So, those of you who have followed me from the very beginning will know that this blog all started with a tea everyday, and usually a little something was said about the teas. This hasn’t really been happening in a while, but I just want you to know that I have not abandoned tea, far from it in fact. This is a little round up, a tea-cap if you will, of all the teas currently doing the rounds in my cup. Some have been with me a long time, some are much newer, some are good, some less so. But here you go!
The Golden Chariot tea above is not very good quality tea at all, hence it costing so little, but I bought it because I really love the packaging!
I bought this Mate in Berlin for 1Euro. It is a roasted variety and is quite pleasant, being much smoother and less bitter on the palate than a normal Mate, but it lacks the magic punch and stimulation of the unroasted variety.
This tea, which is not strictly ‘mine’, is delicate and sweet, with the smoothness of the Sencha balanced well with flower blossoms.
Definitely just for night-time!
I’ve not tried this yet, and it is again not strictly mine, but I will let you know when / if I get my hands on it!
This is probably my most coveted tea, from Estonia I have been carrying this around since February. It is excellent, you can steep the leaves several times and it is delicate yet nourishing. If you happen to leave it a little long the Ginseng, in which the Oolong has been rolled, will start to create an odd, but not unpleasant, sweetness.
I love Mate, ever since I found it tucked away in a little farm shop in the middle of nowhere in England when i was about 16. This one is good, actually quite delicate in flavour, but it definitely does the job!
Last, but by no means least, is my Yunnan Green Oolong. I brought this with me when I started my trip and it has been perfect every time. I am running extremely low on it now so will only drink it occasionally. It is perfect for lifting the spirits and refreshing the soul. This tea is a life saver!
The past few days have been a bit of a mixture really. My 120th day, May 9th, involved me returning to a bike shop I had visited the day before. There had been a bike there that I had liked the look of, but it wasn’t ready to be ridden, so I returned on this day to give it a spin. Needless to say it seemed like a good ride. I gave it a going over and then left the shop, still strongly considering it. Trying to figure out what I would need as well as the bike and trying to see if I could get a deal. The way back I decided to pay another visit to the Melaten graveyard. I hadn’t given it SO much attention the day before. There had been a funeral going on, and even though the place is absolutely huge and they probably weren’t aware of my presence, I still felt a little weird about being tourist in such a situation. This time I stumbled upon some interesting graves, including one of a really well detailed and ‘life-size’ (?) grim-reaper. There are some other really amazingly crafted gravestones and sculptural pieces here, so if you are interested in these things I would say it is well worth the visit. There are so many trees that it would probably be ok in any weather except maybe the heaviest rainfall.
Day 121, I decided to head back to the Dom (cathedral) today, this time with my camera’s memory card safely installed! I went via the city centre where I was researching tents and compasses for consideration in my potential bike adventure. The day started out a little cloudy with the odd bit of rain, but it brightened up later in the day. I took Regina’s bike with me too, to try and figure out whether my yearning for bike travel was founded in anything. It seems it is…
The Dom looked quite good against the grey sky, it’s moody blackened facade contrasting quite nicely with the pale grey. I wonder if they will ever try to clean it? I hope not.
After that I took the bike down to the river bank and followed the Rhein for a little while. There I discovered a chocolate museum. Despite the temptation to pay the entrance, I decided to just visit the shop instead. The museum looks like it’s basically run by Lindt, so I’m pretty sure they couldn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know… The shop was pretty good though, and I might pay it another visit before I leave Cologne. For some weird reason, opposite the museum, on the river, is a huge representation of Noah’s Ark! Proclaiming to be Europe’s first Bible story theme park, the place looks mental, a huge Orangutan hangs out of the front, whilst Noah and his son are carved out of wood at the entrance. An impressively bizarre thing.
A little further along the river I tried to use my gallery map to find a photography museum, but failed, so I headed back towards home, I stopped off at a little bakery and bought a ‘Musli‘. Basically a bit like granola, a huge circle of oats, seeds and dried fruits dipped in dark chocolate. It was great! I munched it down pretty eagerly and headed back to the flat.
That evening I at long last tried the 12 year old mystery Pu Erh that I had been given such a long time ago in Tallinn, Estonia. The taste was really great, smooth, almost sweet and, for a Pu Erh, surprisingly delicate. From my experience of these teas so far I think they older they get the smoother and more refreshing they become.
The 11th, and I have to say one thing only, after all the umming and ahhing, the procrastination and trepidation, I finally made the decision to buy the bike…!!!
