Despite being born and raised in the summer capital of Estonia, my ideal beach season is only just arriving, as I am an avid winter swimmer. In the middle of the country's most famous resort town, this activity is my way of unwinding between shifts coordinating rest and relaxation for our many guests. My name is Kreete Kubre, and I am a spa shift supervisor at Estonia Resort Hotel and Spa in Pärnu.
My day always begins the same way — with a piece of chocolate and a shower. Well, I get the hot water going first, and then eat a piece of chocolate — so that my day gets off to a sweet start and I get a little spike to my blood sugar level — and then take a shower.
My own alarm goes off at 6:45 in the morning, at which point I do my own morning routine, and my first-grader wakes up at the second alarm. I'll then have coffee and watch Kanal 2's morning programme "Hommik!" before leaving the house at 8 to drive to work. In summer I'll bike to work instead; it's a nice ride along the Pärnu River from our home in the suburb of Paikuse.
Upon my arrival at work, I'll first tackle various morning routines, including putting the kettle on, making tea, and making sure everyone is at work that is supposed to be.
I have worked as a spa shift supervisor at Estonia for the past three and a half years, after ending up here very much by chance. I was at home with my young daughter at the time, and picked up the first job I came across — a position in the dairy department at a Rimi supermarket. Then a friend of mine applied for a receptionist position at the Estonia Resort Hotel, and encouraged me to do the same. I dunno, I thought... but I applied for a position at the spa there instead. I actually didn't care at the time whether I'd be hired or not. But I ended up coming to three rounds of interviews, and now here I am.
I'll be honest, it is a great feeling going to a job interview when you don't actually need the job. Then you are free; everything is so funny, and so great, and you can bravely say what you really think — take me or leave me. When you need the job, you overthink things, and overdo it. But I was hired, and while everyone was equal for the first month or so, two shift supervisors were selected from among us, and I was one of them.
Some days are busier than others, and some days something unexpected will happen, or someone will call in sick. But busier days tend to be more fun, and we are kept busy enough as we get plenty of bookings across three different buildings.
Running a spa
As shift manager, I deal with the administrative side of running the spa, but that does not mean I work exclusively on a computer in a back room somewhere. Among other duties, I put together spa treatments, draw up work schedules, and find people to cover if someone calls in sick. On the rare occasion that a client is unhappy with their experience, I also do what I can to improve their experience.
At our facility, the spa takes up two floors of the building — the third floor, our second, includes the spa itself as well as the saunas, while the second floor, our first, has rooms for various spa treatments. There were times toward the beginning where I'd sometimes end up doing treatments myself, but usually I just provide support for them. For example, I will warm up the peat or mud used in a treatment beforehand, or run a bath for a milk or beer bath. After the treatment I will also wash the tub, which gives the spa attendant time to rest in between. I also make tea for the clients, which we offer them after their treatment so they can sit and relax for a bit. I'll also check in on the admins at the front desk, although I sometimes don't even make it that far; sometimes when I have a minute I want to just sit down myself.
Monthly schedules I draw up well in advance, for the sake of both our clients and our employees at the spa. I have already drawn up January's schedule, for example; it is easier for our admins to schedule treatments this way, as we get bookings that far in advance. Occasionally we'll have to move things around, of course, as we'll get a group booking, for example; in that case we'll include some extra shifts. Other times, when things are quieter, we'll let people home early. We have a flexible and friendly work environment, where we try to help and support one another. There are times when you have to work very hard, but other times, when things are calmer, just go home. This is easy enough as most of us live in the area; one exception is one saunamaster-masseur, who works scheduled shifts here and otherwise lives in Tallinn.
I was recently given a counter in the lobby, which means I get to spend even more time out among our clients. This is really great, as it means I receive more feedback directly from clients fresh out of the spa; I get to see all the joy, and that is really rewarding. Of course, if I didn't like my job, there is no way I could do it. I actually believe that you cannot do work that you don't like to do.
We get clients from all over, including groups. I have yet to encounter any with strange requests; even bachelorette weekends just tend to go for group yoga sessions and such. We had the cast of "The Vengeance Bureau," an Estonian TV show, come in once, but they didn't have any demands whatsoever. They were really great; you barely noticed them, and they didn't demand anything special for themselves.
