Category Archives: Estonia

Balt zuhause

Despite writing these words in a cozy hostel in Prague, I felt the urge to – at least partially – reactivate this blog for I remember my original purpose of having started it back then in 2010.
Back then, in 2010, it was more of an uninformed attempt to establish my first written words to an outside audience, who suggested I should blog about my ERASMUS experiences in Tartu, Estonia. And so I did, with gusto and endurance.

And now, about 5 years later, I consider myself at home in the once alien place that I thought would remain a one-time endeavor and feeling more and more incorporated.

And yet, despite not knowing, what the concept of “The Balt” might even be, I feel more at home in my current situation than I felt for the main parts of my adult life in my native Germany. Maybe it is the novelty of being away from the familiarity that is my home, but I reckon understand the – or a – Baltic lifestyle a bit better and enjoy mingling with it.

Hrmph, not sure why I wrote all this, it just felt right to try to revive this blog and to see whether it is worth maintaining, as I might be less of a traveler now, but still curious about the places I am engaging with. Whatever, I am gonna have some Czech beer now…


The Roman, the Greek and the Nazi(s)

How overdue this blog is can easily be defined by the time past between my last publication here (August ’12). But even to a wider extent by the strong urge I have had to write this piece – which dates back many, oh so very many years. It may have first manifested itself inside of me during the school-year 2003/04 that I spent living in Cork, Ireland. Over there, in a overly catholic boys-to-men-school I was first being introduced to the idea of having foreigners tell me what they know – or thought to believe – about Germany and its past. Spoiler alert: it is not a very happy story! Of course not, how could it be?! Well, truth be told: my classmates back then were 15-16 years old and still had a few years of school in front of them. And even I had three more years to go afterwards. But then again, these 3 years – speaking about the history class in particular – were filled with one subject: Ze Zermans.
Okay, now here is, what I remember from all in all 9 years of more or less intense history-learning in various schools:

There once was a German Empire. Then they fought a war, lost it, got blamed. Started a second war, lost it. And rightfully so: got blamed. And then there were two German countries until David Hasselhoff miraculously reunited them, full stop.

Well, this is mind and taking those few weeks in middle school into account, during which the teacher would playfully explain the Romans and the Greeks (and we are talking a few weeks only!) I have absolutely no idea about any other country or historic events. For all I know, Germany could be only 150 years old and the riverbanks from where I am currently typing these words got drawn here like in SimCity. If it was not for the English classes in which we scratched on the surface of history of all major English speaking (and the U.S.) me knowledge would be even more limited.
What is bothering me immensely is my lack of wisdom regarding my own national identity and how this may be perceived elsewhere. I was being “honored” by Estonian nationalists back in 2010 with them telling me that I should be proud of “the” past. Shocking for a person like me, being brought up in a school system that for 9 consecutive years indoctrinated my mind about Germans and Germany being the source of all evil.  That persons’ believe put aside, I wish I could, in that very moment, have been able to explain my knowledge more thoroughly – but nah. I was merely given the tools to accept all blaming and beating for something in the past.
But in today’s day and age, I strongly develop the urge to educate myself about the history of others, coz I want to understand the bigger picture. And maybe, just maybe, it will help me to understand why the German-centric view in school is as it is. For I am still afraid to raise my voice about the international beating I sometimes had to endure abroad. Don’t get me wrong, what happened was the ultimate hate crime – yet the school system still teaches us that it was my personal fault. Mine…?!


