Looking Across to Russia
Trip Start Aug 31, 2007
90Trip End Apr 19, 2008
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Narva has been a fortified trading point since 1172 and has changed hands countless times, belonging to the Danes, Germans, Swedes, and Russians at various points in its history. Narva castle and fortress was built by the Danes in the 13th century and in 1492, Ivan III in Russia ordered a similar fort built on the opposite bank. Both forts were badly damaged in WWII, but that on the Narva side continues to undergo extensive renovations and I visited this afternoon
As castles go, Narva's is not particularly impressive. Additionally, the majority of displays at the museum are solely in Russian and Estonian. I know five words of Russian (yes, no, good-bye, thank you, and vodka) and though my Estonian vocabulary is improving, it still has a long way to go before I can read museum exhibits. However, the castle museum does a wonderful job of portraying Narva's old town as it was, before being entirely destroyed during WWII and replaced with those fetching apartment blocks I mentioned earlier. I particularly enjoyed the before and after shots of parts of the town. The height of the fort also offered a good vantage point for peering into the Russian fort. Lacking $100 for a visa and any desire to wade through that much red tape, I will not be visiting Russia this trip. So final verdict on the castle: probably just worth the 30 kroon entrance fee. 50 kroon would be asking too much.
After the castle, I wandered up to the old town hall, now slowly crumbling in front of a depressing parking lot, and snapped a picture
All of this sightseeing was made possible by the excellent Narva tourist office and helpful signs throughout town. The office set me up with a map, called my hotel before I came over to make sure they had a room, and got me a schedule for buses to Tartu tomorrow. The staff was very friendly, as indeed everyone here has been - it's the friendliest place I've visited so far. Very few people speak English, but a smile goes a long way. Additionally, my attempts to pass as a local are meeting with unprecedented success! I've lost count of the number of people who have jabbered away at me in Russian today and then looked very confused when they realized I couldn't jabber back.
And now, a final word on my hotel: the women at the tourist office really weren't sure I should stay at the Hostel Jusian, but the next cheapest place was more than double their rate, so I headed over. Took me an hour to find the place, hidden among a complex of apartment blocks. I must be the only person who would find staying in an old Soviet apartment building exciting. I would have been a little sketched by the location except that hundreds of Estonian families live over here, so it's probably safer than Manhattan. The place is basic, but clean, and the staff friendly. I quickly talked the room rate down from 400 to 300 kroon and I am quite happy here.