Sunday, July 10, 2011

Estonia For a Day

What a strange concept: 'Estonia for a day!' Before my friend Allie did the same thing a few years ago, I had never even considered traveling to Estonia in the first place. I mean, could you blame me? Sitting at home in my living room in Massachusetts, Estonia seems as far away as Russia (and basically is). It's a former soviet state whose history I couldn't even begin to flesh out with any sort of accuracy, where they speak a language I had little better chance of understanding than Finnish (actually that's not true - ANY language involving the roman alphabet is easier to understand than Finnish).

And yet, while we were staying in Helsinki, Pa and I were faced with a fascinating opportunity: to take a day trip to that very exotic land. How could we possible turn it down? We had no guide books, no Estonian currency, no maps, and no itinerary. Just a full day and a chance to explore. Boarding the ferry, we were both buzzing with excitement at what we might discovery.

(Purty stained glass in one of the many churches)

(Sweet view! What a day!)

And, it was awesome! We stuck to the old town area, which was by far the most touristy place we'd been to on the trip so far (so many English speakers! SO MANY CRUISE SHIP PASSENGERS) because Talinn seems to have become a fairly standard stop on Scandinavian tour cruises, but we still enjoyed it a lot. The old town is remarkably well-presented for a country that was, presumably, grappling with 'Soviet issues' until as little as twenty years ago. I don't know how much of it was reconstructed, but who cares? The entire city of Munich is reconstructed, after all (and they had an awesome exhibit in their modern museum while I was there that documented the post-WWII reconstruction process), and I still very much enjoyed that.

(Onion domes! Beauty!)

They really pushed the "medieval city" vibe as far as they could in the old town, complete with people in period clothing at every turn, lots of themed restaurants (including Olde Haansa, the place that Allie recommended to us and that we saw but decided wouldn't be vegetarian-friendly enough for me), and even tourist opportunities to try archery with period bows and arrows by the old city walls. As an ex-fantasy megageek (who still loves her some Lord of the Rings) I LOVED it. It was like being in a renaissance fair... for an entire city section.

We spent pretty much our entire time walking up and down Talinn's several impressive hills that the city was built on. Pa also decided that he wanted to climb the highest bell tower in the city that was open to tourists so we could get a look around. It was exhausting, and my legs were jelly-like when we reached the top, but the view was totally worth it. We were very lucky and got there on a day with big open blue skies and cool, breezy temperatures.

(Not a shabby view)

We sat down for lunch in a Greek restaurant, just in time for it to randomly start pouring down rain. Excellent timing! The lunch was good, but had some weird similarities to the German Greek food we'd had that in no way reminded me of any Greek food I'd had in either Greece or America (but alas, there was no überbread this time). I'm pretty sure, for example, that saganaki is supposed to be cheese seared in oil with lemon, and so be both kind of runny and kind of acidic, whereas at both places we got something suspiciously resembling an oversized mozzarella stick. Strange.

After that, it was, incredibly, almost time to go. The day had flown by. We stopped in a few more churches on the way back, including the totally intimidating Lutheran badassery that was St. Olafs. We got rained on a few more times, but managed to find shelter in churches and under awnings so it was no big thing.

(St Olaf's looking stern and awesome)

Near our ferry area, we both commented on this super creepy building that looked like an old abandoned warehouse, complete with possibly body-burning appropriate smokestack. It had a creepy flag flying over it and this obviously hand-made neon sign that proclaimed some unknown initials up high on an outcrop of the warehouse, and looked pretty much terrifying. When the apocalypse comes and the society crumbles into a series of competing warlords, this would be one of their fortresses. My dad and I walked closer, freaked out but curious.

(Possible crematorium?

(Post-apocalyptic warlord's hideout. Srsly.)

...And it was an art museum. In fact, it was Estonia's contemporary art museum. We walked in to the ground floor entrance through those heavy duty plastic flaps that they use to cover garage opening and airplane hanger entrances and found a totally indecipherable contemporary art exhibit involving a constructed greenhouse with fake grass in it in one room and a disco ball throwing weird reflections up on a picture of a safety pin and a bunch of disconnected, semi-violent English phrases in another. This is why people don't like modern art.

(ummm.... I don't get it)

(Damnit, contemporary art, you make it really hard for people to take you seriously)

After that, we walked back through an uneasily sketchy part of town to get back to our ferry, whose port seemed to be on the back end of a defunct soviet-era ferry terminal-turned-crackhouse. Literally, there homeless people and signs of heavy drug use everywhere. Needless to say, it wasn't the most glamorous introduction or farewell to the city we could have possibly received, but we still left Talinn with big smiles on our faces.

(Possible crack den situation doing down here)

The trip back was very uneventful, and we enjoyed some time out on deck getting buffeted by impressive winds and rolled by what I considered pretty aggressive swells for our rickety, 20-year old ferry to be taking on. It was brilliantly sunny and totally awesome. I love being out on the water.

(Crooz Life)

(This also happened. Teehee.)

Next up, the last leg of the trip: Norway, the marathon, and, before we knew it, the trip home. We actually got back two weeks ago (making these updates laughably behind schedule) and it still feels a little unreal, especially since my summer life has quickly become one of steady routine and minimal adventure. But, I've still got a few things to write about yet!

1 comment:

  1. "It had a creepy flag flying over it and this obviously hand-made neon sign that proclaimed some unknown initials up high on an outcrop of the warehouse, and looked pretty much terrifying. When the apocalypse comes and the society crumbles into a series of competing warlords, this would be one of their fortresses."

    The fact that this was an art museum encompasses everything I love about Estonia. I'm so glad you enjoyed it! Can't wait for our catch- up lunch this week :)