Tea 88, Fresh Mint Tea, Ankerklause, Berlin
Day 87, Thursday. Today I spent the day wandering around for ages, Abigail had gone to her studio so I decided to explore the city centre. It was one of those days of loads of inadvertent walking. I walked back to Alexanderplatz in an, ultimately futile, attempt to find a tourist information, god knows where it is! I should probably check the internet, but I keep on forgetting before it’s too late. I did by a little notebook with a map in it though, so that is helpful to me. It also makes checking maps in a more incognito fashion easier! From Alexanderplatz I walked West and past a large area of museums and tourists. I eventually, accidentally, made it to Checkpoint Charlie, the place was heaving with tourists carrying cameras and beggars carrying cardboard begging scripts. I didn’t really hang around here for any time at all, the crowds of people putting me off. There are two men standing in American Army uniform pretending to guard the checkpoint, which was one of the most tense and symbolic border crossings between East and West.
I escaped up a quieter street, which was a bit of a relief, walking past a car museum / rental place called Trabi world, the Trabi (or Trabant) was the most common car driven and produced in Eastern Germany. This little place is filled with cars that you can hire and drive around the city. Very old school…
A bit more of a wander, I thought I was on my way towards the Brandenberger Tor, although I never actually made it in the end, I think I did manage to walk all the way around it though! Much more walking around in a large loop around the city before I made it back home.
That evening Sergej and I went out for some more drinks, where some of his workmates and an old friend were hanging out. The place was so so smokey! By the time we got home I totally stank and had to have a cold shower to get the stench of smoke out of my hair and skin. It still surprises me that most places allow smoking anywhere in Berlin. And it is kind of weird to see advertising for cigarettes, especially that still promote them in a life giving kind of way!
Day 88, Friday. Today was a slow morning, Abigail and Sergej have gone away for the weekend, sort of for her birthday, which is next week. Eventually I got up and started some work on my website, which is part of the reason for these belated, bunched up posts. All the shops were closed today, it was Good Friday, though not the cafes and restaurants. I met up with one of Abigail’s friends, Ulijona, and we went for a cup of tea at a cafe called Ankerklause. This place is quite popular, and I am told, a good place for celebrity spotting (it’s apparently one of Quentin Tarantino‘s favourite places). The sun was mostly out, so we sat outside and I had a nice Fresh Mint tea and we chatted for a while about clubbing, Berlin, art, etc. Then we both decided that we were hungry so Ulijona took me to the place she considered to have the best Falafel (I imagine there is a lot of opinions for a lot of different places!) But it was good, I had Falafel with Halloumi and it was pretty good, and possibly better than the first place I went to, though mostly because the Halloumi had been cooked properly here. After that Ulijona went home and I walked around trying to soak up as much sunshine as possible, though it was a little cold in the wind. I got home and did a bit more work on my website and some more pondering about the future, which seems to be dominating a lot of my thoughts right now.
Day 89, Saturday. So, finally! A post that happens on the day it happened! Today I woke up and had breakfast and then left fairly quickly, compared to usual. However, as I got to the door and opened it, I was greeted by sleety, snowy freezing rainfall. I decided to leave anyway, although changed my original plan (which was a walk through the Tiergarten!) and went back towards town and browsed in bookshops and found the Lomography shop which I had a little look around (Marta’s experience with the Holga has still inspired me to look for something of my own to use) I basically did a big loop and wandered around some of the smaller streets, filled with high class galleries, and expensive shops. Then I got back home, via the Chinese market where I bought some rice crackers and a can of Aloe Vera juice. I sat and rested my legs for a while. Then the sun peeped it’s head out so I went out again to try to catch it, I wandered around the remnants of a little market next to the cafe I visited yesterday, most of it had been packed away, but there were still a few stalls left. I walked some more whilst the sun stayed up and then came back home, via the supermarket where I treated myself to some over priced Peanut butter, it was far too expensive, but I have been craving it for long enough to make it seem worth it!
Time for more work on the website.
Also, don’t forget to check out the Kickstarter Campaign, if you don’t mind.
Tea 58: Lemo Mate, the Apartment, Krakow.