many more roads to follow…

With having returned to my safe harbour of The Netherlands, the core purpose of this blog (reporting about my time in Estonia and Cameroon) now has become obsolete. I have travelled 6 countries, 3 time zones and 2 continents. I wore shorts at -28°C and long sleeves at +32°C, I ate amazingly fresh fruits and disgustingly old bread. I drank the nicest juices and liquors next to the grossest dairies and beers and I have met people from more than 40 countries and every single continent, with meaningful and authentic discussion to pure pisstakes over drinks at 5am. Now I am back in the Netherlands with a more down-to-earth approach to life, but I don’t consider this blog to be over, it much rather just began. See, now that I am more and more reaching for the end of my Bachelor studies I need to find out what it is that I want in and from life. Clearly it involves travelling above all! Therefore I will keep this blog running, one post at a time. And maybe, if I am in the mood, I might change the core idea behind this blog being a travelling diary and use it for different causes. So stay alert for updates and please please please continue being active on the SOCIALVIBE, as any cause presented is a cause worth spending some minutes on! It has been a pleasure to blog and I appreciate all the comments and feedback you guys have given me over the time.

Till soon I hope!


Termination of ERASMUS: The Payback…

Now, as I pack my stuff in my dorm in Tartu, aiming to spend some days in Lithuania before finally going back home, I promised myself to have 1 final post about my time in Estonia. However, this time, I won’t be talking about the snow, the trips or the various drinks you should try while being here. No, this time, I’ll pay back! I will mention most if not all of the things I witnessed here during the last 5 months that i consider worth mentioning and will share them with you. If I am offending someone who reads this: It was not my intention 🙂 Let the show begin…

Spanish people: Absolutely fantastic people. As individuals. In a group, a bunch of impervious folks with no intention to harmonize with anyone else but Portuguese. I tried at several occasions to enter the group, but, with 9 out of 10 conversations in Spanish, sort of impossible for me. Knowing about Geert Hofstede’s cultural dimensions I should not be surprised, but I haven’t seen that intense behaviour in action so far.

Russian people: I have written so much about them during my time here that I cannot really add anything new. They are still the most unpleasant people I have met during ERASMUS and I have not yet seen any solution for this. It is not just me who is saying that. They were actually the reason we had the door locked at almost all times. I do not want to sound disrespectful to Russians in general and those I know better are perfectly nice people, but I hope I’ll never meet any of them again…

My mates from the apartment: No, nothing negative to mention about them, leaving aside several late night Skype calls in the kitchen or early Sunday morning uses of the mixer that woke me up. But they were among the best people I have met in my life and I am really glad we lived together. I am not speaking for my liver, which honestly is happy that ERASMUS is over, but I had a fantastic time with you guys! You are all aces in my book and I am looking forward to meeting you again, eventually in 2016 here in Tartu for a great revival 😀 Over the last months, we have collected money from plastic bottles. Now, at the end I am very glad to mention that we managed to gather 27,80€ in total!! This money will shortly be donated to good causes in Nepal and Bangladesh. I am happy that we accomplished that, thanks again guys 🙂

The University: Beautiful from the inside, catastrophic from the inside. Weak organization, teacher without much knowledge in teaching, unequal treatment of students. I am glad to have studied at a Research University for once, but I thought it would be set up much more Ivy league-alike.

Sharing a 16m2 bedroom with another guy: Very interesting for a couple of weeks, very exhausting for 5 months. Although he is a really great guy, I am so looking forward to having my own room again with a little more privacy.

Estonia: Great country to live in…for a few months. Not a place I could spend the rest of my life. Many aspects of the daily life are tempting for a longer stay, such as the Wi/Fi everywhere, the strong infrastructure and of course (for one that comes from a rich country) the very moderate prices for pretty much everything. But still, it was only a step on my path to yet again somewhere else…

Tartu: If I was to life in Estonia, Tartu would be the only choice. It is the best town in the country, with the best varieties to have a decent life. Nonetheless, the city is marked as my ERASMUS-place so living here will never be the same again.

