Posted in Uncategorized

A Fresh Start

For weeks, the pavements had been blissfully empty. This morning, as I was walking down the street near my apartment, there they were again – groups of teenagers outside the local school.   Then I remembered – it was the first day of school after the summer holidays.

The first day back.  Every year, that felt like a fresh start.  Different teachers, maybe some new subjects.  The successes and failures of last year were forgotten.  Things seemed new and exciting.

Some friends I’d spent time with over the holidays, but there were many others who I’d not seen in six weeks.  On day 1, it felt good to see them all.

After a few days, the novelty wore off and reality set in again.  No, I wasn’t suddenly good at Physics.  Even new teachers set home work.  And that boy who was so annoying last year?  Well, he is still annoying.

But for a few short days, it really was a clean slate, a fresh start.

Posted in Culture

Fragments of a Country


From where I was sitting, that was all I could read on the monument the other side of the square.  1918-1920?  What was significant about those years?  1914-1918, yes, that would make sense.  All across Europe we are used to seeing memorials for those killed in World War I.  But 1918-1920?  I had no idea.

This was my first visit to Tallinn/Estonia and I was sitting in Freedom Square (though I didn’t know that at the time).  1918-1920 was the Estonian War of Independence.  An independence that was short-lived, as Estonia was occupied again only 22 years later (by the Soviets, then the Germans and then the Soviets again), only regaining independence in 1991.

Centuries of occupation, now free at last.  A history that has shaped the people and the way they see the world.

Music featured very prominently in the opening evening of the conference I attended in Tallinn.  How very appropriate for a country that had a Singing Revolution and that boasts one of the largest amateur choral events in the world. And that produced one of my all time favourite pieces of music, “Spiegel im Spiegel” by Arvo Pärt (see – or rather listen – above).  I was very glad we got to experience a strong Estonian influence, before entering the more generic culture of a European conference.

I love hearing Russian.  It’s a beautiful language and I get excited to still understand a word or a phrase here and there.  Here’s one of my favourite words: мороженое.  I love the way it sounds and I love the actual “thing” 🙂  So of course I noticed how much Russian was being spoken around me in Tallinn.  Estonia has always had a Russian minority but after being incorporated (if that is the right word…) into the Soviet Union, the government initiated a “population transfer”  (sounds kind of harmless…) which means that now about a quarter of the population are ethnically Russian.  After independence in 1991, about 30% of the population suddenly found themselves without citizenship in any country (though that figure is now down to about 8%).  So many big (political) and small (personal) stories here!

There is so much more: the fascinating mix of Scandinavian and Slavic influences – the high tech country (Skype was invented here!) with free wifi everywhere – honey beer (not sure there’s any deeper significance but I liked it :-)) – more glimpses into history: discovering the plaque below and Iceland being thanked for being the first country to recognise Estonian independence in 1991 (again, on both counts I had no idea!).

Fragments of a country, a culture, a people.  As with any jigsaw, each piece just raises more questions and promises more fun exploring.  Hope I get to go back soon to unearth more fragments and to see more context for the ones I already “have”!

Posted in Uncategorized

Beauty for the Soul

Maybe I’m shallow, but this sign makes perfect sense to me. My soul feeds on seeing beautiful things.  In fact, my team even gave me the “Pretty Things Lover Award”! 🙂

There is something very satisfying about being surrounded by beautiful things.  Beautiful doesn’t mean expensive.  And it means different things to different people.  To me, it’s often the patterns and colours that strike a cord and make me smile.

The Alhambra in Granada/Spain.  I was buzzing for literally weeks afterwards.

Tallinn/Estonia (where this picture was taken).  So many beautiful (and often quirky) buildings.  Amazing place!

Closer to home, lots of fun shops in the Gräfekiez in Berlin/Germany, full of beautiful things.

Sometimes I’d like to take a whole shop home and just feast on the colours.  Like with the shops selling Basque table linen in St Jean de Luz/France.  Thankfully I possess enough self discipline to only buy one piece which then reminds me of the whole 😉

I’m thankful for beautiful things for the house and soul, they make my life richer.