The sun and it’s warmth came back today, gladly (though I hear it’s not to last, again). I left the apartment and walked in the sunshine to the river, the Wisla. I walked past the big helium balloon and crossed the bridge. I then turned south, towards the sun and following the rivers edge. As i walked the bells of three churches all began to ring for 12 o’clock. Though it would seem they are all have about 20 – 30 seconds of difference between them. Maybe this is on purpose so that they can all get a fair share of the attention. The big white church next to me was the last to chime, it’s big bells clanging about with great passion.
I continued along the river, then crossed the blue arched bridge to a part of town that could still be part of Kazimierz district, or it could be part of Podgorze district… There I wandered up a staircase to a small park dedicated to Wojciech Bednarski, a polish educator, councillor and activist from the 19th – 20th Century. The park is small but has a nice feel, with lots of trees and a large cliff at the far side, which has a wall built on the top of it that looks to be a fort of some kind. I sat there in the sunshine for a while, then left out of another entrance / exit. There was this huge old house at opposite the entrance which looked like something out of a fairytale, with a great roof and cornicing and a turret. I then walked back down the hill and onto a town square which has a large intricately decorated church at one end, that basically backs onto the little park I was in. I wandered down the main street, with its old buildings and their great old signs and facias.
After a while of weaving in and out of the streets, trying to keep in the warm sunshine, I made it back across the water and into Kazimierz proper. I wandered around a little more, walked up Mostowa Street and onto another little square, then along Jozefa street, where there is a tea house I have read about, I didn’t visit it today, but have found it so I know where it is when I am ready (probably tomorrow)! I then continued east, went under a tiny little bridge with the railway going over the top and found myself outside the large Jewish cemetery called Nowy Cmentarz Zydowski. I went in, began to walk amongst the hundreds and thousands of gravestones that fill this place. There is such a concentration of graves in this place, like I have never seen before. There are even tombs lining the pathways and they are so tightly packed that you can see where paths used to be, but which are now totally taken over by graves. The place is in quite bad disrepair, which is a shame, some of the stones were once very beautiful but have suffered terribly, probably largely due to the various wars. After a while amongst the stones I left, walked north and found myself in another food market, with people milling about getting their fruit and veg. Walking out of the market I found myself at a large old bridge, built in the middle of the 19th Century, which marks the start of Dietla street. Walking down, still in the beautifully warm sunshine (though I still needed a hat and gloves) I then went back into Kazimierz, and found this little cafe I had walked past a little while earlier, called Mostowa artcafe, named after the street it is on and the art on the walls. I ordered a coffee (I needed the caffeine, the cold is still keeping me under it’s influence), and some olives and sat for a good hour or so writing and just staring out of the window onto the street outside.
After that I left, and walked back to the little square called Plac Wolnica, with the Krakow Ethnography Museum on one side. I decided I hadn’t been in a museum for a while now and that I would visit this one. It’s fairly simple, with examples of old tools, traditional costume and reconstructions of houses and rooms. The usual stuff you find in such a museum. The best thing about this place was the photographs. There are loads and loads of old photographs (all reproductions) that are really great, so many faces and characters that say so much more than an outfit or old hammer in a glass case.
A while was spent in there, keeping warm, the temperature had begun to drop when I left the cafe. Then back out, the sun had begun to set and I wandered back to the river, via a supermarket, and this time instead of crossing straight over I decided to walk north, towards the Jubilat shopping centre, with it’s red neon sign reflecting in the water. The sky was turning a wonderful orange colour as the sun got lower and fuller. People were milling about on the rivers edge, rollerblading, cycling, taking photographs and being romantic, even a man walking his horse! I made it around to the next bridge and walked over it and then weaved through the streets of Debniki district until I found myself home again. Attempting to get into the building by asking the concierge to let me through the door descended into humorous chaos as I attempted a tiny bit of Polish and then got my tongue all twisted, but eventually we managed to communicate and I got back into the building.
So, today was my first day in Krakow. The cold has returned a bit today, which is a shame as I had begun to get used to the warmth again! Hopefully this little cold snap won’t last too long, though looking at the weather that is happening in what will hopefully be my next stop (the Ukraine), maybe it should stay so I can get used to being cold again.
