To be in Helsinki & not go over to Tallinn is sin unpardonable. Two hours across the waters it is every Finns watering hole. Ferrying me there was ‘Finlandia,’ nothing less than a floating hotel with restaurants, bars, casinos, live music. The shore line had barely receded when those not hitting the bottle hit ‘duty free’ – a riot either way.
I had lodgings in the historic centre – a 15 minute walk from the harbour. It is the most happening & buzzing of places. Car free, a few horse carts, E Ricks & almost everyone in medieval attire. Tallinn was quaint & profuse of atmosphere. Like a scene out of Cantebury tales. Troupes from one or another guild regularly entertained & performed. A procession of musicians sometimes or an artisans market selling genuine Estonian ware. All part of the summer madness, great fun nevertheless. Tallinn is believed to have started the European tradition of X’mas celebrations around a tree placed in the city centre. Rest of the year sees sundry markets, colourful canopies & tables laid out for food & drink. Saku ( a local brand of beer) overflows. As the day advances & evening chill creeps in, out come blankets & brazier. But, it is never too cold for beer.
An eclectic variety of cuisine was on offer with ‘Italian’ the favourite & ‘Indian’ catching on (ever heard of ‘moose kathi roll’?) Eating places sporting the egg – saucepan image meant the food was Estonian while ‘vanaa’ attached to a name indicated grandma’s kitchen. Life made easy, like the animal drawings at street junctions in Finland. One may not recall long unpronounceable names like Hietaniemenkatu where I stayed but will never forget a reindeer image, especially in search of bearings.
A word about Lauri’s apartment – in the heart of the old town. Formerly part of a medieval bishop’s house it was done in muted tones of white, grey, pale blue. The creative use of space & retention of historic features lent it character & style & spoke of Lauri’s good taste. I was lucky to have it.
Mariannes’ walking tour started at ‘Tourist Information’ in down-town, leading to middle & upper, the old town being at 3 levels. It was history encapsulated – 2 hours walking a heritage site. St Olaf’s spires, visible from every part of town offered the best birds eye view as did the viewing platforms on 14 century walls. Freedom Square had a cenotaph made of a glass like material that could withstand a nuclear blast. The only one of its kind in the world. ‘It did not survive the first winter,’ laughed Marianne.
Tallinn was planned as a last stop before heading back home. A place to recoup after crisscrossing Scandinavia using every mode of transport. Taking it easy, I wandered at will, making friends, chatting up folks or just hanging around & having a nice time. It felt good. I loved Catharine’s passage with its array of cafes & antique shops. Its walls encrusted with ancient tomb stones so that they are preserved, not lost. A haunting thought. Also a novelty.
Memories aplenty …..The woman inviting passers by to try sweet, roasted almonds or the trinket seller who insisted I buy a Ganesha ear-ring. Women pretty & demure in a way those from advanced societies are not.
A brick red building in a far corner of the Town Square housed ‘Raeapteek,’ Europe’s oldest apothecary. It has remained in business since 1422 & houses a small, well documented museum with exceedingly interesting displays. Samples of medical prescription down the ages:
Hollyhocks, highly recommended for a variety of ailments.
Fried deer penis
Earthworms in oil
Sun bleached dog faeces
Check it out. Entrance is free.
( A bar of hand made cannabis dark chocolate was all I bought.)