Running around a country
Almost a year ago the good folks at TAP invited us for a quick ride around Estonia. It’s always nice when one’s invited to a place where one has never been, and this was the case. Away we went, running.
The trip, a short one, would take us to Tallinn, Pärnu, Tartu and to Saaremaa and Muhu islands. We were a small group, riding in a mini-bus all day long and sleeping at nice hotels. During the day were given the opportunity to taste some of the best food in the country, as the tour organizers (TAP and the Estonian tourism office) spared no effort to make us feel welcome. And welcome we felt. The food was REALLY amazing everywhere we went.
My memory is not what it used to be (not that it’s ever been that great), and I’ll probably forget a lot of stuff, but I’m hoping the photos will help you along the way.
Estonia was cold, as it’s supposed to be. And green. Boy, do they have green over there! The architecture is a mix of fairy tale and soviet, so I loved that too. The country has one of the most advanced internet infrastructure in Europe and at the same time it still keeps a disneyesque look so alive. The countryside feels like it has frozen in time, but maybe that’s because it’s actually frozen during a big part of the year.
Tallinn is big, or as big as cities get around here, and we stayed mostly at the city centre. Our hotel was a lovely place in the midst of it, and so we walked everywhere. Plenty of stuff to see. Coffeeshops, patisseries, bookstores, the mandatory castle, a ton of tourists and restaurants that cater to them. Some do feel like tourist traps, but you have those everywhere. In the evening we visited a bar, after talking our guide into it as she was afraid we might get into trouble there. We did not, but ended up laughing away a few drinks with the locals. Of course I forgot the name of said bar. It was great.
We had time, the following day, for a very nice meal at NOA, a couple of miles out of town. Lovely place, lovely view.
And museums. They have a lot of cool museums over there. We saw a few, but only managed to visit a couple as everywhere we went we had this amazing food (did I speak about this already ?), and spent so much time in restaurants that we only saw the outside of most museums. Sad, but true.
Back on the road, we made our way to Pärnu. I loved Pärnu. Beach life, the baltic way. A lot different from other beach towns we’re used to. The little houses, two stories high, and the quiet cosy hotel where we stayed. Tiny restaurants and chic coffeeshops, and close to no one in town, as this was the low season. And then you have the sanatorium, old school soviet style, a monster in size, compared to the rest of the city. I wonder what crazy experiments were done in there in the old days... To top it off a nice harbour with picturesque boats. Snap snap snap.
Time to get on a ferry and move to the islands. The islands are also pretty cool. Quiet, more relaxed, nature all over and the sweet sweet hotel where we slept, Padaste Manor. I could have stayed there for a month. One of the country’s top restaurants (Alexander) is part of the hotel, and we enjoyed it immensly. Sadly we didn’t have a lot of time to enjoy all the amenities, as the mini-bus was ready to leave early in the morning. Still a lot to see, and we’re always on the run.
The rest of the island part of the program was filled with farmers markets, old churches, trying out Poide beer at the micro-brewery (definitely one of the highlights of the trip), looking for orthodox churches in the middle of the forest and the occasional mandatory stop for tourists, at wind mills and such.
Back to the mainland, we tried Bog-walking, an amazing experience that almost ended with a couple of drowing cameras. It’s something one should try in Estonia, for sure. It feels like walking on a water mattress, if you could find a leaky mattress that’s a few square miles in size. We had a expert guide for this, as it’s impossible to do it on your own.
On the road to Tartu, college town. Rainy and with less colour. If I had to pick one to miss, this would be it. We did a quick tour of the college, and then went for a brisk walk around the old town, before attending a fish cooking class, where we drank a little too much, but that turned out to be the best part of our time in the city.
People here seemed a little less friendly, especially when you move away from the centre. We still managed to find a few cafés worth a visit, and other places where we could spend a few hours, if we had some to spare. Unfortunately we had none of those, it was time to move again.
Still time to visit the Science Museum (AHHAA), and we were on our way to ööbikuGastronoomiatalu, a foodie’s heaven and certainly the restaurant with the coolest name ever… It’s the chef’s house, and he cooks whatever he feels like on the particular day. There was room for us and no one else, you should really book in advance if you’re planning on going there. You can tag along when he’s feeding his animals, the ones you’ll eat later on, and watch him cook. Very much worth a visit.
And it was time to go back to Tallinn and it’s medieval restaurants. We still had some time left so we visited a few more venues and the KGB Museum. Meh. It’s really just a hotel floor where the spies would, well, spy on the guests. A couple of rooms that did not impress all that much.
And it was time to end the trip. Running around a country is never a good idea, but I came away with the feeling that this is even worse in Estonia. It’s a country that deserves a visit in a leisurely way, much slower than the one we had the pleasure to take. Maybe next time.
If you’d like to see a few more photos from the Estonian trip, feel free to visit the Flickr set. Enjoy.