"Take the picture before my face freezes."

     I woke up to the sound of Drym watching YouTube videos. Your Grammar Sucks was playing as he explained that this was how he woke himself up in the mornings. I used to do something smilar when I was back in grade school, eating cereal in front of the television as I caught up on recorded shows before school. Now, it's checking my email and looking at what GIO blogs were written overnight. I guess everyone has their own morning routine(s).

     I slept in until eleven today. I love to sleep but I hate sleeping in because then I feel as if my whole day has been wasted. My mind is so limited by my physical shackles sometimes. It was probably for the best as I had to recover from the trip getting to Estonia.

     Drym was surprised to find his mother in the kitchen and asked why she was there. She reminded him that she too was on vacation from work, much to her own surprise as well.

    "They just call me up and tell me I am on vacation, so I say, 'okay.'"

     His mother, Pilvi, was kind enough to make me coffee ("Cream and sugar?" "No, I drink it black, like my soul") and provide us with a breakfast of sliced, buttered bread with slabs of ham and cheese on top. She laughed when she heard me thank her with "Danan," surprised that I remembered some of the language training they made me go through last night during dinner. They smiled and laughed, clapping their hands whenever I managed to correctly pronounce basic phrases back to them. I can be a good parrot, mimicking their speech, unaware of what I'm saying unless it' explained to me. It's a source of great amusement for all of us.  

     "He is good," she said to Dryme. She speaks and understands some English, enough for us to have basic conversation, but prefers her son to translate. I was flattered by the compliment, but I have to learn more than just my please and thank yous if they're going to use me to impress any of their friends.


"6 Days Until the Apocalypse. Are You Ready?" The morning paper. Seems like the Estonians are also looking forward to the Apocalypse.

    Drym's younger sister, Nelle Marie, was at school but Vanessa, the fourteen year old was home sick from school. She was no longer giving me surly glances like last night, meaning she was feeling better from whatever was ailing her, but she still wasn't in the most sociable of moods. Strange as she always seemed so eager to chat with me over Skype and yet she showed little interest when I was arm's length from her.

    Over breakfast I searched the internet for what Tartu had to offer the wandering tourist. I hadn't looked at it before because I prefer to dive into places with no idea of what to expect. It's a throwback to childlike wonder, discovering places as you wander around a place you don't know, picking up information from the locals or just taking a chance at entering an out of the way museum or restaurant. Not to say that having a list of places you want to visit is bad, but it's better not to be constricted by such a rigid schedule when you're exploring places. Most of the places that sounded interesting (Drym said he wasn't much of one to go to bars and places like that, so I didn't suggest we go to any) weren't open Mondays, but we have time to visit them later.

    I wasn’t disappointed by it when Drym promised to show me places only a few tourists have seen. I’m certain Drym saw the gleam in my eye when he said that. It’s the type of sentence travelers wait to hear, the chance to see a corner of the world unknown to most, the opportunity to craft a new and unique tale that stands apart from the multitude.

     Chihiro, the family’s doxiepoo, came with us, first on red, stretchable leash and then was let loose. My family’s miniature schnauzer and yorkie can’t behave off a leash and will go chase cars and other dogs, barking out of a mixture of fear and a Napoleon Complex, but Chihiro is the complete opposite. She was bouncing in and out of snowbanks, the snow fluff sticking to her black fur in spots, completely at home in the snow. She didn’t wander off, always stuck close to us, until all of a sudden she darted off barking after something.

      “Should we go after her?” I asked. If it had been any of my dogs I would have been barking right after them.

     “Oh no, she just probably found a squirrel or something. Did you know that one time she chased a deer into the woods? I had to go through the trees and a couple swamps after her until I finally heard her bark. After that, best friends forever.”


