Boris bikes, India and unicorns

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Did you know that you can slide down the handrail at the Piccadilly Circus underground station? It’s only possible in the late evening, say 11PM or later because there’s less people and one of the escalators stops – that’s the one where you can slide down the handrail. And then you can do it all again because you’ve got two of those escalators until you get down under.

A bit earlier that day it was another late night at work. I finished (I’m lying, I didn’t finish anything, I just gave up on the day) and left. I knew I would be late for my zouk class, so instead of walking I should figure out a quicker way to get back home. Then I thought it will probably be faster if I took one of those Santander or ‘Boris Bikes’ nicknamed after London’s mayor Boris Johnson.

There was only one bike left at the rack/docking station, so I figured it must be my lucky day. I went to the machine (which looks more or less like a parking meter if you have no clue what I’m talking about) to book/rent my bike. This was the first time renting one of these babies, so it took me a while until I got the release code.

In the truest meaning of carpe diem another Londoner thought the same thing. However, I think he was a member of the Santander bike thing, which gave him a key of sorts or maybe he already had a release code (I’m not sure how all this works). Basically, he didn’t need to rent the bike from the machine. Instead he could unlock it himself with his key. Since it was the last bike in the rack I only saw his back riding away at the moment I got my release code, which by the way was valid for 10 minutes and only for bikes from this rack. FML!

I’ve been trying to muster the courage to make this happen for months and then I finally go for it, the bike rides away without me. Maybe it wasn’t meant to be.

My spirits were quite low. I think I need some professional help to turn this all around. Luckily my housemates are both armchair psychologists. I’ll ask them to help me through this very late childhood trauma.

Speaking of my housemates… we went to India the other day. I remember like it was last Saturday. I woke up a little later than usual – around 2 PM – and went downstairs to make myself some breakfast. Then Pilar had an idea and we all decided to go to have a late lunch or dinner ‘somewhere nice’ instead. It took ages to decide on a restaurant and then, once we found one, it was closed at the time.

So we went to a place Romario was familiar with. It was a 40 minute tube ride away in East Ham – the moment I came out of the station I felt like I was overseas. Everyone I saw was Indian. The only thing missing was the melting heat and chaotic driving which I would associate with that part of the world.

Anywho, we got to the restaurant. I can’t remember its name but it sounded like Abubu Khapapapi.  This was a proper Indian establishment – none of that watered down stuff they feed Westeners in central London. Everything was cheap as well, so I ordered a bunch of stuff as I wanted this to be as authentic as possible so whenever I saw the words ‘spicy’ in the menu I would order it (subject to it being vegan of course).

My food was spicy AF. I thought I could handle it but it was too much. Stuffing my face with dosas and curries, with tears in my eyes, wasn’t my best hour. However, Romario thought this was the funniest thing ever. Pilar gave up on the Indian train after a few bites and with a great amount of shame I must confess that I had to throw in the towel as well. The dinner was followed by our trio going to the pictures to see Tarantino’s movie The Hateful Eight – not his best, but worth watching.

unicorn

The next day I was at ZoukOff – a very cool monthly zouk event in London. Every party I’ve been to has been great. That’s where I saw Gerli. Well… technically we’ve met before but we never talked. I usually skip the small talk and go for a dance immediately. I’ve actually danced with her on a few occasions. Previously I thought that she was Norwegian – she looked very Scandinavian. We didn’t talk much because I was a bit shocked once I found out she’s from Estonia. But it was magical, just like seeing a unicorn.

Lots of love,

Ivar

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Today is a strong day

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These are the words I read from my mug trying to keep my shit together. “Today is a strong day” I repeat. Why is today so much harder than yesterday when I found out about it?
I log in at work hoping to find a shitstorm in my inbox. However, no such luck. Nothing. Nothing to distract my thoughts.
SteveO says “good morning” and I couldn’t. Not a single word. He made all this so much harder. You could cut the awkward silence/tension with a knife. I was still in shock so I didn’t notice it at the time.
I had another sip of my crappy coffee and noticed that I finished it.
“Today is a strong day” – Mr Strong.

image

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Except……..that it isn’t.

