It is purely by chance that I have booked into a lodging house on J.V. Jannseni Street in Parnu, Estonia, on my research trip to Estonai. The street, Jannseni, houses the museum dedicated to the 19th century Estonian poet Lydia Jannsen aka Lydia Koidula.
According to my 2008 edition of the Rough Guide to The Baltic States, Koidula was born in Vandra and the family moved to Parnu in 1850. Her father was a village school teacher who went on to launch the Parnu Courier, which was the first ever Estonian-language weekly newspaper. in 1857.
When Jannsen founded his newspaper in Parnu he was taking part in the national awakening which was intended to bring the Estonian language and culture to the fore. In these times the languages were German and Russian. The country had been ruled by the Baltic German nobles for generations and then the Russian Empire had absorbed it making the traditional language a peasant one. In the 19th century the movement to revive national languages was taking place in both Estonia and Latvia where women poets took the lead in showing how the language could be used in a literary context.
It was Lydia Koidula (the name “Koidula” means “of the dawn” and was an alias) who wrote much of the Perno Postimees when her father went to found the Esti Postimees in Tartu in 1863. She also wrote lyric poems, the first collection of which was published in 1866, and the national song “My Country is My Pride and Joy” which is sung at the end of the annual song festivals in Tallinn. She also wrote the first play ever to be written entirely in the Estonian language, What a Bumpkin!
Downtown there is a monument to Johann Jannsen, showing him reading a copy of his newspaper, outside the offices of the Perno Postimees. Lydia is remembered by a statue in the shopping parade. Both are remembered in the museum at 37 Jannseni.
I arrived in an extremely hot and sunny Tallinn this morning and the weather is such a contrast to my last visit. I came over in 2013 during the November half-term holidays and the country was being battered by gales, lashing rain and freezing cold. All my tour plans had to be abandoned in November as there really is no point in sightseeing when you are in danger of being blown over by the wind. Today, the weather is a glorious change.
Hot sunny weather encourages restaurant and cafe owners to fill the pavements with tables and chairs so their customers can dine al fresco. This year it seems there are more pavement cafes than ever. Then again, there appear to be hoards more tourists than ever. I swear it was impossible to see the cobbles in Raekoja Plats and the streets around the Olde Hansa restaurant. There seems to be a lot more street hawkers trying to sell Olde Worlde food dressed in Olde Worlde costumes. For those who don’t know their history, olde worlde times were tough for the peasants and the streets stank of human and animal waste. Modern-day Tallinn smells of roasted nuts and pork crackling. This, many would argue, is an improvement.
There are also a lot of beggars on the streets. I noticed this too in Oslo three weeks ago but I am not sure how genuine the beggars are. They could be like the ones we get in England: criminal gangs targeting commuters on the trains and hanging around outside town centre supermarkets. Since Estonia is a modern economy on the up and up, you would think their social security system provided for the old, out of work and down on their luck.
On the positive side, I came across a nice brewing pub called the Beer House (intelligent name that) which opened off a side street from the Town Hall Square back in 2002. I had a large beer sitting on the terrace and a very hearty caesar salad. I was served by a woman wearing some kind of olde worlde serving wench outfit, but I didn’t let that bother me.
I had a nice time wandering around the Old Town. The last three visits have been in the depths of winter so it has been nice to wander around in the sun. I discovered that the bus from the hostel begins and ends outside the Kohvik Energie, which is my favourite Soviet Era cafe. I went in for a €1 cup of coffee and a cake topped with bright red jelly and tasting vaguely of cream cheese. Yum.
I am not known for travelling light but I am enjoying the challenge of finding lightweight items to pack into my super small and lightweight suitcase.
I have ditched the usual small bottles of liquid toiletries for soap leaves, shampoo leaves and laundry leaves. I have tried them out and they seem to work well enough. I am replacing my deodorant spray with a deodorant stick; the same for the sun blocker. Both are lighter and don’t have to be shown at the security gate. The hairbrush has been replaced by a comb which is smaller and lighter. I still have to take a tube of dry skin cream and some hair gel, since I haven’t found any solid replacements. I am thinking of making toothpaste using bicarbonate of soda and some mint flavouring.