     We kept walking, but still no sign of Chihiro, not even a distant bark. I looked at Drym again, who rolled his eyes at my preoccupation but took off in the direction she went. White powder kicked up around us as we trekked through a couple snow banks, following small tracks in the snow which led us to a small dilapidated shed. Drym’s call for Chihiro elicited an immediate response from inside the shed. The roof looked like it was ready to collapse at any moment and the passage inside was made narrow by the wall on the right falling into the already small space. Drym hunched in and went in. There was a bark from the right behind the wall and a cat appeared. It was clutching the corner of the wall, it’s emerald green eyes wide in terror, trying to pull itself up and over. Another bark spurred it into action. It’s hairs stood on end as if it was struck by lightening and it launched itself past me. Chihiro began to give chase once more but Drym held her back. She whined as she saw the black, disheveled ball of fur disappear into the white landscape.

     Farmers’ lands lined our path for in the beginning. There were several greenhouses that were covered in black graffiti. I didn’t see any houses that people could live in as I didn’t think that the tin shacks next to the greenhouses were where people lived. Drym said that they had been farmers as long as people remembered, through the Cold War and today. I asked him if he had ever bought food for them, but I didn’t really get a straight answer. With the rise of the international food trade and the convenience of supermarkets, it doesn’t seem as if they have been doing well.

     The hanger was Russian in origin and Estonian in death. The jet black paint peeled off the walls revealing the cold steel underneath. To my surprise there wasn’t very much graffiti, but there were old Russian signs. I tried getting Drym to translate, but he said the Russian was too old. The ground inside was littered with glass shards, chips of paint, and the openings had stacks of rubber tires, tree branches, cardboard and a myriad of other trash. I couldn’t help but think of Fallout 3 when looking at the corroded steel and Russian signs that looked straight out from 50’s advertising.

     We were getting closer to the Estonian Defense Force base, the chain link fences and military vehicles parked in rows visible just beyond the trees next to the abandoned building. Drym wasn’t sure what the building had been before it was neglected and left to the mercy of nature, and not even I could tell. There were what looked like small canals cut in grooves throughout the whole building, as if someone wanted to recreate Venice. More graffiti on the peeling peach and yellow painted walls (what was left of it). Some of the graffiti was actually artistic. Public art is better than wasted space. The steel stairs leading up to the second floor had been removed long ago. Drym said that someone could parkour their way up if they wanted to but none of us volunteered.

     The abandoned fire station was the most impressive. We had to climb through the side windows because the front was blocked by hills of solid ice hidden by a blanket of snow. There was one room where the floor where bricks were strewn all over the place, like it was rubble but there were no walls in the building missing. The glaciers from outside were creeping into the entrance of the building causing me to nearly slip, but I tripped instead on blocks of cement that had been broken off somewhere.

     The stairs were still intact and perfectly safe. The second floor was much cleaner but there was still rubble all about. I almost made the mistake of walking into what I thought was a closet but what was instead was a straight drop to the floor below. I wondered what that could ever be used for until I saw part of a rusted fire pole jutting from the ceiling of the death drop.  

     The rest of the stair were gone but by climbing through a window we got onto one of the roofs. Powdery snow was all over it, but on the roof just above us and at the top of the tower Drym pointed out that trees were beginning to grow.

     “Mother Nature reclaiming it as her own,” I whispered to myself.

     On our way out there was a spacious room whose walls were covered in graffiti. Even the neighborhood seemed to be reclaiming the property as theirs.


     On our way back to his house - the sun had already begun to set at three in the afternoon - we passed by a bomb shelter. A powerful stench radiated from the entrance and hit my nose before we even got to the entrance. I didn’t dare venture in any further than the foot of the door as all I could see were trash bags and their contents filling what used to be a place to survive bombings.

     Some places are worse than others, but having visited places like Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia, most of the Baltic States seem to still be recovering from the fall of Soviet reign over them. There are places where Soviet style apartments are still used despite long past their expiration date, like Lithuania. Places like Latvia wish to forget the past but can’t escape what has been left at their doorstep. Places like Estonia are successfully moving on, but still have every day ruins, reminders of what used to be and what needs to be done to move forward.

