Day 29, Tartu, February 7th 2012

Tea 29: Cactus-Fig Green Tea, a cafe, Tartu.

So, a belated post once more.  Had a night out last night, which seems to be becoming a theme with the day before I leave a place, and  I’m quite enjoying that.

Yesterday I met up with Emily, another couch surfer who is currently taking a similar route to me, though with a one or two day time difference.  I met her first at a meal and couch surfing event in Tallinn, and then said I would give her a little guided tour of Tartu, because, after two days here, I’m pretty much an expert…(of the town centre anyway).  We met in the town square at mid-day then went to Tartu’s main church to have a look around and because Emily had heard there was some music being played there.  It turned out to be a short organ rehearsal / recital.  The church is quite interesting, mostly for it’s sparseness.  It’s gone through a lot in it’s time.  Left to go to rack and ruin, burning down, all the usual.  It has only really recently been restored, and it looks as though they still have work to do.  I think it is the 2000 or so terracotta heads and sculptures that are getting the most attention.  They have all been hand sculpted and fired.  Many of the figures are unknown, and are thought to be representations of the residents of Tartu at the time of the church’s building.

After that we went back to the apartment where Emily dropped her stuff and then we sat for a while to warm up and have a cup of tea.  Then it was back into town.  We went around the newer end of town for a while, visiting various food markets that we had hoped would be vibrant and colourful and exciting, but they are all pretty simple and normal.  Local markets for local people! By the time we had done that it was about 2pm and I was getting hungry, so we went back into the old town and visited a simple, inexpensive cafe for soup, and then tea and some chocolate…. of course.  The tea was another variety of Cactus tea, this time Cactus-Fig Green Tea.  It was nicer than the last Cactus tea I tried, a bit more delicate and smooth.

After a while chatting and sitting about, a bit of people watching too, we went for a walk.  I finally managed to find the sacrificial stone and we wandered mostly around bits I’ve seen in the past few days. One new thing was the Handicrafts guild building, basically a building with studios for glass making, pottery, hat making, dolls.  All sorts of little things.  In the summer time this place is much more vibrant I am told, with street stalls and activities in the pretty courtyard at the rear of the building.  After cooling down considerably yet again, we went to Werner cafe, my second visit.  We sat there for a couple of hours until around 6 when we were meant to meet up with a couple of other people active in the couch surfing community here.  Unfortunately they were both running a little late, so we decided to go BACK to Werner cafe once again and wait for them there, and also to buy some food.  I went for a lovely seafood ristotto, just the right size portion and a good mix of seafoods.  Tasty.  When the two others had arrived we sat a chatted for a while, before moving on to a bar.  I don’t know the name of the place, but it was a shot bar, and we arrived in time for the happy hour, 25% off all shots.  So we got a few different cocktail mixed shots and the night began.  After happy hour was over we moved on to another bar, Möku.  This is the smallest bar in Tartu, down in a small basement space, it had a good atmosphere and some nice beers on sale.  I went for a good Estonian Chocolate Porter.  It was very good, though not to the liking of the others it seemed.  After that we then headed to THE bar in Tartu, according to one of our group.  This seems to be the sort of student bar, with various deals on beers and, usually a pretty buzzing atmosphere.  Unfortunately this was a Tuesday night, in the winter, and still before midnight.  But it was a good laugh none-the-less and we sat over one last beer chatting and laughing until we all decided that it was getting late, more travel for me today, work for one and Uni for the other.  It was a good night though, and good to meet some more new people.

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Day 28, Tartu, February 6th 2012

Tea 28:  Milky Chai, Werner Cafe, Tartu.

Exactly one month of traveling!  If we count it in days, not by the day of the month.  Celebration time!  Chai tea, and Mojito Cake! Woo!