The Germans: We are everywhere! Everywhere! You cannot stop us. We take your city on a horseback and stick in big, German-speaking groups. And we love potatoes, litres of beer and watching football. In a way, we are like the Spanish. But we speak English much better… 🙂

What I learned: Talking in terms of studying, I have learned various things, which may or may not help me for my future professional life. I am sure that knowing about Lithuania in the 15th century and the Sumerian cosmogony will barely benefit me in pursuing a career in the non-profit sector, but I am nonetheless glad I got the opportunity to get familiar with it. Having learned Russian and having gotten an insight into Public sector marketing, however, are really beneficial for me! Speaking life, I have learned a lot more. Living with strangers, adapting to different habits, different styles of speaking English, learning. I have met people here that really helped me gaining new insights into the world (mostly while having a beer somewhere) and I have seen things and places I probably would never have seen in my life if it wasn’t for people and situations here!! I am so glad I decided to have come here…

What I will miss: Living in a dorm (even though right now I am happy it’s over), the city and its amazing bars, pubs, shops, streetlights, pretty much everything. The guys from the apartment (a lot!) and the very international atmosphere ERASMUS was providing us with throughout the entire 5 months. In addition, I will also miss the monthly rent, which in total (more than 5 months) added up to a little over 520€!!

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Thank your for following my blog! I hope, you had a good time reading my stories from Estonia, Sweden and Russia. I hope y’all will stay tuned and check out this blog again, because soon my stories will cover my life in Buea, Cameroon! Thank you!! 🙂


Anno 2010: Do’s and Don’ts in Estonia

After having spent the last couple of months in Estonia, I grasped a sense of what might be appropriate behaviour or action and what might be considered as rude or even dangerous. Maybe this entry will help those who are planning to come to Estonia sometime in the nearby future (just remember: starting soon, Ryanair will fly from Bremen to Tallinn straight!). Do’s and Don’ts which could occur during your trip:

Don’t take your cigarette box outside when smoking. If you do so, most likely you will find yourself in a situation with 3 guys around you “asking” for a cigarette or three. Pretend you left your box inside and say you are “terrible sorry”. I learned this habit just weeks ago after having calculated that during the previous months I surely must have handed out about 4 of these packs.

Do drink Vana Tallinn with Kefir. Just do it. I really despise Kefir, but in a glass mixed up with Estonia’s finest liquor it is a must!

Don’t mess up with the Russians. Sadly enough, 20 years have passed since Estonia gained freedom from the USSR but still the Russian population in the country is barely integrated. Attempts made by the Estonian government either seem fruitless, but I’d rather think that many Russians lack the interest of adapting to the “new” independent Estonia. During my stay, I have encountered numerous encounters where Russian people would cause troubles with the local community. Even those students that live with me in the dormitory lack the interest of simply saying “hi” on the floor. Some cities, such as Narva in the North-East witness a Russian-speaking population from up to 95%. I do not want to disrespect Russian people in general (and those I met and know earlier are among the nicest people on earth) but those I have seen in Tartu and Tallinn are those I’d rather not meet again…

Do listen to Estonians sing Karaoke. It is pure fun attached to a short moment of disbelief. Fun, because they sing western songs in Estonian (due to the ban of western music during the long period of the USSR) and disbelief due to the lack of talent among those who frequently re-enter the stage to perform!

Don’t think Germany is cold. Estonia is cold! I once woke up at around 10ish in the morning to -21°C. With that kind of weather you have very little options but staying in and having a tea after another. My beard got frozen within minutes and I need to be really careful not to go outside with my hair still being wet. I could easily break a dreadlocks or two :). So, Germany, I enjoy your weather very much these days.

But:

Do (!!!) come to Estonia asap! It is a place to be right now. It is a country from which one most likely has very little expectations or pre-defined images, so new impressions every day! I have not one day regretted to have come here. You will feel that too! Don’t wait!


