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Estonia

Tallinn in the Rain


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Today was the first crappy weather day of my trip, which is rather remarkable considering that I’ve been gone for 26 days now. The day was cloudy and overcast – my ideal weather. However, not the best weather for sightseeing.

My plan for today was to take two free walking tours around different parts of town, but that fell through when I noticed that they do not run on Mondays. Thankfully there was still the regular free city walking tour at noon, which left me with both the morning and afternoon to goof around. I thought to visit some of the museums in the city, but they are all closed on Mondays!

After breakfast I decided to walk around outside of the historic city center. I made my way to the Patarie, which is a former fortress on the coast that was then used as a prison until 2005. Now the building is abandoned. There is a pleasant walk along the coastline that goes right next to the prison and it was really interesting to get to see it so close. The old barbed wire fence was in disarray, graffiti was all over the walls and the windows were boarded up.

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As I was walking along the waterfront it began to rain, which put a damped on the sightseeing for the day. I made my way to the Linnahall building, which is another abandoned building. This one was built by the Soviets for the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow. The Olympics were in Moscow, right? …so why was this built for that event? Since Moscow is landlocked, several cities bid on hosting the sailing events and Tallinn won. This was built to showcase how impressive Soviet architecture was, primarily the concrete-style buildings.

It is an interesting complex, though quite an eyesore. There is a large square of sorts and several higher levels reached by stairs, all of which are outside. Plans have begun to take over the entire building, growing from between the cracks.

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My last stop before joining the walking tour was St. Olaf’s Church, which is the tallest building in Tallinn (city code forbids buildings to be any taller in order to preserve the old town feel). The tower was once the tallest building in the world – until the Eiffel Tower was built! The inside of the church was rather plain; I could have climbed the tower, but with the cruddy weather and my time restraint, I decided to pass.

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The free walking tour kicked off at noon and soon the rain began to pour down upon us. Surprisingly none of the people on the tour left early due to the weather! Our guide was fun and energetic, providing several interesting and funny stories about Tallinn and Estonia. Our first stop was to the Freedom Square where we were able to see the independence monument. Our guide explained that Estonians are rather ambivalent about the monument itself.

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We made our way into the upper town, where we saw some of the old fortifications of the city: old towers and city walls. Beneath the towers is a system of underground tunnels, which one can visit (just not on Monday).

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After trudging up a hill we saw the impressive Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, a Russian Orthodox church that was built when Estonia was ruled by Imperial Russia. Across the street from the church was the Estonia parliament building, where they were currently holding elections for the president!

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We made our way over to a viewing platform that provided some truly amazing views of the old town area of Tallinn. I tried to snap some selfies with my phone, but the lighting was too dark. Thankfully someone on the tour offered to take a photo for me.

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We moved on to another viewing platform, this one looking over the area that I had explored in the morning. We took the long stairs down the old city wall to reach the old town area once again. One the way down there were several quotes or sayings painted on the wall, one of which said “Games people play” and then “Ryan” in smaller letters next to it.

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Below we were shown a small monument to Boris Yeltsin in recognition of his assistance in Estonia independence during the early 1990s. It was an interesting monument made of metal with a surly-looking Yeltsin pictured (perhaps the artist was trying to make him look drunk!).

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Our final stop was at the town hall in the city center, which is in the middle of a large square surrounded by restaurants and shops.

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After the tour ended I found my way over to a small restaurant called Kompressor for lunch. This is a favorite among the locals, notably for its cheap prices and large portions. Kompressor specializes in filled pancakes and that is exactly what I ordered: a pancake with bacon and smoke cheese, along with an Estonian beer. The place was quite packed and I shared a large table with another person. The food was amazingly delicious and the portion was huge! All together the meal cost me less than EUR 7.

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By this time the rain had thankfully stopped and I spent some time wandering around the city. I walked back up to the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral so I could go inside. There was no admission cost, but they did not permit picture taking. Inside it was quite ornate, with gold all over the place and several very nice paintings. There were a few people praying and lighting candles as well.

I had one other sight that I wanted to see: St Catherine’s walk, which is a walkway in an alley with several local shops along it and there were some stone arches over the walkway. It was small and rather nice to take a quick stroll down the street.

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At the end of the street I ran into a pleasant surprise: the old town city walls! There was an entrance a few meters away; I paid the EUR 3 entrance fee and made my way up to the walkway. It was cool getting to walk along the wooden walkway, looking through the arrow slits on one side and at the old town on the other side. This wasn’t something that I was aware of in the city and I was really happy to have found it.

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Finally, I decided to return to the hookah lounge that I visited my first night in Tallinn. I had finished “Ready Player One” last night and I wanted to start my next book, a history of the Crimean War. Interestingly enough, our guide on the walk today spoke briefly about the Crimean War as well: there is an area near the port that the city used to burn down when enemies would approach; during the Crimean War the city saw a French and British ship sailing by (en route to blockade St Petersburg) and they burned the area down. I spent the evening at the hookah lounge – and yes, I did get to see the hot guy working there again! :-)

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Fun tidbit: while watching TV at my hotel tonight I turned on a Russian network where they were playing the Mr Trololo song over some weird video. I feel that I’ve really experience some Soviet-style entertainment now…

Posted by Glichez 11:48 Archived in Estonia Comments (0)

Touring Estonia


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My plans for Tallinn and Estonia were shuffled around a bit late last week: I had booked a day tour to go outside Tallinn for 29 August, but no one else had signed up for the tour, so the company asked if I could change to the day before; happily I was able to switch my tour plans.