I woke up, first time, at around 8 today. The sun was pouring in through the window, the bright blue sky up above giving more illusion of a warm summers day. One of the people I am staying with (another Marta, not to be confused with Marta from Warsaw) made me a cup of tea, a dose of Chocolate Cake Pu Erh tea. She then left for university, which resulted in me promptly falling back to sleep and not waking up for another two hours! So, second attempt at being awake, and this was much more successful. I topped my tea up with some hot water, luckily I had removed the tea-ball before I had fallen back to sleep so it wasn’t too well steeped. Then me and my host Malgorzata sat at the table with some breakfast and some more tea, this time a cup of power tea (the one I bought all that time ago in Copenhagen), we sat and chatted about art, art schools (she is studying at the Krakow Academy of Art), art students, painting, Marina Abramovic, Roland Barthes, Susan Sontag, Guy Debord. Loads of stuff. It was nice to have a good long conversation about these artists and philosophers that I’ve not had much chance to talk about for quite a while. She seems to be going through a similar time at art school as I did, especially in my third year, the year she is currently in.
A couple of hours later we decided we should probably head out into the town. Marta had called and asked if we wanted to meet her in a cafeteria that is part of the Music school, so we jumped on the tram and took it to the old town. We wandered around a little, trying to find the place. Old Town is one of those ones that is pretty easy to get turned around in and we had gone slightly the wrong way, but a quick phone call later and we were back on track. We went into the Music school building and took the lift up to the top floor, where the canteen / restaurant is. This little place has got an amazing view! Both side of this floor are glass and offer a wonderful panoramic view of the entire city, one downside is that if, like me, you are a non-smoker, then one side is for smokers and the other not, so you only get one choice of city view. But it is great! The food is good quality too, like most student places it’s good value and good portion sizes. I ate Zapiekanka ziemniaczana, a kind of potato based lasagne-style thing. It was pretty tasty, cheese, potato, some sort of sauce, beetroot, salad.
After that, and by this time it was after 3pm, Malgorzata and I left Marta, who was preparing for a presentation she had to give in English later that day. On the way out I went to the loo. This was in the basement of the building, and there were loads of people practicing every kind of orchestral instrument imaginable. A trombone, tuba, violins. Then, walking into the actual toilet I was greeted by a lad practicing his clarinet, he was all set up with stool and music stand and everything and seemed very content there! Rather surreal if you ask me!
We left the building then went separate ways, I was on the hunt for the tourist information, to raid their free maps and info. Walking in the sunshine was lovely, the rays soaking into my skin making me feel nicely content.
Map found and I went for a little aimless wander around the city, a little while spent in the old town. The obstacle-course of tourists leading me to the decision to head outside of the city walls (!) and explore the less touristy bits of the city. My first impressions of Krakow are that it is a very different place to Warsaw. I think this may be due to the huge focus on the old town that there is in Krakow, it is the heart of the city. In Warsaw it is more of a part of the city than THE city.
I left the old town out of the western side and walked down a little street that could have been Karmelicka street. A mixture of buildings, old and older, all with various bits of facia and / or concrete falling or chipped off of them. I kept on walking around, heading north and then east. I ended up in a little market area, fruit, cakes, bread spread across tables, people with brilliant faces and great characters. They were beginning to shut down their stalls, and pack up there things, so this was only a short visit, I will try to have another look around on another day.
I then made it onto Plac Matejki, a large monument to Grunwaldi dominates the street. I turned right back towards the old town. I wandered through the park area that surrounds the town wall, soaking up the last few rays of sunshine as the sun began to fall below the level of the buildings. Then I followed the wall east, popped into the Galeria Krakowska to go to the supermarket, came out and did another little loop around a few of the narrow streets. Then back to the town wall and I followed this around and then began to follow the tram lines until I made it to the river, the sun was totally down now and it was getting dark and cold, but I stayed for a while a took some photos of the river and the helium balloon that goes up and down all day long, giving views of the city. Then I got the tram for about 3 stops and came back to the flat.
I sat for a while, catching up with all the belated postings I owe you all, then Malgorzata and Marta came home. Malgorzata made me a lovely cup of Green Tea with cherry (my bag from Warsaw) with added lemon and honey to try to fight off my cold and slightly sore throat. Then Marta made a great hot chocolate for herself and Malgorzata, and which I tried a very small cup of, despite the risk of congestion I couldn’t really resist!
So, I know that the Brits are famous for talking about the weather, but please forgive me this once.. Three seasons in as many days!??!?! Today was grey, drizzly and dull. The sunshine of yesterday was long forgotten and positively autumnal weather has taken over! The day before yesterday was winter, yesterday was summer, and today autumn, when is spring going to arrive!?!?!??!
