the first time. The place actually is not very much bigger than the Vismarket in Groningen nor the Pferdemarkt in Oldenburg, but with its surrounding buildings and its two main ones on both ends it feels just stunning to be standing there, on a square which has witnessed tremendous amounts of history! I could have spent hours on the bricks, just walking and looking around, taking picture after picture, entering the State Historical Museum or the St.Basil’s Cathedral, but unfortunately time was limited. We still had to visit the newly (1995) built Cathedrale of Christ the Saviour. Also a very beautiful building, but again we were rushed through by the guide, who would in turn for the usual “5 minutes for pictures” grand us 90 minutes of excessive shopping in the main tourism street of Moscow where thousands of people trying to sell crap to us. Surely an interesting way of setting priorities…

The rest of the story is not worth spending too much time on. We took the same night train back to Pskov (this time without any soldiers!), arrived at 8am, had breakfast, did some groceries (well, mainly vodka) and then went on the border. This time the border control only took around 45 minutes so that by 1pm, we were back home in good old Tartu! It was a fun trip but way to short to experience a city with nearly as many inhabitants as the Netherlands. For a first visit it was very good, but I know that coming back next time, I will get a tailor-made plan of what to see and what to do.

Спасибо и До свидания!

My studies in Tartu

I have come to realise that, so far, I have barely talked about my actual studies at the Ülikool Tartu. Therefore I shall dedicate this entry to all my courses I am currently following.

Marketing for Public and Third Sector organizations

My early Monday morning class (4pm). Main content of this course is to talk about the public sector, which can roughly be defined as marketplace with less intention in profit-making. Taught by an American who claims he can only work as long as his 2 litre bottle of cola is not empty 🙂 The class is very entertaining as it is more of a seminar than a lecture. in addition, the lecturer has intense knowledge regarding fund-raising and writing grant proposals; two things I will have to do while doing my internship in Liberia. Hopefully he can help me getting a better insight into that.                                                            Approximately 20% Germans.

Economic development of the Baltic Sea Region

Wednesday, 10am, located in the economics building of the university. This class is not much suitable for that particular time, as the teacher is way less entertaining and challenging than others. Most of the time he talks about the GDP per capita in the region, comparing the “old” and “new” countries or tries to explain the foreign investment trend in Estonia. The content itself is more or less interesting, yet the means of presenting those are questionable. I have passed a test two weeks ago and will have to write a short paper on the economic development of Lithuania (country was left to choose). Approximately 25& Germans attending.

Semiotics of Translation

My hardest course. For one, I have only limited knowledge about semiotics and its background (as I am following a Master class with “experts” who studied that subject for at least 5 years already) and for two, I have to speed up after my economics class to make it in time at noon on Wednesdays (distance about 3km).  The class, despite its rather complicated content, is very interesting. I learn how to work with foreign texts, such as how to translate it, using which parameter of translatability (I.e neutralization, grammatical language, time, space, context, historicalisation…) or what text operations, such as Permutatio, Repititio or Adiecto (fancy words, hu!). I am aware that this explanation of the class is rather vague, but that pretty much demonstrates my feelings towards it 😛 I have passed a test last week and will have to write a translation analysis, applying the above mentioned concepts until the week after next.                                             5% Germans attending (me only!).

Semiotic Analysis of Subcultures

Arguable my toughest class. For several reasons. First of all, I still am puzzled about the core meaning of semiotics. Also, I need to concentrate really hard to actually understand the guy up front, who looks a lot like Waldo. He keeps mumbling all the time and has this distinct Estonian accent when talking English which I am partially capable of speaking myself. The class itself is rather good, though I am not sure about the correctness of the title. So far, we have talked about the “Critical mass” movement, the “glam rock” music style (with special attention to David Bowie) and this week we shall watch a movie about hip hop styles. Part of the final assessment will be a short presentation about a subculture. I have not yet made up my mind, but I’d like to explain the “Christiania” culture in Copenhagen, Denmark.                                        10% Germans attending (me + 1!).

Religion – A necessary good or evil influence on society?

By far the most promising class at first when I have chosen my courses but now I am a little disappointed. Taught by a fantastic old Scot (around 65 – 70 years of age) with an original Braveheart accent about any religion or religiousness in the UK, back from the times the Kelts were present until the recent times, when the Brits were in Palestine. For the past four (!) weeks, we watched the movie “Exodus” and I am curious about the discussion to come about it. Assessment for this class will be 2 essays to which I am looking forward.                                                                                                                                     5% Germans attending (me +1!).

History of the Baltic Sea Region

A pain in the arse! Boring presentations, boring teachers, overloaded Powerpoint, 10am on Thursday. I don’t even want to talk about it too much now. Assessment a paper and an exam. Does not seem too difficult, but just sitting in class is bothering my mind. Not recommended.                                                                                                                                       25% Germans attending.

Russian for International students (level A0 -> A1.2)

Здравствуйте! Меня зовут Julian! Я гoворю по-русски. These and other fancy sentences are taught in the Russian class, which takes place twice a week. I like this class very much and the teacher is really competent but the late hours (4pm respectively 6pm) are sort of hampering the success, since everyone is getting more tired by the minute. I was having a test just yesterday and I think I will have passed. The written language is kind of all right, but since I want to focus more on the oral part, this shall not bother me too much. In 3 days I will travel to Moscow with a bunch of people for 4 days! Maybe I even have to apply my knowledge over there 🙂                                                                                                           35% Germans attending.

