Estonia - Tallinn

by Kimp 28. July 2013 02:52

Photo Blog

Estonia, knock knock knocking on Russia's door. 

Tallinn gets my vote for the strangest place I have ever been. It's got all kinds of crazy in it. A beautifully preserved medieval town with most of the walls still intact. There is even a Medieval pharmacy that is still in business, just in case you need some unicorn shavings for that special recipe. Old town Tallinn is surrounded on two sides by old defunct Russian factories. Heavy industry, that appeared to have had no pollution controls at all, while they were active. Then the side that borders the Baltic Sea, has an old defunct concert hall that was built for the 1980 Summer Olympics, which were in Moscow, but whose
yachting events were held in Tallinn. Looks like it was beautiful 32 years ago, but was abandoned shortly after and has never been maintained.  

Then there is a brand new part with high rise business towers and lots of auto traffic. From the right vantage point all of these can be seen in the same frame, giving Tallinn a very mysterious physic. Ethnic Estonian's claim to be Nordic, but what I see is an eclectic mixture of Nordic and Scandinavian in the their features. I am guessing that might be due to the large Russian population in Tallinn. I would like to get out in the country to see if that looks more Nordic. Most Estonian's are very intelligent, introverted, and prefer to live in the woods away from other people. One would think that they live a fairly primitive lifestyle, yet we will often see an ethnic Estonian bellied up to a computer. They are the inventor's of skype, in my opinion, so they could communicate with their neighbors without having to go to their neighbors house. Estonia is the world leader is eGovernment. They even vote on-line, using an ID card that has a chip which identifies them.

Estonia itself is equally as crazy. The northern coast is mostly limestone cliffs, there are some really rustic looking islands, and about 10% is a foggy quagmire that just plain looks down right spooky.
 
Estonia History
Tallinn has been passed around for so long, they aren't really sure who's in charge. Tallinn was found by the Danish as the main trading port between Scandinavia and Russia.

It was then sold to the Tectonic Knights (powerful German's). The Knight's built an amazing fortress around Tallinn, with high strong walls and 66 defense towers. Much of which still stands today. During the Protestant reformation, Sweden got in a scuffle with Denmark, Poland and Russia. The German's vacated Tallinn and when it was all over Sweden had control of the upper part of Estonia while Poland had control of the lower part.

Two hundred years later, Sweden and Russia got into it again and Estonia ended up under the Czar of Russia. Near the end of WWI, the Russian revolution occurred and Estonia used that chance to claim independence. They were an independent nation for exactly one day, before they were occupied by the Germans. Three years later Germany was defeated and Estonia regained independence. 

In WWII Hitler and Stalin meet to form a secret pact. Stalin was to get uncontested control of Estonia, Finland and Latvia and Hitler received uncontested control of Norway and some other parts of Eastern Europe. Estonia had no Army, so the Russian Army just moved in and occupied their country without actually controlling the government. When Hitler gained control of Eastern Europe he decided to keep going and moved in and took Estonia on his way into Russia. When Germany retreated, Estonia was taken over again by Russia.

After WWII, Stalin took control of the Estonian government. In 1991 the Iron curtain falls and Estonia was once again an independent country. 

Religion
Only 20% of Estonian's practice religion and most of those are Russian Orthodox (a branch of Christianity). From the few pure breed native Estonian's I talked to, it sounded like their beliefs are similar to the American Indians. They believe that nature is here to be enjoyed by all and as thus, it should be highly valued, respected, and preserved. Since many of the Russian's moved on, most of the churches in Tallinn have been converted into museums. I stuck my head inside one ancient church (it had a rustic wooden ceiling), that was actually having a mass. On the way out, I saw a dude on the street looking at me with a great deal of excitement, so I asked him what was up? "Oh man, that dude standing right next to you is Estonia's funniest comedian. I can't believe that I just saw him out on the street and that he goes to church."

My Visit

By the time I rolled into Tallinn, it was about 11:30 PM (2330). I was beat, but found a town that was wide awake and busting at the steams with youthful activity. As we rolled up near the hostel where I was staying (very close to the old town square), the cab driver was complaining that all of the youth's on the street were both drunk and stoned on drugs. He said that with such a conviction, I assumed he was either the father of a teenager who was struggling with both of those issues, or was raising daughter in this mess and was worried about protecting her.  As the cab rolled to a stop and I got out, to walk the last block which was a pedestrian only zone, on my own, about all I could think to say was, "Man, that's terrible, I sure am glad I stayed away from that in my youth.".  

The street that the hostel was on, was mostly bars spilling out onto tables in the street. I went to sleep and was treated to loud noises that repeatedly woke me up, until about 7:30 A.M. I could easily see, how this lifestyle would be conducive to an epidemic, drug and an alcohol problem.  

