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HOME - an amazingly beautiful wake up wall to what our planet is facing

HOME - an amazingly beautiful wake up wall to what our planet is facing

Thursday, June 26, 2014

A day in Estonia's capital

After a week of wholesome family time in Tartu, I was off to Estonia’s capital Tallinn. Coming from Taiwan, the landscape was decidedly very western-hemisphere-ish, at times reminding me of Ontario (eg. fields of blooming yellow canola) and at times of Belarus, with stands of white birches. Either way, I was feeling like I was getting closer to my roots.

 At the Tartu Botanical Gardens the day before, I’d spent a good half hour wandering and smelling the flowers – many simple and understated in their appearance, but giving off outright enchanting, subtly layered aromas. I thought it was a good metaphor for the Norse Europeans: fair-haired and often dressed with simple elegance, yet full of color and creativity that comes out in their folk art.

On the bus ride, I saw a deer and its calf paused at the edge of the forest and many storks, stretching their gangly legs in nests atop power line posts, on a break from delivering babies, I guess. Two hours later I was at the Tallinn airport, where I left my luggage in a locker (awesome value at €3, which gave me 15 hours to explore the city with just a small pack on my back) and got into the city center with a half hour to spare before the daily two-hour free tour that took us through the Old Town’s cobblestone streets and condensed history.

window of music shop
Looking down on the Lower City. Pfft... peasants, the lot of them!
The Town Pharmacy of Tallinn, one of the oldest working apothecaries in the world (1422 or earlier)
The tour gave me a great overview of Estonia’s beginnings all the way to its independence through the peaceful Singing Revolution, which culminated in its break from the USSR after two million people across the Baltic republics of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania formed the Baltic Way, a long chain of people holding hands. 

The tour also gave me enough of Old Town magic that I felt quite good about striking out into the more boring architecture outside of it to explore what else Tallinn had to offer. For one, it was a sprinkling of hipster cafes that I couldn’t possibly cover in one day, but I did my best and visited three:
1) Must Puudel in the Old Town, full nooks with Soviet era decor, such as photo books of the Olympics Games from the 70’s and 80’s and Russian reggae playing on the stereo. Teehee.

2) F-Hoone, which means F-Building, in the industrial-cum-artsy zone of cafes and local designer shops now called Telliskivi Creative City. I practically stumbled into that place chilled to the bone and thoroughly enjoyed my hot spinach soup and chai soy latte, in this space big enough to be a small train station.

3) Boheem, on the edge of somewhat shabby but interesting Kalamaja area with plenty of old decorated wooden buildings that seem like backdrop scenery in a fairytale.

It seems all Tallinn cafes love to use colorful napkins, no white in sight. That’s hipster for you.

I also walked to the Seaplane Harbor Museum, although it was closing, so I just took a few quick photos of propellers and skeletons of Viking ships, all bathed in an eerie underwater-like blue light. It seems like it’s well worth exploring, with interactive exhibits and a cool interior all around.

You're telling me I can just walk up to this thing?

Just a bit down the coast is the old Battery Prison, which was famously closed in 2005 by the UN for entirely unsuitable conditions, including a rare strain of tuberculosis, which was mysteriously killing off the inmates until its discovery. I got as far as the front gates and to be honest, I really didn’t feel compelled to walk much further in, even though this is a popular place with the locals.

After dinner, I slowly made my way back to the hostel, contemplating how the shabby Soviet-era box apartments may have been the landscape of my life had I not been whisked out of Belarus for a new life in Canada by my brave parents, shortly before the fall of USSR in 1991.  

By 9pm the sun was juuuust starting to think of setting and it would be light again when I woke up at 3:30am to catch a 6:15am flight to Vilnius - I was so far north! No wonder it was so cold, with the temperature ranging between 10-16C.
At the hostel, I enjoyed a throwback to my old backpacking days, sitting around and chatting with other travelers and then I tried to get some shut-eye, which was soon interrupted by a loud buzz-saw snoring competition by the two younger guys in the room. Ha!

Although I got to practice my Russian with the older generation while in this little country, knowledge of it did not help me much with the Estonian language, which is close to Finnish and somewhat to Hungarian and remained a fair mystery to me, though I learned my standard introduction to a foreign tongue: Hello - Tere! and Thank You - Aitäh!

Back at the Tallinn airport with lots of time on my hands, I took ample photos of the cute single terminal, which really seems like a collection of some people’s living rooms.

This is my gate, I kid you not
And just like that, I was leaving Estonia, mere days and weeks before such musical shows as The Offspring (ha), Steven Seagull Blues Band (ha ha) and the Song Festival, which would be quite cool I imagine – a once in five years festive celebration of Estonians’ love for choral music, which even earned the country their independence.

Next stop: Lithuania’s capital, Vilnius, on a five hour layover and then – Prague!

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