Ehem….moving on… Because of today’s greyness I didn’t really have much incentive to leave the apartment, so I stayed in and did some work for a few hours and then at around 2:30 I left, I ate lunch in the flat in an attempt to reduce my costs and then caught the tram into town. I got of a stop or two before Centralny today and walked East, past various forms of architecture, new, old, decaying and decayed and found my way to Marszalkowska, the main traffic street in this part of the city. I just sort of wandered for a while, the drizzle hitting my face despite the umbrella. Eventually I found my way to Raster, one of the more independent and contemporary galleries in town. It is hidden a little way along Wspolna Street, number 63. They are currently showing a piece by Michał Budny called Zywica. He had spent some time installing the piece, playing with different compositions and designs of the space and has landed with a superbly minimal and interesting work. Sheets of polythene hang silently from the walls, a plastic covered square piece sits above the lintel like a clock, the noisy door opening and closing with a bang and screech. It was a work I couldn’t quite get hold of to begin with, I think because I have seen so many noisy and chaotic pieces lately, but I spent some time in the work and it began to evolve, and the atmosphere developed over time, people entering and leaving the space, the receptionists light keyboard tapping, the temperature.
After some time in the space I left and went back into the grey, drizzly day. The space seemed to reflect the grey, muffled silences that the drizzle creates in the city. I walked for a while back north east, towards the palm tree and the old town. After more little derives along streets and window shopping I headed to Zacheta, the contemporary art gallery for another attempt at getting in for the free thursdays (last week the gallery was shut). This week I did manage to get in, but only to see the new exhibition ‘7 Rooms’, by Rafał Milach. This is photography and stories of Russians born during the USSR period and their opinions and experiences comparing then to now. The show is fairly documentary, and does exactly what it says on the tin. The photographs are varied and some do have a great deal of beauty in them. The rest of the gallery would seem to still be shut. I presume they have a permanent collection, but there is a cordon up across the staircase and beady-eyed guards making sure no one makes it up. There is basically no information to say what exactly is going on though, so I can’t say when or even if the permanent collection will be back on show…
That done I decided I needed a sit down, I thought there might have been a cafe in the gallery but alas there is not. So I headed for the old town, walked past a cafe that looked OK but carried on in the hopes of a cozier looking place, but this never happened, so I came around in a loop and went back to the first place I had spotted. I took a seat and ordered a hot ginger, lemon and honey drink and sat and wrote on the back of a press release, trying to figure out the next step of my journey. A little while later, at around 6:45 I met up with Marta and we wandered to yet another part of Warsaw that I had still not discovered. This is the old Jewish district. There is one street that still has some of the old buildings that date back to before the war, and are still potted with bullet holes and some still have their old shop signs. The street, which is now ghostly and silent was once the bustling heart of the district and is now in ruins. The buildings had been left as some sort of document of the past, and also because of anyones reluctance to renovate, it seem that now there is some kind of work going on, one side of the street is blocked off by steel fencing and there is a crane and building materials dotted about. This place is also where they apparantly filmed The Pianist, the film about a Jewish man who managed to evade capture by hiding out in the Warsaw Ghetto. We went into a little cafe that sits on the end of one of the buildings, somehow managing to survive in the crumbling tenement block. Called Cafe Prozna (on Prozna street), this is a nice little place with wooden tables and chairs, though very modern in style. We ate some food, Marta had a sorrel soup whilst I had a tasty quiche with salad. I enjoyed the food though Marta wasn’t very impressed with her soup.
We then went for a walk in the dark, but multicoloured city lights, ending up in the original Wedel chocolate cafe. The walls are decorated with paintings and old photos, the building itself is capped with a big illuminated Wedel sign, so it is pretty hard to miss. I decided that it was dark enough and cold enough to justify having a hot chocolate with rum, whilst Marta had the traditional chocolate. She has lived in Warsaw for basically two years and this was her first time here!!! CRAZY! It is a nice little place, and the chocolate is really great. There was a very good helping of rum in mine and it did the perfect job, chocolate high with a rum filled edge… We sat there for a while chatting and talking about what Marta will do now she has resigned from her job and then we decided to walk around the city some more.
