Tartu student shinanagans

Wednesday 30 April

I’ve bought myself a pair of running shoes.  This in itself is a new experience for me, as it has never happened before.  A year or so ago I purchased a jump rope.  This I left, unused, in a hostel in Croatia; as it was taking up too much room in my bag.  But needs must dear readers, and the time has come for me to stop looking like a pear spliced with a potato.  I manage two decent runs, before realising I’m meeting old Estonian friends for some kind of student day of debauchery.  I hang up the boots, and promise myself to get started seriously after the weekend.  Well, maybe after Lithuania.  Or Romania.  Perhaps Georgia.  I hear running in Azerbaijan is all the rage.

So I’m staying with my old friend Helen, who I met many moons ago in Belgium as part of some kind of theatre festival.  A group from Scotland was joined by an Estonian bunch, and a mob from Hungary.  We all had to devise a piece to be part of this Belgian show.  Needless to say it was just utter carnage, and I’m pleased to report that not much has changed in nine years.

We pile into a car to make the short drive to Tartu, which is pretty much the centre of the academic world in Estonia.  I fall asleep within minutes, and wake an hour or so later to find my companions have sunk around four bottles of wine between them.  The following slurred conversation then ensues:

“Stuey, do you have any tanks in Scotland, y’know, moving about the countryside?”


“Yeah tanks.  In Estonia we have tanks, moving about the countryside, all the time, and that is why we’re better than you.”

I resolve to catch up as soon as possible.

Today a number of faculties, or “corporations” are basically given the key to the city as part of a traditional student faculty day.  Or something.  I don’t know!  I just work here!  I don’t think anyone really knew what was going on.  Anyway it’s a solid excuse for hundreds of students and alumni to don their best glad rags and tear the place apart.  The only moderately smart thing I own is my kilt, and we spend a good half an hour running around town to try to borrow a pair of black shoes for me.  I don’t have high hopes to be let in as we approach one such establishment, with towering Estonians guarding the entrance with ceremonial swords.  There’s a lot of pomp and circumstance, as every member wears their own coloured cap and sash to denote which “corporation” you belong to.  Most guys look like Harry Potter on acid.  With a large percentage of the women being astronomically gorgeous, I feel I’ve wandered into a porn star and train driver convention.  There were certainly plenty of Hugh Hefner old boys kicking about too.

A sigh of relief is breathed as I’m allowed through the door and sign my name into this great tome of a book.  I don’t think many people outside the society get this opportunity, and I’m feeling particularly privileged as we begin to dance the night away.  A folky Estonian band belts out the local numbers, with pretty much everyone but yours truly crooning the tunes.  It’s a sight to behold, and again I count my blessings at having the chance to be here.  Hopefully I can make it out alive.

When the dawn starts to peak over the buildings, still shaking from some old, crazy, pissed-up/crack-head DJ; we’re heading off to another party.  By the time we make it there we’re beyond all hope, and it isn’t long before a taxi is a matter of urgency.  It must be about eight or nine in the morning when we stumble home.  Little did I know it was to be a benchmark for the days to come.  These Estonians are bat-shit crazy.


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A day for the boy

Tuesday 22 April

I feel the cold metal in my hands.  The weight.  The power.  Everything else is shut out.  I feel myself breathing slowly.  The only thing I see is the man in front of me.   I focus on his arrogant shoulders, his obnoxious head teasing me, his chest puffed out like a bull pigeon.  It’s more than I can stand.  I’ve had enough.  He’s gone too far.  In less than 5 seconds it’s all over, and I’ve riddled a paper target full of lead from an AK-47.  I might also have had an orgasm.

I’m standing in a tactical target shooting range rattling through an armory of high-powered weaponry.  A popular experience in the Baltic regions, this sort of activity is legal in these parts, so you can get your rocks off to blowing the shit out of stuff with guns you’ve only ever seen in the movies.  Now I’m not normally into this kind of thing; the whole ‘guns-don’t-kill-people’ nonsense and all (they certainly help), and I refuse to pose for pictures with the weapons.  It’s not big and it’s not clever.  But I thought I’d try my hand at hitting targets with some famous shooters.  You never know when it might come in handy if you’ve definitely got a burglar behind a locked door and you can’t see them.