Other lightweight options have been to buy two throwaway ponchos to replace the waterproof jacket, two microlight beach towels to replace the hand and beach towels (I am going hostelling), a roll up water bottle to replace a metal one, travel slippers to replace my indoor shoes, very lightweight trainers instead of heavier sports shoes, coffee bags instead of a jar of coffee and a water heating element instead of a kettle. I have got a good melamine cup and some quality cutlery.
Buying a pack of plain white ankle socks, with white briefs and lightweight tshirts has helped reduced the clothing weight. I have three pairs of lightweight cotton casual trousers and a light cotton and cashmere sweater to complete the outfits.
I have acquired a lighter and smaller roller suitcase and a nylon-type daypack which folds into itself to reduce the luggage weight. RyanAir allow passengers to also take a very small bag on board, so I can put my iPad in my tiny Rock bag along with the travel documents.
On the technology front I now have a Griffin cover for my iPad, which is both protective and doubles as a stand (this saves me taking the Belkin stand and the second sleeve). The mini wireless keyboard is an essential as is the SLR digital camera. I have ditched the heavy multi adapter for a smaller one and am looking at how I can reduce cables.
This year I am taking no books or magazines but am downloading them to my Kindle, Kobo and iPad. This should save several kilos. Also, I am not taking paper copies of maps and itineraries – for once, I shall try to remember to put everything on at least one eReader rather than leave them on the home PC.
Packing light is still a work in progress and I have 13 weeks to see if I can reduce the weight and contents even more. I am sure to find more weight saving ideas by then.
The Great Russian History Tour of Estonia which used to reside on the pages of http://www.visitestonia.com seems to have disappeared. It appears to have been taken off the website though it was there a few weeks. Conspiracy theorists might find a link between this and the resurgance of the old Soviet enemy in the Crimea.
The basics of the tour as posed on the Visit Estonia website were:
1. Kadriorg Palace → 2. Tallinn Tourist Information Centre in Old Town → 3. St. Nicholas’ Orthodox Church → 4. Church of Our Lady of Kazan → 5. Paldiski town → 6. Amandus Adamson Studio Museum → 7. Haapsalu Tourist Information Centre → 8. Africa Beach and Promenade → 9. Haapsalu Resort Hall → 10. Tchaikovsky’s Bench in Haapsalu → 11. Haapsalu Railway Station → 12. Pärnu Visitor Centre → 13. Church of Jekaterina → 14. Estonian Apostolic Orthodox Pärnu Transformation of Our Lord Church → 15. Barclay de Tolly Mausoleum → 16. Tartu Visitor Centre → 17. Kolkja Museum of Old Believers → 18. The Pühtitsa Dormition Convent (Kuremäe Convent) → 19. Narva City Guide.
The website recommended taking 5 days to do this tour but there seems to be some pointless stops on this tour.
To celebrate the 20th anniversary of the removal of the last of the the Soviet occupiers, I am planning on combining a tour which takes in both the pre-1939 Russian rule of Estonia as well as the remnants of the post 1939 Soviet invasion.
My Grand Tour would start in Tallinn and then branch out:
Tallinn > The Alexander Nevsky Cathedral on Toompea > Freedom Square > Sopros Cinema > Kohvik Energia > Kohvik Narva > Kadriorg Palace
Tallinn > Haapsalu > Haapsalu Railway Station > Estonian Railway Museum > Haapsalu Promenade > > Africa Beach > Haapsalu Resort Hall > Pjotr Tchaikovsky bench > Haapsalu Shawl Museum > Haapsalu Old Town > Episcopal Castle and Convent > Uuemõisa manor > Ungru manor > Swedish Market > Pürksi manor house > Kiltsi airfield > Communications Museum > Museum of the Coastal Swedes > Carl Abraham Hunniuse Monument > The Ilon Wikland Gallery of Children’s Books > the harbour.
Tallinn > Narva > along the E20 > Narva old town > Narva Hermann Fortress > the bridge to Russia > the Kressholm Cotton Factory
Tallinn > Tartu > the old town and the museum
Tallinn > Parnu > the old town and the beach areas.
