Monday, April 2, 2012

One Day in Estonia


It's hard to believe, but my European archival adventure is quickly coming to an end. In a way, it seems like much more than 5 weeks have gone by. I don't know if that's because so many of my days started to blend together thanks to the whirl and click of microfiche (a surreal experience that literally makes me dizzy), or if it's because I've had so many little adventures that it seems impossible to comprehend that I could have been in constant motion for roughly 35 days...Really, the reason hardly matters. All I know is that, after having taken a boat to Tallinn and back on Sunday--the last of my grand travel plans for now--it suddenly hit me that the wheels of departure had been set in motion. 


There's something incredible about waking up at 6 a.m. in one country, getting on a boat and, two hours later, docking in another one. I've always fantasized about taking a cruise and, for now, this experience will have to suffice. It was a peaceful morning ride; I read, watched in awe as two Estonian men drank beer (must have been their breakfast) and took a much needed catnap in the sun.


This was one of the first buildings we encountered in Tallinn; the colors, to me, were an auspicious sign. I also took heart that the sky looked clear and the sun was making its presence known. But, besides a few photographs of the medieval city skyline, our first order of business was breakfast....in this particular case, coffee and cake!



My friend, who has been to Tallinn many times, took me to Tallinn's oldest cafe, Maiasmokk ("Sweet Tooth"). The pastry display was not only lovely, but wide ranging; I really had a hard time choosing what to eat: cinnamon bun? something like a cheese danish, or a Pavlova? Once I saw a little slice of marzipan cake with what looked like a treble clef on top with flecks of coconut, I knew the other pastries didn't stand a chance. Always looking for balance, however, I decided to "healthify" my meal with a bun with ham and cheese. Don't worry; some self-delusion is necessary for happy living. 


It was a leisurely meal and we savored the pastries, as well as the coffee and the warmth of the place. You could see that the cafe was a place for tourists (we were not the only ones whipping out our cameras) and locals alike. Grandmothers were coming in with their grandchildren and getting them a little Sunday treat. Next door to the cafe was a Marzipan Museum, where I snapped the above photo of the Easter scene. Needless to say, my own sweet tooth and love of marzipan tempted me sorely, but I didn't think that marzipan works of art would survive the thrashing of baggage control on Wednesday. 

 After the house of marzipan, we stepped into a world of sunshine and cerulean skies. There were puffs of clouds here and there and, to be honest, as pretty as Tallinn itself was, I was most interested in the way the light reflected off the buildings dotting the narrow streets; I also loved how the spirals and tiled roofs of the buildings looked against the clouds.


It was a majestic skyline and, on each side street, there was something worth photographing, whether a rundown building or a certain handicraft displays in the window. Tallinn epitomizes quaint and the people seem to take pride in how the city and their creations are presented to visitors. From the jewelry displays to the arrangement of fabric (each representing a different region of Estonia) in windows and on tables, aesthetic presentation seemed key.




From Tallinn Square, you can take many different paths and if you spend most of your day in labyrinthine Old Town like we did, you'll most likely find yourself coming back there again and again. If you go in one direction, you'll find yourself at the opulent Russian Orthodox church, St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral; taking another, however, will lead you down to Lutheranism, to the Cathedral of St. Mary the Virgin. It's funny to think how closely all of these churches stand to one another, but how different their doctrines and architecture are.




We also made our way to the Russian "section" of town, where there's a weekly flea market. Walking through it, I could see myself back in 2004 in Petersburg, going from stand to stand at the local rynok (market) with Frida, my host mother. The smells were the same--marinated vegetables, sausage, berries, leather and alcohol--and the people, strangely enough, seemed to be so, too. The babushki (elderly women, not, as in Pittsburghese, headscarves as I once wrote on a Russian exam) were selling their knitted shawls and the men were trying to get rid of dated technology. But if you looked closely enough, there were treasures to be found.


The shopping started to wear us out a bit and we soon decided to head back to--you guessed it!--Tallinn Square for lunch.


We found a cute little place, Kaerajaan, which promised "modern Estonian fare." To be entirely honest, I'm not sure I would know what traditional Estonian fare would consist of (meat/fish and potatoes?), but I figured that anything in the food world that touts itself as modern these days includes a) local ingredients, b) some reworking of classic dishes that might include things like foam and c) gorgeous presentation. In this case, it was all of the above. I had herring lasagna with a chive-basil pesto, which was a stick-to-your-bones, pleasantly heavy cheesy concoction packed with carrots. The herbs did wonders for the salty fish. Also to my great pleasure, they had mulled wine (the friendly waiter even smiled at my absurd attempt to pronounce "glรถgg") and, when I asked for water, it came with cranberries in it. This is what I meant about aesthetic presentation and attention to detail. It's almost too pretty to eat.



 The rest of the day passed in a blur of shopping. There were so many things I would have loved to buy, but ever since the move I really have felt somewhat differently about things. I now ask myself, "Do you really need this?" In the case of Cheburashka earrings, the answer is yes. In the case of a lovely candle holder that looks like a meringue or a tiny decorative tree made of amber, the answer is no. At least, not now.


Photos are one of the best souvenirs, not to mention memories. And I can safely say that I have an abundance of both.


3 comments:

  1. Gorgeous photographs! Looks like a truly wonderful place! Glad you had such a lovely time (and cake too) :)

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  2. Thank you! I had fun taking them (I took over 200 photos in about 10 hours; crazy!)! And we both know it's almost always about the cake. :)

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  3. Looks very not ruined by socialism. :) I will forward to S Man to get him even more excited about this leg of the trip!

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