The temperature let up ever so slightly today, at least the inside of my nose didn’t freeze, my beard still did, but I am definitely counting my small blessings!  I left the apartment around 11 and headed in the same sort of direction I had gone yesterday, but this time I went under the Angel’s Bridge and to the Devil’s Bridge!  I do not know why this one is called the Devil’s Bridge, if there is any one reason it could be that it is darker and not painted in a pretty colour like the Angel’s Bridge, but I think it looks better, for that fact, and also just it’s construction seems more attractive, a bit more curvaceous if you like!  I went up onto the bridge then around the back of what seem to be a few more university buildings, round to the Cathedral.  I explored the ruined parts a little bit, I think some days you may be able to climb up into the rafters but the gate was shut today, probably because it’s a Monday.  Pretty much everything touristy is shut on Mondays and Tuesdays in Estonia, especially during the winter months.  I then went to look for the old sacrificial stone that was used during Estonia’s Pagan past, but is now used by student to burn class notes at the end of their exams.  I didn’t actually find the stone, but I think that that may be due to the snow covering it up.  I did find ‘Kissing Hill’, which is directly next to the stone, a small circular platform where Grooms traditionally carry their newlywed Brides.  Basically hard to miss, though how many grooms make it up the hill with their brides in hand is anyone’s guess!

After that I made my way back into the town centre.  I wandered through the little cobbled street until I made it back to the river bank, and from there I headed West, just in order to stay in the sunshine and soak up some of it’s lovely rays, vitamin D myself up…  The road follows the river for a long long way, so I turned off after a while and wandered through a little area of pretty wooden, multicoloured houses, guard dogs barking at cars as they crunched their way up the ice ladden streets.  I wandered like this for a while until the cold began to bite at my fingers, in two pairs of gloves, and in my pockets.  I took this as a sign to seek warmth, so I wandered back along the river into the city centre, stopping to take in various sculptures and monuments, the monument to Estonian and Armenia friendship, the Tartu Statue of Liberty, and various other stone and bronze creations.  I wasn’t feeling hungry or thirsty just yet so I wandered into a shopping mall to warm up, to browse through the shops, trying in vain to find some of those re-usable hand warmers to stuff into my gloves.  I then decided that now was the time to seek out tea, and cake.

I headed back towards the town square and found my way to Werner Cafe, a popular place with an innumerable variety of cakes, and various teas.  Today I went a little bit off topic with a milky chai tea.  Not really what I would normally choose, as classic cafe Chai is never up to much compared to proper stuff, but I fancied something milky, and not so sweet as hot chocolate, or as intense as coffee.  It was as good as they ever are in cafes.  I chose a Mojito Cake, which was tasty, with a ‘Paradise Apple’ on the top and some chocolate flakes for good measure.  It had a slightly odd texture, and could have had a stronger flavour, but was otherwise good.

After a good rest and warm up in the cafe, listening in to other English speaking conversations, I left and went up the hill behind the Pirogov monument to the old observatory.  The views from up there are pretty good, though probably mostly obscured by trees in the Summer, the Winter has some lovely views.  The sun had begun to set and the shadows were long and thin, the light yellow and soft.  I took some photos, more sculptures, a good view down onto the town square with people occasionally milling about, a few more sculptures.  Then down into town, more Easterly this time, towards the bus station, an open air market, that was closed by the time I got there, but looks as though it may be open most of the time.  Then onto the river across another bridge, a few more shots of the setting sun, the great red and white chimney and the interesting and quite good looking ‘Snail Tower’ (an apartment building), then into a few shops and back home.


Day 27, Tartu, February 5th 2012

Tea 27: Grenadine Tea, Cafe Truffe, Tartu

Today was my first official day in Tartu.  After a great breakfast of way too many delicious pancakes with ice-cream, nutella, and homemade apple jam, and a long time trying to prepare my mind to venture out into the cold, my host and I went for it and headed for town.  She lives just a short walk away from the ‘city centre’, or the town square.  The sun was shining down, but I now know to associate this ominously with the cold, as it means a clear sky, and a clear sky in winter means COLD!  Today, initially, felt a bit warmer than yesterday, but after a few minutes walking the inside of my nose began to freeze and I soon came to the conclusion it had all been an illusion.  And, yes, your nose freezing is reasonably painful.  We escaped into a shopping mall, where we both went simply to warm up a little, and also for me to buy myself some more toothpaste.

