Tallinn, August 27, 2005 - Saturday

Trip Start Aug 12, 2005
Trip End Aug 27, 2005

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Saturday, November 29, 2008

The weather here in Estonia was really unpredictable. On my last morning in the Baltics I woke up to a spotless, beautiful, blue sky, so before I would go to the zoo - and that was my plan, to go to the zoo - I decided to once again make a quick tour of the most remarkable spots downtown. Just for the sake of taking the photos again in such a sunny weather. And I so did.
But I wasn't going to be fooled again. I bundled my rain coat into the backpack, just in case. Once bitten, twice shy.
Without hesitation, I first took the shortest cut to Rasastra office to return them the keys. At the same time I explained to them that I was flying in the evening and asked if I could leave my luggage for keeping until it was time for me to go to the airport. A young girl inside very kindly let me deposit things in one corner. I thanked her and immediately rushed out, heading straight to the Vabaduse väljak.
Once there, I didn't waste any time and started taking pictures. Everything looked different on this beautiful morning and it finally seemed that the weather from Lithuania and Latvia had finally arrived in Estonia, too.
In fact, in medieval days, this square was a hay and wood market, and from there they led cattle into the Old Town. To celebrate the 200th anniversary of Russian rule in 1910, the square was named Peetri plats, or Peter Square, and a bronze statue of Peter the Great was erected. Peter was pulled down during the early years of Estonian independence, when the square was renamed Freedom Square, and the base of the statue was used to mint the new republic's five-cent coins. Most of the buildings on the square date back to the early twentieth century.
From there, same as on the first evening, I first climbed on to the Harju. Then I moved on to the Raekoja plats, and after that ascended to the Toompea for the panorama in the sunshine. Having that once off the list, I decided to go on north, to the port, and then skirt the Old Town walls from the outer side and visit the zoo.
The sun had the same effect in Estonia, i.e. it drew the people out in the streets, and I don't mean only tourists. Maybe the fact that it was Saturday had its effect, as well. All in all, Tallinn was this morning considerably different from the Tallinn of when I had just arrived.
I came away from the Old Town following the Pikk street. It took me north where there was the Great Coast Gate, or Suur Rannavärav, the medieval exit to Tallinn port. This entrance to the town was guarded by Paks Margareeta, a bulky and rotund Fat Margaret's Tower, behind which rose elegant St. Olav. Up on the Fat Margaret's roof there was a viewing platform, but I didn't go up. I had already seen the town panorama from the Toompea, and twice at that, so now I wanted to see the zoo.
On the lawn right by the Fat Margaret there was a plain, thin white cross in memory of people who drowned in 1994, in the worst ever peacetime maritime disaster in Europe, when "Estonia", a ferry sailing between Tallinn and Stockholm, had sunk not far from there.
Tallinn port was obviously quite busy, judging by the number of huge, mostly white ships linking Estonian capital with a considerable number of other, prevalently Scandinavian ports. Those who had time could afford themselves, let's say, a one-day excursion to Helsinki, which was just across the sea from Tallinn. Before my arrival in the Baltics, for a while I had even entertained a thought of doing precisely that. It had been almost twenty five years since I had last, as a young student, been in Finland. But things had during my trip adopted a different course, so there had not been enough time for it. However, Finns were in droves criss-crossing Tallinn, so they were obviously using all the advantages of those good connections which I couldn't.
Port was, as expected here up north and in the open space with the open sea, very windy. The sky was still blue, even if full of cotton-like white clouds which were lively floating from end to end. For a while I explored the port, took some pictures and then sat down on a low wall to study the city map a bit more, in order to take the shortest possible way to the zoo, without unplanned detours.
"Do you need help?" I heard a man's voice.
I raised my eyes and saw a couple of roughly my age. A beefy guy, well above my size, with a long blonde hair, pulled up in a pony-tail, maybe even a fellow musician, stood above me with his wife. Or girlfriend, at least.
"Actually, no. Thank you. I'm just checking the map," I smiled at him.
"Ah. I see. Anyway, if you want to go to the Old Town, this is the shortest way," he said kindly and pointed in the direction of Fat Margaret's Tower.
"Thank you very much," I nodded and they resumed their stroll along the seaside. It all fit the image I had of very nice Estonians to a tee. Such a thing had never happened to me in Lithuania or Latvia. And even if the bloke was a musician and thinking like "let's help another musician in trouble", it didn't diminish his good will.
Of course, he couldn't know I was not interested in the Old Town right now. Having inspected the town map once again, I stood up and headed up the Rannamäe tee street, on the outside of the city walls. Soon I came up to Nunna, Sauna and Kuldjala Towers, three medieval towers, and the portion of the wall that connects them. They are among the few towers open to tourists. If you want, you can climb up and imagine what it felt like to guard the town against invaders. I left that option for the time after the zoo.
