How Low Can You Go?
I’m back in Tallinn, Estonia, for the weekend, where it’s currently about, oh, -15C. Tallinn’s old town is not just graceful and evocative of old paintings but f*cking cold, in a ‘bite-your-fingers-off-and-my-God-I-can’t-feel-my-face’ way. My pants are frozen. My iPhone has packed up. Everyone is in furs, although there’s a guy on the corner in shirt sleeves (must one from Newcastle) who may actually be dead.
The last time I was here I wrote about the country (the piece is still on this blog) but it was only -3C. This time it’s an alien world of ice and razorblade-air. The locals are clearly inured to this, as they once were to the steely grip of Soviet control, for there’s also a man playing a balalaika with exposed fingers on the street.
Like so many of the countries closest to Russia (we’re a short train ride from St Petersburg) the old town is medieval and walled, and the surrounding city is grimly concrete and Slavic, with the odd fine Russian wooden buildings.
The locals have a delightful way with words. After ordering drinks our waitress asked, ‘Would you now also like to fill your bellies with food?’ It’s amazing the effect that economy airlines have had on such places (I flew here for £30). Everyone speaks some English, many are fluent, hotels and cafes are stylish, the food is astoundingly good (I had bear for lunch in the entirely candlelit restaurant above – sorry, it was delicious). But the English tourists only come in the summer, and most visitors are from Helsinki or Russia.
This just leaves Albania from my ‘to do’ list for this region, and obviously as a Norman Wisdom fan I’ll have to go there (somebody explain that reference for the rest). But my God, the cold.
The point of the weekend is partly to get in training for my next big trip in March, when I head North from Svalbard to get close to the North Pole in what may be a Last-Chance-To-See way, as this summer the Pole is expected to turn into sea, there being no actual land mass there to begin with. So I’ll be going even lower in temperature. If I freeze to death or end up on a calving iceberg you can have my books and my sound system.