     I was glad to be back inside the warm apartment after our exploring. Last year I got my first taste of European winter, snow and all, but apparently it had been a very warm year. This time around, my face felt numb by the chilling breeze, the cold penetrated my gloves, jacket and scarf, my snot resembled the icicles that decorate the sides of houses; there was not one moment where I forgot that I was cold.

     The rest of the afternoon was spent playing games. Drym managed to find a copy of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4 for his PC on the internet. I hadn’t played the game since the PS1 version and I don’t ever remember being terribly good at it, but I still had loads of fun playing tag and trick competitions with Drym. I had to convince him to turn off slow-motion because I couldn’t handle the absurdly slow pace. I felt bad because he said that’s how he’s always played because the game was always too fast, but after a few rounds he was back to double, tripling, even quadrupling my scores.

     He did convince me to leave infinite lives on when we played Contra on an emulator. I scoffed at the notion at first. I’m a masochist when playing games, so having it too easy is never what I want. Drym made the best decision because I would have completely embarrassed myself with lives on. We died so many times that we would have needed three Konami Codes to get through the games. During the last level I handed the controller to Amebelle who had just gotten home. She had a hard time making jumps and didn’t seem to understand that everything in the game was out to kill her, but she was having a good time and even cheered when her brother and her took down the final boss together.

Drym (left) and Me (right) playing Tony Hawk.

     Vanessa and her friend Anastasia from school came in to see what all the commotion was about. The friend smiled and looked down bashfully when she saw me. Whenever I would talk she would whisper things into Vanessa’s ears (as if I could understand Estonian). Yeah, she dug me.

     Nelle Marie really wanted to play with me. She would speak Estonian and I would answer in English. When we couldn’t understand each other we would pull out the English to Estonian dictionary. This went on for a while until the started jumping on the bed and doing flexible things, like kicking as high as her head. Not one to be outdone by an eight year old I tried to out-flex her. It was a game that transcended language barriers. We would take turns doing flexible moves and the other person would try to imitate it. Naturally she beat me at everything, from putting my leg behind my head to touching my toes. Victoria and her friend came into the room to watch and were in  hysterics at the sight of me trying to do the splits. I momentarily impressed them all when I did clapping-pushups but failed miserably at doing them one-handed.

     The family’s dinner dynamic is that everyone eats whenever they feel like it, so while the girls weren’t at the dinner table, Pivli was and I got to know a little more about what she does. She’s worked at a security agency as a salesperson for fifteen years, selling companies and individuals the security they need, whether that means cameras or body guards. Drym was telling me earlier about how his step dad abandoned them and started a new family in Russia, but no matter how curious I was behind that story, a guest must know his limits and so the conversation stayed light, talking about my schooling and Drym’s job search.

     The day was topped off with a screening of The Hobbit. In the same Swiss newspaper I mentioned yesterday there was a review of the film which was no more a review than it was a rant by the critic on how the movie was too long, mentioning nothing but how absurd a three hour movie is in an age where the internet has shortened our attention spans. I know nobody watch’s the same movie as everyone else, but I thought the film was brilliant, from the pacing to the acting. Peter Jackson and Guillermo del Toro have done a terrific job bringing the novel to the big screen, especially with the freedom they have to deliver the entirety of the novel through three films. I thought it was a fitting film to watch as a central theme was how one cannot have adventures just sitting at home, merely existing rather than living.

     One quote in particular stuck out at me, said by Gandalf: “If you come back, you won’t be the same.”

     For better or for worse, in equal amounts, but always worth it.

     ~Arnulfo “Arnie” Hermes (Glasses)

What are the best ruins you've ever seen? Have any of them envoked strong memories about yourself or of historical events? What are some fun or sad moments you've had with visitors in your home? If you've seen The Hobbit, what did you think? Or do you plan to see it, why or why not? Thank you for reading. Always you, Faithful Reader. Always you.