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.

11 comments on “How Low Can You Go?”

  1. SteveB says:

    Tallinn was the answer to a Times xword clue recently – Unlikely place to drink port.
    Was it Tallinn that Newt Gingrich called a suburb of St P? A taste of the future.
    I’m another one who dresses the same winter and summer, tshirt and jeans. – a few years back, I had a room in Frankfurt near Konstablewache, I remember walking back one night, took me a good 40 mins in the snow, it was -20. I’ll never forget the chilled inside feeling. That was the night the water main exploded from the cold in Wiesbaden.

  2. Ian Mason says:

    As I started reading this the line that ends “there’s a guy on the corner in shirt sleeves” was ‘above the fold’ and before I had scrolled down I though “Probably a Geordie”.

    I’ve been on an Italian mountainside at -20C with a 20mph wind, breath turning into ice on my beard and tugging at the hairs like eyebrow tweezers as I stood there; -15C in a city would seem balmy by comparison. The thought of hitting Tallinn for a mere £30 flight really, really tempts me. I rather like the crisp cold of central Europe in winter, rather that than the damp miserable cold of London the last few days. There’s a problem though, Sal would turn into an icicle just at the thought of going anywhere that cold, so I’d be on my own.

  3. admin says:

    I like that you recognised it as Central Europe, Ian, as people get quite confused about Eastern Europe, the Baltic and Central Europe. I am learning which pairs of my jeans are summer ones and which are winter!

  4. Matthew Barnes says:

    -27 here in Moscow today. Takes some getting used to, I can tell you! Perhaps yu should visit…when it gets a little warmer!

  5. admin says:

    I’m desperate to go to Russia – I studied Russian for four hears – but can’t bring myself to visit until their LGBT record improves.

  6. Matthew Barnes says:

    I can understand that, but from my understanding of the law, it isn’t illegal to be part of the LGBT community, just to talk about it to under 18s. However, I know the reputation is there. Most of the younger Russians I know have told me they have no problem with it and wouldn’t love their children any less if they came out…progress is coming, but it’s slow.

    On the positive side, they love detective stories and they love reading about London, so your books would certainly sell here!

  7. Vivienne says:

    Bratislava in the snow is the coldest I’ve been, but not sure it was very much below.

    Visited Albania on a day trip from Greece – out of the customs area we were changed onto a 1930s German bus and then the tarmac stopped. Very, very interesting place, if only for the voodoo dolls and teddy bears attached to all the houses. Do visit.

  8. Helen Martin says:

    It is good to experience real weather occasionally. We’ve had minus weather for a week and while we can deal with it we’re certainly grumping. It’s like “real” heat in the summer; if nothing else it gives you an idea as to reality in the rest of the world. It hasn’t snowed since New Year’s Eve and it’s interesting to watch the snow dry up. The air is so dry the snow is very slowly dehydrating. Enjoy Tallinn.

  9. Roger says:

    This just leaves Albania from my ‘to do’ list for this region.

    Your definition of “regions” is interesting.
    I knew someone who said he’d been to “Indonesia – or was it Iceland? Anyway, it was an island and it began with ‘I'” Did you have the same geography book?

  10. Roxanne Waller says:

    Oh for some of that minus temperature stuff right now – in Melbourne Australia it is currently 35 degrees Celsius (100 Fahrenheit? I was always told to double the figure and add 30 to convert). We have had 3 days of this on the trot and I am heartily sick of it. I could smell nearby grass fires this morning – not fun. Nonetheless I was able to finish reading Bryant & May The Burning Man at breakfast, so hearing about the London weather in November (rain, fog and drizzle) cheered me up no end.

  11. Ness says:

    I’m suffering with you Roxanne – 28c overnight low last night and still trying to cool the house down enough to sleep tonight. I agree it’s lovely having some cold and snow images to help will the long hot nights and a great book to keep you company while you are listening to the very loud cicada chorus outside. I’m dreaming of the gentle snow in Prague which was my first ever experience of any type of snow.

Comments are closed.

Posted In

Related Posts