Tallinn, viewed from on high at night

Sarah and I have now been in Tallinn for the better part of three days. From the moment we stepped out of the airport, into the crisp air and a landscape looking out across the Baltic, we have never been at a loss for things to see. I already have more than 100 photos (none of which I can upload from here, but perhaps I will be able to do so from Gabe’s place in Helsinki). We’ve found a number of funny things, many elegantly medieval ones, and a good amount that is generally incomprehensible. Most notably, we found an enormous concrete building near the port. Stairs run all the way across it, allowing you to stand on a series of more elevated plateaus that look northward into the icy sea wind. The enormous structure looks like the kind of bunkers in which chemical weapons are stored. On one side, beside the heliport, is the entrance to a noisy dance club. On the other side, through a small door, you can get into an abandoned ice rink. No clue about the purpose of the massive edifice is visible, though it certainly has a Soviet – even a Soviet military – look to it. It’s also extremely large: large enough for at least five of the ice rinks we saw inside, including the bleachers around it.

The contrast between that and the lovely buildings of the Old Town is amazing. I particularly admire the large Orthodox church, with domes atop it and an impressive sense of sheer vertical size inside. Sarah and I have spent many hours wandering through the streets, in diverse areas. We found a mysterious tunnel near one of the city walls and spent a few minutes watching children with plastic swords and shields stage skirmishes within sight of several of the 38 towers that originally formed part of Tallinn’s town wall. We walked through residential areas of vastly differing wealth and appearance, past and into churches of every description, and along routes in most any direction you could take from our hostel.

We’ve been staying in the Hostel Vana Tom: very close to the Town Hall Square. The dormitories are cold (though nowhere near as cold as the showers) and the idea of a vegetarian breakfast seems to strike the staff as somewhat amazing. Nonetheless, I have been enjoying myself a great deal. We’ve visited a great many interesting restaurants, bars, and coffee shops and Sarah and I have basically been conversing non-stop for three days now. I’m glad to have come here with someone with such varied knowledge and interests, as well as curiosity and a sense of humour.

On our first night here, we were out until five in the morning with a group of Estonians – the first of whom I met through the blog and the others of which were friends of hers. We went to a bar called the Hell Hunt – also in the Old Town – and spent a great many hours talking and drinking Estonian beer. Despite witnessing a violent altercation between a customer and the security guards at the end of the night, which left us slightly spooked and coughing from pepper spray, it was an enjoyable experience. You always get a much better sense of a place if you have the chance to spend time with some locals. Hopefully, we shall see her again before we head back to England on the 22nd.

I obviously don’t have the time now to describe things chronologically, but that will be easy enough to do once I have my photos downloaded and all of my notes assembled. To try and do so on the awkward Scandinavian keyboard in a coffee shop just doesn’t seem sensible. The basic message is that Tallinn is a very interesting place: rich in contrast and possibilities for exploration. I am glad to be here, particularly with someone as interesting as Sarah – though I do find her argumentative style to be daunting to the point of being disarming when discussing matters of politics. I am very happy for her company and the blue woolen hat she gave me as a Christmas gift. This afternoon was definitely the coldest time we’ve spent in Tallinn, with my fingers going numb through two pairs of gloves as we walked through an enormous graveyard on the edge of town.

Tomorrow, we are thinking of taking the two-hour ferry ride to Helsinki. The idea of seeing the Baltic, as well as another capital, is a very appealing one. Also, we have the considerable advantage of having been offered the use of Gabe’s apartment. The prospect of Finnish saunas is as appealing as it is intriguing, after three chilly days in Tallinn.

Much more to follow.

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