Day 5 – Travel to Tartu, Estonia

28 Sep

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Porridge, toast and yoghurt – all these things were still left over at 8:40am.  Today was about travelling back from the island, and heading to the main university town of Estonia – Tartu.  We all mostly made the 9am departure and the 2 hours to the ferry terminal passed in a record 60 minutes.  Apparently Google Maps isn’t as good as Tauno thought it was.

Tauno was very perceptive after he’d given us a few more stories, and although I was encouraging him, he reckoned that quiet time was more appreciated.

As we approached the ferry terminal at Kuivastu, on Muhu, Tauno pointed out the various accidents that had occurred on the ferry in the past, such as lorries catching fire and the 1950s communist film about a ferry disaster that had a happy ending.  Reassuring.  Jonas, the Cyprus registered, former UK ferry with a bad record of being in service was our chosen vehicle of the day.

Tauno was also very good at fact checking.  Asked how deep the water was, he was straight on the internet and less than 30 seconds later came back with an average depth of 5m and 24m at the deepest point.  In the winter, the sea freezes over and an ice road can be used instead of the ferry.  The locals like this a lot as they don’t have to pay for the ferry.  The rules for driving are also a bit different – speed limits are set to avoid causing reverberations and seatbelts are banned, in case you need to quickly get out of a sinking car.  The gap between cars also needs to be a lot bigger.

On board the ferry, Tauno gathered us around a table and presented a spread he’d bought from the local supermarket.  We ended up with rye bread, with a rabbit’s favourite secret ingredient – the orange flecks gave the secret away – spread with large chunks of butters and some small sprats on top.  Actually not as digusting as it sounds.  Not too salty either.  Several of us had seconds, or thirds.  When the shot glasses came out, I was expected Schnapps.  Unfortunately, he produced a bottle of Estonia Kafir – this thin yoghurt drink had all sorts of cereal added and had a mostly pleasant taste.  “Cheers” in Estonian sounds a like a cross between “turbosex” and “tervysex”.  Tauno’s classic line was “people remember the end, but forget the beginning”.  Yup.

He also distributed some curd bars – mine was apparently flavoured with cloudberry and lemon.  Tasted a bit like toffee to me.  The jellied elk will be saved for another point.

Just as we finished, the ferry docked successfully at Virtsu and we headed back to the bus.  Hopefully the sprats will stay inside on the next part of the journey.

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Narrow gauge railway rolling stock (not in use)

Narrow gauge railways are a feature that are constantly being pointed out.  Or rather, the remains of them, as they seem to have been dismantled in the 1960s.  Cycleways and paths have replaced them, and there is now a large network of both.

We stopped for a couple of hours in Parnu, where the weather eventually turned wet.  We started with the beach – windy enough for the kite surfers and wind surfers to be very happy.  We debussed and saw the location of the declaration of Estonian independence.  It was proclaimed from a theatre balcony on 23rd February 1918.  The theatre is no longer, but a model of the theatre, and a copy of the declaration of independence is in the town square, opposite.

We then visited the outside of the Red Tower, which is white, before accompanying Tauno to the best pizza restaurant in Parnu.  My brain and my belly had a fight.  The belly won.  Very nice thin and crispy chicken, bacon and pineapple.  Steve and I then walked to the Tallinn Gates, and another moat, which joined one of the two rivers in Parnu, that also meets the Baltic Sea.

Back on the bus, we had some background information from Tauno.  The Estonian Parliament (101 members) has never managed to elect the president as it needs 2/3 majority.  When this happens, the group is expanded to 400 by including other local government representatives as well.  This weekend even this group didn’t manage to elect the president either.  So it’s back to parliament to decide.  They are thinking of changing the system to become directly elected, but as the position has no real power, it’s hardly worth it. “A bit of a circus”.  Obviously not been to Holyrood!

Tauno also gave us some background on the political parties.  The conservatives are unelectable, although they are currently part of the governing coalition.  The Social Democrats are considered the purest of poor.  They never have scandals and apparently no policies either.  I’ll leave you to draw any comparisons.  I have to admit that at this point I lost a bit of interest, but he did go on to describe the many other politic parties, including one that was “too far right to be polite”.

Free public transport is available in Tallinn for residents.  Apparently this came as a surprise to the public transport operators. They had a referendum about it. It may not have been organised to distract the voters from some other scandals or unpopular changes.  Or it may have.

Firewood and potatoes were also once distributed for free to those who needed it, complete with a picture of the mayor.  Mayors and potatoes?  Cynical electioneering?

We were saved from more political chat by arriving in Viljandi, a small town (p. 17,000) with a ruined castle on a hill and a church (unsurprisingly closed). There were three levels of fortifications, each with a dry moat and a narrow bridge to cross to the next level.  Tauno found some more treats in his bag, including the jellied elk and some Vana Tallinn – a very nice Estonian spirit.  We walked back to the bus across a suspension bridge, worryingly dated three times.  We also saw one of the outdoor singing auditorium that are in every town.  The “Singing Revolution” is what eventually led to the Soviets leaving in 1991.

Moving on, we had the opportunity to examine a shale rock, from which they extract oil.  And had a discussion on the relative tallest points in Latvia and Estonia.  With Estonia at 317m, Latvia was only 4m less.  Hopefully they won’t start a war over this.  Although we did hear that the Latvians carry small handfuls of dirt to the top, every time they visit.

Stopped briefly to climb an observation tower on the side of the second biggest lake – Võrtsjarve, from which the river Emajõgi flows to Tartu and onwards to Lake Peipus on the Russian / Estonian border. Due to a large river joining up shortly afterwards, there is a section that sometimes flows backwards. Mostly we witnessed kite surfers throwing themselves into the air, mostly on the water, sometimes on the ground.

An Estonian language lesson followed.  I remember nothing except ice – yah.  I’ll leave you to do a Youtube search for “12 months in Estonian”.  There are no genders and no future tense – hence Estonian is referred to as “no sex and no future”.

We arrived in Tartu, the university town, and the change was immediate. Far more modern – with 3 skyscraper shopping centres right next to our hotel.  After a quick check in, the fab 5 headed off to the city centre, through some light drizzle.  Past the bus station, and to the river edge, the sight of neon was quite different.  A tremendous cacophony of birds could be heard in the city centre wooded area.  The city centre was almost deserted, and we headed straight to Yok Leng’s choice of restaurant, Café Truffe, which proved a good deal.  Although I limited myself to one course, I did manage to sneak in a champagne truffle, and another kvass (rye bread drink), which went by the name of Kali on the menu.  All for €12.  I like university towns.

Tomorrow we get to see Tartu in all its glory.  I hope.

Will there be bear in the supermarket?  Will Tony attempt a mud spa? Just how many questions will we get Tauno to Google tomorrow?

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