02 June 2013

Sink your tallinns into estonia

went to europe again this weekend (did i forget to mention in the germany posts that finns say they are "going to europe" when they visit anything south of the nordic countries? lol. so cute). this time we went to nearby estonia.

tallinn is the largest and capital city of estonia (less than half a million people live there). i guess its also the oldest capital city in northern europe. it used to be called "reval" until 1917 though. it was indeed a part of the USSR, and parts of the city have that very drab, cement vibe. but, apparently estonia is presently a bit of a techie country, its most famous for being the home of "skype". i think that everyone we encountered knew english (we found a few words in estonian were the same in finnish though), so our visit was easy in that way, and just a short 1.5 hour ferry ride made this a place im sure we will (happily) return to.

(map of estonia; map of tallinn, the yellow roads form a ring around old town on the left and you can see the harbor/port at the top right, we stayed in a place off to the middle right of the map)

friday:
in the morning, we (pretty easily) got on the linda line ferry from helsinkis city center, by the market square. it was a fast boat ride and the drop-off location in tallinn was great, but...what an ugly port tallinn has (at least for the linda line ferries). following the line of other slightly confused passengers, we eventually came to a main road and X was greeted with the happy sight of some of the citys trams as we walked across the tracks right in to the old town.

almost right away we came to a gateway on the side of a street with the sign of a restaurant i had read was supposed to be good. i walked up the steps and peeked around the corner to check out the prospects of eating at this place (leib). thumbs up, lets go in. at the top of the steps there was a pathway through a shady, flowery, calm, gorgeous courtyard to the restaurant eating areas. some of the ancient high walls of the city hemmed the courtyard in and we were seated on the upper terrace of the outdoor seating (after having help stowing our rolling luggage and stroller away). it was sublime, except for the american business man and some estonian colleagues seated near us. the estonian guys were fine, it was the american that really got me. he was wearing leather tasselled shoes, baggy jeans, and a logo sweatshirt(?). during their meal he asked about such faux pas topics as: politics, religion, and the health of the men he was eating with, as well as the weather, the mens families, santa claus, and talking (bragging is more like it) about some multi-million dollar development projects he was a part of in china (i assume this was to impress them), and, ending my time at the table, asked them if they read architectural digest (it appeared these guys were all in the contractor/builder business). his estonian business associates were very polite and diplomatic with their answers but were clearly of a classier caliber than this american guy.

  
 (entrance to the restaurant from the street; dave listening to X at our lovely terrace table)

after the tasty meal (oh was i too focused on the twit next to us to talk about the food? it was simple but tasty [X even gobbled all her sausages], id eat here again next visit), we walked to our airbnb apartment in the kadriorg neighborhood. we misjudged the map, and it turned into a long walk (maybe 30-40 minutes), thankfully though we missed out on the rain that began to fall just as we got inside, and the thunder and serious lightning (we enjoyed it from inside though). during the lighter moments of the storm, i went to get snacks at the very nearby grocery (selver) store and then laid down because my head was pounding and i was fatigued (oh, was i sick during this vacation, yes, yes i was). later, dave took X to an awesome nearby playground and they came back before the next wave of rain. in the downpour, i went out for dinner supplies, no worries though because i discovered the local candy company, kalev, on this grocery visit, and the delightful estonian treat called kohuke (a little bar of sweet cheese curd, in a million different flavors, that is covered in chocolate).

  
 (X is actually smiling here, ready to eat all of her sausages; a pretty fountain on our walk from the restaurant to the apartment)

saturday:
due to the heat wave of late (80+ F and bright sun), the apartment was hot (no AC of course) and bright too early, so we all got crap sleep and were up early. we did breakfast in the apartment and walked in to old town. it happened to be that "tallinn old town days" was going on, pretty neat. the surrounding parks had tents with vendors set-up and in the old town itself various performances were going on. but, our first stop in old town was the estonian handicraft shop called "eesti esindus tallinnas", very nice and fairly inexpensive handicrafts from local artisans that spoke of an old school, traditional culture (felt items, real animal furs, wood carved kitchen tools, leather bound notebooks, etc). we settled on just getting some jams. then we wandered the old town streets with lots of medieval themed stores and restaurants. i must say that the medieval atmosphere they are going for is well done and isnt cheesy.

while wandering, we heard what seemed like live music and followed it to the main square of old town (raekoja plats) where a stage was set up to perform the ballet opera carmina burana. it was so neat. X was mesmerized and encouraged us stay until the end. afterward we walked out of old town and went to the top of the solaris centre for lunch at kohvik komeet. it was not crowded, so we chose a seat along the glass window wall and looked out at the opera house and the tops of old town. very nice. we ordered the lamb patty and weiner schnitzel. X once again devoured the meat (estonian meat seems to be a favorite of hers) and we all had a nice meal. the location was great and so were the prices.