Lets timetravel to yesterday.
I had a fairly good day and was on my way to London to dance some zouk. My battery was low, so I had my phone on flight mode.
I got to the dancing venue and for some reason turned my phone on normal mode
.. which is odd because the dancing venue/bar is underground and I had no signal there.
However a FB message made its way to my phone. It was from my brother.
He said he’s got some bad news for me. My father died.
A beginners salsa class was ending at that point as I read the message and you could hear the instructors giving pointers and summaries to the kids about what they learned today.
At the same time I completely froze.
And started shaking. Uncontrollably, but not visibly (maybe it was visible, I’m not sure). An inner tremor of sorts.
The music switched to a zouk beat. I was glad it was dark and nobody saw me… or maybe I wasn’t too concerned whether anybody saw me or not.
I pondered about what I should do and remembered something I read a long time ago. When somebody dies, you shouldn’t make any radical changes to your life. Instead, continue your daily routine as you always do.
I felt the waterworks starting.
I made my way to the toilet to take a piss… you ever wonder why the loo is so busy at the worst possible moment?
I remembered that it’s not possible to feel sad if your body is in a happy/positive posture. So I sucked it up. Chest up, head up, shoulders back and it got better. The initial shock was a thing of the past.
That didn’t last long…
I needed to distract myself before the class started and made some conversation with Phoebe. I think that was the wrong call… She asked me how I was and I said fine… she saw right through me and I gave her some crap about having a stressful day at work in response.
It was a painful conversation but it worked. I kept my shit together.
The class started. Zouk is a fairly engaging thing you know. The fact that I can’t multitask also helped. Only a few times did my thoughts wander and remind me of what had happened. I feel bad for saying this but I was able to enjoy myself throughout the evening. Don’t judge, dealing with death isn’t something they teach you at school.
However, I broke down like a little bitch just a few steps from home. It was too much. I couldn’t hold it in anymore. The distractions were gone and
I fucking cried myself to sleep.

Next day
Next day I went to work, as usual (remember the thing about not doing anything radical…The stupid is strong in me.) The morning was difficult but as I got more involved with work it got better. Much better. I shared the news with one colleague who might have shared it with a few others.
But I wasn’t quite myself. I was very quiet and generally avoided human contact.

Did I mention that my passport expired in March? Well… that’s a bit of a problem if I want to go to the funeral in Estonia. Anywho… I contacted the embassy who came back to me fairly quickly and told me they could issue me a document which will enable me to travel temporarily. However, first I needed to tell them what my travel dates are. At this point where was no date for the funeral… I would contact them again once I know. I was told the Embassy can issue the document in half an hour and all I needed were two passport photos and a date for my flight out of the UK.

I feel the fucking rainbow. I’m sad, then angry, then oddly OK, then depressed, then even happy. I’m all over the place. And it feels like there’s no end in sight. Work helps, a lot. It keeps me focused on other things.

I wrote the above almost two months ago. The funeral was last Saturday. I’d rather keep the details to myself about why it took so long until the funeral. Sorry. Don’t ask. Things are much better now and I’m glad this is all behind me and that I can finally close this chapter.

Ivar

The Wedding

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I woke up at 3 AM to catch my bus to Stansted airport. One bus arrived about 10 minutes early and gave me a proper scare when the driver said he’s not going to Stansted and the next one was due for 5:25 AM. My flight’s boarding gate closes at 6:05 AM.

Luckily that bus driver turned out to be an idiot and 10 minutes later another bus came in which took me to the airport. I also bought a return ticket to the airport and back – saved £5 (the ticket is valid for 1 month) and was particularly pleased with my financial planning skills during that bus trip. Looks like the past 6 months in a financial advice office is finally starting to pay off.

I reached the airport only 25 minutes before the gate closure. Unfortunately it was very crowded – huge lines before the security checks. I remember I became religious during the 20 minutes it took me to go through the beeping gates. I prayed for a miracle and promised to never do anything bad ever again if I didn’t miss my plane. I’ve been an angel ever since. 🙂

Once I was on the other side the amazing race began. I had to run and zig-zag past all the slow people with their carry-on luggage. Luckily I made it to the boarding gate in time and had at least 10-20 minutes to cool down in the queue before boarding the plane. All this panic for nothing!

My previous trip to Estonia taught me that I will need some reading material for the flight. Since I’m studying for my next exam I took my study stuff with me – once a nerd, always a nerd. I was impressed how productive I was.

Very beautiful weather greeted me in Estonia. I took the bus from Tallinn to Tartu and continued my studies. This is commitment to my craft… Watch out, soon a new financial advisor will ravish the streets of London.

