Baltic Trip - Estonia

I landed in Estonia late afternoon on a Sunday. It's cold, gray, dreary. I had cleared EU immigration in Helsinki so there were no formalities here. After getting my bag, I stopped at an R-Kiosk stall (like a 7-11) to buy a SIM card. The clerk didn’t speak English, but no worries, I got the SIM card, popped it in, and I was online. Although the airport has free Wi-Fi as well. Estonia Internet speeds are great I must say.

Jet lag and fatigue are hitting me badly, and the cold isn’t helping. I don’t sleep well on planes at the best of times, so it has been a really long day.

Out the front door into the cold, got a taxi, and off to the hotel. I got checked into my hotel. But I think I must've done something to have irritated the desk clerk. When I asked if there were someplace I could eat, she pointed vaguely out the front window of the hotel and said "Old town is that direction. There's many restaurants there." And made it clear with body language she didn’t want to speak with me further.

So, after a hot shower, I threw on all the layers that I had, and ventured out into the cold bitter night. And cold and bitter it was. There was even a light wet snow falling. After decades in Asia, never having suffered any temperature lower than about 20°C, -1°C not even allowing for the wind chill was to say the least, shocking. It certainly cut down on my desire to traipse around in a town I didn't know, in the dark, trying to find a restaurant that might be good. From a certain perspective, it was beautiful. The yellow street lights, the snow swirling in the lamp light, the old town architecture, trams going past in the street … but I’ve come to the conclusion it is much nicer to see that on TV or in a picture than to be out in it.

Old Town on a nice day

Old Town on a nice day

The first restaurant I tried because it was the closest and looked warm inside, was called The Dubliner. Turned out to be a total bust. After 10 minutes of being ignored I decided to go back to the hotel and have a protein shake. Luckily there was somebody at the front desk this time who was a little friendlier and I realized I could eat at the hotel bar, which turned out to be an excellent meal. So, I counted my blessings, ate, and crashed.

Jet lag having well and truly gotten its claws into me, I woke up in the middle of the night. I tried to work on email and get ready for my meetings later that day. I was here in Estonia to set up a company. I had become an e-resident of Estonia some months ago, and since I was trying to get back into work mode (I haven’t worked since the crash of 2008 but … have to do it I guess), I decided that the best way to do that would be to set up a company here to do consulting. However, as usual, there are always issues with this kind of thing, especially banking. But I will rant about that in another blog post at another time.

One incredible thing about that hotel in Estonia (The Palace Hotel BTW). Their buffet breakfast in the morning was awesome. Lots of fresh berries, which you never find in Asia. Real pork sausages. I am so tired of having to face chicken sausages in buffets where they are trying to cater to halal tastes. I'm sorry. For me a chicken sausage simply is not a proper sausage. I have no problem with having to cater to halal restrictions. However, that doesn't mean that they shouldn't have proper pork sausages for people who are allowed to eat them. Oh! And great brewed coffee by the pot. Not this ridiculous thing where they serve you one (small) cup of coffee and then charge you for another one. Which they seem to do with monotonous regularity throughout Asia.

Anyway. To carry on, I walked about a kilometer to another hotel (Radisson Blu) to meet my contact for getting my company set up. The people at this hotel seemed to be much friendlier. So I sat for a while, enjoyed the ambience, had a cup of coffee, and felt small because a Russian basketball team was visiting. And the staff was really great. When I got up to leave and pay for the coffee, they just waved me off. Said it was no problem.

I had been up for 10 hours at this point and my jet lag was hitting me badly. The cold didn’t help. My nose was already running after the brief walk. Naturally, right before I had my meetings with lawyers and the bank.

But, it was okay. I am a little bit unsure as to why all the documents were in Estonian. It would seem that if the government of Estonia is trying to make Estonia an investment friendly environment for outsiders, they would at least make it so that all the documents are in English and Estonian. However, no problem. The lady I worked with was friendly, efficient, and spoke excellent English. I was still having problems trying to say “Thank You (Aitah)” in Estonian. Kept trying to say it in Thai. Which garnered some blank looks.

But still everything seemed very efficient. In the matter of three hours all my documents were done, signed, and the bank application had been completed. I had slated a few days to stay in Estonia but I had completed my business in less than four hours.

I would say that if you want to set up an offshore company (meaning offshore from your own home country), Estonia isn’t a bad place to do this (at least so far). But that is a completely different article for a different time.

I did wander around a little bit do some shopping. I had to buy a hat or I was going to freeze to death. And wandering around reminded me of my problem before in cold weather. I freeze to death outside, even with layers, and then as soon as I walk into a building, I'm too hot. Well it certainly didn't take too long for me to realize and remember how badly I hated the cold. If it had been warmer I think I would have really liked Tallinn. It is not a large town, there is a nice public transport network, taxis are reasonable (Taxify works great). But in the cold … didn’t work for me.

I had gone back to my hotel, and speaking again with the front desk clerks, I just decided to leave right away. Why stay here and deal with a bunch of people that I know are unfriendly? Why don't I change my plans and go back to Finland and see if that's any different? And even that met with some resistance from the desk clerks. When I said that I had changed my plans and would be checking out early, they looked at me and implied that they would have to check if it was okay for me to get a refund for the time that I didn't stay. Now of course I didn't say anything. I nodded and smiled. But in my head I’m thinking "Really? Well, if you don't refund my money for the time that I am not staying here then I will become extremely unpleasant!"

That just absolutely infuriated me. Ah fatigue. Great effects on the body and the mind.

Anyway. I changed my flight then went to work on getting my hotel reservation in Helsinki. The Finns were so friendly and easy to deal with on the phone. The original hotel couldn’t fit me in a day early so they helped me find another hotel close by. So, the next day, after a 2 AM wake up and another excellent buffet breakfast, I made my way to the airport.

Tallinn Airport Boarding Gate

Tallinn Airport Boarding Gate

Tallinn airport is nice. Modern, small, very well designed, nice toilets, lots of shopping. So cute they put the duty free section right after security so you have to troll through it in order to get to the main store area. Even though I don’t eat a lot of junk food anymore, I am in love with the array of snacks you can find here. I’ve never really adjusted to Asian snacks. They are in the middle of expansion construction for the airport but after dealing with congested Asian airports … no contest. So easy to get to and through. Tallinn airport is only about 10 minutes from the city center.

The flight from Tallinn to Helsinki is on a 72 seat turbo prop plane. I do get nervous on planes, but this flight is quite short. Actual flight time is only 20 minutes. Basically, the plane gets up to altitude, and then immediately begins to descend. I only took the flight twice but it was packed both times.

So … it was a short visit to Tallinn. If I am actually able to get a company bank account, I still look forward to going back (in the summer). It is a small town, traffic is great, and there seem to be a lot of places to have coffee. I think between my jet lag and the cold, I was unduly affected by the people at the hotel. Ah well, there is a reason they use sleep deprivation as an ‘enhanced’ interrogation technique. Never too old to learn new things about yourself. It has been a long time since I did a trip long enough to suffer from jet lag. I think it is worse for me than it was when I was younger.

So! Finland!