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Saturday, August 25, 2012

Leaving Helsinki

Day 2, Helsinki: After the concert, I made it back to my hotel thrilled to have been at what was instantaneously a legendary show and a bit sad that I knew I'd be leaving town the next day. I'd gotten just the tiniest taste of Helsinki, and I really enjoyed what I saw, even through my jet-lagged haze. I would love to return.

In the morning, I decided to muscle my bags on the tram to get to the ferry terminal. What I didn't know was that the tram stop is some distance from the terminal, is in the middle of a construction wasteland with lots of barricades, rubble and gravel, but no signage.  You would think that I would be able to see the water and ships in the distance, but the nondescript buildings on the horizon blocked any view that might have been had. I finally reached the proper place covered in dust and somewhat worse for wear. Thank goodness for my compulsion for being early, because it left room for the wandering, and the ferry left six minutes prior to the published departure time. If you ever go to Helsinki and plan a ferry ride to Tallinn, spring for a cab. I certainly will next time.

A couple of glasses of wine on the trip over helped soothe my jangled nerves, and when I arrived in Tallinn and was met by my friend, I was relaxed and ready to go.

My time in Estonia began with what would become a familiar refrain: "Would  you like to go have cake?" Cake was a catch-all phrase for dessert and having it was a frequent activity. Desserts in Estonia are lavish in appearance, but are a bit lighter than what we're used to. Cheese-based cakes (cream cheese, ricotta, farmer's cheese) are prevalent, but are lightened with gelatin. I saw not one cupcake anywhere, whereas we can't seem to escape them. I also learned that decaf isn't an option, and so I just ordered a plain old cappuccino, not my normal double tall, non-fat, decaf cappuccino. This is a change I have maintained. It's so much less fussy. 

We went to a rooftop cafe at the Radisson which gave me a great view of the city. After that, he drove me all around, giving me a "greatest hits" tour: the Song Festival grounds, the Presidential Palace, the historic area full of wooden houses that are being renovated by ambitious homeowners, old Soviet housing, fascinating woodland cemeteries, the television tower that played a large role in the country's move toward independence, around the Old Town, and then out to the golf course where they live. Everyone should have friends who live in such a magnificent setting. Sitting on a deck in Estonia with a view of the Baltic knitting lace is the way to go, trust me.

On Thursday, we (my friend, his girlfriend, and I) toured the Old Town together, stopping in several museums (adorable, tiny ones consisting of one room, art museums, and, most charmingly, the puppet theater museum, which was very, very sweet.) We ate lunch in the square, at a restaurants that specializes in modernized Estonian cuisine. We climbed up to Toompea, the high part of the upper city. We stopped in at the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. We walked and walked up and down twisty, uneven streets until I was  completely turned around. Fortunately, I would have three days on my own the following week to redi reorient myself and redisccover, which was good, because I was already intrigued and charmed by the place.

On Friday, I was given a choice: go for a hike or go eat cake. Um, cake please. We went to Kadriorg Park, to a charming cafe. Kadriorg was built and named for Peter-the-Great's wife, and is a beautiful part of the city. It was a great couple hours spent with me asking a hundred questions about Estonian life, and my friends inquiring about current events and life in the States. (My friend was a foreign exchange student at my high school, and has travelled extensively in the US (even living here for a time after), and he shares my interest in politics, so there was much to talk about. And shake our heads about. And commiserate over.)

We went to the Kumu, the large art museum. The building is interesting, and I did enjoy some of the collections, especially the room full of busts. After another day in the city, we headed back to relax at the house before going out to eat at a casual seaside restaurant. It was lovely--the air smelled briny and crisp--and the simple grilled fish I had was delicious. I loved the cucumbers they have in Estonia. They're small, nearly seedless, and have dark, bumpy skins. They were so very, very tasty, and I wish I knew what the variety was. One of the appetizers we had was pickles with sour cream and honey. Odd, and yet so good. I also tried herring in various forms, and confirmed that I am just not a fan. I don't think I was in a single restaurant that didn't have multiple preparations of it on the menu.

Seaside Cafe

 The next day, I was planning to say goodbye to my friends and take the bus to Haapsalu, but they decided they wanted to take me there and spend the day, which was a bonus. In Haapsalu, things were about to get yarny...

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