Today's day tour went to the coastal cliffs, the Soviet town of Paldiski, and much more! I walked back into the city center to meet up with the tour group for our departure at 10:00. The company had several tours running today and there was quite a crowd. Thankfully my tour group was small: just five of us (a couple from the Netherlands, two guys from the USA, and myself). We climbed into the shuttle van and headed off for our first stop: the Keila-Joa waterfall.

Our tour guide gave us a brief history of Estonia, during which the two Americans tried to make some funny or sarcastic remarks, along with asking some rather pointless questions. This was a trend that could continue throughout the entire tour; they fit the stereotypical image of "obnoxious American" and I was so embarrassed to be around them. Our guide was only 20-months old when the Soviet Union fell and thus she has no memories of Soviet times, yet the two idiot Americans kept asking her questions about her time in the USSR (despite her reminding them each time). Complete fools.

The Keila-Joa waterfall was... rather small, but it was in such a beautiful area, surrounded by forest. It was the second biggest waterfall in Estonia; the country is rather flat and thus they don't have many waterfalls. We took a stroll through the forest, along the small river and around to a large manor house nearby. According to our guide, during the time of the Russian Tsars, Nicholas I visited the manor house and it was there that the Tsarist anthem, God Save the Tsar, debuted.

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We got back into the bus and headed off to the coast. The cliffs were rather breathtaking and beautiful; they weren't very high, but the ruggedness of them was stunning. As we walked to the cliffs, I saw that there was simply a narrow gravel footpath that ran along the edge, no guardrails or anything to keep people from falling. Our guide jokingly reassured us that everything was perfectly safe... according to Eastern European standards!

The Americans walked out on a ledge that sloped down rather steeply; I could tell our guide was nervous because if they slipped, nothing would stop them from going over the edge. We made a short walk over to some stairs that led down to the base of the cliffs and the rocky beach below. We could then see all of the different rock layers that made up the cliffs.

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We made a stop in the former Soviet military town of Paldiski for lunch, which was at a small Russian tavern. During the Second World War, all but four buildings in the tour were bombed and destroyed; the tavern was one of those four buildings. I had some traditional Russian dumplings filled with meat, along with a beer for lunch; it was delicious and quite filling.

Our first stop after lunch was the ruins of the Padise monastery. It had been built centuries before and the monks who lived there were eventually murdered; after that it became a private residence, but it then burnt down and was never rebuilt, even during the Soviet era. Nowadays the ruins have had some repairs done and events, such as weddings, can be held there, though it is quite rustic. We got to climb around the ruins for a little bit and our guide led us to some stairs that descended into the former cellar. There were no lights, not even a window leading out, so the way down the spiral stairs eventually became pitch black and we couldn't see where we were going! It was both freaky and fun at the same time. We had only a few minutes to spend at the monastery before heading to our next stop, where we had an appointment with the jailer!

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The Murru prison quarry & lake was the highlight of the entire tour for me. It was an old prison built in 1939 and the prisoners were put to work excavating limestone in the quarry right next to it. Over the years the number of prisoners declined and the prison was eventually shuttered in 2013. After that it sat vacant and is abandoned. The old quarry has since filled with water and people now use it as a lake to go swimming. However, the authorities erected some gates to prevent locals from swimming in the lake for fear that they may get injured (our guide mentioned that people have died there); the people have found holes in the fence to get around the gates.

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our "jailer" unlocked the gates for us and we got to explore to exterior of the prison for a few minutes. There was an old guard tower that we climbed up and which afforded us a view into the prison complex. All of the buildings were slowly being taken over by nature. The guardhouse itself had caught fire and was in ruins. Across from the prison fence was a hill - the remains of the quarry.

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We made our way down to the lake, which was rather impressive. There were dozens of people there, relaxing, swimming, hanging out. The water had flooded and submerged numerous old buildings that were once part of the quarry complex. Swimmers would go out to one of the buildings, enter what used to be the third floor, which is how high the water level is now, and then they would climb to the roof of the building and dive into the water! Seeing the buildings submerged like that was somewhat beautiful.

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Our final stop of the day was at an old Soviet military cargo airplane, which was now in the hands of a private owner. It was built in the 1960s and eventually made its way to Tallinn in 1989; it was too big for Tallinn, so it was sold to the current owner. He is a model airplane enthusiast and he stores his model planes inside. Interestingly, during the Soviet era, the man was a model airplane sportsman and flew all over the USSR to compete in flying competitions. We were allowed to explore the entire airplane: enter the cockpit and play around with all of the buttons and switches, sit in the various seats, even climb a ladder to look out through the top of the airplane. We spent about 15 minutes at the plane before heading back to Tallinn.