(silly faces and the view from our lunch table)

then we went in to old town again and found a cool fountain that kids were playing in and adults were wiping themselves down at (weird to see). X played in the water until she accidentally fell in and soaked herself (she didnt do it while walking around, she was just sitting and tipped over, poor kid). luckily we had enough clothes with us to remake a full outfit. to cheer her up, we went to maiasmokk cafe (the candy company mentioned earlier, kalev, operates this sweet shop and the marzipan museum next door) to pick out treats. we got a variety of macaroons, some divine tartlettes and a marzipan butterfly. so tasty.

  
(playing in the fountain)

and the day kept on going. we attempted to see a short performance at the nuku puppet theater but it didnt work out so we went for a walk just outside the west and south parts of the wall surrounding old town. very serene and beautiful, and being much less crowded and narrow than inside the wall was a welcome feeling. along the southern edge of old town we walked up to a hilltop cafe (called parklinn grupp i think) and relaxed with some cold beverages and enjoyed the random heavy metal music that was coming from the stage in a square down below us. after our drinks, we walked down to the square and started back home. on the way, we saw a tightrope/music act in a different park and got some fries to eat at a playground/park on our route (there is a lack of easy access to fries in finland, i find). once back at the apartment, dave ran out to the grocery store for dinner items and came back with, among other things, kali (a russian pop made from fermented rye bread, it was tasty!). we had dinner and relaxed.

  
(the nice, quiet, shady walk outside the old town walls; view from the square. up the hill is where the cafe was and behind me was the stage where the heavy metal band was playing)

sunday:
we got up with the blazing heat again and made our way over to the playground(s) outside the miia milla manda museum in the kadriorg park. afterward, we just walked around a bit more of the park and wandered through some nearby tree-lined neighborhoods and came back to the apartment for lunch. then, we cleaned up and walked all of our stuff to the ferry terminal. thankfully we knew where it was because there was terrible signage and a bad layout for getting to the terminal from the city. anyway, we put our stuff in a locker (and peeked in at the booze store at the terminal: cannabis absinthe, 10 packs of vodka, and, generally, cheap, cheap, cheap booze) and then went back in to old town until our ferry left. i found a used book store with a childrens section, we got some kalev treats again, and i found a souvenir shop with inexpensive russian nesting dolls (matryoshka, love those toys). and then it was time to get back to the ferry. the terminal was very busy and the boat was bigger than on the way there. we certainly saw people with beer carts, toting home up to 8 cases of cheap booze. we hear that in the winter people use sleds for beer carting. the boat ride went well and we were back home in no time.


(our last walk back in to old town, from the ferry terminal)

estonia notables:
-i dont exactly know why, but the color orange was everywhere in estonia. on signs and estonian post boxes, but most notably men and women were wearing all shades of it. ive never seen so much in my life.

-parts of the city still had "that look" of the former USSR...that cement, held-back-in-time, industrial look. along with this held-back-in-time theme, was the clothing style. if youve ever wanted to relive the 90s, i think estonia would be a good first stop. it was kind of comforting actually, like going back to childhood. and i dont mean to mock them, i just think some places are super current and on-trend (NYC and paris come to mind) and some places arent (estonia and nova scotia for example).

-last comments about clothes, we noticed a lot of women (including mothers) wearing very short skirts and dresses. and there were also a lot of shiny clothes, like (faux) satin/silk outfits in the middle of the day. i felt like people were heading to a fancy performance that i didnt know about.

-there were few if any foods that were lactose-free, but we were able to manage at restaurants. happily, the food was remarkably cheap.

-i dont know if this needs to be noted, perhaps it just shows my own ignorance, but we never once felt unsafe while in tallinn. we never stumbled onto a sketchy block or felt like we had to pay closer attention to things. of course we didnt go out at night, or stray too too far from tourist-type areas but i was pleased. even in NYC we always manage to get to one area or another where we feel out of place.

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