Friday, 9 August 2013

Tallinn - a truly delightful city (3)

Beyond having once taught a student from Estonia and being aware of the country's Eurovision success, I knew little of the place and even less of its capital city, Tallinn. Ask me now and I'll recommend it as a place to visit. Though Stockholm certainly has a great deal to offer, and is also well worth a return visit, Tallinn was a most pleasant surprise. Rather quaint and full of historic interest, much of which (though not all) is to be found within the compact ancient 'Old Town', it was a real treat to explore.

After docking we had to wait some time to disembark but once we were able to get into the EU passport queue all was plain-sailing, or rather, fast-walking as we dashed to the Town Hall Square to pick up a free English guided tour of the Old Town at noon. Our guide, Celia, did a splendid job relating not only aspects of ancient history but also of more recent deliverance from Soviet oppression. Well worth the tip.

The memorial at Freedom Square
Our first stop was in the small park just in front of St Nicholas's Church which now houses Niguliste Museum, a museum of art where one might find Bernt Notke's 15th century Danse Macabre (Dance of Death). The Soviets had tried to turn the church into a museum of atheism, but apart from a couple of statues of individuals who didn't acknowledge the existence of God during their lives, they were not surprisingly at a loss for what to put in it. Perhaps filling it with simply nothing was most appropriate, for without God there is nothing.

Our next stop was at Freedom Square where there is a rather hideous looking monument to the nation's rather rare periods of independence which, we were told, were just as fragile as the monument itself.

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral
To the city wall we continued our stroll, on to the Kitchen Tower (where the guard spied on his wife's cooking through the kitchen window), past the Danish King's Garden (where the Danish flag fell from the sky, thus enabling them to be victorious in battle), to the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. This is a splendid looking building, in traditional Orthodox style, in deliberate contrast to the House of Parliament that stands opposite. A wedding had been taking place here, and beggars and priests were never far from sight. We popped in just briefly, but more elaborate interiors awaited us later on our travels.

A splendid view over the city
There are some splendid views to be had across the city to the port, and we took time to enjoy these before descending past the House of Government and back to the city wall. By now it was well past time for lunch, and following the tour we had been recommended a reasonable but delightful place to eat. Aed, or The Garden, is a traditional Estonian restaurant with considerable charm, pleasant workers and decent nosh. I opted for the pasta with smoked fish and rocket and, as prices were so good, finished off with dark chocolate cake with fir shoot ice cream - a novel flavour, I thought (the ice cream, not the cake).

Me and my new artist friend!
Time was moving on, as it tends to do, but I wanted to visit the Church of the Holy Spirit which is more of a museum and contains a memorial to the British Bearers of the Cross of Liberty, commemorating our assistance to Estonia in the sea battle of the Baltic in 1918. Walking down a small side alley we noticed a shop selling paintings of the city and after having a picture taken with my new artist friend, Tribol, I purchased one of his watercolours. One day I might tell you of my attempt at artistry - something I would like to pursue another time - but now it was time to resume our journey on board the Princess Anastasia and see what delights lay in store for the evening.

For some strange reason it seemed appropriate to eat a seafood pizza for dinner, what with being on the sea, and so after waiting an age for a table I sat down and sampled the Italian equivalent of squid on toast. To say that it was particularly palatable would be an over-statement. Edible, yes, but not particularly palatable. Apparently the freshly caught stuff is not quite so tough and I imagine that wrestling with the thing before it was dead might also be easier. Still, we put these things down to experience and to the list of things that ought not to be found on a pizza, we happily add octopus.

Town Hall Square
The evening's show was not an improvement on that of the previous evening despite the excessive, hyperbolic superlatives on offer. There is, after all, only so much one can do with a solo violinist, and even less with a karaoke singer who has delusions of stardom. The highlight was possibly the 'Mr & Mrs' contest where three couples were chosen to demonstrate their love to one another by taking turns to dance around their partner in some pseudo-romantic fashion. I should make it clear that if any female of the species were to make moves near me resembling those demonstrated on the stage I would either run a mile or insist that they be locked up on grounds of romantic delusion. Quite a spectacle!

I managed finally to obtain my printed copy of the rules and regulations concerning banned items and, sure enough, the list read: "Weapons, Explosives, Drugs, Heaters ..." I must confess I had never realised they were quite so dangerous. The chap on the information desk was really most helpful and pleasant - but he was an Estonian, from Tallinn, a city I would very much like to revisit.

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