Saturday, November 10, 2007

Logbook: Tallinn, Estonia

Tallinn1If you've viewed the "My Bus" video below, you know the gist of my bus ride on Tuesday from Riga, Latvia to Tallinn, Estonia but here are a couple of other pieces of the story: First, when we crossed the border, "The Man" came aboard and was obviously surprised to see that I was the only passenger. As he checked my passport he said, "You are the only one? You are, how do you say it, traveling like a rock star!" It was an unusual display of humor from "The Man" so I joined him in a laugh before he stamped my passport and went back out into the cold. Second, as we approached Tallinn, the driver's helper asked me if I wanted to be let off at the downtown stop or the one at the port. I told him I was staying at the Revall Inn at the port so that stop would probably be best for me, to which he replied with a thumbs up and went back to tell the driver. To my surprise, we blew right past the stop at the port and continued a couple of blocks to my hotel where the bus pulled into the drive and let me off at the front door. You just can't beat door to door service! I thanked them both for the ride, then grabbed my gear and checked in at about 1pm.

The Reval Inn is nothing fancy, but for 38 euros (about $55) you get a decent room, free breakfast and -- best of all -- free wi-fi. On top of that, the Inn's modest little restaurant has a "soup bar" at lunchtime where "all you can eat" of six different soups costs you about $5 more. Although my bus ride was one of the easiest and most comfortable I've ever had, it had still been a long day of travel that started really early and I was pretty worn out. Plus, it was really cold outside and it had started blowing snow, so I had a nice soup lunch and spent the rest of the afternoon and evening chilling out and -- okay, I admit it -- wrapping up my viewing of Season One of "24."

Tallinn2Wednesday morning was cold and overcast, but it wasn't raining or snowing so I headed out for a few hours of exploration. I walked around most of the "Old Town" and had this picture taken at a viewpoint in "Upper Old Town." As you can see, the Old Town is compact and attractive, similar to others I've been to in the region but perhaps a little cleaner and a bit less touristy. It has its share of churches and really old buildings, and is situated right near the port as evidenced by the ferry boat in the right hand background. I had read and heard so many good things about Tallinn's Old Town that I have to admit I was a little disappointed. I enjoyed walking around, but I didn't really get a sense of what is so great about it. I have to acknowledge and repeat, of course, that this "isn't the season" and it was pretty deserted and closed up while I was there. As you can see, I was pretty bundled up because it was really cold and after a few hours of exploration I was ready once again for a nice soup lunch followed by a comfy afternoon and evening.

The weather on Thursday was really lousy again, with wind, rain, snow, sleet and just about everything in between. I briefly ventured out a few times to gather information at the port about ferry options for moving on and things like that, but I mostly stayed in and spent the time online doing all the usual calling, surfing, etc. Seriously folks, it takes a lot more than you might think to research, plan, arrange and coordinate everything on The Voyage!

Tallinn3You may recall that while I was on my city tour in Warsaw I met a nice young man who lives here in Tallinn. His name is Hannes and when I called him to say I was in town he suggested we meet for lunch "downtown" in the new part of the city. So, walking from the port area and past the Old Town yesterday, I spent some time exploring modern Tallinn which, on the whole, it is a collection of steel and glass towers with more under construction. There are also the typical "old" buildings that have been converted for use by business or government, along with numerous Soviet-era structures that have been similarly put to use. Obviously, the city is growing and expanding which is consistent with what I have heard and seen pretty much everywhere in the Baltic States. I met Hannes in "Freedom Square" and we went to his favorite nearby pub where we had a lively and informative conversation during which I interrogated him pretty thoroughly about everything I could think of relating to Estonia. By and large, he has a positive outlook on the future of Estonia, though he is careful to point out that the explosive Post-soviet boom is due for a cooling off period before it stabilizes on a going forward basis. In other words, the country may have gotten a little bit ahead of itself and the economics -- especially real estate prices -- may face a little correction. Nevertheless, he is confident that it will be a "soft landing" and he personally believes Estonia -- and especially real estate here -- is a good investment. From what I have seen, I am inclined to agree because -- of the three Baltic cities I have now explored -- Tallinn seems least affected by the past and most progressive.

Tallinn4Saying that Tallinn is the least affected by the past is not to say that it has not been influenced by -- or does not reflect -- its history. On the contrary, it is a city that has centuries of history and it reflects all of them as my exploration today revealed. With a decent weather day to work with -- that is to say cold and gray but not very inclement -- I started early with a typical two-hour city bus tour that covered a large cross section of the history and geography of the city. With that orientation behind me, I set out on my own to take a look on foot at some aspects which caught my attention. One is the vast array of architecture that the city has on display. In this photo, for example, you can see a rather dilapidated wooden house from the 1800's that has a modern "functional" building right next to it. The story goes that the old wooden houses were the pride and mainstay of the city in the Pre-Soviet era but which fell on hard times during the Soviet era. After all, if you don't own it why take care of it, right? Anyway, as the wooden houses deteriorated, they were replaced by the kind of structure you see on the right. You can draw your own conclusions, of course, so all I will say is that it is fascinating to see how political and economic eras are reflected in the buildings. There are a number of pictures in Photo Log which will give you a broader view. Another highlight of my exploration was a visit to the local maritime museum which, upon first impression, looks completely run down and deserted. To my surprise and delight, a WWII era submarine is on display and I was given an excellent tour by a nice man who served on it as a cadet after the war. There is also an early-1900's steam powered ice breaker of which I was given an similarly interesting tour. A quick look at a Soviet-era prison rounded out my day and pretty much wrapped up my exploration of Tallinn. All in all, this has been an extremely worthwhile visit, consistent with my stops in Vilnius and Riga. I am very glad I decided to be "Baltics Bound" for the past couple of weeks and would look forward to spending more time here -- particularly during "the season" -- in the future.

Going forward, I plan to take a fast ferry tomorrow over to Helsinki, Finland for a quick look then come back here in the evening. Considering how long it would take to retrace the train and bus routes I took to get here on my way back to Gdynia, I decided to make it easier on myself with two overnight ferry rides. So, after spending Monday here in Tallinn, I will take a ferry over to Stockholm on Tuesday then catching the same ferry as I did before from Nynasham to Gdansk on Wednesday as my route to arrive back in Gdynia on Thursday. So, I will be pretty much on the move this week and you can look forward to the next posting sometime next weekend. Stay tuned!

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