Happy to finally have peace and quiet, I sleep in, until 10:30 A.M. After awakening I headed into the main town square, which was busting at the seams with tourists. Holy smokes, where did all of the tourists come from. I had no idea that this place was that popular. Tallinn is a beautifully preserved medieval town. Many say the finest in all of Europe, (but my vote is for Toledo Spain). I had no idea that Tallinn drew such huge crowds. There were so many tourists, I felt like I had found a worm hole and had been transported to Disney World.

The Russian college girls
While under Russian control, both Stalin and Khruschev wanted ethnically Russian people to relocate to Tallinn, so they built many blocks of brand new apartments and offered them for free to any Russian who wanted to relocate there. Many jumped at the chance. As a result, Tallinn now has a 30% ethnic Russian population.

I quickly became exhausted at wandering around in the tourist filth and headed back near my room. It was a little quieter there, so I settled in at a place called the Arizona Saloon. I would find out later that Tallinnians have a fascination with the Wild West. I ordered up a local brew, while I was pondering what my next move was going to be. My brew arrived and a few sips later I found myself engaged in a polite conversation with a few young women sitting at the table right next to me.

I asked where they were from?

"Moscow Russia. We are on holiday from college and are just visiting."

They asked me where I was from.

With a big smile, I said, "I just vising as well. I'm from Tombstone, Arizona, have you ever been there?". 

"Really? No we haven't, but we're dying to go to Arizona."

"It's a lot different then this. The front yard is all dirt, rocks, and cactus, and the back porch is slightly off of the ground cause rattle snakes often come up to pay a visit."

"Yikes, rattle snakes, that's scary."

"Oh, little darling, it's no big deal, most of them are friendly and they eat all of the bugs. So it's a good thing."

"What about the unfriendly rattle snakes?"

"That's why you choose the cowboy boots with an extra thick leather lower leg guard. They always strike near the ankle. There's nothing to fear, so long as you picked the right boots."

"Really???"

"Yea !!! Really !!!"

Yep, they passed the gullibility test with an A+. Looking like it's going to be a great day for Craig.

Later, I said to them, "Man, if I'd known this place was so crowded with tourists, I would've gone somewhere else in Estonia."

"That's only until about 1400.", One of them replied.

"They come in on the cruise ships around 1000 and are gone by 1400. They don't stop here long because the big draw is St. Petersburg where they stay for a few days. They are just passing through here."

I responded with, "Gee what am I going to do until 1400?  I sure wish I had a bike to ride around outside of town for a while.".

"Oh, we can get you a bike to ride!"

That sounded really inviting, but I was a little leery because I figured it would be some old beat up piece of junk that would break down under my weight and I was also scared that I would not be able to return it quickly to the owner and would be stuck baby sitting it all day when I got back. So I said, "I don't think I want a bike because I would probably get lost riding it."

"You don't have to worry about getting lost. It's a beautiful day, we'll ride with you."

Hot Damn. I was just trying to bunt and ended up hitting a homerun.
Let me see, I can swim around in the tourist cesspool for another 3 hours or go on an innocent bike ride, on a beautiful day, with a couple of young beauties.

Big smile simultaneous with, "We ain't on them bikes yet???"

They lead me down a few alleys into a kind of dingy looking section nearby. They stop at a house, use a key, but struggle to get the door open. Once open, they scurry down into a very dark basement. Having been robbed before I was kind of hesitating on following closely. In fact I was fine just standing at the outside of the door. The first one grabbed the only flash light at the top and disappeared around the corner at the bottom before I even started on my way down. After that, I was just froze, looking into a black hole, and listening attentively for other voices.

Noticing that I hadn't followed them, the one with the flashlight came back up and grabbed me by the hand to lead me down into the basement. She say's, "Be careful, the stairs are all uneven and watch your head too." . We turn the corner at the bottom and she puts my hand on a bike and tells me to take it outside. Which I did, at the speed of lightening.

I thought it was going to be some old piece of crap, but it was a pretty nice Trek in great shape. What I call a conversion bike. Kind of a cross between a road bike and a mountain bike. It has some qualities of both. And it was a dude's bike. That's when I started thinking, maybe this is her large, muscle building Russian boyfriend's bike. He's going to be on his way home from his daily morning workout at the boxing gym, is going to see me out riding with them, smiling and laughing, get really jealous, and commence to kick my ass without asking any questions first.

We made a quick jaunt near the train station, where the Russian market is. The Russian market is a large complex without any real structure to it. Part's of it look like a flea market, parts look like outdoor retail market, part looks like a food market and just about everything in between. The layout is very random as well. It was like being in a crazy dream where nothing really makes any sense. The girl's took off on their own, and I was just kind of hanging out around the edge trying to make sense of any of it.