Day #118 after arrival – Comparing Estonia and Germany (part 2)

After my 1st comparison between Germany and Estonia only four days after having arrived to Tartu, I now have had some more time. This time these differences are much more sophisticated, as I have been watching, witnessing and interacting within the society for quite a while now…

1) The University

Coming from a University of Applied Science it has been a real challenge to me. being a number in a rather big classroom with no personal interaction from the lecturer refers to a concept which I appreciated to have gotten to know, but I still prefer the idea of communication within classes. This is not much a difference between two countries, I know. But I was aiming at showing the differences. Despite being a highly accredited university within the region, Ülikool Tartu lacks efficiency and clear focus. Maybe that may be different for my perspective of being an ERASMUS student, but I am shocked regarding the lack of clarity among certain factors.  Teachers missing without notifications, teachers answering private calls during class, no predefined schedule, no ideas regarding the assessment. I have spent hours discrediting the Hanze for its unclear structures and its complicated means of communication, but now I gained awareness that maybe this is no Dutch or an Estonian issue, but one that spreads across higher education institutions. The image below shows a procession of Estonian societies during a torch walk from the Vanemuine Theatre towards the University’s main building.

2) Snow

I have seen snow and cold weather in my life. Yet I have barely even been exposed to -19°C and heavy wind at 9pm at night. It is slippery, my beard keeps freezing, snowball fights with Americans seem like modern warfare and sledding down one of the highest hills within the country –  all that is what, all that is what makes a winter in Tartu being much more interesting than a winter in Germany or the Netherlands.  Of course, I really miss the Christmas markets in Oldenburg or watching the arrival of Sinter Klaas in Groningen, or the winter festival nearby the waterside in Groningen, but for 1 winter, these new impressions are highly valuable to me!

3) Public Speaking

I admit, German and Dutch are not among the most beautiful languages in the world, no doubts about that. But let it be due to linguistic history, roots of people or general an ability to speak to a crowd of people, but the language of Estonian is not mad for public speaking. The language is not as “lively” as Spanish or Italian, but also – rather stiff – languages like Russian or Norwegian sound more cheerful and thus more entertaining than Estonian. I witnessed a speech by the dean of the university the other day and even though I give some room for interpretation (in addition to zero understanding of the language itself), it was very difficult to follow, since I could not reckon a rhythm in the speech. One needs to know that the language per se is not well elaborated, in terms of number of words. Rather, the end of main words is being changed according to the meaning of the word or its usage. So sentences sound long while in fact very little words have been used and only changes have been made to the endings. Therefore, the rhythm is not a present as I am used to be hearing and thus, it does not sound sweet!

4) Christmas markets

a. They do have them here in Estonia (though “only” in Tallinn and Tartu), and they are clearly related to their German heritage (I will not go too much into detail here regarding the history, but my people have been the ruling elite in the region for several centuries). A big tree, highly illuminated (and thus disobeying the Kyoto protocol) with cards to Santa, written by kids stands in the middle of the Raekoja plats, leaving only limited space for the boat. The boat? Yeah, the boat! For a second successive year, a big wooden ship has been transported to Tartu, offering people to enter it, hold seminars and workshops on it, chop wood for the open fire, drinking hot spiced wine (Höögvein in Estonian) or Solyanka (Russian-style meat soup). The fountain, which has been covered in previous blogs is frozen (so is the river!), but with temperatures around -19°C at night that is no surprise. Now before I post this blog, I will publish a link about the boat in Tartu. I don’t want to mention too much right now, but you got to give it a glance, you might find someone you know…!

http://www.reporter.ee/2010/11/26/hansalodi-jommu-tommati-joulukuuks-kuivale-maale/

118 days in Tartu, times have passed so fast; it seems just as yesterday that I left the base. Only some weeks are left, but I am sure I will make the most out of it and the end of my ERASMUS will witness a sort of payback….So stay tuned!