History of Religion of the Ancient Near East

My last class before the weekend (Thursdays, 6pm). Lectures given by a German teacher who lives and teaches in Tartu for almost 14 years now. Well that does not prevent him from using his thickest German accent, taking about German students and using German words whenever he connects two sentences (achso, naja, okay)! The content of the class is…well, it is interesting in a way that we compare Babylonian and Sumerian flood mythology, their different cosmogonies and in general, the terminology of ancient religion. According to him, the final assessment may either be an essay or an oral test in “any language you would like to use”! Despite his ability of speaking English and German, that is a very big promise!                                                                                                                                                10% Germans attending (me +1!).


I have chosen courses from a wide variety of faculties. I could have taken more classes, since UT offers lots of very exciting subjects to study. But too often, those courses would have been at the exact same time slot of other ones or, what’s even worse, in the early mornings (and believe me, you do not want to get up at 7am in Estonia when it starts freezing and snowing in October to make your way to class!). I am confident that all my courses (maybe with minor exclusion of the Ancient Near East one 😛 ) will be of benefit for my future studies and even for the professional life to come. What also strikes me being here is that for the first time I am really sitting and listen, only listen. Though I miss the interactive study at the Hanze University in Groningen, it feels good to just be a number in the system for once 🙂

I have come to realise that, so far, I have made the right decision in having applied for the Ülikool Tartu!

2 months in Estonia – Evaluation of a situation

Today, 2 months ago, I have grabbed my suitcase, I have grabbed my bag. I have said “Goodbye” to those I am going to miss and then: I was sitting in the airplane, taking off for a 5-months adventure to Tartu, Estonia!

Now, exactly 2 months later, I thought it might be time for an evaluation, in addition to posting a new bunch of pictures! The time being here kind of flies. It is hard to imagine that 2 months have passed already. My weeks at the Ülikool pass by so quickly that I sometimes feel I have missed a week or two. Before I noticed it is weekend again, and then Monday, and so on…

What have I seen from this country so far? I have been in Tallinn for two days, only walking around the Old Town and watched football in the national stadium. I have taken a train to Tartu (and I am still receiving “thumps up” for my Stalin-reference on the waggon-quality. I have spent a day sightseeing in the South, including the oldest tree, the highest mountain, the deepest lake and an interesting walk in the sump.

I have watched football in Tartu, I have bought Tofu in a store, I became a regular at the open food market (which offers the lowest prices for fresh vegetables and fruits in the city).

I have experienced a student city in which students form, change and rearrange the city and especially its nightlife with tremendous pace. All sorts of different music offer a wide variety, next to bars and pubs and clubs… The clubs are crap, like clubs normally are, but the pubs are worth visiting. The price level in Estonia in general is very “consumer-friendly”, though with the € coming soon, a tiny but constant rise in prices is notable (Tallinn has become almost as expensive as some German cities).

It has not quite been halftime for my in Estonia, but since I feel the time rushing through, I need to plan my time more wisely. What definitely is my list is a 4-day trip to Moscow, starting in less than 2 weeks. My Russian is still “under construction”, but I reckon I could use some catchy phrases to get along 😉 In addition, I will have a day trip to Viljandi sometime in October, for sightseeing the city and watching a football match over there!

My resume after 2 months: I like it! Tartu is a great city, Estonia is a great country and the Baltic Area is a good place to spend a semester abroad!

Talking “politics” in Estonia (+ match report: JK Tammeka Tartu – FC Flora Tallinn)

This new entry was overdue a long time ago. Politics in Estonia with special regards to me have been bothering me for weeks and weeks. I am not a very political person, yet I like discussing various topics with some sort of passion. Estonia has been a troubled country in the past. With a glance at the history books, I can barely see any longer periods of independence, leaving aside the current time after the Soviet block got lost in the iron curtain.

The “Singing Revolution”, a piece of national identity which helped shaping the unity of the people during the occupation was considered to be the most peaceful act towards a suppressing regime in recent history.

I have met a guy in the streets, weeks ago.Said he used to be an Estonian skinhead, a Nazi (note: he considered himself a Nazi, not a Neo-Nazi). Said he used to go on rallies. Said Tartu is the skinhead capital of the country. I asked him whether I should care a great deal about my appearing, my behaviour, my steps at night. “Of course not”, he answered. “You are not Russian – we are after them!”…

A single opinion of an individual? Not even close. Almost every second time I spend a night out and my nationality is being revealed, I am confronted with the history of my country as well as Estonia’s. Several people (though not being completely sober) approach me and let me know that I should not be ashamed of my heritage, nor my country’s past. In their view, Hitler was not fighting the Jews (not primarily at least) but he was fighting the communistic Soviet Union. Therefore, as a more or less logic consequence from that thought, Hitler was fighting for the Estonian freedom! That is why Germans are most welcomed in Estonia (well, speaking for Tartu at least), while the Russians are still being looked at suspiciously. This is something rather new to me, as I have years of experience in defending my history and thus my heritage to others. However, I am still shocked by the lightness of these people when it comes to “justifying” the atrocities committed during the last century.


Okay, I will now turn my focus on a more delightful aspect of life in Tartu – watching football! Today, finally, after weeks and weeks of postponing the trip, I made it the ground of JK Tammeka Tartu. The opponent was FC Flora Tallinn, last year’s cup winner and runner-up in the league. Thus, Tartu, who lost 6 of the 7 games they played since I entered this country, was clearly the underdogs vs a team, which stands on top of the Meistriliiga. So what?! Tartu won, 2:1!! After a rather weak match with little action on both sides did Tammeka keep the 3 points at home. Home in that case would be a track-and-field pitch with a, constantly being rebuilt, shed on the one side. 1,40€ entrance, beer for 1,20€ and warm sunshine made this afternoon a pleasant experience 🙂 Below some pics from the match. Enjoy!