The drizzle had abated a little and we walked back towards Nowy Swiat. Then further East to outside of the Chopin Museum (today was his birthday and there are various things happening, many that seem to involve carrying around Polish flags…) The building is all lit up at night, like most of the famous and big buildings in the city. From there we walked across a footbridge and down a staircase and then down onto Dobra Street where we walked South towards the railway and tram bridge (Poniatowski Bridge), then along the side of this bridge, up the staircase and back into the city centre. We caught a tram home and got in around 11pm.
Tea 42: Green Rooibos ‘African Sun’, Marta and Ania’s Apartment, Warsaw.
PHEWWW!!! Finally got the internet to work on my computer! At long long long last! Hopefully this will mean my postings will be back on schedule! So, yes, today (or yesterday)…
I didn’t actually leave the apartment until really really late in the end. And I managed to miss most of the sunshine! That was a bit of a shame, but I think I needed the rest. EVENTUALLY I made it to the Metro and took the train to Centrum. I came back above ground and tried to figure out which direction was the right direction. I took a punt and ended up going down Marszalkowska, heading South, and eventually back to the tube station I had gotten off the day before. At least I had figured out some geography and not gotten totally lost! After find myself back where I had started the day before I decided I would head to the Royal Park, Lazienkowsky. The long Aleje Ujazdowskie, is lined with big embassy buildings and other parks. It is quite a spectacular road. I wandered down the road, popped into another park, paths thick with ice, slowly beginning to melt, a small hole in the ice acting and looking a lot like a bath just the right size for a duck. Birds scrambled about for scraps of bread recently left by some kind samaritan.
Making it to Lazienkowsky I was first met by a huge sculpture of Chopin. This is a really amazing looking sculpture, Chopin sitting beneath a stylized Willow tree. Walking around the rear of the sculpture you realise you are at the top of a high mound of land, with one steep side leading down to the rest of the park. I slowly scaled the slippery path down to the main area of the park. A rather treacherous journey! The park is huge, full of buildings for various purposes, cafes, amphitheaters, museums. Ducks, and peacocks. One wandered up to me, probably trying to figure out if I had anything it would like to eat, unfortunately I did not. There was also a really beautiful Mandarin Duck and his partner. I’ve never seen one of these up close before and he was very impressive. It was now approaching 5 and I had arranged to meet Marta after work and go for something to eat. I wandered back out of the park. Along the long embassy road again and back towards the Stary Mokotow district.
I met Marta outside of her work building and we walked past a lovely church lit up in the early evening light. We then hopped onto a Metro train for one stop, jumped off again and found this little schizophrenic Chinese restaurant (the ceiling is covered in fake Grape Vines, suggesting it was once an Italian place. We ordered some food, I had some Soy Noodles with vegetables and shrimps. It was tasty, but much like the Baltic Countries I have visited, the Polish do not do much spice! We ate our food and had a rather long and fruitless wait in a Post Office whilst Marta tried to track down a parcel that she was expecting, then it was time to head home.
Two belated posts in a row… oops. Yesterday was another travel day mostly. I spent the morning packing and relaxing on the sofa in Tartu, trying to gather a bit of energy back. A huge breakfast of chocolate pancakes and toastie sandwiches was made for me so that was really good. So after a little bit of zombifying in front of the TV I went down to Tartu bus station bought my ticket for Parnu and left. The bus was really full and possibly the least leg room I have ever experienced. Luckily the bus had quite an early stop and a large chunk of the people got off at that first stop, so that was a bit better, but i still had my legs stuck out into the aisle, wedged between my rucksack and the armrest. Traveling by bus shows you just how much of Estonia is covered by thick dense forest. 60% apparentely, it’s no wonder they burn so much of it to heat their homes. But I am assured it is all sustainably done. Arriving in Parnu at about 5:30pm, I was met at the bus station by Liis, who is kindly putting me up for two nights before I make for the border and into Latvia.
We went straight away to her husband’s car and the three of us drove, picked a fourth person up, and headed out into the countryside, to one of their friends houses. I had been kindly invited to join their dinner party. A weekly occurance they pick a ‘theme’, or vegetable, that will be cooked into as many different options as possible. Last night was one of my favourites, Sweet Potato. We had it as salad, baked, and ‘caramelised’ crisp/chip style. It was good food, and followed by a documentary film, The Living Matrix. Basically this is about energy fields that may, or may not, exist around the human body, and how holistic medicine can engage with these fields to heal. It was very interesting, though the characters and scientists were all quite extreme and intense, which can be a little off putting for some people. If you are into, or just curious about the ideas of holistic medication, healing, acupuncture, the placebo effect, and such things it is worth a look.
