I will always remember the appearance of the spires, towers and walls of this Medieval city as my helicopter arrived in Tallinn, the capital of Estonia.
Helicopter? What the?
Yep! I've been in helicopters before, but for sight-seeing flights, and never just for 'travel' but with a regular service between Helsinki and Tallinn, here was my chance. I like helicopters, as long as they don't crash, and this one didn't!
The 60 km flight across the Gulf of Finland took only 18 minutes, and in addition to the fantastic aerial views of Helsinki as we departed, gave me the same for Tallinn as we arrived. The steeples of churches and turrets of Medieval battlements and walls of old Tallinn stood out.
On arrival at the heliport, a new black Mercedes with driver was waiting to take me to my flash hotel, right near the Medieval 'Old Town'. Quality hotel, nice room. I think being rich would suit me.
Note to self - "Remember to buy Lotto tickets when I return home."
Thursday the first of June 2006 - After dropping off my bags in my room, I set off exploring and wandering the streets of Old Town Tallinn, as my travel name 'TheWanderera' suggests. Being my first afternoon here that is precisely what I did. Just wander.
My 'slogan' for this trip, thanks Natia, is "Just because I wander does not mean I am lost." Again, I had no map, but this is only necessary if you want to know where you are. Perhaps, by wandering, you will find things that the guide book writers did not. Actually, I will confess that I usually have a Lonely Planet, so I can at least read up on the history of a place. For Tallinn though, I have nothing, and I'm loving it.
I found cathederals and castlements, steeples and steps, and this 'old town' of Tallinn had a real fascination for me. You can 'visit' museums, but here I was going to be 'living' in one. How cool is that? I was chuffed with the idea of where I was, and kept walking the cobbled streets of Tallinn and ended up at the market Square in the middle of town.
Having walked up an appetite, I found an al fresco table in a restaurant at the edge of the square. but my 'traditional' Caesar salad came with a stone (I know it's Estonia, but I did not expect this!) which caused a dentine disaster. So much for getting my teeth checked BEFORE departure. No pain, so I hope my dentist can do the necessary repairs on my return. Of course this happens in the FIRST week of a 3 month holiday, not the last. Bloody Murphy follows me everywhere!
Minus some tooth, I continued to explore this amazing place. It's like being in the 14th or 15th century with cobbled streets, walls and battlements.
If I'd had to live in that era, this was the place to be.
Unfortunately, despite it's ability to repulse enemies of old, and it's current UNESCO world heritage status, it has now been invaded by tourists. EVERY shop in the central area is a tourist shop and speaking of tourists, they arrive by the busload, boatload , planeload and cruise ships stop here too. More tourists per annum than the population of the country, I kid you not! Not so nice.
I might be a tourist, but it doesn't mean I like them!
Souvenir shopping? If I was going to buy something, I wanted to "get it out of the way", so that from then on I could ignore the ubiquitous 'Souvenir Shops' and touts, and continue on my way.
What to buy? There were the usual fashion label clothing stores, but for a closet nudist, they're not my cup of tea.
Hmm? What would happen if you were a nudist AND liked tea?
There was glassware, perfect for a backpacker - NOT! There were antique shops aplenty and they displayed all sorts of ancient Estonian wares, some dating back 200+ years.Call me picky, but to me they just didn't seem OLD enough, so I decided to multiply that age by a factor of 25,000 !!!
I bought a 50 million year old mosquito suspended in Amber, the fossilised sap of ancient forests.It's amazing to see when you hold it to the light. A mosquito, just like the bugger that bit me yesterday, yet they have got their biting technique sussed such that they haven't needed to change in 50 million years.
Perhaps not as old as my 350 million year old Moroccan Ammonite fossils, but a lot older than a 200 year old 'antique'. Fossils - real antiques. I like my purchase and it is the perfect backpack size souvenir.
That done, I continued my exploration of the 'Old Town'. I found amazing churches with pipe organs playing, panoramic views from the 'high town' over the 'low town', and of course cobbled streets and steps everywhere. Much more walking to be done methinks.
The blue sky of the afternoon disappeared and I watched with awe as a thuderstom passed over the city and I got an appreciation of why the 156m high spire of one of the churches (for two centuries the highest struture in the world) is now 20m less because they got sick of rebuilding it after lightning strikes.
Dinner tonight was at a restaurant called "Grandmas House". After this afternoons effort at history, I felt like I had joined Asterix and Obelix as I sat down to dinner of wild boar. Shame the chef recreated what Grandmas do to vegetrables. The meat was good, but the overcooked vegetables....hmmm.
On exiting the basement restaurant onto the cobbled streets of the Old town once again, it was 10pm and the sun was still up. I was captivated by the quality of the light on the buildings around me. (Tall bellfrys and steeples were bathed in gorgeous golden light. Photographers in Oz know of "The Golden Hour", ie the first and last hour of the day, for the quality of the light. Here in these northern latitudes, it's a couple of hours and when I am far above the Arctic Circle later in this trip it might just be all day.) Murphy struck again, as I'd no camera with me to catch any of it, as I'd intended to go to some bars after dinner. I did, but not before seeking out a panoramic viewpoint high over the city to watch tonight's sunset and know where to come tomorrow night.
Bars and clubs? The most noteworthy was one called Stereo.I thought I'd woken up on the set of the movie Clockwerk Orange. White vinyl everywhere. Floors, walls and even the furniture. Perhaps a glass of milk would have fit in better?