And right by the triple towers begins the Toompark, I would say the largest green surface around the Old Town itself. It too was on my way towards the zoo, so, naturally, I left the pavement and chose to walk along the Šnelli tiik, a narrow but long artificial lake, watching birds, mainly magpies and sea-gulls. However, almost simultaneously as I entered the park, somewhere from the east a huge quantity of fat, grey clods rolled in and the blue of the sky rapidly and meekly gave way to grim and dour invaders. The white cotton, lacing the sky only minutes before, simply vanished. It was still somewhat windy. But this wind now seemed ominous. Suddenly, once I was through with the Old Town and the port, and once I set my bearings fully towards the zoo, almost out of nowhere, the sky turned the colour of lead, as friendly as a TV screen switched off, as William Gibson would say. What about the zoo now?
I attempted to be stubborn again. After all, I had the rain coat on me this time. So at first I just went on. Besides, I didn't notice that any of the people in the park looked way too worried because of the colour change in the sky. It was quite possible that we were simply dealing with the Tallinn weather, whatever that entailed, and you can't change the weather. It changes itself and you just do the best you can. So that's what I tried to do, hoping it wouldn't be quite the same as the day before.
Along the way I came upon two sculptures, out of which one, depicting a lying giant half dug into the soil, was particularly dippy. I had already had an impression that Tallinn possessed more than a fair share of quirky statues, and someone in these parts had both a good sense of humour and an avant-garde spirit. I liked that.
However, what I didn't like was that fact that the rain did begin. And not like a drizzle, but a genuine one. All right, it wasn't really a shower of the mould I had experienced the day before, when you need to seek shelter even if you have a rain coat on, but still strong enough to render a visit to the zoo pointless. Taught by my experience, I couldn't predict how it could eventually get out of hand. So I decided on the spot to play it safe, cut my walk short and head back downtown.
Once I got there, it didn't stop raining yet, but the sun nevertheless started shining through again. I returned to Pärnu maantee and chanced upon a crowd of people gathered around another statue, this time in front of the Rahvusooper Estonia, or Estonian Opera House. There I saw a banner reading "Estonia turupäev", which the way I got it translated something like "opera market day". And indeed, together with a lot of locals and inevitable tourists, there were quite a few people dressed in that picturesque manner usually associated with Central European fashion of seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. There was also something like a stage there, so obviously something was afoot. Only, not now. Whether because of the rain, or if it was a break planned in the schedule, I had no way of knowing. Only, people were there, and I was there, but you just couldn't guess what was coming next. And whether there was going to be any next in the first place. If so, then when? And so, knowing nothing, for all the actually wonderful atmosphere of overlapping rain and sun, it felt too wet to just stand there, and not being sure what for. After a while, I just left.
My way led me on to Rävala puiestee again. By the time I was there, the rain stopped and it was relatively sunny once more. But it hardly meant a thing here in Tallinn. So in Rävala puiestee I entered the Kaubmaja Department Store, this time without any case of guilt for maybe missing out on the sunshine outside. For all I knew, it could start raining again in a minute. I couldn't remember I had ever seen such a a changing weather anywhere. Somewhere near the top of the department store I found a lovely bookshop. For a while I checked what they had on sale, and then I took a seat in the café within the bookshop, ordered up a hot chocolate, produced my diary and Mark Twain, and decided to spend some time there.
I didn't stay there for too long. Maybe not even an hour altogether. But when I was outdoors again, it was almost five already. And very overcast again. It smelled of rain once more. That decisively took all the fun out of it and I didn't feel like chasing the weather around Tallinn any more. Five in the afternoon meant that theoretically I still could have one or two hours to walk around without any pressure, but what good would it do if I felt a pressure from elsewhere? I mean, from the sky?
So suddenly, on the spur of the moment, I decided to fetch my luggage and go to the airport, even if it meant spending some unplanned time there. Not far from the Rasastra office there was a bus stop where I could board an airport-bound bus. So that's how it eventually was, and soon I was leaving town. While still in the bus, it again started raining outside. Just so it would bear out my decision.
As soon as I entered the airport building, I checked in the flight to get rid of my luggage, and then started gradually drawing the first line under my trip, taking stock of what I'd seen and gone through here. I took my diary out to just state the facts and think about them, or rethink them, later. So, on the whole, really I enjoyed the feeling of freedom and general lack of constraints associated with fixed schedules, appointments and so on. That state of freedom is something a healthy spirit inevitably needs from time to time.
The prettiest country of the three was... well, none. None of them features too prominently on any list labelling natural wonders as prime assets. And in that sense they all very much resemble each other. The prettiest old town was probably Tallinn, whereas the prettiest town on the whole was probably Rīga. The best time I had in Visaginas. The prettiest women were jointly in Lithuania and Latvia. The people I felt at my most comfortable with were polite and nice Estonians, so different from sometimes rude Lithuanians and Latvians.
The girl I would remember the longest was that receptionist in the "Ambassador" hotel in Vilnius.
The rain outside turned into shower again, strongly resembling the afternoon before when I had been hiding under vaults and in passages. And then suddenly, sun penetrated through the rain and above the Tallinn airport, for my farewell on departure, I was looking at a rainbow.
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