Reflections on autumn

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Hello readers,

Damp, cold winds continue to blow in off the Baltic Sea, and everyone is talking about how scared/excited/depressed they’re feeling about the coming winter.  Apparently, early signs say that this winter will be exceptionally cold, even colder than last winter (which also, frustratingly, happened to be exceptionally cold).  Nonetheless, classes roll on as usual, with essays looming distantly on the horizon and Christmas plans beginning to take shape.  Academically, things are going fine, and I’ve gotten used to the organization here (though it was a harsh adjustment at first).  My course load is high, but teachers are relaxed and willing to be flexible with dates and schedules.

There haven’t been any extraordinarily thrilling experiences this past week, although I did take a trip to Tartu this past weekend, which is a city (well, ‘city’ by Estonian standards- it’s only about 100,000 people) in the southeast of Estonia and the home of its oldest and largest university.  It’s the second largest city in Estonia, which gives you an idea of how small Estonia is.  It’s very much a university town, and most of the social life in the city revolves around student activity: I found myself meeting new students almost everywhere I went.  Tartu is also a very pretty place in its own right, with some beautiful architecture and an ideal natural setting on the banks of the river Emajõgi.  It was especially nice to see it in autumn, as the forests surrounding the city were vibrant with color and stunning to walk though, especially since I was lucky enough to have crisp, sunny weather while I was there.

Tartu central square

One of the bridges over the river Emajõgi

In Tartu, I was also struck by how tranquil the atmosphere was.  While Tallinn isn’t exactly a faced-paced metropolis, it certainly felt that way in comparison to Tartu.  Tallinn is Estonia’s only truly urbanized area, and the scenery changes quickly as soon as you leave the city limits.  It makes more sense to me now why Estonia is so protective of its language, culture, and national identity: there aren’t too many people who share it!  Being used to living in large, influential countries like the USA and the UK, this is something quite new to me, and I understand that Estonia is fighting a difficult battle to preserve its traditions in the wake of globalizing forces, even though those forces have largely been kind to the nation.  It will be interesting to see how Estonia’s identity develops and how it negotiates its position as a small state tucked between Russia and the EU.

A ruined cathedral of ambiguous significance

I’m afraid there isn’t a huge amount to update on, but the next few weeks will bring some very exciting travel experiences.  It’s likely I’ll be seeing Latvia, Lithuania, and Sweden within the next month, so stay tuned for more pictures and observations!

Terviseks,

Tim

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