Day 02 : Eesti is not Leesti

Saturday 23 August 2014

While not a national holiday, today was the “European Day of Remembrance for Victims of Stalinism and Nazism” – the anniversary of the signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact that carved up Eastern Europe between Germany and the Soviet Union prior to WW2, and which the Soviets later used as partial justification for their invasion of the Baltic States. It’s also the anniversary of ‘The Baltic Way’, the human chain between Tallinn and Vilnius in 1989 to protest against Soviet rule, that at one time held the world record for the largest number of people holding hands. There were some celebrations in ‘Freedom Square’, near the hostel (including some kind of bike ride), and of course a small number of fireworks in the evening. I’d imagine though that Independence Day, celebrated a few days earlier, would have been a bigger celebration.

Today followed a similar pattern to yesterday, in that it was dry in the morning and then rained a bit in the afternoon. Clothes from yesterday still not dry, which tells you pretty much how heavy the rain was. Speaking to a couple of people in the hostel this evening, the feeling was yesterday’s rain was the heaviest in their memory (not that many of them have been in Estonia more than a couple of months, to be fair though). The predominant suggestion is that Summer is now over…
(The weather forecast for next week’s destination, Bishkek, is ‘dry and sunny, 36 degrees, and humidity 10%’.)

It amazed me how little was open this morning when I went for a wander to buy tweezers. There were also very few people on the street, despite it being 9am. One suspects Estonians sleep late and party late. I ended up having to borrow one from another guest in the short term, although I did find some when I went out later in the morning. Poking around seems to have got most of the offending item out, but I’m sure some’s still stuck in there, annoyingly. Oh well, my fault, and it’ll work itself out.

Taking advantage of the dry conditions, I went on one of those ‘free walking tours’ that many cities have. They’re actually usually pretty good value (tipping the guide is not obligatory, but certainly polite), as they’re often run by younger people who are more honest and relaxed about their city than a stuffy tour guide would be. Most of the tour took us around parts of the Old Town that I’d walked through yesterday, but it was helpful in that I found out more behind what I’d already seen (and oddly, I think it helps to do it that way round, to get a feel for a place, and then to learn more about it, as doing it the other way may mean you make a beeline for certain areas and miss out on the feel of a strange city as a whole).

The monument to commemorate the Estonian War of independence (1918-20).  It's been generally criticised due to a) being ugly, b) being expensive, c) suffering from design flaws culminating in the government suing the construction company, d) looking like a cross in a strongly Atheistic country, and e) looking unnervingly like a German Iron Cross medal ...
 
The monument to commemorate the Estonian War of independence (1918-20). It’s been generally criticised due to a) being ugly, b) being expensive, c) suffering from design flaws culminating in the government suing the construction company, d) looking like a cross in a strongly Atheistic country, and e) looking unnervingly like a German Iron Cross medal …

It’s a strange country, Estonia – it’s only been a defined ‘state’ since 1918 (which makes it of the same vintage as those other famous countries of Europe, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia…), and initially their Independence lasted one day (they separated from the Russian Empire, but a day later were invaded by the German Empire). In fact, Estonia’s been dominated by invaders over the millennia, although Germany, Sweden, and Russia have been the main protagonists over that period.
Re-invaded (twice) by the Soviets in WW2, it became a fully integrated part of the Soviet Union until its collapse in 1991. In the entirety of history, thus, Estonia has been independent for about 44 years in total – not a long time to cement a definitive identity. As a result of their history, they were particularly keen on joining the EU and the Eurozone, interestingly marking a return to Germanic rule (ooh politics).
It is very Germanic: the food is dominated by sausages and sauerkraut, with an undercurrent of dumplings. The drink of choice seems to be primarily beer. Many of the tourists around (including even in my hostel) are German. Weird then that the most obvious other languages are Russian and English.

Weird also that I had lunch in an African restaurant, notable for looking like it was built into the hillside, for very slow service, and for me choosing the wrong item off the menu. Still ate it, even though it had a lot of carrots in it. Travel breaks down my preferences, it seems…

Another heavy storm brewed up while I was in there so I ended up running across town to one of the many decent pubs. After the rain stopped, I did more walking in the city before stopping off for dumplings.
“Eat”; a kind of small underground cafeteria, functional, plain, full of Formica tables, definitely un-pretty. But you help yourself to dumplings and pay by weight. They also do large plates of fries. And it was cheap, very cheap, good sustenance for a backpacker.

Today’s beer:
Hell Hunt, Tume (5.0%): brewed on premises at the Hell Hunt pub. Dark, smooth, slightly dry, slightly metallic. Nice, but fairly unmemorable.
Vormsi, Hele Ale (5.5%): hoppy, quite wheaty, ‘textured’ (ie not watery like an IPA).

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