That task achieved we headed back out.  We walked around, through a little park area, with the most bizarre, and I must say slightly worrying sculpture by artist  Ülo Õuna, called ‘Father and Son’.  It is kind of bizarre, reading more about it reveals its, fairly obvious intentions, but still, it is a little strange.  We continued onwards, past the pretty, pastel coloured buildings, some of which are really old, including the university building, which was built around 1804.  But the university itself was established in 1632, making Tartu University one of the oldest in Northern Europe.  We went up Toome hill, towards the observatory, beneath ‘Angels Bridge’ (Inglisild), and then up and across the bridge, getting some nice views out across the city.  We then circled around the little bit of parkland, outside the old Hospital, past an ancient looking church that is made up of various functioning and ruined parts.  The great exposed red-brick built arches reaching high up over our heads, the sun shining and turning them an even richer shade of red.  We walked back around and down into the centre again and I got a few ideas of little cafes to pop into.  The city is pretty sleepy feeling, whether this is because of the weather, the winter or just because of the fact that today is a Sunday I do not know.  Tomorrow should help me find out.

We then decided it was far too cold again, and headed to Heli’s (my host)  favourite cafe, Cafe Truffe, right on the main square.  This is a nice contemporary cafe, with loads of cushions and a lovely menu, though their cheesey ambient jazz music selection was questionable.  I ordered a lovely sweet and sour Grenadine Tea, lemony, bright pink and a good hit of all things citrus.  Heli went for a Cinnamon Coffee that looked pretty good.  We also both ordered soup, Heli a Creamy Cheese Soup, whilst I had a Vietnamese Style cream soup with mushrooms, shrimp and fish.  It was very tasty, the mushrooms are flavoursome and dense, whilst the spices were perfect, and the first proper bit of spice I have had for a while.  They don’t tend to do spicy in Estonia, or Helsinki really.

After a nice long time chatting and getting fed and warm we left and more or less immediately went into the Tartu Art Museum.  This is in a small building that seems to be contending with the Leaning Tower of Pisa for worlds most falling over building.  The work on show was of good quality, much like the work in KUMU, kind of chronologically, but from the 60’s to 2010.  There is a lot of interesting and rather amusing stuff in there.  It seems as though they must be having a constant battle with the building and gravity, the leaning of the building making some of the works hang one way and on the other side they hang the other.  On the ground floor is a solo retrospective show of work by Enn Tegova, some of the paintings here must have been in storage or the dark for a long time, as the colours are still so rich they could have been painted yesterday.  Some have even been victim to a little bit of warping too, which is kind of a shame, but also quite nice that they are still being shown.  They kind of fit with the involuntary theme of the tilting building.

The sun had begun to set, the nearly full moon was shining brightly in the gently darkening blue sky and we headed home, my nose freezing once more.


Day 26, Tallinn – Tartu, February 4th 2012

Tea 26:  Õuna-Ingveri Plahvatus, Heli’s Apartment, Tartu.

Today I travelled to Tartu, in South-East Estonia.  I woke up, packed up, said my goodbyes to Ingrid and made for the bus station.    The bus I took left at 1pm and cost me the princely sum of 5 Euros!  On a Saturday people aged 26 or under can travel for half price!  That was a hugely pleasant surprise!  The coach took 2 and a half hours, in which time I managed to catch up on a little sleep missed the night before and to see a bit more of the Estonian countryside.  The country is pretty flat for the most part, with a few huge lakes, currently covered in snow and a little hard to differentiate from the fields.  But the scenery is beautiful, which chunks of old, fir tree woodland, covered in snow, making the fronds and branches droop under the weight.

I arrived in Tartu at 3:30pm, and was met at the bus station by Heli, my new couch surfing host.  We went straight from there to her apartment, kind of in the north of the city.  My beard froze more or less instantly in the cold -21’C air!  I was introduced to her family, and a brief introduction to the cat.  Then started to make myself at home, chatting all things travel, to art, to card games and liquor.  Some lovely Mandarino Italian liquor Heli brought back with her from a recent trip to Italy, and then a great Lasagne cooked by her sister Evelyn.  It was very good, the perfect food for a cold day and an empty stomach.  We sat a chatted for a while after, played a few card games and I am now sitting in front of the fire drinking a cup of the above-mentioned tea, before I head to bed / couch.  The tea is a fruit tea, with all sorts of lovely chunks of orange, apple, and ginger.  The name actually just means apple-ginger explosion!  It is lovely, not strictly tea, but good none-the-less!

Below is a picture of the fire and a couple more from my time in Tallinn.