Last week, the Youngs went away for six days holiday in Estonia. The constituency was put on auto-pilot and we jetted off to the capital, Tallinn.
We arrived at the Euroopa Hotel – yes, that is how they spell it – to find the following greeting in the brochure. “Euroopa Hotel is synonymous with an exciting environment for inquisitive travellers, who are keen to be challenged and surprised.” If one has got up at 3 in the morning, driven to Stansted and then flown in an aeroplane designed for people a foot shorter than I am, frankly the last things I want from the hotel at my destination are challenges and surprises.
Estonia is a small country – 1.3 million people. 52% are Estonian, and 35% are Russian. This means that, when you walk down the street, half the women look like Ulrika Johnson, and a third look like Rosa Klebb. They are a tidy race. On one occasion, a lady stubbed out her cigarette in a puddle; but she then bent down to pick it up and put the sodden butt in a municipal ashtray. The place was so tidy there weren’t even any seagulls in the harbour, as there was no detritus for them to feed on.
Estonia has spent most of its history being invaded and run by other countries. The Swedes, the Danes, the Germans and the Russians ran the place from 1200 AD onwards, with a brief interlude of independence from 1918 to 1941 before the Russians took over. Only when the Soviet Union disintegrated in the 1980’s did it become independent again.
In fact, it was invaded while we were there. By Finland. Every morning, hordes of Finns would descend from the ferries from Helsinki to empty the shops of all the goods that were cheaper in Estonia than in Finland, before retreating at dusk with their spoils.
We had a good time there – it is a friendly place with lots to do. Our last night was spent at the Estonian National Opera, seeing Tristan and Isolde. If an opera starts at 3 in the afternoon, and is not a matinee, this means it is a long one, unsuitable for anyone suffering from deep vein thrombosis. We asked the lady in the cloakroom when we might see her again and she said eight o’clock. At least she could go home and come back five hours later. But no. Tristan and Isolde brings on what one might politely call audience attrition. During the interval after the first act – which had lasted 75 minutes – a number of those present calculated that they were only a quarter of the way through. The lady in the cloakroom was as busy as the lady at the bar selling whisky. At the second interval., there was another upsurge in trade as more punters cashed in their chips. At that point, a lady appeared from the street for the last act. She occupied one of the many seats that had been vacated and enjoyed the final 90 minutes – which includes the famous Liebestod. The next time a Wagner opera is on, I am tempted to follow her example.