When I moved to Tartu in June, it was simply not an issue but I had been warned about Estonia’s generally colder climate in comparison with the UK, and I was optimistic when I saw the sturdy radiators and metre thick walls of the apartment. I may have yet to learn otherwise but I have a fondness for winter light and the low daubs of sunshine that cast long and detailed shadows and an early walk in crisp, cold air has always been a pleasure for me, and so I look forward to my first Nordic winter…
The early days of September proved to be already rather cold, however, and indoors it quickly became very chilly. I looked round for the central heating controls – and discovered that there weren’t any. “You may be part of the city-wide heating grid,” my partner told me. “Basically, there is some sort of central system with underground pipes and pumps supplying hot water to many buildings, and it might be about now that they turn it on”.
A call to the system’s managers revealed that this was not the case for our apartment. The building we were in had its own system after all and was not part of the city grid. My colleague at school began telling me how snug and warm he was – the city-wide system was already operating nicely for him and he surely looked healthy and cosy! Becoming almost desperate to be warm again, I realised we needed to talk to the guy we rented the apartment from, maybe he would kindly show some sympathy to this shivering expat from a country where winter is simply a case of it getting dark a little bit earlier, and switch on the boiler.
In the meantime, I utilised my thick quilted jacket and thermal leggings while watching movies and eating plenty of warm soup, as the temperature slowly dropped even further. I realised at this point that the insulation in the walls was of such superlatively high quality that the cold and increasingly damp air had no chance of escaping to the outside.
My “landlord” was helpful but didn’t really have any information. He had never lived here himself, and didn’t know how to start the heating, but there was a woman, somewhere, who was part of the resident’s association for the building who might be able to do it. Anyway, it would start at some point, maybe when the outside and inside temperatures were in equilibrium. The inside temperature would have to go up for that to happen.
After a few more days I bravely ventured outside to check for any mail and noticed the air was unexpectedly warm – maybe ten or eleven degrees… this took some time to register because it was the last thing I was expecting to happen, like the feeling of liberation one gets when the traffic starts to move again on the M25 near London, for example. But the paradox became a solution… if I opened all the windows, things warmed up nicely in here! It took some time, for the insulation was doing its job beautifully. I have sometimes heard it said that there is no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong choice of clothing – and my quilted jacket and thermals are close at hand, but in this bonus Indian Summer of 13 degrees, the answer does seem to be – if you want to stay warm in Estonia during the autumn, open the windows!