Through stormy seas and darkening days

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Hello readers,

So it’s now been over two weeks since my last entry.  I realize I’ve been slipping lately on my updates, but it has been an extremely busy (though mostly productive) time for me.  I’m now settled into courses and am, for the most part, really enjoying everything I’m taking.  I’m registered for far more classes than I need to be (12 courses and 44 credits total now), which has given me a very high workload, but I’m still unsure of what to drop.  Some of my courses also won’t start until later in the semester (each semester is split into two periods), which makes it hard to gauge where scheduling conflicts might occur.  I think I’ll continue with my current schedule for a bit and make changes accordingly later in the semester.

The weekend of September 16th saw me take my first venture outside of Estonia’s borders and into the nearby city of Helsinki, Finland.  Despite the short distance geographically between Tallinn and Helsinki (about 80 kilometers; 90 minutes by ferry), the two cities stand in sharp contrast to each other.  Helsinki, as well as being much larger than Tallinn, is more modern, more architecturally cohesive, feels very Scandinavian, and is demographically very distinct from anywhere in Estonia.  Many Estonians, in fact, have moved (and are continuing to move) to Finland for its more stable economy and dramatically higher wages.  Swedish is also a very common language (moreso than Russian), and the Swedish-speaking minority in Finland has been, culturally, quite influential.   Helsinki’s city center is also set up with gridded, straight roads and little green space, which came as a shock after getting used to Tallinn’s maze of alleyways and urban parks.  The most startling difference, however, was the cost of living: prices for food, accommodation, transport, and other commodities were nearly triple what I was used to seeing in Tallinn.  I felt a distinct pain in my chest when I paid 10 Euros for coffee and a salad, which my Finnish friend assured me was “quite reasonable”.

Why yes, that modest flat will cost you only 1.35 MILLION EUROS. Welcome to Helsinki.

Speaking of pain, my time in Helsinki also saw me suffer one of the more embarrassing injuries of my life.  The apartment I stayed in was absolutely tiny and packed densely with objects, many of them breakable and sharp.  On my way to the bathroom one night, I knocked over a plate in the dark, smashing it on the floor.  When I stumbled over to pick up the pieces, I realized, to my dismay, that the plate had been holding a large assortment of earrings and tacks.  Despite my best (read: half-asleep) efforts to avoid injury, I ended up stepping on an earring, accidentally jamming its sharp point about half an inch into the bottom of my bare foot.  Surprised by the sudden pain shooting through my lower extremities, I lost balance and fell back on the floor, narrowly preventing more sharp objects from piercing my skin.  I was later able to pull the earring from out of my foot and dress my wound, although I walked the rest of the trip with a painful limp.  No one believed me when I told them that I actually hurt my foot from fighting off wolves in the Lapland.

For more pretty pictures of Helsinki, check the attachments to this post

Getting back to Tallinn was also a bit more complicated than I had hoped.  Due to rough weather on the Baltic, my originally scheduled ferry had been cancelled, so I was put on a larger ferry later in the day.  It’s much easier for the large ferries to accomidate some extra wind and fiercer waves, so they’re a bit safer to be out in when the sea is choppy.  The large ferries are also impressive and an experience in themselves- endless floors of ornate bars, stores, sleeper cabins, and dance halls give the illusion that you’re in a floating city.  In the end, I was happy to be rescheduled, and I even got a large discount off the original cost of the ferry because of it.  I made it back to Tallinn in time to get a cheap dinner, which was a relief after having to pay Finnish prices.

This past weekend was marked by a visit from Megan, a friend from Edinburgh and a fellow Erasmus student currently in Uppsala, Sweden.  While she was only able to stay two days, I made sure she saw as much of Tallinn as possible, including its Old Town, beaches, financial center and nearby forests.  She seemed to enjoy Tallinn quite a bit, and was especially impressed with the cheap prices here (particularly since Sweden is soul-crushingly expensive).  It was great to see her, and those of you readings this should take her suggestion and come visit me as well!

Tallinn!
See? Beach! Sunbathing! Come visit!

Recent weekdays have been less thrilling, mostly consisting of me writing papers, scavenging for food, fighting for space to do laundry, and talking to the potted plant in my room.  I will, however, have a new roommate this weekend, so I’ll have some more company, although I’m hoping he’ll be relatively sane and well-adjusted.  This also means I no longer have a spare bed in my room that I can offer to people.  What a shame.

Terviseks,

Tim

P.S. It’s autumn now: the weather here is getting dramatically colder, and already the days are noticeably dimmer.  By November, it’s likely that snow will be falling and I’ll be consumed by the dark, grim Nordic winter.  I’m pretty excited.

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