We all left after the film, and headed to Liis and Ivo’s apartment, which is a roof space apartment near the centre of Parnu. They keep insisting it is unfinished, but it is a really lovely space, nice decor, nice environment, really lovely. I am certainly jealous, it is one of those places you always wish you could live in, and the decor you always strive for but never feel you achieve. I’m pretty sure these two have achieved it. It is really lovely, especially the ‘rocket stove’, which I am currently sitting on typing this. We drank tea, ate apples from Liis’ Gran’s Garden, and chatted for a while about what I am ‘planning’ and where the two of them have travelled and what their plans are. They seem very happy here.
So, no Parnu photos yet, but here are some more of Tartu, including the rather dazed looking face of the pig sculpture that stands outside of the Tartu meat market…
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.
So, a belated post! Went out last night and didn’t get chance to write this until this morning. Yesterday was yet another freezing cold day, and I think today is going to be even worse! But the sun still shines and that makes me happy, and I will be heading for Tartu later, hopefully on a warm bus! I headed out around mid day again, this time I wanted to go back to the sea so I went down by the big old concrete Soviet Concert Hall ‘Linnahall‘ and looked out into the mist. The sea is covered by this low lying but dense mist, this is apparently caused when the sea temperature is warmer than the air temperature, and you get this spooky, slow moving mist about 5 feet tall and dense as a cloud. After I totally froze out next to the sea, my hands aching, even my toes through my big boots suffering a bit, AND my scarf freezing to my face!, I more or less ran back into the old town in search of a cup of tea and some warm sanctuary. I went to this cafe called Majasmokk, a fairly old school, traditonal looking cafe selling various cakes and pastries and lots of Kalev chocolate goods (which I actually managed to resist). I had a mushroom and pepper flakey pastry thing, and a cup of China White Monkey tea. This tea is very interesting, quite a strong, nutty flavour comes out from the delicate green leaves. They don’t seem to colour the water much, and so I was expecting a tea more like your standard White tea, but, as I said, it is surprisingly stronger and not like most white teas at all. I thought for a while I was drinking a different tea, or that the filter had another flavour stuck in it, but after a bit of research it seems that is how it should be.
After warming up, and then psyching myself up, I ventured back outside. After walking a little way the mobile phone Ingrid had lent me rang and she was on the other end, she had finished work early and was coming to meet up with me in town. I escaped the cold and went into a shopping mall while I waited. Looking through books and windows and pretending to be shopping. I met Ingrid and we went straight to another cafe, this time the chocolate cafe, Pierre Chocolaterie, tucked away down a little side road in the old town. We both had the same, a rum and raisin hot chocolate! It was very good, warming and tasty, with raisins in the bottom and a decent hit of rum. The cafe itself is nice and cozy, full of cushions and wooden furniture, soft lighting and dark walls. A lovely little place, but for treats only as it is a little expensive.
We then headed back for home, though via the supermarket to buy some food. Another couch surfer and one of Ingrid’s friends were coming for dinner before we all went out to a couch surfing meet. I cooked, the request from Ingrid was a Shepherd’s Pie, but it would seem that it is basically impossible to find any kind of lamb in Estonia, it had to be Cottage Pie. I was quite pleased with the outcome, a nice tasty filling and I did my favourite thing, to put leeks in the mash potato topping, makes a big, yummy, difference! Food eaten, and all of it was, we all hopped in a taxi and went to the Red Emperor, a bar somewhere in Tallinn, it was dark and I was in a car so exactly where it is I could not say. We hung out there for a while, playing giant jenga, and watching people play pool, also laughing at the guy who was asleep on the sofa when we arrived (at about 10) and still there when we left at around midnight! Poor guy! We then went to a club, somewhere nearby the Linnahall again, danced for a few hours, to music that I’m more used to hearing in adverts and in my imaginations of bad mid-nineties clubs, than in today’s clubs. There were a little too many people for what was a very small space, but the little group of us that had gone managed to keep our dancing circle going and the music began to improve eventually. We left at around 3:30 and got in another taxi home.
Today I am traveling to Tartu, hopefully some point soon, though I have to pack, but will try to fill you in later!
