Thursday, December 13, 2007

from Tallinn, Estonia: walls

Was I appearing displeased with the weather? No, after the brief showers of the first day, the weather has been easy. Until my last day here. Suddenly it was a problem: bright skies with the occasional puffy cloud, gusts of wintry air, temps, finally, seasonally appropriate for this far north. A real bummer.

I could hardly get myself going. Too daunting. Bright skies? I should be out with my camera. But it’s so cold!!

One way to get yourself moving is to set a reasonable goal, right? For instance: perhaps I should walk the perimeter of the Old Town, hugging the walls. No more, no less than that. Let’s see how vast or how small Medieval Tallinn really was.

The answer: one hour’s worth of walking, with a pause at a store or two.

Photographically speaking, you’re not going to get much from me hugging a wall. Picture after picture revealed yet another fragment of…wall. But it was a valuable exercise nonetheless. In that short expanse of time, I passed a school, a small park, graffiti, beautiful art shops, gates, and stalls of woolen goods, sold by Russian men and women who appeared somewhat bitten by the frost.

So, walk with me. And forgive the monotony of the stroll. Look beyond the crumbing stone.

I start at the gate, right by my hotel:

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Then, slip in through this narrow space...

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And continue. From the outside, btw, it looks like this:

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Sometimes, it seems to grow out of buildings. Or, perhaps they built around it.

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And look what is protected within. A school. Kids, thinking about snowmen.


Okay, some more wall. With parks, shops, all of it:

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And there you have it. By 2:30 I was cold and my walk was complete. Now, I have plenty of work with me (I aspire to be good and to get things done) and my book could use a few hours (both the one to read and the one to write), but for God’s sake, it’s my last day! I’m to be out of my hotel by 5 a.m. tomorrow! Let me not fritter the last hours here!

Still, it’s so brisk...

I had contemplated doing something completely decadent, like signing up for a spa treatment in town – scrubbed with (Baltic?) salt, wrapped in algae, doesn’t that sound absolutely terrific? Sure, but my travels are decadent in their own right (so says my occasional traveling companion). It cannot be all about pleasure and indulgence.

So I set out to shop for others. There is the market of course. No one back home put in a request for a reindeer sweater (I asked; truly I did). So I went back to my favorite art stores. And chocolate shops.


(I took a trial bite. With tea.)

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In the evening I went to eat at a place that wasn’t listed nor recommended, but it had a tempting look and name: the Embassy of Pure Food.

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It was the best meal that I had in Estonia. Now mind you, you can't scream and shout at the little things, like service, or warm white wine, or warm-ish potatoes. Those are insignificant things. And maybe Estonians demand that their potatoes be served cool because they have been thus just about everywhere. But what I look for in food is a clever idea and fresh and honest ingredients prepared in a reasonably healthy way. For instance, if you serve sour cream, don’t also serve tons of butter and heavy cream, all fried, on one plate.

The Embassy of Pure Food presented a wonderful seafood appetizer and they actually knew where the scallops came from. And their salmon was yummy (with an artful cabbage chip – who would believe that you can be clever with cabbage?), and the setting -- a restored old building – couldn’t be nicer, and the cost was right down there.

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So I leave Estonia with a note on how good the food was. Travel is remarkable in its unpredictability.