Sunday, November 18, 2012

Day 4: Tallinn, Estonia

On our third day Tom and I decided to spend part of it looking around the city, and the evening watching movies, eating pizza and drinking beer.  During our tour of the city the guide mentioned that there is a flea market behind the train station.  

I want to be a Dramaturg, sounds suspiciously similar to the Estonian  for Station Market.  
The market turned out to be a bit of a let down, as it was more of a house-wares market than anything else.  But, there were these great little stalls manned by older men and women, each selling home pickled fruits and vegetables and sauces, as well as garlic and herbs.  Tom said that it was mostly Russians at the market, but it was hard for me to tell unless I was specifically listening for the languages  (the languages are very different, but I was not always trying to listen for the differences).

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Tom and this man spoke Russian; Tom acting as my interpreter.  I was surprised that I was able to understand the words for 'spicy' and 'horseradish'; don't ask why. The small jars of red sauce at the front of the table were spicy, and very good.  If I could have brought some back with me I would have.   I felt bad for not buying anything from him after talking to him, so I ended up buying a bulb of garlic.

Need any garlic?

I think the Brits will understand this more than anyone else.

Town Hall.
The Viru Hotel was built in the 1960s to house all of the foreign tourists coming into the country.  The communists wanted a place to control what the tourists saw and experienced, hopefully giving them a picture of the workers paradise of the soviet union.  About 1,000 people were hired to work in the hotel, even though when it was full to capacity the hotel could accommodate less than half of that number of guests.  The 23rd floor was a secret location where the KGB spied both on the guests in the hotel and on people throughout Tallinn (they could even pick up transmissions from Helsinki taxi drivers).  The 23rd floor is now a KGB museum.

The old Communist Party Headquarters in Tallinn.

This was the desk of the hotel manager.  The red phone was a direct line to either the KGB or Communist Party headquarters.  The large phone to the right was extra large in order to hold anti-buggin equipment.

Communist flooring!

This is a picture of a woman that had one of the most sought after jobs in the Soviet Union: Floor Warden.  Each floor in a hotel had a Floor Warden who would sit near the elevator and take notes of exactly what each person did on the floor and when and who came and went.  These people were given large gifts by guests, usually of Soviet money that they could not exchange back into their own money before leaving.  The guide said that a guest who stayed here during Soviet times remembers that guests would lay out anything they brought that they were willing to sell to the housekeepers and Floor Wardens with little price tags next to them.  That way employees could get things they were not allowed to have.  

This is the secret communications room, left nearly exactly as it was when the KGB left Tallinn in 1991.   According to our guide, the KGB had less than 24 hours to leave the building, so they left behind quite a bit, including cigarette butts in the ashtray.  

This is the sign to the room above.  it says (in Estonian and Russian) THERE IS NOTHING IN HERE..

A spy camera placed inside the walls of the rooms.

The only place in the hotel non-employee Estonians could go was the restaurant, provided they had been allowed by the government to meet with someone.   The plate here actually has a microphone built in.  Each table had an antenna above it, built in to the ceiling, to help transmit the signal from the plate.  The long brown thing is one of the antennas that was found after the Soviets left.  

Tom, giving his best Soviet look.

Ah, grammar!

This is the national monument on Freedom Square, formally Victory Square.   When the square was being organised after the Soviets left, a statue of Lenin (I believe it was Lenin) was removed.  This caused a few days of riots in the city, started by the large Russian population who saw it as an attack on them.  It was soon noticed that the rioters were both Russians and Estonians, and mostly drunk.  The governments solution:  stop selling alcohol.  After a few days the rioters sobered up, the riots ended and alcohol was back on the menu.  

The Russian Orthodox church at night.

This is that really cool pub I mentioned.  I WANT ONE!

Tom and I got made fun of by the bar ladies for playing cards.  

We went back to our hostel room to watch movies, eat pizza and drink beer.  Now, the story of the pizza.  We asked the girl at the desk to order us a pizza and have it delivered.  It should have only been 5 euros.  Well when it finally arrived, 90 minutes after ordering it, we found out there was a 5 euro delivery charge on top of that.  AND, when we opened the pizza it is was stone cold, small and very thin; and all for the low low price of 10 euros!  We ended up eating it, then going to McDonald's for more dinner.  But the beer we bought from the hostel was good.

