Field of Science

Some good thoughts about Tartu, the city of good thoughts

So far I haven't blogged about Tartu or Estonia, although I fully intended to when I started writing the blog. So OK, no time like the present.

Tartu town square
"City of good thoughts" is the official nickname of Tartu, and I guess it's supposed to conjure some impression of optimistic musings that might be inspired by the city, or maybe it's referring to the noble academic thoughts that are being spawned in the university. Maybe both. Anyway, Tartu has plenty of quirks, but on the whole I have good, positive thoughts about the place. So that's what this post will be about.
Tartu University main building. Lots of good thoughts going on inside, I'm sure. Though mostly administrative thoughts in this particular building. 

I moved from the UK in 2008 and spent two years working in Uppsala, Sweden. That happens to be where I am right now incidentally, since my partner Vasya has some work on at the uni here. Although it was a bumpy ride in Uppsala and I initially, unfairly blamed the country for that, over time I mentally separated the country from the stresses, and I grew to realise that I actually love Sweden, and would not mind ending up here. The country is beautiful, the quality of life is good and the language is learnable. I also have good friends here. So, I'd got used to Sweden, and I was a bit apprehensive about moving to Tartu to be honest... no mountains or coasts nearby, dreadful food (I'd visited Vasya several times and experienced some food horrors) and a frighteningly difficult language. I was expecting ex-soviet dreariness. But, after only 5 months living there, it really feels like home, unexpectedly so. And I wasn't hugely looking forward to leaving. 

What helps feeling settled of course is having a job you enjoy and being with your loved one in a cosy home. I have all of those, which are after all the main things that influence happiness in life (so I heard somewhere), and so I'm very content.

Our apartment in September (you can spot Vasya playing guitar on the balcony)...
...and just a couple of months later (too cold for outdoor serenades)

But home life and work life aren't the only things about Tartu that I like. Here are a few other things:

1. It's just so different. It's really not like Britain, and though I'm proud to be British, I feel like I know my homeland pretty well, and it's an adventure trying on a strange country for size. And Estonia really can be very strange, and therefore funny. Maybe it's my taste in surreal humour...
This slightly terrifying merry-go-round appears every christmas. That's my British mate Ady, riding the filter-feeder pig.
Last christmas a miniature galleon also suddenly appeared in town.

2. There are plenty of pubs. I'm a Brit. I just love pubs. I also appreciate that there is no state monopoly on alcohol and ridiculous alcohol buying hours like there are in Sweden.

3. Eating out in good restaurants is affordable. OK, so the food is so-so at best in the majority of places, but other places are fab, particularly the French place 'Crepe', The Italian place 'La Dolce Vita' and... I've forgotten its name, but the Georgian place. The Indian place Asian Chef is supposed to be great too, but we haven't tried it yet. By the by, here's a link a great blog on Tartu restaurants.

4. It's rustic. Most things are made from wood. Houses, utensils, stuff like that. I like that. Maybe because my dad is a retired woodwork teacher. Souvenirs are genuine handicrafts, wood and wool. We have an open fire at home, and we get trailer-loads of wood delivered that we stack in our wood shed. It's so far from the stark, institution-like apartment blocks of Sweden. Snuggling by the fire when it's snowing outside is heaven!
The September arrival of our wood for the winter! We've had to get another load delivered since then.

A cute, rustic cobbled street

Wooden houses come in large size too

5. It's semi-Russian. Vasya is Russian by birth, Belorussian by passport, and so I'm curious about Eastern cultures. Again, very different to Britain.

6. The snowy winters. I love snow. Our Estonian friend Arvi is "sick of this white shit", but I can't get enough of it. Hmm maybe that will all change when we buy a car though...

7.  The people. We know some great people in Tartu, including Vasya's and my boss Tanel, who we call the Godfather. That's less in the scary mafia way, and more in the wish-granting fairy godmother kind of way.

So those are the main things! Oh also, there's the fact that Tallinn isn't too far away, and it's beautiful.

Tallinn at Christmas

Tallin city walls

So there you go!

Pic from


    1. Wow! It really does look like a fun place. I'm quite envious. I've always wanted to visit Estonia and the Baltic States.

    2. In Tartu even cars are made from wood. And also grass and snow. Sometimes even living animals are made of wood.

    3. Absolutely gorgeous pictures.

      Nice blog. Will have to drop by from time to time. I found you via a ribosomal image a Google.

    4. Thanks! I'm afraid the blog is rather neglected these days. I have a little girl now, who takes up a lot of my time :) Maybe in a few months I'll revive it...


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