That's when an old Russian grandma spotted her next victim. It was me. She didn't speak a word of English, but she was bound and determined to sell me something. She had a very soft grandmotherly way about her. She grabbed me by the arm and jerked me over to her shop. I looked around and there was nothing but junk in it. It looked like Sanford and Son's junk yard. It was a bunch of household items, but absolutely nothing was whole. There were pieces missing from every single item. 

I hatched a plan to pull a coin out of my pocket and proclaim that was all I had. I reached in my pocket and dug out a single coin. It was a 1 Euro coin (about $1.40). I held it out in my palm and looked at it really bummed, like that was all I had. I figured there wasn't anything she was going to sell me for that. She snatched that coin up like a it was a canteen of water and she'd been in the dessert for days without water.

Then she reached down and replaced it with this old beat up table lamp. It was hilarious. At one time, it had probably been a really nice looking cast iron 18 inch (50 cm) high table lamp, I'm thinking with a stained glass or other nice ornamental lamp shade. A real show piece. But now, it was lampshade less, not just lampshade less but the loop was missing to hold the lampshade up, it was all beat up and scratched, the light socket was partially busted, and the cord was cut off, leaving only about 1 foot (35 cm) still attached to the lamp. No plug or switch on the end of the cord, just a few inches of frayed and twisted bare wires sticking out of the end of the cord.

At first I was going to go around the corner and throw it in the trash, but the more I carried it around, the more I started to taking a liking to it. This lamp had a lot of character and lots of storied to tell. It had obviously been through several wars, was all beat up and disabled, and yet someone still found value in it. I knew I couldn't take it on the plane without it raising some suspicion on the X-Ray and with the TSA police. So I decided to just take it back to the hostel and leave it there. I envisioning, returning to that hostel in a few years, to see it nursed back to health and serving its intended function, at the hostel.

The girls finally hooked back up with me. I proudly showed them my booty. They gave me a thumbs up approval,  then I stuck it in my back pack and we hit the road again.

After our shopping trip, we headed right out of town at a sprint that eventually slowed down to a nice pace. I didn't have a clue where we were going, but I was perfectly content following the picture that was in front of me, for like, the rest of my life. We rode due East for a really long time. I was half expecting to see a sign proclaiming "Welcome to St. Petersburg", any second, when we pulled off, into some old communist apartment complex.

These looked like the Brezhnev era structures. Stalin had a lot of money and built some nice sized apartment's. Kruschev didn't have as much money and they got smaller and cheaper. Brezhnev was broke and built really tiny and crude apartments. We headed into one where the ceiling was only about 6' 4" high. The kitchen kind of looked like a small closet. There was only room for one person to stand in the kitchen. The sink was in front, the stove to the right and the counter to the left. The owner said, she liked that kitchen because everything was right there in arms reach. She could cut the onions on the counter, just turn around and cook them, then just turn once again to clean up. All without hardly moving.

The girls asked me to show her the lamp that I had just bought at the market. By now I was proud of that awesome deal I had made. I pulled the lamp out of my backpack and displayed it with great pride. She asked me how much. Trying to make it sound like an even better deal, I said "50 cents Euro". She snatched the lamp out of my hands and disappeared with it. A second later, she returned with the lamp and stuck a 50 Euro cent piece in my hand. She misunderstood and thought that I was selling it. Now, I'm trying to figure out how to get the lamp back, cause I had gotten attached to it. "You really don't want that lamp. Look, it doesn't even have a cord on it.". She say's. "Oh, it's OK." A Tsk sound coupled with a no problem hand movement, "I can manage that. That's easy.", then she disappeared and stuck it in a room that was out of my sight and reach.

We hung out there for a short time while the ladies talked and I just smiled on the outside, but was thinking, Damn it, I lost my lamp, on the inside.

Then we headed back. On the return trip, we stopped at an old Russian jail that was about as dilapidated as it gets.  It was in use up until just a few years ago, when the European Union demanded that it was inhumane, and must be shut down, if Estonia wanted to be part of the European Union. Estonia complied and are now part of the European Union.

After that, it became a hang out for huge gypsy parties for several years. Now it's a museum of sorts and a convention center of sorts. You'll have to look at the pictures and read the captions.

The prison experience
Ever wander what it would have been like to he a political prisoner in a communistic state. Well, wonder no longer, you can get that experience in Tallinn for just a small fee. For only about $75 (50 Euro) you get to act like a political dissident for a few minutes before you are arrested, interrogated, then thrown into a dark, dingy and musty smelling prison cell all by yourself. It is supposed to last a few hours. I wanted to give it a try, but I couldn't talk either Russian girl into joining me. "Oh come on, it'll be fun :)" . I guess it was a little too close to home for them.