Tom leaving for Russia.  Sadness.

Tallinn was a major trading centre for hundreds of years.  Larger buildings in the old town still show evidence of this.  The beams sticking out of the buildings in the three pictures above are winches used for pulling goods up into second and third floor storage areas or stone (fire resistant) buildings.

In conclusion:  I loved Estonia and would like to go back some day.  Nearly every Estonian spoke Estonian, Russian and (very good) English, making it very easy to communicate.  I would defiantly recommend it to anyone wanting to go to eastern Europe.

Day 3: Tallinn, Estonia

Tom and I wanted to go somewhere outside Tallinn for a day, and decided on the city of Tartu.  Tartu is the second largest city on Estonia, with 100,000 people, and is a major university town.  Now, the story of how we got to Tartu involves an almost, accidental trip to Helsinki, Finland.

In order to get to Tartu we had to catch a tram to the main bus station for a two and a half hour bus trip.  Easier said than done.  After getting one what we thought was the correct tram and getting off at what we thought was the correct stop, and walking in what we though was the correct direction, Tom and I realised that we were lost, and far from the bus station.  Once we figured this out we got on another tram, thinking it was in the right direction, it was not.  Long story short: we ended up by the harbour, near the ferry terminal to Stockholm and Helsinki.  Helsinki is two and a half hours away and about 20 euros each way.

"Let's just go to Helsinki." Said Tom, clearly exasperated by the whole ordeal (We had already decided that I was not allowed to hold the map anymore).  I thought about it for a few seconds and decided to do it.  Why not?  I would go to a country I haven't been to before and have a cool story about how I got there.  Then I remembered that my passport was in the hostel.  CURSES!!!!

We ended up at the bus station in time to get the bus; Helsinki next time.

Lunch in a restaurant with a mirrored ceiling.
After we had lunch we walked up the hill to look at the old town area.  Tartu's cathedral was built sometime in the 13th century.  In the mid-16th century the cathedral began its slow decline until the 1760s when it was mostly destroyed and the roof used as a cannon position for the then-occupying Swedish forces.  In 1802 Tsar Alexandr I order the re-founding of the University of Dorpat (a German speaking university) in Tartu.  The ruins of the cathedral were used to house the new university's library.  A three story library was built in the quire (central/east end) of the cathedral.  In 1981 the old library was converted into the University of Tartu Museum, and the building was extended east into the chancel to accommodate the new library.  Everything west of the crossing is still ruins.  

The east end, housing the library.

This is a sculpture in the front of the building.  It reminds me of a game pieces from Sorry.

The ruined end of the cathedral.

Looking out the west door of the nave.


This is me doing the pose mom always does in pictures.  It is supposed to make you look skinnier.

'Owning' Tartu.  A la Emily.

"Where's Emily?"

Looking east towards the library/museum.  This is the south aisle of the cathedral.  

Tom and I.  We were so far north that the sun was setting at about 3pm.

Apparently I was doing something naughty, and had to be told off.  

This is called the stone of sacrifice.  Pagan Estonians used to bring offers here for the gods.  It is right next to the cathedral ruins.  

No caption needed.

This made me think of mom and grandma.  They both collect rooster stuff.

The church of St John the Baptist.

This is the face Tom makes when I see another church.

The seal of the city of Tartu.

Random, derelict orthodox church.

The leaning building of Tartu.  The building is actually leaning quite a bit, but it is hard to tell in this picture.  I have never been to Pisa, but if I do go there some day I will take a similar picture.  

I think Tom might be in love with this woman.  What will he do when he finds out she can never return his affection?

We got back to Tallinn (after almost missing what could have been the last bus, and I met what could be the only Estonian who does not speak English) for our planned night of drunkenness.  

Absinthe.  Life choices?

Flaming absinthe.  Worse life choices?

We found this American themed bar, but we could not stay.    I will say that the person who owns and/or manages this bar has clearly never been to America.
We had a great time, and neither of us was hung over the next day.  HOORAY!!!!