Today I bought a "Talllin Card". Which gives me free transport and entry to most things including a few tours too. The weather is fantastic! Blue skies are here again. I began my day with an act of randomness by jumping on the first bus that came past. I rode it out into the burbs, but with nothing of real interest appearing, I caught one back to the start point and headed off on foot instead.
I'd seen a street sign pointing to "Kick in de Kok" and had to find out what it was. I was careful not to ask anyone on the street, "Can you show me Kick in de Kok?" or I might not have liked the result.
Turns out it's the canon tower of the city and it translates as "See into the kitchen" as from there the soldiers could peek into peoples houses.
The weather today is magic and I took many photos.
Someone must have told them I was coming as there is a day festival for the 4 days I am here. Lots of street theatre and outdoor bands.
Another city and another tram smash. Does no one read Socrates? If things come in threes, I best be careful in St Petersburg.
Museums aplenty. The natural history one was first, with lots of stuffed dead things including a kangaroo, then a mine museum, (Yep! a museum dedicated to bombs for ships.) and finally the maritime museum. Museumed out - I joined an organised cycle tour for two hours late in the day. There is much to see outside the city and bicycles are a perfect way to get around. We saw palaces and parks, seaside statues and other things I would now have found myself.
The sunset tonight was great and this time I had my camera ready to take advantage of it.
Another day in Tallinn. Fairly crappy weather, so I rode the three different lines of the "hop-on, hop-off" tour bus. The commentary told me a few pieces of useless information I might not have known otherwise. Did you know that the Bank of Estonia is one of the 25 oldest central banks in the world? Neither did I, but it made the tour all the more worthwhile.
Mmmm! Curry. I had an international experience at lunchtime today - An Aussie in an Irish pub in Estonia eating a Thai curry while drinking English beer. Bloody international I am.
This arvo I bought 3 different bottles of the local brew, Saku beer, from the Alko bottle shop. (Great name hey? Especially the BIG store they have near the wharf called Alko Ekspert.)
Anyway, if I thought the first botle was a killer @ 8% the second bottle was called Presidenti and was 10% alcohol. Fark! Thankfully I only had a 4% pilsner to finish and by then I was too. ;-)
$2.40 for 3 cold bottles. I knew I'd like it here. Presidenti Maybe they should call it Plasterizer? I think beers like this put the 'stone' into Estonia.
At 80 cents for 500ml of 10% alcohol beer it's no wonder I've not seen the usual city drunkards wandering the steets, or sitting begging on street corners. At these prices they can finish themselves off quickly, and save everyone the hassle.
Oops! That's not really polically correct is it. Sorry!
Maybe I'm not so far off the mark though. Why is it if everyone knows that "Smoking Kills", why do they keep doing it? It's one of those paradoxes of humanity - the way some people will do whatever it takes to survive, despite their suffering, while others will do what it takes to kill themselves despite their lack of suffering.
Thought for today from Guru Malcolm. :-) Stay tuned for more!
Sunday, my last full day in Tallinn
I went first to the national art gallery, closed on Mondays, and apparently on random Sundays if they know I'm coming. Probably rubbish anyway, not that I'm bitter. Have you ever heard of an Estonian artist? Thought not.
I used my Tallinn card to access all sorts of interesting things, including climbing the 260 steps (I counted them.) to the top of St Olav's church for an amazing city view. A marzipan shop caught my eyes, and tastebuds and I also climbed the bellfry of the town hall, overlooking the town square.
Late in the day, after a snack of crispy pigs ears in garlic sauce.I rented a bike for a few hours and used it to explore the old port industrial area. Crumbling Soviet factories, their usefullness long gone were coloured by the green and yellow of dandelions growing everywhere.
Notice they wait until you get here to tell you that in Estonia, they have two winters, the 'white' one, ie with snow, and the 'green' one, ie what I put up with today.Supposed to be summer, but with grey blanketing clouds and incessant rain, you'd never know.
Estonia backward? No! Estonia is part of the EU now and they seem determined to prove their worthiness and shake off the legacy of the Russian occupation from 1940-1991
Some people, such as my friend Mark, use "eek!" as a negative exclamation, but here in Estonia, the local currency is called kroon, plural is krooni (cool hey?) and the Estonian name for Estonia is Eesti. So in same way we abbreviate Australian dollars to AUD, they have prices as EEK!! But compared to Finland the prices actually aren't "eek!" at all. Rather good actually.
Travelling lets you do all the things you don't get to do at home, like hand-washing your clothes in the handbasin of your hotel room.
I noticed many people here in Tallinn have Dashhounds and I got to thinking. Can vagetarians keep sausage dogs?
Crazy foods I have eaten here -
Sprats for breakfast - pickled sardines. As a bonus/curse you get to taste them all day.
Pickled mushrooms for breakfast - can't help myself. I guess I'm just a fun-guy.
Wild boar - I'll leave that one to Asterix in future.
Crispy Fried Pig's ears in garlic sauce. I liked the garlic sauce.
Moose Stew - shame it was a fricassee and not a slow cooked stew as it was as tough as boots. I think I will stick to the chocolate variety in future.
That's my Estonian wrap. Tallinn was a lot of fun.
I'm off to Russia from here. 7 hours by bus and I should be in St Petersburg. I can't wait to see what adventures await.
Check back here and soon I'll be letting you know.