I have been rather quiet this week. The reason for this is that I was making the most of my lovely permit that gives me access to Schengen countries. After some indecision, I decided to head off to Estonia without delay. Planning to leave early on Monday morning, I bought my ferry ticket nice and early – at about midnight on the preceding Sunday. Ticket bought, I was on my way to my first solo European adventure.
Not having a printer, I uploaded my bus route instructions onto my Kindle. However, early on Monday morning I learnt a valuable lesson about my much prized e-reader: the Amazon Kindle does not like to in sub-zero temperatures! I missed my first bus from near our apartment and had to wait for the next one. This made me about ten minutes behind schedule. From this bus I had to transfer to another nearby route and hop onto the next bus heading to the ferry terminal. It was at this point that my Kindle decided that it was just too cold in the world and time to switch off. Not having memorised the bus numbers or the directions to the next stop, I went right (which I had remembered as the vague direction on my Kindle saved map) and hopped onto the first bus that happened to stop there 5 seconds later. When I asked one of the other passengers if this was the right bus, I got a garbled response where I recognised the word “Tallinn”. That set me at ease and in no time I was standing in a very long queue to get my boarding pass at the Western Terminal.
My initial plans were to go by ferry from Helsinki to Tallinn and then immediately catch a bus to Tartu where I would find Jesse and Annette. Finding out on Monday morning that Annette was actually in Tallinn for the day, I decided to hang around the capital city and travel with her to Tartu. Not having packed with the intention of carrying my bag around all day left me with a slightly heavy backpack that was a bit of trouble- until I hit the “Old Town” that is. Once there, I was so absorbed in the amazing buildings and lovely history that my bag was no longer much of a problem. Not having planned any time in Tallinn and not having researched it, I was blown away by the old section of town which is very pretty. I took as many photos as I could with my camera choosing to side with my Kindle with regards to the rights of personal tech equipment to only work in warmer temperatures. What a surprise. I would advise anyone who is coming to visit us to hop on the ferry and take a day trip to historical Tallinn and enjoy the medievel walled city.
Besides walking around the town, I stopped in at the museum. There were some preconditions to my visit that I had to lay down first before I parted with the 3€ entrance fee. First, it had to be well heated so that I could defrost and second, there had to be somewhere that I could safely store my burden of a bag for a while. The museum itself seemed rather small so I lingered for a long while in what appeared to be the only room, sitting for ages to watch the informative video intro to the town’s history. However, on further exploration, I found a few floors above me filled with interesting exhibits. There was a good mix of the medieval history for which the town is famous and more contemporary themes such as the Soviet period and the re-introduction into capitalist luxuries.
One of the more interesting bits was the legend that told the story of why Tallinn will never be finished. Here I quote from an Estonian website:
The most well-known myth is probably the myth of the Old Man of Ülemiste Lake. An old man, called Ülemiste Vanake (the old man of Ülemiste lake) is said to be sitting on the outskirts of Tallinn, near the lake and watching Tallinn growing. Once every year he rises from the lake, comes to Tallinn and knocks on the city gates, asking if the city of Tallinn is finished. The guards were given strict orders to always respond with a „No!”. Then, the Old Man of Ülemiste would turn around and go back to the lake, mumbling angrily all the way. The belief was, that is someone ever told the old man that the city is finished, he would call up the waters of the Ülemiste lake and send them all down to Tallinn, flooding the city entirely. Therefore, if some old man ever happens to ask you, if the city of Tallinn is finished yet, you are to say „No” to him. (source: http://www.english.eesti.pl)
Another legend is about “Old Tuomas” the character who has been immortalised in the town’s weather vane.
The most important legend is the story about Old Thomas. Since the year 1530, there is a wind vane on the top of the City Hall tower with the shape of a old man with a hat, who holds a spear in his hand. The legends tells that in medieval Tallinn, every year an archery contest was held to see who could shoot a wooden parrot off the top of a high pole. This, although, was a game held only for the rich and aristocratic people. The legends says that no one could shoot down the parrot, until a young boy called Thomas gave it a shot. He hit the target with remarkable precision. For that, he got in trouble, for he was from a poor family. But, instead of getting tied up to the Post of Shame, he was made an apprentice guard, because he had such remarkable skills. Thomas eventually became an expert soldier and a great guard loved by many. When he died, the city made a metal statue and put it on top of the City Hall, so Thomas could still look after Tallinn until the end of times. The citizens of Tallinn still believe that as long as Old Thomas is up there, looking after them, nothing too bad can happen to the city. (source: http://www.english.eesti.pl/)
In Tallinn, I met up with Annette and we caught a lift back to Tartu with some of her colleagues. Lucky for me as I could save the price of the two and a half hour bus ticket. Jesse picked us up from the centre of town where we got some Chinese takeaways and headed off to their home about 20 minutes outside of the town. I was very happy to finally see the many alterations that they had been making to their house after only hearing about them for so long.
On my second day in Estonia, Annette had a meeting in the morning so Jesse took me on a walking/ driving tour of the Tartu. It was obviously very different from Tallin, lacking the medieval architecture but it also has some very beautiful wooden buildings. For me, one very sad thing about the country is that there are so many beautiful old buildings that have been left to all but fall apart due to lack of funding. In many places I saw grand old buildings with their brickwork exposed because the plaster had fallen off. Jesse assures me that this is being remedied and that much has already been done in the almost 2 years that they have been living there. As you will see, there are fewer photos of the general area in Tartu but I did enjoy the sculptures. In the town square there was an ice sculpture of a rabbit- where in South Africa would you see such a thing? Many people had stuck the old Estonian coins to the sculpture- in a similar way to how we would throw coins into wells and ponds. By the way, the Estonians changed to the Euro as recently as January this year so they are still using two currencies. Another sculpture that was very interesting is one of a man and baby where they have been made the same size. Apparently this is a portrait of the artist and his grandson which shows the very different proportions of adults and children.
As it was Shrove Tuesday we indulged in the Estonian (and apparently Finnish) tradition of eating buns filled with cream. It was also National Woman’s Day in Estonia so Annette and I were each given a tulip when we went for lunch in a local restaurant.
The next day Annette and I spent some time shopping in Tartu where I finally got myself a pair of warm woollen gloves and then we headed off to Tallinn on the bus. The trip was not so great because one of our fellow passengers smelt very strongly of stale cigarettes and what I can only imagine is a long standing habit of enjoying the odd vodka. That coupled with movement of the bus made me very queasy. Fortunately, I fell asleep and made it to Tallinn with no major incident. In Tallinn, Annette and I went to Olde Hansa, a medieval styled pub where we drank over-priced and rather unpleasant Irish coffees. Perhaps my last day in Estonia was not such a great success, but I was very happy to have spent some time with such good friends.