June 22, 2010

Many years ago, when this journal was in its infancy and I cared about things like stats, I discovered that someone from Estonia had been reading at least some entries. I wrote an entry then called "To All My Estonian Friends."

Well, as of today, I can say "ich bin ein Estonian!" I done seen Tallin, I've met Estonians, I've walked the damn cobblestones of Old Tallinn that everyone thinks are quaint, but which make my feet and hip scream for a flat surface, and I have returned to Helsinki. A really nice day. I'm so glad Mike had this idea before we came here.

We got an early start to get to the ferry dock for our 9 a.m. ferry. On the way we passed through one of the parks that we had been to on our walking tour and were amused to discover that someone had adorned one of the statues with a vuvuzela, that annoying South African plastic horn that has been driving people crazy during the World Cup.

We had some time to sit in the station and looked all the signs, trying to decide what this means!

Walt and Mike picked up some Estonian money, called kroons, but some call them "eeks" because that's the code for the money. They will be switching to Euros in 2011, which should make life easier for everyone. I liked this bill, which has the picture of Lydia Koidula, a poet, on it. Nice that the money (a) honors a woman, and (b) she's in the arts.

100 Kroons equals about $10, so while the price of everything in Estonia seems very high, you have to remember that what the exchange rate is. This was the bill from our lunch, for example:

The hour and a half ferry ride from Helsinki to Tallinn was very pleasant. The ferry is efficient and the seats are comfortable. Walt took the opportunity to get in a nap.

We arrived in Tallinn, the birthplace of Skype, sometime before 11 a.m. and had a long walk to town. It appears that Tallinn is much busier than Helsinki, at least from what we have seen of Helsinki, which appears very laid back. I also knew this was my kind of place when I read this on a brochure:

WiFi is ubiquitous in Tallinn, available in virtually every hotel, cafe, restaurant, petrol station, park, museum, and public toilet....In Estonia, internet access is actually recognized as a basic human right. Internet access and black bread.

My kind of people!

We walked through Old Town Tallinn. It's difficult to figure out whereTallinn ends and Disneyland-Estonia begins. The place is crammed full of tourists, and it seems all the locals are working. The houses are quaint, the streets narrow, and cobbled. The main town square has figures dressed as Russian babushka dolls or other kinds of local color walking around for tourists to be photographed with. Many girls wear traditional Estonian garb, as they hand out flyers asking you to eat at their restaurant.

I was very happy that Walt wore his Berklee College hat, which is red and which can be seen off in a distance (where I usually saw it, because I can't keep up with the others). I (almost) never lost him.

We were hustled by an Italian guy to check his restaurant, which looked like it would be good (how can you pass up a place called "Fellini"?), so we chose that for lunch. It was good. We sat there in the town square drinking our beer, eating our ravioli, and watching the world swirl around us.

As with Helsinki, there are no restrictions on smoking, and I'm not used to so much cigarette smoke. There was a guy who stopped RIGHT in front of where we were sitting, because there was an ash tray on the other side of the planter box. He lit up a cigarette and smoked it to the end, blowing smoke in our direction the whole time.

We finally left Old Town and bought tickets for a tour bus that showed us most of Tallinn and would drop us off close to the ferry, so we didn't have to walk so far. It was a fascinating tour. As with Finland, Estonia is a small country whose history is marked by which marauding army conquered them when and what changes they made to the cities. I found it interesting that one section of the tour pointed with pride to the houses which were the first individual houses people could own after the Russian occupation and how happy they had been with not having to live in the drab Russian concrete block buildings.

We were also shocked to learn that the old feudal system was in place in Estonia until the beginning of the 19th century! It did not achieve its independence until 1991, with the collapse of the USSR.

We had a long walk back to the ferry--but shorter than it could have been--and a long wait (2 hrs) before the ferry left. We were a little disappointed that we bought nothing in Tallinn except lunch. No Tallinn magnet for my fridge, no Estonia t-shirt for Brianna. Food, so far, seems to be our only expense. This is what comes of my leaving all of my cards at home!!

We had a dinner on the ferry, beef stroganoff for Walt, Mike and me and a tomato/mozarella sandwich for Char.

Char said the highlight of the day for her was eating in an Italian restaurant in Estonia with a waitress who said "bon apetit" and Walt's favorite thing was that he could tell the folks in his office he'd had microwaved Estonian beef stroganoff on the ferry. I was pleased that I had seen a man sitting at an outdoor cafe smoking a hookah pipe


Having discovered that the T3, the trolly we are very familiar with, runs right by the ferry dock, we took the trolly back to the hotel instead of walking, so my feet and legs were happier.

Mike and Char came up to use my computer to check their e-mail. Mike did his first and then went downstairs to their room while Char checked hers. Apparently both Walt and I fell asleep while she was working, so I have no idea how long she stayed. We are nothing if not gracious hosts!

We haven't firmed up plans for tomorrow yet. We leave for the airport at 5 p.m., so have the day to kill. We are thinking of going in search of Jean Sibelius.


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