No, the most exciting thing to happen at work is when the fire alarm goes off, which can happen occasionally during a storm. When this happens, I have to go around the facility and turn the building's ventilation system back on, which you do with the push of a button in three or four specific spots throughout the building. One of them is on the roof, and it is the coolest thing to go up there to do that. It's dark, and you're up there with your phone's flashlight on; there's maybe less than a dozen of us who have ever even been up there. And from the roof you can see down into the spa, through the glass, and you feel like an angel that nobody can see, even though you can see them — it's like, wow! But I hope this doesn't happen too often.
Pärnu's other beach season
For the past two years, I have gone winter swimming with a colleague after work. I don't really go during windy weather like this, although last year we did go in the sea during very windy weather; the waves were great. During the summer, when Pärnu's beaches are packed, I stay on shore and watch my kid swim; in reality I'm waiting for winter to arrive so I can go too. One morning recently, my friend and I made plans to meet for a quick dip before work. She had the day off; I didn't. While I waited for her, I broke up the ice that had formed on the surface of the river with my umbrella. Of course, I didn't notice until later that the ice had torn up my legs a bit too. But I love it; going after work, it wipes away your fatigue, and you go home feeling clean and refreshed.
Outside of work, I don't really have any other hobbies; I just like to relax. Relax and spend time with friends. We rarely go out somewhere; everybody works, so we tend to just take sauna together, have some good wine, and talk about everything and relax. This is my time for myself. Of course I have time to truly be by myself; when I get home late and my daughter is already comatose in bed, I'm alone then too. If you have the right friends, spending time with them is relaxing. But those times I really have time for myself, I light a fire in the fireplace, drink tea and just sit there. Sometimes I'll watch the repeat broadcast of ERR's "Ringvaade," although I don't really watch much TV otherwise. Sometimes I'll have a glass of wine.
I would like to relearn how to crochet. I learned how last year, but I've forgotten how since then. I crocheted snowflakes; last year I received an order for 40 of them for Christmas ornaments. I crocheted them and they were so lovely; I thought that I'd like to make some for myself to use on the tree at home too instead of store-bought plastic ornaments.
Another thing I enjoy is running, although in moderation, is running. Our company decided to pay for its employees to participate in runs organised by a specific club here in Pärnu. I was at work during the first one, of course, but participated in the others. Before the half marathon, I ran the route twice just to get acquainted with it and see it would feel. But running together with the crowd, I improved my time by nine minutes; it's more fun running together. That being said, I'm not interested in running marathons; for hours of the same exact movement over and over is too much for me. My older daughter recently returned home from a run in the woods. "Why are you so angry?" I asked her. "I fell!" And I said, "At least something happened!" I ran 21km and nothing happened; it's just the same movement over and hour for two hours straight.
Their childhood vs mine
My older daughter attends Audentes School in Tallinn; she is currently in the tenth grade. I never imagined having a daughter move across the country to go to school in another city, but this was her only opportunity to play tennis. I worry about her, as she has a lot of responsibilities, but nowadays at least there are so many ways to keep in touch. Of course, whether she has time to talk much is another matter, as she is very busy, but she comes home on weekends, where her younger sister, our cat and I are waiting for her.
I myself played football for ten years when I was younger, but I quit when it started getting actually competitive; I played for fun, and often had no idea what the score was. It was pretty good if I was aware that we had won, and I may have accidentally scored a goal sometimes. But my daughter competes in tennis, and I make sure she is able to travel to do so. This is more important to me right now than dreaming of any travel plans of my own. One of her dreams was to compete in the US, which she did — at the Junior Orange Bowl in Florida. Another dream, Italy, didn't go so well; she got sick on the plane, and ended up spending the entire three or four days sick in the hotel. She couldn't even play. But she has gotten to play in Moscow, in Belarus, Sweden, France, Egypt... She is doing well.