I still needed to buy a wedding gift for my sister and after about 2 hours of windowshopping in various malls it suddenly hit me – the perfect wedding gift. Or at least it made perfect sense as a gift. I thought that a wedding day is probably one of your life’s luckiest and happiest days, I should buy the bride and groom a big bunch of lottery tickets. The way I see it (by completely ignoring everything taught during my statistics studies) one’s probability of winning the jackpot is maximized on that person’s wedding day. Foolproof logic!

 

I had one day until the wedding and scheduled a meet-up with my homies Pete and Siim. It was a great success. We had lots of fun catching up, had a few drinks and did a bit of grilling. One of the night’s highlights was when I tried opening a wine bottle with my shoe. Well… uhm… I saw it once on YouTube but wasn’t able to replicate the method. Basically all you need to do is put the wine bottle into the shoe and tap the shoe on a hard surface so that the pressure and the wine’s momentum will push the cork outwards. Just 3 wonderful seconds after my brilliant idea and a few knocks the wine bottle cracked into a million tiny pieces. YouTube owes me a bottle of wine. Sergey Brin, I’m talking to you!

 

The Wedding

I put on my best clothes and a tie. I think I looked a lot like a bank employee. That suspicion became certainty after two random strangers in different locations asked me “is Swedbank still open today” and “where’s the closest ATM”.

It wasn’t a huge wedding – about 30 people with family and friends. My old history teacher was the one who held the wedding ceremony. She read a long poem and shortly after that announced my little sister and her fiancé as husband and wife. A lot of congratulating and photographing followed.  It was very sweet.

Lots of photographs later we went to the wedding party. Everybody was fairly shy in the beginning – we had a lot of people who didn’t know each other – I didn’t know the majority of people. Things changed after consuming alcohol for an hour or two – people loosened up and started mingling. At least that’s what I did. So in that sense it was a truly Estonian wedding.

I “danced” with almost every girl that night and had a little chat with them. They all seemed very nice and friendly. None of them could dance and I hope I didn’t make them feel too bad about it. I feel quite incompetent when I dance with advanced girls in my classes, so I can relate to what it was like. Sorry ladies.

I left the party before midnight because people were getting a bit too drunk and I hadn’t really found my place in the crowd. I’m sure my sister had a good night and that’s all that matters to me.

The next day I planned to meet up with a few friends. My planning and communication wasn’t too good and I wasn’t able to see all the people I originally planned to meet. Oh well, maybe next time.

It was good to see Michael again after 4 or 5 years. I had lunch with him and his 20 friends. Mike doesn’t travel alone you see. He seemed quite energetic compared to the last time I saw him. I also learned that I always need to specify what vegan means when ordering food because my dish had cheese on it and even a piece of bacon. I didn’t want to make a scene because I’m no diva, especially in front of 20 people. I removed the vast majority of cheese with my spoon to the side of my plate and ate my risotto like a little bitch. Om-nom-nom. Not!

I was lucky to catch a ride back to Tallinn with Marget. I think I was quite tired and not too chatty in the car. I’m sorry. Maybe we talked about everything the last time we saw each other and not much has really happened in the last 2 months. Oh well, was good to see her… she always reminds me of Australia. And I love Australia.

I organized a quick meet with Erik and Reet too, just before leaving for the airport. We studied statistics at uni back in the day. One hour was not enough. I’m looking forward to seeing you guys again.

 

To be honest, I was quite happy to leave Estonia. Just two days before my arrival, Obama visited as well. He gave a speech and said that the USA and NATO will back the Baltic States if Russia decided to do something similar here as it did in Ukraine. A part of me didn’t feel safe in Estonia anymore.

Stay safe,

Ivar the Wedding Crasher

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times

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The plan. I’ve been planning surprising my mom on her 50th birthday for quite some time. I had a vague idea of what I wanted to do – basically show up at her place on her birthday with flowers, presents and wish her a happy birthday. I’ve been away from Estonia since Dec 2011 – that’s about 2.5 years – I hope she still remembers who I am.

I’m writing this in the Riga airport in Latvia while waiting for a bus to Tartu, Estonia. It’s strange to be back in a place where the majority of people don’t speak English – it’s either Russian or Latvian. I’ve been living in English speaking countries and need to adjust to my new (or should I say old?) surroundings.

