Day 6 – Tartu, Estonia

29 Sep

Our last day in Estonia started as normal – Tauno, just making it on time after a last minute breakfast.  I’m glad it’s not just me!  Thankfully, the local guide for our morning city tour was a bit more refreshed.  Merike led us on a slow walk through the compact area of the old town of Tartu, the university city.

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The Leaning House

One of the first stops was to the Leaning House.  The front door is straight, but the windows are not!  One side was built on the remains of the city walls, whilst the other, in common with a lot of other buildings, was built on wooden piles which eventually sank, giving the house a noticable lean.  It’s now an art museum.

We also visited the town hall square, where they were busy setting up for the 5th Tartu marathon at the weekend.  The finish line was in sight!  There was a statue of kissing students outside the town hall, which has become a popular destination to do just that.  There didn’t appear to be a queue though.  Also here was a temporary installation of a self supporting running tap.  As the drizzle was also still light, this didn’t have too bad an effect on the bladder of any of the group.

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The frontage of the main university building, and an artwork depicting it.

They have a piece of art spelling out “100,000”, that was put in place when the population reached this number.  It has since dropped and risen, but is currently a couple thousand short.  At least 20% of the population are students and the town atmosphere is regulated by the ebb and flow of the students in and out of classes.  Classes stop at quarter to the hour, and restart at quarter past, presumably 90 minute classes.  Inbetween there is a rush of students into the streets of the university campus.  Saying that, the city centre pretty much is the university, although a lot of the faculties now have dedicated modern buildings on the edges of town.

The old maternity hospital on top of Toome hill is now a social sciences building.  The rest of the Toome hill area includes an observatory and a half ruined, half rebuilt cathedral.  The rebuilt part is now a museum.  Toome hill is modelled on an English park, and the useful bridge within is named the Angel’s Bridge by mistake.  It sounds very much like English bridge in Estonian, which is what it was supposed to be called.  A wish can come true if you hold your breath as you cross. Not far away is the Devil’s Bridge – serving no useful purpose at all.  Choirs have been known to compete from the two bridges, spending hours singing at each other, and anyone else gathered in the very pleasant woodland in between.

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Sacrifical Stone, Kissing Hill and an unnamed bridge – also useful at granting wishes if you can hold your breath when crossing.

There is also a sacrificial stone, where pagan rituals (bloodless) were carried out.  Recently, students took to burning their lecture notes before exams – shame if they had resits!  Also a bit difficult most recently as they all use laptops!  There is also the supposedly romantic “Kissing Hill”, where newlyweds are supposed to go, and queues form in the summer.  This is actually on top of a man-made “ruin” – constructed relatively recently because all “English” parks have ruins in them.  Apparently.

We also got a brief introduction to Struve – the night rector of the university – who was the only professor that could be found at night, and was therefore responsible for dishing out the punishments to students who had fallen foul of the rules.  Basically how many night to be sent to jail for.  Jail in this case was a warm bed, with food provided.  Insulting a woman carried a penalty of 4 nights, whilst annoying the caretaker was usually 5 nights! He was also in charge of the observatory, and invented the Tartu Meridian.  In between he had time to father 18 children (with 2 wives).

 

The whole town is dotted with statues commemorating other famous people as well as art installations, including a 21 year old poet who died of pnuemonia after walking constantly between Riga and Tartu.  Told you exercise wasn’t good for you.  Another notable figure was Karl Ernst von Baer, the father of embryology, who’s statue’s head is reverently cleaned with champagne every year by students.  Used to be beer, but the students are better off these days.

We also passed the Supreme Court of Estonia – located in Tartu next to the law faculy of the university so that it can’t be interfered with by the politicians in Tallinn.  Good reasoning!

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Spotted Dog biscuits

We finished the morning tour with Tauno trying to fob off the remaining elk in jelly from yesterday and the Vana Tallinn liqueur.  One was more popular than the other.  He also added to his popularity with some spotted dog biscuits.  Actually quite nice.

Karen, Ruth and I then headed off to the St. John’s church, made of brick with terracota heads in various states of disrepair.  We quickly moved on to the Tartu Toy Museum and spent a couple of hours reminiscing over Teletubbies, Dolls Houses, plastic soldiers, train sets, and characters from Estonian children’s TV programmes.  We also had the chance to act out our own puppet show – with glove puppets, marionettes, shadow puppets or rod puppets.  The two teachers headed back with loads of ideas.

Just managed to fit in a coffee and cake in the Werner Cafe (#1 on TripAdvisor!), although I could have spent all day here – the colourful cakes were calling out to me.  Also managed a Tuuletort – apparently cheese and salami – over three layers!

Next stop was to the Gunpowder Cellar – holding the Guiness World Record for the highest pub – as in the ceiling – it’s 10.2m, and located under the Toome Hill.  We popped in to study the menu (mostly pork!) and were informed that there was a rodeo being held there at 9pm. We’re imagining bucking bronco.  Probably not then.  Student town.

Crossing the river, and through the park (full of mushrooms), we ended up at the Song Festival museum.  Only €2, and I don’t think they’d had many English speaking visitors, as they had to ask how to switch the audio guide to English.  ALL the wall displays were in Estonian, so the audio guide was essesntial.  I managed 13 and 14 whilst relieving myself on the second floor.  The history of the song festivals was interesting in itself, but the ones that led to the “Singing Revolution” kicked off in 1988 and these eventually led to Estonian independance from the Soviet Union in 1991.

Back over the stone bridge, and we managed a couple more statues – “Father and Son”, and the pig outside the Meat Market – it’s a handy reference to the cuts of meat available inside.  Also attempted the supermarket, and managed to purchase some sauerkraut crisps as well as bear, wild boar and beaver meat in tins.  We’ll see how that tastes at home.  The bear was very expensive compared to the others. i.e. the beaver was cheap.

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Bear, Wild Boar and Beaver meat available – Bear was 5 times the price of the Boar.

Regretted not buying an Estonian flag in Tallinn, as the prices (and sizes) have tripled here.  Ah well.  Traditions can change!

Almost the whole group met for dinner and we headed back to the Werner Restaurant (upstairs this time), for some really nice food – including sea buckthorn lemonade and a mango chai latte.  Didn’t have a clue what either of those were, but both were very nice!

The promised rain for the day never materialised past a light drizzle – the umbrella has still not been broken out.

Long may it continue!

 

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