So the man mountain of an instructor takes me through each model, and I have the time of my life drilling holes in a head and shoulders target.  I get to pop off a Walter PPK (James Bonds’ weapon of choice), an M4 with tactical scope (already an expert at this with Call of Duty on the X-box), a Thompson Carbine (a-la Al Capone), a Desert Eagle .50 (most powerful handgun in the world), a Glock (movie cop favorite), a pump-action shotgun (Arnie style), a Magnum 357 (for old timers in Lethal Weapon) and of course the AK-47 Kalashnikov (which is for when you want to kill every motherf*cker in the room.  apparently).

I’m pleased to say I did pretty well, but would have done a damn sight better if I’d not had the shakes from alcohol consumption.  Basically if you want to shoot straight; don’t drink.  While I certainly got a thrill out of pulling the trigger, I still felt very uneasy in the presence of these killing machines.  Seeing cops carrying assault rifles doesn’t make me feel safe at all.  Even in this controlled environment, the danger and power was there.  It was a wonderful experience, but I think I’ll stick to paintball.

I continued appeasing my inner man-child with a trip to the Lennusadam Seaplane Harbour.  Here I casually flew a Sopwith Camel simulator, successfully sailed my remote control tug into port, shot down enemy fighters with a browning machine gun, donned an Admirals uniform, maneuvered a navy destroyers deck gun, sat in an armoured personnel carrier, oh and boarded a submarine.  An actual WW2 submarine.  By the time I was finished giggling with glee in this wonderful museum, I was desperate to catch an episode of Sex and the City to balance myself out.  There’s been too much testosterone for one day.

And yet it is with a slight pang of regret that there isn’t a female companion to share this with.  I feel a little glum (and a total loner) putting my camera on a timer, while seeing and doing some really cool things that I’ve nobody to experience them with.  Such is the downside of solo travel dear readers.  Of course the up-side is I can do whatever the hell I want when I want.  I’m off home to watch Bambi.



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Monday 21 April

In an attempt to deal with my flight to Estonia, I’ve stayed up all night in the hope that I will pass out on the plane.  I’m walking around Gatwick like a zombie at stupid o’clock in the morning, having arrived far too early for the departure.  There’s plenty of time for the seeds of fear to plant into my brain and weed themselves into my psyche.  I google Easyjets’ track safety record for some reassurance.  Finding no fatal air disasters to date in some 2.69 million flights does little to calm my nerves.  There’s a first time for everything.

A few hours later and I’ve arrived, unscathed, in Tallinn; Estonia’s charming capital.  It’s a far cry from the rat-race stink-hole that is London, and I take to the quiet streets in the afternoon sun.  Having successfully survived the flight, coupled with the fact that I’ve put some distance from myself and the UK, I’m feeling surprisingly upbeat.  It’s a pleasure to stroll through the medieval old town and get lost down the narrow passageways and courtyards.  With only 400,000 odd inhabitants, Tallinn is my kind of capital.  I take a spot of lunch in a traditional ye olde worlde tavern, complete with wenches dressed for the part.  The city clearly prides itself on its dark age history.  They even think that ale is holy!  I think I’m going to like it here.

After a thick Elk soup, OX sausages and Elderflower juice, I get a serious talking to by a wench.  Presumably all part of the experience.   “WHO IS GOING TO CLEAR UP AFTER YOU BOY?!  YOUR MUM DOESN’T WORK HERE!”  she bellows in front of amused customers.  I stammer my apologies and take my bowls where instructed, before beating a hasty retreat from the crazy.  I’ll be back tomorrow.

I spend the afternoon stretching my new cameras legs, and my own, with a wander around the old town.  I feel a sense of relief, like something heavy has lifted, and a lot more positive than in recent weeks.  That’s what travel does for you I guess; gets you out of the hole you’ve been stuck in, slaps you round the face, and encourages you to live again.  Well I intend to, with a promise to cut down on the drinking and smoking too, and start doing some more wholesome activities.  And isn’t it nice to be talking about travel again, and not about girls?

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