No doubt I will be adding to do this list as I plan further but I think this is a good start for anyone planning a one week trip to Estonia.
It is that time of year again. The wind and rain are lashing the UK and the weather is miserable. It’s time to think of summer travels. More specifically, it is time to think about medieval city centres, fortresses, historical buildings, trains, trams and seaside holiday resorts.
Shocked at the cost of Easter holidays in the UK and continental Europe, I decided to set a budget of £500 and to see what I could get for 10 days. The answer is, a lot if you are prepared to shop around and lower your standards a little.
In the summer, I am out and about for most of the day so the room I stay in is a place where I type up my notes, upload my photos and sleep. I don’t need fancy furnishings or a view of the sea. I just need clean and comfortable. Working on that basis I have chosen basic accommodation in the heart of the cities I am visiting. I used an online booking site for speed rather than booking with individual hotels, as I normally do. I have booked into the Nord Hostel Tallinn, Jannessni at Parnu and Baltic Hostel, Riga.
I have gone for dirt cheap and basic when it comes to flying – Ryan Air. I have a very small wheeled suitcase/computer bag which fits the Ryan Air specifications, so I reckon there should be too much trauma at the airports. My hot tip for travelling light is to take things which you can wash and dry easily. Muji sells laundry soap sheets which come in small packets and weigh only a few grams. They are brilliant for travel washing. Last summer I picked up roll on sticks of sun protector which are smaller and lighter than sun creams, so they will be going in the bag. Save the space in your small carry on bag for the essentials like camera, iPad and Kindle.
The itinerary is London > Tallinn > Pärnu > Riga > London. The total cost of flights, hotels and transfers is £343.98. Additional costs are going to be a day trip to Helsinki, a trip out to Narva, a day trip to Tartu and a visit to Saaremaa.
The Estonian language is a hard one to learn belonging as it does to the Finnish group of languages, and seeming to have little in common with English. It does, however, have some interesting words which are easy to pick up.
My long-time favourite Estonian word is pood which roughly translates as shop or store. It can be compounded, which means that you can put another word / noun in front of it to define what kind of shop it is. Though, you can just have a pood on its own if you so wish. A shopkeeper is a poodnik, which I think is a lovely word.
On my last trip around Tallinn, I was on pood alert and tried to get photos of as many poods as I could. I clocked up a mobilipood, an alkoholipood and a telefonipood.
Another favourite word is turg. A turg is a market, both the indoor and outdoor kind. I like the Sadaama Turg which is a Russian outdoor market over by Balti Jaam in Kopli. At this market you can find anything from homemade pickles to washing detergent. It is a great place to pick up things which are truly representative of the country such as local drinks, sweets and glassware. I got a fantastic Christmas Tea Light a few years back and a friend a Christmas bauble. The Viru Turg is a great place to go if you want to buy handmade woollens such as sweaters, hats, scarves and mittens. Nordic-Scandinavian sweaters are fashionable these days and this is the place to buy them. There is a more adhoc market if you go through the Viru Gate and turn right. Alongside the wall runs a series of stalls which sell handmade woollens and tourist souvenirs.
Now you have got to grips with turg and pood I am going to throw in jaam. This has got nothing to do with the sweet fruit stuff you put on your toast or a pile of cars blocking the road. It is more like a station or interchange. A jaam is a transport hub. So, if you want a bus station you look for a bussijaam. The railway station in Tallinn is called Balti Jaam. A station-master is a jaamaülem and a station platform is a jaamaplatvorm. A radio station is a raadio (saate) jaam. A yardmaster is a jaamadispetšer. A stage is a jaamavahe. I am sure that there are lots more jams to be made.
And finally for this posting, the word trahter, means inn or tavern. An innkeeper is a trahteripidaja. I have noticed that inns, as opposed to pubs and bars, are indicated by a picture of a draught of beer with hops and wheat. The difference between an inn and a pub is that they are a) quieter, b) pleasanter to sit in, c) serve traditional ales and lagers and d) do not attract hen/stag parties. There are many pleasant pubs in Tallinn selling good food and beer but I like a traditional inn. The one pictured below is also a brewery, which makes it double special.