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Everything that we saw today was very rustic and not really setup for tourism: no guardrails or warning signs, no ticket counters, etc. We just parked the bus nearby and explored on our own.

After spending some time relaxing back at my hotel, I headed out to see a late-night showing of "Suicide Squad" - thankfully shown in English with both Estonian and Russian subtitles. The movie opened the weekend I left on this trip and I'd been anxiously waiting to see it, but all of the countries I've visited thus far dub foreign films, rather than subtitle. The movie was quite good; I can't understand why it received such poor ratings. The movie ended shortly after 23:00 and I walked back through the city center to my hotel.

Posted by Glichez 07:55 Archived in Estonia Comments (0)

Travel Day from Hell


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The day got off to a decent start: I was up early to finish packing and have breakfast before meeting my driver for my airport transfer. The driver, Andre, was very nice and friendly; we chatted quite a bit on the way to the airport. He had spent several weeks in the State - at Myrtle Beach actually - for a study program; he regrets that he didn't have the time or money to do more traveling in the States while he was there. We talked about my trip and also about his travels throughout Europe and Southeast Asia. It was one of the best transfers that I've had on this trip.

Upon arriving at the Minsk airport (a rather small airport, but quite nice) I was alarmed to see that my scheduled flight was not on the list of departures! I was flying to Tallinn via Kiev; my flight to Kiev was due to leave at 11:20 and the departures board listed flights through 17:00, but my flight was not among them. I found an information desk to ask for help and they were equally stumped as the flight number showed up in their system as departing at 17:20; they suggested I locate the ticket office, which was in some rather remote corner of the airport. As I was walking over there I checked my flight booking on Orbitz.com and found that the times had indeed changed! I never received a notification from Ortbiz and was quite upset, but happily the change simply pushed the departure back a couple of hours (not to the 17:20 flight).

However, I was now faced with the prospect of spending a much longer time at the airport than originally planned. Rather than sitting around wasting time, I decided to work and be productive (and also to earn some money to help fund this crazy trip); I've been utilizing my travel days as work days: it lets me put the time sitting around waiting to good use! ...a perk that I am thankful to have with my current job (and one that I know I won't have when I start a new job in Chicago).

During the check in process I met two very nice Mormon missionaries, one was from Bellevue, WA and the other was from Texas. They had been in Russia for nearly two years, but ran into some major issues with their visa and had just been deported from the country! The process had been quite extensive and the Church had covered all of the legal bills with their fight to remain in Russia, but now they were on their way to Ukraine to finish out the last four months of their mission. In typical Mormon fashion, they were upbeat and happy despite everything that happened. It was really nice getting to chat with some Americans for a little while.

During check in they were unable to print my boarding pass for some unexplained reason; I waited at the ticket counter for about 15 minutes before they told me that I would have to sort it out once I arrived in Kiev! The flight to Kiev was uneventful and once we landed I headed straight for the international transfers desk. To my horror there was no one working at the counter and no customer service people around to assist me. I paced around for several minutes before locating someone; she paged someone to come and help. Several minutes went by before a guy came out to the desk; he sat there chatting on his cell phone for a little while before helping me - only to tell me that I had to wait for my airline's representative to come out! Several minutes later she finally arrived and was able to print my boarding pass without any problems.

I rushed through the security check and to the gate, where I had about 20 minutes to spare before boarding began. The flight to Tallinn was quick and painless; arrival at the airport was a breeze and I was soon waiting at the bus station for the bus to the city center. The bus was packed on the way into the city, but for EUR 2, it is the cheapest and easiest way to get into the city.

After arriving at my bus stop I walked for about 20 minutes to reach my hotel. The walk was rather pleasant and the temperature was cool, which I enjoyed. The hotel is right next to the train station (my window looks out over the train tracks) and is quite nice, though not as luxurious as my hotels in Minsk or Moscow. Being so close to the train station may sound unappealing, but the area around the train station is rather nice, with a park right across the street.

There was a map of the city in my room that listed out several restaurants and bars to visit, in typical tourist fashion. One of them caught my eye: Katusekohvik, which isa rooftop cafe that also has hookah right in the center of town. I changed clothes and headed into town and was stunned by the beauty of Tallinn. It is the most European-feeling cities that I have visited so far, with only town walls surrounding it. The streets are cobblestones and there are quaint little restaurants and cafes all over the place.

When I reached Katusekohvik, I made my way to the hookah lounge where I was helped by one of the most attractive men that I've ever met! He was a little shorter than me, blond, muscular and had a killer smile. He spoke excellent English and recommended a local beer to have with my dinner of Schnitzel. The meal was filling and the beer quite good.

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After I finished eating, I retired to a recliner chair next to a lamp to enjoy my hookah and read. I spent several hours there reading, finishing the evening having a cappuccino with my hookah. I finally left around 23:00 so I could return to my hotel and get some rest before returning to touring tomorrow.

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Sadly only the two pictures from my adventures today. I supposed I could have taken pictures of me being stressed at the airport... LOL

Posted by Glichez 13:05 Archived in Estonia Comments (0)

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