SeaBattle: a boat full of Spanish people, a stomach full of acid liquid

Three days ago, I packed my suitcase, I packed my flatmate, I packed a bottle of pepper vodka and off I went to Tallinn. Why? Because we went to do SeaBattle! SeaBattle is an organized 3-day trip from ESN groups all across the Baltic Sea Region (thus Estonia, Sweden, Finland, Latvia and Denmark). Only students studying in these countries were granted permission to participate and among those few tickets which were issued (only 50 for Tartu students, 90€ each) at the beginning of September, I can call myself lucky to have gotten a one. Leaving for Tallinn on Monday noon, it did not take long till we had finished our first pint of beer in the bus. Yet I was very tired from lack of sleep in the previous nights, so I decided to take it easy for the moment. It proofed to be a wise decision on my side. Once in Tallinn, we had about 1 hour to spare before being allowed to enter the boat – named Queen Baltic. We used that time to buy cheap smokes and drinks in nearby shops – again a very wise decision, taking into consideration that we were about to ship for one of the most expensive countries in Europe – we were heading for Stockholm, Sweden! 17 hours of pure fun, drinks and waves lied in front of us, just waiting to be used.

Well, technically that could have been true. However, after 3 hours of sleep in the previous night, 5 cans of beer, about 3 sips from my pepper vodka, disgusting food (included in the price) and a really rough sea caused my stomach to scream for salvation, a favour I happily granted it by lying down most of the time. So I went to bed at midnight and would eventually get up at 2am to walk around and explore the events of SeaBattle. Honestly, I was barely interested in that, since I realized that most people on the boat were either drunk, on the best way to get drunk or already too drunk from the reasons which caused my stomach to rebel as mentioned above…

The next morning, unlike most (and especially my boat roommate) I was completely sober, had a shower and ambitions to take the bus trip we have paid for the evening before. But hold on… There were no busses. The guided bus trip, as we believed would follow was more a guided walking trip in a feelingly cold Stockholm by some Swedish students, who managed to read out loud from Wikipedia-articles without knowing any real inside into the city, expect for naming the place where “Lady Gaga played last month…”. 🙂 That is what I call money spent wisely… Stockholm is a great city, but spending 6 hours in the shivering cold with prices for coffee around 3,50€, it sorts of loses its magic.

After having spent the ridiculous amount of 9,80€ for a small Falafel and a black coffee, we headed back to the boat. A small nap in the bed later (2 hours) I was ready to rock the boat. By that time, all the students from Sweden and Norway have entered as well and got prepared for a night of pure insanity. A much more relaxing sea helped a lot to enjoy the evening, but still I was not fully satisfied with the decision of actually having participated in the entire trip. I mean, electronic music, simple-minded security forces and clearly overcharged beer are not what I call a great evening out. Yet I enjoyed it very much to be on the open water, having one or two good conversations with people and the experience of getting sea-sick 🙂

Before I finish this post, one remark about the Spanish: They are everywhere. They come to get to know more Spanish people. They stand in circles of approximately 50 people and scream “España España” for hours and hours, causing my weak stomach to further deteriorate… Surely wonderful people when individual or in small groups, but in large groups really obnoxious to get along with…

In conclusion: It maybe was not the best idea to purchase a ticket for the trip, but in the end I am glad to have done this, so I know what not to do in future times 🙂


Tartu for 2 days: An alternative tourguide

Here is what you should do, when all over sudden you discover 2 free days in your schedule and you happen to be somewhat close: Visit Tartu! Plenty of books describe plenty of things to do, see, buy, eat… But only a truely young student who is doing his ERASMUS in that city can tell you the truth! So listen and listen carefully…

Dependent on your budget, get a fancy hotel or a less fancy hostel. Hotel Dorpat is highly recommended, with a breath-taking breakfast, decent rooms and with an amazing view at the river. In case of less money, get yourself a hostel room at Raatuse 22, this happens to be the place I currently stay (yes, we have a hostel in the dorm! We also have a sports bar and a driving school…).

Well, fresh up a little, we are going for a walk! We shall start at the Raekoja plats (town hall square), where all the nice little cafés are located. Passing it on the right side, we stand at the beginning of the Toome Hill. Have a walk! Especially in early autumn, when the leaves keep falling and the sun shines its last hours of the year, then having a long walk through the hill of Tartu might even be inspiring. Various monuments, some cafés and of course the Tartu cathedral welcome you!