Today had another gloriously sunshiny morning. But yet again, the coldest day so far, I think -20 was the high today…. I left the apartment around mid-day and made for the old town again. On my way I wandered around some of the side streets, slightly off of the beaten track and was treated to various sights of old tumble-down, but beautiful wooden and brick buildings, literally next door to huge, modern glass structures, such as the Radisson Blu hotel, and the Sokos. The business hotels basically. The sunlight was beautiful in these patches though, glinting off of windows and through the broken windows of the older buildings. I carried on towards the old town, and stopped off in the little Tammsaare park again. Today I noticed there were now quite a few ice sculptures that I am fairly sure were not there yesterday, a hedgehog, a wolf, an eagle, a knife and fork…. All sorts of things, glinting away in the low lying sunshine.
A few photographs later, and I was in the old town. I headed straight for the tea shop I had spied yesterday. What an amazing little tea shop, loads of excellent quality teas from all over the place. I stood and chatted to the shop keeper and her sister for ages about tea and traveling and all things inbetween. They were lovely people, very friendly, warm and inviting, and passionate about tea! It is really an amazing place, called Chado it is situated on Vana-Viru, a right turn directly after the main entrance bit of the old town. I chatted for a while and bought a cup of Qi Pao tea to go, as well as a small packet of Ginseng Oolong and a small sample of a mystery Pu Er tea they had gotten hold of, it is twelve years old, and hopefully will be amazing! I’ve not tasted either of these two yet, but as soon as I do you will be the first to know! I think I need to save the mystery tea for a proper occasion, with all the gear to get a proper idea of it. If you are in this part of town, and let’s face it, who doesn’t go to old town Tallinn, make sure to give this shop a look! There’s also a link to their website at the bottom of this page.
I took my hot cup of Qi Pao into the cold outside and began to drink. It was really good, smooth and refreshing, with a great tannin level to make it just right in the cold air. I’ve kept these leaves too for another few brewings. I wandered around the old cobbled streets a while longer, trying to keep the cold out; the remnants of my tea actually froze in the cup, and the lid also froze to the cardboard! Eventually the cold started to freeze me again and hunger started to creep in, so I decided to try and find the Krug Inn, a place recommended to me by my host Ingrid. After a little search I found it hidden on the corner of the town hall building, a white washed building that looks like a church. Inside is dark and extremely medieval, the only light supplied through the small translucent windows and a few candles dotted about. The waitress was dressed to the nines in a red medieval frock and a service style to match. She is funny and brilliant, but in a completely abrupt, some would say rude, manner. It’s all part of the act though and if you take it in your stride you will only enjoy it! They serve two things, Elk soup and pies, though various types of pie. I had a steaming, hot, rich and delicious bowl of Elk soup, with a sweet, tasty carrot pie. The food is really good, the perfect food for the cold. If you make it there be prepared to drink from the bowl and mop up with your pie, or make sure you have packed your spoon…
After that I decided that I didn’t want to have too much time out in the freezing cold, so I made for the Museum of Occupation. This charts basically the last century when the country of Estonia has changed hands basically three times, first the Soviet Occupation came, followed by the Nazi Germany invasion and occupation, followed once more by the Soviets taking Estonia back from the Germans. The museum is small but has numerous objects from the whole era, as well as a number of documentary videos charting the whole process from initial occupation, through deportations, exploitations, to sovereignty and finally full independence at the fall of the Soviet Union. If you visit here, which you really should to get a true appreciation of what the estonian people have gone through, then give it time and watch through the various documentaries, it is really enlightening and moving. And entrance is only 2 Euros, so well worth it! I then headed home, the snow had started to fall again and it was still bitingly cold. I read it is only going to get worse in the coming days, and my next stop, Tartu, over the weekend, is even colder…
So today I totally forgot to get the name of the place where I got my tea! I blame it on the biting cold adn the aching fingers. The cold is also to blame for the steamed up image, the lens on my camera totally steamed up and I didn’t want to wait for it to clear up before taking the photo…..
So, yes, today I headed first for the Old Town. Wrapped up as warm as possible I left the apartment and soon discovered that as warm as possible was most definitely NOT warm enough! I think today’s high temperature was -10, but I am fairly certain this was optimistic. It was the coldest day so far I think, I had icicles all over my face! And leather / suede, thick lined gloves are totally ineffective it would seem! On positive factor was the sunshine though, and the, albeit psychological, warmth it brought was very welcome. There also seemed to be tiny bits of snow, which has now turned into proper snow, floating about in the sky glinting in the sunlight like glitter, despite a seemingly cloudless sky.