The flight from Stansted (London) to Riga Airport sucked balls. It was freezing at the airport and there was nowhere to sit to wait for your flight except on the cold floor. All benches were full of people either sleeping or dozing off. The floor it is, I decided decidedly in a decisive manner.

You might have figured out that I had an early flight. Congratulations Sherlock! The lesson I learned from all this is that I should never show up at the airport before the bag drop counters for my flight open up.

I feel a bit like Santa at the moment. I’ve got a bag full of presents for my family. I hope they like ‘em.

I did a good job keeping my plans a secret. Only my sister and a few VIP friends know I’m nearby. My baby sister will “hide” me at her castle for a few days (my mum’s birthday is in 3 days). In the meantime I’ll try to spend some quality time with my niece Vanessa who was born when I was on the other side of the planet. I’ve got high expectations: I plan to teach her to do a cartwheel, double salto, a few headstands while juggling 7 balls with her left hand and doing my taxes with her right hand on a “dumb” phone.

The bus trip. I. Hate. Latvia. Alright, I don’t hate the whole country, I hate its buses and roads and its airport. First of all I had to wait 5 hours for my bus and then had to prepare myself for another 5 hour bus journey. I believe it took me about 2.5 hours to fly from London to Riga (1691 km in a straight line) and now this 244 km trip will take twice as long. Welcome to Eastern Europe.

On the bright side the bus had a free Wifi connection and an outlet for my laptop. There were also tablets on the back of each seat. I took advantage of that and watched two movies. GrownUps 2 was hilarious – it was so funny my laughter was disturbing the peace of my fellow travellers. ‘twas a jolly good ride, me mates!

The second half of my bus journey was slow and just as entertaining as watching grownup men running around on a field chasing each other and trying to kick a ball.

I spent the next few days at my sister’s place in Tartu. I enjoyed my first day there a lot. The highlight was my long lunch with Erik and Liina. It was easy to talk to them because they’ve travelled the world a bit as well. I look forward to seeing them again.

 

Big 50. All the kids got together and drove off to see my mum. I had several ideas about what would happen once my mum saw me. What followed was not a huge American style expression of joy at all. What happened was a lot like a train leaving Liverpool station at 6:32 AM with an average speed of 60 km/h moving towards another train from Manchester leaving its station at 6:44 towards Liverpool at an average speed of 55 miles/h. That’s how dramatic our reunion was! That’s as good as it gets in Estonia.

I quickly discovered how out of place I was. To be fair I re-discovered it. Basically everybody was talking and I wasn’t. I felt how different I was from everybody else.  After my mums birthday I already wanted to leave. I remembered some of the reasons why I left back then.

ESTrip. Me and me mates went to Hiiumaa and it was awesome!!! Me, Pete, Olav and Siim rented a cabin in the dark and scary forest of Hiiumaa. Naturally we engaged in social drinking and banter and did a bit of “sightseeing”.

There’s not much to see in Hiiumaa except a few lighthouses and a military museum (I wasn’t a fan of either “attractions”). If I had to pick a favourite it would be the Eiffel Tower. See the video below.

Basically it’s the prototype of the Eiffel Tower in Paris. First it was built in Hiiumaa and then the evil Russian communist pigs stole the blueprints and lost them after a party in Paris. A French janitor/hobby-artist found the blueprints in an empty vodka bottle (back in the day the Russians’ most secure means of communication was by message in a bottle). That janitor’s name was Eiffel, he built the tower for his exhibition and the rest is history.

I spent my last two uneventful days at my brother’s place. I believe I was a lot of trouble for him because he had to take me to a vegetarian/vegan restaurant and it wasn’t easy to find one (I was happy with the 3rd place we went to). In the future I’ll opt for a cafe and order a black coffee – I did’t enjoy being a “problem”.

A glimpse of Australia. Just a few hours before catching my plane back to the UK I decided to see if I had any friends in Tallinn to arrange a catch up meeting. I was very lucky to see Marget again (I met her in Australia). I noticed that she didn’t have the same vibe (or lack of any vibe whatsoever) as other Estonians did. She was energetic, cheerful and radiant – completely out of place. She reminded me of so many things I miss about Australia. It was great to reminiscence.

This trip to Estonia made me realize how lucky I really am. I’ve seen, lived and experienced so much which wasn’t possible in my tiny home country. Going back felt a lot like falling asleep for 2.5 years and then waking up – nothing had changed about the country. I think I’ve changed or maybe I just see the world through a different lense.