After you finished your highly exhausting walk (about 1 hour) step down and find your way trough the Ülikooli street towards the Ülikool Tartu (the university – for reasons beyond my understanding situated in the “university street 🙂 ) Have a look inside! You may find yourself buying a ticket for a classical concert in the main hall or, due to lack of alternatives, just walk around. The building looks very impressive from the outside but the inside can easily be covered in 12 minutes. Step out again! Turn right! Head for café Werner – without any doubts the best in town, in Estonia, probably even in the entire Baltic Sea Region! Sit down, order a coffee (or 2, or 3) and try every sort of cake they offer – every singe one! It is worth it. The restaurant upstairs is less favourable. To have a decent dinner, either go to Pierre or Volga. Fair prices for good food in a warm atmospheres. Not recommended for Vegetarians (nothing in Tartu is much recommended for my people! The national/regional cuisine is really dependent on meat and fish), but a wide range of traditional Estonian/Georgian/Russian food is available. You will need it for the night. The nights are what makes Tartu the most interesting town in the entire country! Start your night with a decent housebeer at Püssirohukelder, preferable on a Monday, because then you might see crazy Estonians doing Estonian karaoke versions of popular songs. The housebeer costs 28eek per litre (that equals 1,80€ for a litre!). Don’t stay too long…

Next, hit the Illegard. Three beer = 80eek. Great deal. A much better deal is the five hotshots = 100eek. A hotshot is a drink consisting of espresso, Galliano and cream. Drink 1 (maximum 2!), leave the premise. It is time for Genialistide Klubi. Now it has an entrance fee of 5oeek, but when you make it at the right night, you won’t regret it. It welcomes the most interesting bands that come to town, have decent reggae parties and even a smoking room (a smoking room!). Hold your position for about 2 hours, than make your way to Zavood – the holy Zavood! End the night in Zavood, that is the only place to do so. Drink a “Funny Suicide”, have a plastic beer outside the ally and meet (weird) locals. Actually all those who got me “inspired” about my “Talking Politics” post some weeks ago I have met in Zavood. Leave when it starts raining (and believe me, it will start raining). Grab a bite to eat on the way home. Take-aways offer the cheapest alternatives at night, such as wraps, burger or onion rings. Sleep well – but not too long! See, if you sleep to long in Tartu, especially during the long, cold winter (September – June) you are running risk of missing the daylight for quite some time. After yet another breakfast, take on your good shoes, we are going for a walk. Destination: Supilinn. Within meters away from both Zavood and Genialistide Klubi you find the poorest area in the city but also the most interesting one. Old wooden houses from the 19th century present themselves in only a few streets which are named after vegetables, indicating that Supilinn used to be a place for “ordinary people”. Afterwards, have a coffee/tea in the Ülikooli Kohvik situated next to the main university building. Of course you can also return to Werner and try yet another mouth-watering cake 😀   The art museum (Tartu Kunstimuuseum) at Raekoja plats 18 offers a compact overview about current and recent Estonian painters and costs only 35eek entrance.  For the evening, I suggest eating out at either Pierre, Volga or Café Noir, all within minutes away from the theatre. The theatre? Yes, the theatre! The Vanemuine theatre at Vanemuise 6 hosts latest adaptations of plays to more than moderate prices. After the play, conclude the night with a walk along the river Emajõgi and finally fall asleep in whatever place you have booked in.