About 4 hours after we started, we returned from one of the better times in my life. I thanked them for the use of the bike, asked if there was some way of compensating them for it.  They refused any type of payment. I smiled heartily and politely went on my way. After all of the tourist had left, Tallinn was a great place to visit.

The free internet that cost me $700 (500 Euro)
On my way out, I get to the airport 3 hours early. Beautiful airport, one of the nicest I have ever seen. As I am headed to the departure gate I see a cafe that is only 2 gates away, so I stop to get a cup of coffee. As I am sitting there, I get out my tablet and discover they have free internet. Sweet, the table is just the right size for surfing so I stay there.

I'm monitoring my tablet clock and when it gets 1 hour from my flight, I decide to shut down, go take a pee and head to the gate. As I am headed to the toilet, I pass a display screen and look to make sure the gate hasn't changed. It says that my flight had departed. That's when I realize, SOB I'm in a time zone that is an hour behind where I am going. Look at my watch, sure enough, it just left the gate. They were probably calling my name several times over the load speaker, but mispronouncing it, so it didn't register.

I go to the connection counter in the terminal to see of she can change my flight and she says that I need to exit and go to the departure counter. I go there, and they tell me I need to go to the transfer counter. She tells me that she can't change a flight after it has already departed, so I will need to buy a last second, one-way ticket leaving the next morning, but I needed to go the Estoninan Air counter and buy it. The lady at the Estonian air counter doesn't speak any English at all. Of course, that's because English speaking people don't buy their tickets in Estonia. I write down the destination location, write down today's date and motion one-way. She figured it out. She turn's her monitor around and it's $450 (300 Euro) and leaves at 6:45 A.M. That means I am going to have to get up around 5:00 A.M.

Now I need to find a really close place to stay. Small airport, so I go outside and am looking around. Geeze, there has got to be a freaking hotel near the airport. At least a flea bag place. Scan and scan and scan in all directions and I can't see anything. I am headed back inside to ask someone, but pass the taxi stand first, so I thought that I'd try him. 

I explain (to a dude who doesn't speak hardly any English) and ask the dude to take me to the closest hotel. He looks at me like, "I'm a Taxi driver who lives 20 miles (30 km) away, I never stay at a hotel near the airport, I stay at my house when I fly from here. I said, "Just drive towards town and I'll tell you when to stop.".

The main road is about 1 block from the airport, he turns right,  we go another block and there's a freaking 5 story 200 room hotel right there. I just couldn't see it, cause there was a grove of trees blocking it from the part of the airport I was scanning from. $15 for the cab ride (I think he got confused and forgot to reset the meter, but I wasn't going to argue). At this point, I just want to eat and go to bed.

I get out and can see a path worn in the hotel grass from where people take a short cut when walking to the airport from the hotel. Later I walked it and timed the walk, it was 3 minutes and 15 seconds. Diagonally, it was about 1 block in length from the hotel back door to the Terminal front door. I go inside and there isn't anybody in the lobby, nobody is in front of me or behind me to check in. Nobody is at the hotel bar except a very lonely looking bartender, it's supper time and it doesn't look like anybody is in the hotel restaurant either.

The only human's beside myself, the receptionist and the bartender are four dude's, long past retirement, who were sitting at a table out front playing cards. I'm guessing that they probably live nearby and are just here to get away from their wives.

Gee, by the looks of it, there has got to be plenty of rooms.

I explain to the receptionist and ask her to book me the cheapest room she has. Clickety, click, click. Quick scan. Clickety, click, click. Quick scan. Clickety, click, click. Quick scan. "Sir, I'm sorry, but all we have left are business rooms." "Great, I'll take your cheapest business room.". "That will be $160 (120 Euro) and breakfast starts at 6:30 A.M..".

"Do I get a discount if I don't want the breakfast, cause I'm checking out at 5:15 A.M.?".

"Sorry, the breakfast is complementary in all business rooms.".

"Awesome, that's a really nice benefit. Could I please have my room key"

I pay and go into the hotel restaurant (only restaurant in site, other then the airport cafe) to eat. The whole meal (probably like 45 minutes), I am the only person in the restaurant. Stressed out, expensive hotel restaurant meal with 2 large beers, another $45 (30 Euro). The whole time, I am kicking myself in the ass. Man, if they didn't have free internet, I would have drank my coffee and went to the more comfortable seats at the gate. In fact, the gate had really nice comfortable looking seats. It was more like a nice hotel lounge then an airport gate.

Put that down to the school of hard knocks, I'll never make that same mistake again.

Actually, I was thinking about it. I've flown at least 40 times in the last two years and probably 200 times in my life (at least 3 per year). So actually that is only $3.50 (2 Euros) per flight. Other then feeling really stupid, it's not so bad. 

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