As a child, I couldn't have imagined any of this. I was born and raised in the Soviet era. I got to travel a bit with my football, but not like my daughter does today. There are no more ration coupons for food; you can get whatever you want. There are smartphones; you can talk to people and even see them. You don't have to rely on black-market goods. So much has actually changed — wow, I am that old already!
Of course, to some degree my childhood was still just a regular childhood. I grew up living in a flat with my parents in Pärnu. My father as from Lihula originally, also here on the west coast, and my mother was from Tallinn, where my grandmother had a summer cottage. I went everywhere as a kid, and explored every nook and cranny in the area with the neighbourhood boys. My brother, who was two years older than me, would always in from playing completely clean. I, meanwhile, crawled in looking like the family dog. But even then, despite being on the quiet side, I lived subconsciously by the rule of thumb of having to try everything.
I still get my hair cut by one of my childhood neighbours; another that I used to play football with, we still keep in touch. Childhood friends seem to find a way to remain, somehow. Your paths may diverge quite a lot, and at some point you may end up losing touch for years, and then your paths end up crossing again. I attended Koidula High School, and we've got a class reunion coming up. I'm working on getting everyone together for it; we'll be able to catch up on everything and everything will be great again.
Of course, some things were better back then. My children have had wonderful childhoods, and I don't want to ruin it for them, but white and dark bread just aren't what they used to be. Ice cream was better back then too. Regatt ice cream tasted the way it was supposed to. So did Kalev's Komeet praline candy. But why ruin it for them? It's so great that they are able to do everything today.
Change in Estonians, change in me
But Estonians themselves have changed since then. Estonians have become friendlier, and smile more. Estonian clients I meet at the spa really appreciate the good things they have. The previous get-rich-quick era to follow the end of the Soviet era has passed, and Estonians today really know how to enjoy good things. The ones who are new money tend to be cocky and want to show off their wealth to others, but the rest just enjoy themselves and leave other people to enjoy themselves too. They have become more balanced too, and more fun, and help and care more. Sure there is still some nastiness, but you don't have to pay any attention to that, and can still choose to smile instead.
Personally, while my core self is still the same it has always been, I have changed a lot too over the years. I've become more patient, and don't always say everything that I'd like to. I was born a Leo in the Year of the Rooster, and others have noticed certain traits of mine line up with these zodiac signs. But I've changed thanks to my job, too; I've gotten to know myself as well as others better, as well as how to manage in various situations. I have a boss who has been very supportive of me and taught me a lot. They are wrong when they say that people don't change; of course they do.
I do wish I wanted to learn more. I do want to, actually, but I never get to it. I studied tourism in Tallinn for one year, but fresh out of high school, you don't know what you want to do; you're too young to decide. If you have the opportunity and know what you want to study, then go to university, of course! But it is too expensive to continue just going and trying different things. In the meantime, I have other means of educating myself. I'm learning massage, and I participate in various training opportunities. At some point I wanted to study human resources management, but my children remain my priority right now.
Life is an opportunity, though. You need to accept what comes your way. And life is always so interesting for me as a result. I'll take on anything that seems remotely interesting, even things that may scare me a little. For example, we have our company Christmas party coming up, and our HR manager came up to me and said, "Kreete, you do a craft with the kids." I don't do crafts with my own kids, but hey, if you or someone else believed that I'd be capable of doing this, then let's do it! We're making yarn balls with balloons, where you blow up a balloon, dip yarn in glue and wrap it around the balloon, and then pop the balloon once it dries. It was her idea, and we looked up how to do it on Youtube.
On worknights I go to bed at 8:30. I'd rather go to bed early and wake up well-rested the next day than stay up late watching a movie and feel tired the next day. I'd rather have energy to do interesting things. You only live once, and when you're old someday, you'll have something to tell your grandkids. I have plenty of stories already, and I hope there are more to come.
The only other advice I can offer anyone is to smile, to appreciate the good they have in their lives, to spread joy, to listen.
And try swimming in the river in winter. Then you'll really understand just how little one needs to be happy.
Day in the Life is a new weekly series by ERR News telling the stories of everyday Estonians, their livelihoods, and their lives. If you know someone whose story you feel should be told, email us at [email protected].
Editor: Dario Cavegn