It took me around 10-15 minutes to walk into the old town, through the pretty little Tammsaare Park and you are there. The ancient medieval gate towers at this entrance are very impressive. Then it’s up hill towards one of the three main churches that stand atop of the the hill. Winding cobbled streets weave a rabbit warren of multicoloured houses, cafes, restaurants and millions of souvenir shops. Make it to the top of the hill and you will probably arrive at the orthodox Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, a Russian built impressive and imposing looking building. I wandered inside to be quite shocked at just how small the place is. The inside space is tiny, magnificently decorated, but how they ever hold services in there I do not know. There were about four people in the place and it felt full! I only stayed in there a short while before heading back outside. I turned right out of the entrance and up a small street (ok, they’re all small) past what seemed to be a ballet school and a drama and music school then past another church and onto a viewing platform that looked out over the west of the city. Views of modern buildings mixed with modernist buildings mixed with the old, whilst factories billowed out smoke from chimneys into the clear blue sky.
I was now starting to get really cold, so I went in search of food. There are quite a few nice looking restaurants around the old town, and you can eat from many different country’s cuisines. After spending much too much time procrastinating, again the cold not helping brain function, I went into a deli whose shelves were filled with lovely looking things. I went for a Goats Cheese and Spinach lattice type thing and a cup of the above-mentioned tea. I sat down, took my gloves of and tried to move my fingers. They were so cold I could hardly hold my tea it felt so hot. Eventually they warmed up and I drank it up, it was nice a mellow, not too acidic with the fruit and the right flavours to warm the cockles! By the time I had finished my Spinach thing and was thinking about leaving the girl from behind the counter came out and started putting discount stickers on some of the cakes… So clearly I took that as a sign I should stay and have one. I treated myself to a Sacher (or Sachertorte as research has now found out), a traditional Austrian cake which basically consists of chocolate cake, apricot jam and then a layer of chocolate to cover it all up. It was delicious!!! The perfect thing to get me back into the frame of mind to face the outside.
I was now heading back east to KUMU, the art museum, to hang around there until 6, when a documentary about Olaffur Eliasson’s New York City Waterfalls project was being screened. The gallery is an amazing building. Shaped and lit really well. It basically goes chronologically through time showcasing numerous works by Estonian artists. Many of the pieces are really great and for the first time in a long time I am once again enjoying looking at classical painting. I think it may be down to the fact that most of these artists, if not all, are completely unknown to me, and also just their subject matter, and their motivations are different from the more western European styles, although they do clearly have the same influences and come from similar schools. I can’t really put my finger on it, but it is nice to be able to enjoy looking at these things again. The top floor is currently showcasing works by various contemporary Danish artists, some of which is really very good, other’s not so good. A noteworthy has to be Jacob Kirkegaard, whose video and sound installation is excellently executed, completely enthralling. I also enjoyed the work of Rolf Notowny and Marie Kølbæk Iversen. After a few hours spent wandering around in there, and only just realising I had missed a large space, though I wasn’t too keen on the work, so it wasn’t so bad, it was time for the film. The auditorium was packed, but i guess that’s what happens when you show a film by an artist like Eliasson. The film entitled ‘Olafur Eliasson: Space is Process’ was good, charting the ups and downs of his planning, developing and eventual execution of his project to change the new york city environment and to create ‘one more story for the city’. It was intriguing to see into the world, and to some extent, the life of such a well respected and prolific artist.
Ingrid and I then visited Kom Pot, a lovely little restaurant serving traditional but modern fayre, in a lovely space, filled with jars of their own compote (I’m assured a traditional Estonian foodstuff and pastime), light fittings made from graters and colanders, clocks from spoons and forks, and a feature sofa area dolled up like a Soviet 50’s household. The food was really good, I had a traditional Estonian meatball dish with Beetroot salad and sea-buckwheat sauce, whilst Ingrid had another dish consisting mostly of pork crackling and mash-potato, but it was very tasty despite how it sounds. For dessert I had a great compote dish with Kama Mousse. Kama is basically the Estonian equivalent to porridge I think, but as a mousse it was very tasty and the mixture of fruits in the compote was delightful!