If you would come right now, the following images might be waiting for you…


Living with strangers – 6 boys, 1 kitchen and a constantly blocked drain…

I have planned this post since my semester started in early September. However, due to several circumstances I have never found the time to actually finish it. So I am doing to now. Two months have passed since my roommates moved in, 10 days after me. 3 Germans, at once! The one Slovakian came some days later. So in total we are 4 Germans, 1 Estonian and 1 Slovakian on very limited space. But living is extremely easy with the 6 of us 🙂 We never fight! We never have to wait in line for toilet or shower! And we barely ever steal food from each other! Well, milk is an exception, so is shower lotion and sometimes beer, but these are rare examples. We do have sort of a “living community”. Toilet paper and washing powder is bought at an equal level, we sometimes do the groceries together and cooking/eating together became close to be the norm. Not just eating – drinking became a major event in our close to daily  routine 😀 We soon decided to collect and gather all the empty bottles (beer and water alike) to create a huge amount of deposit in our kitchen and in our rooms. At one point, however, we could not store it anymore, as it has become a distraction from moving freely. So we agreed on returning the bottles and to get a nice bottle of Vana Tallinn for the money back. Well…with weeks of effort, we had to work quite hard to actually collect, store and move the bottles…

After about 1 hour of feeding the bottle machine outside a nearby supermarket, we received a paper worth 223EEK, about 15€. That money we reinvested in the above mentioned Vana Tallinn, a 6er beer (after all, we had to start all over!) and some cheap crisps. The current level of bottles is reasonable, but not as dramatic. We surely will milk the famous cash cow soon to live off the interests 😉

The next big event which is taking place within our kitchen is the donation act. We agreed to collect all coins (because the Estonian coins are worth equal to nothing) in a pint glass. Once it is full, or December (when half the team is moving out) we will bring them to a bank, get the money and donate it. Through a friend of mine back in Groningen, I became acquainted with the Institute of Cultural Affairs (ICA). Among other things dedicated to the public good, they offer to purchase small objects for certain countries to improve the living standards in developing countries. So one does not just give money blind-folded, but actually buys a good which is needed desperately. We unofficially agreed upon going for a 18$ purchase of books for a rural area in Nepal, and I am encouraging everybody to follow our lead!

Our kitchen is our meeting point. Not just for the 6 of us, but also for the frequent visitors we have. Our wide variety of food, snacks and beverages, along with a welcoming atmosphere have helped us develop a decent level of reputation among the Raatuse inhabitants. Unluckily, there are some factors which sometimes tend to bother me heavily. Just two days ago I woke up by the voice of a girl in Bratislava, Slovakia, talking to my flatmate via Skype. His extraordinarily loud voice tied up to a disturbing tone has been the cause for regular wake up calls. Also, his English is sometimes a bit awkward to fully grab, so we experienced several funny anecdotes, such as when I had asked him, whether he already had chosen his classes for school and he repeated thoroughly that he does not like coffee… 😀 But we do have a very good community, without any major problems. Even the cleaning aspect has been reconciled properly – we don’t! The toilet gets a regular lemon-chemistry-flavoured drink overnight, the two towels are getting washed ever now and then and the shower slowly turns into a bath, thanks to plenty of hair on the floor… We clean the kitchen and the kitchen utilities on a regular base, but again our boy from Bratislava sort of has a different opinion towards drying the plates after having washed them so next to the wake up phone calls we also wet our pants when reaching for the top shelf to grab a wet plate… But these are minors and we tend to laugh about it. Actually, living with strangers (well, most of them are no stranger to me no more) is great fun, since you get to know and see habits and pattern that might be alien to you. New recipes from exotic places like Konstanz, Tartu or Bratislava (worth mentioning at this point is the ESN food festival which took place some weeks ago – Latvian garlic-bread and Italian chocolate-rolls are way more interesting than German potato soup…) gave the little extra to my study abroad and besides that, I will leave the house with a basket full of addresses to spend a visit to sometime…

Before this post will be published, I again want to thank everyone who participated in my last SOCIALVIBE activity. In total, we helped recruiting 12 new blood donors – thanks!! Starting today, we have a new organization we can support – Raising Malawi. This organization is aiming at reducing poverty among the millions of children and orphans in the country. Please do not get disillusionized by Madonna’s face in my blog… Thanks in advance for doing the short activities by clicking on it. Your time can make the difference…


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!