The 12th. Tomorrow will be Regina’s birthday. So today was spent preparing stuff for the next days barbeque and park party. We did some shopping, some cooking, Regina went and met a close friend in the evening and to see a gig and I did some work at the apartment and then met another of her friends, Boris, who had come from Berlin to see Regina for her birthday. When he arrived that evening we both went into town and met up with Regina after the gig. We planned to go into a bar called KGB bar, though this is a new name, it was formerly HoteLux. The place was completely full of people though, we could barely put a foot through the door. So we went for another place, the first choice was one that appears to have shut down inbetween Regina being away and coming back, so we ended up in a bar opposite. This was totally busy too, but a good atmosphere. I was wondering where all these people had come from, the city seems much busier and fuller at night time! After a drink there we headed to another place, a quieter one, where we could get a seat and have some good chat. On the way home we stopped at a place for Falafel, and I must say that this one totally beats any of the Falafel I had in Berlin!
The 13th arrived and Regina’s birthday! We woke up fairly early and prepared some more food for the barbeque. I was on vegetable parcels. Courgette, tomato, peppers and mushroom in little foil packages with oil, cumin, and some mixed herbs, salt and pepper. Regina made some really amazing looking, smelling and tasting pizzas. We then headed to a nearby park at around 2:30 and set up the stuff and people started to arrive from around 3. The weather was really really amazing, the perfect day for the barbeque, as well as for a birthday. We sat and chatted, cooked and drank until around 10pm. The sky was clear the whole time and it stayed warm pretty late, though eventually the last few of us that remained got a bit chilly.
Day 125, Monday. Regina had to wake up early again! She normally has mondays off from work, but today was a leaving do for a colleague, so she had woken up early to cook yet more food (Coconut pancakes) and headed out. She got back around 12:30 and we all (Regina, Boris and I) all headed out for a little jaunt into the countryside. We went to a place called Laacher See, a large lake near to the city of Koblenz. The weather was still perfect. When we arrived we walked a little way to a restaurant called Bockhaus and had a little lunch. I had a ‘German speciality’ called Toast Hawaii. Basically ham and pineapple on toast and totally coated in cheese. It was actually quite tasty and reminds me of when my mum puts a slice of pineapple on top of Gammon steaks (but with added cheese). After that we walked for a while trying to find the edge of the lake, which we did when we eventually found the end of the huge caravan park that seems to have a bit of a monopoly over this part of the lake’s shoreline. After that we headed back to Cologne, the sat-nav tooks us on a good route, that involved taking a ferry across the Rhein! As well as some lovely views of the hills, which are covered in vineyards, some of which seem so steep I don’t think harvesting can be the easiest job in the world, you’d probably need to pay me danger money! In Cologne we dropped Boris off at the train station, me off by Regina’s bike (which she had left in the city centre on saturday night), she drove home and I cycled her bike back. That evening she did yet MORE baking, raspberry tray bake cake thing. It looked and smelt amazing! But this was for her workmates to celebrate her birthday once again!
Today was a bit of a grey day, in many senses. The clouds were low and heavily laden, though not snowing. I didn’t leave the flat until later today, around lunch time. Instead of going directly into town I decided to head south to the river. I found my way there, walking past old wooden buildings, barely habitable in some cases, but definitely still in use. The little park I found, called Maskavas darzs, was simple and peaceful, old women walking in twos slowly supporting each other across the the snow and ice covered paths, people walking their dogs, a few children playing. The usual park type stuff. I made it to the riverside, the huge Riga Radio and TV Tower looming up in front of me from across the river. This is apparently the second tallest structure in the EU and the tallest in the Baltic Countries, though I don’t know whether this wikipedia entry is in time with The Shard, so it could be the third… It is sort of peachy pink in colour and is like the old images of radio towers beaming out signals you got in the 60’s and 70’s. It started broadcasting in 1986, so it must have beamed out some very interesting stuff in it’s early life, with the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Latvian occupation.
I wandered along the riverside / motorway towards the town centre, passing car showrooms, shopping centres, and eventually into town by the Academy of Sciences Building, or as it apparently nicknamed ‘Stalin‘s Birthday Cake’, potentially in reference to it being built on a cemetery. The building is pretty impressive, but for some reason I haven’t taken a photograph of it yet…
I carried on along the riverside, past more industrial feeling areas, decaying buildings and car mechanics until I made it up to Riga Castle, the original castle of the old town, and now the President’s workplace. I went back into the old town, more aimless wandering. The weather, though grey, was much warmer today and so wandering was much more comfortable. My head was full of thoughts today, so I couldn’t seem to concentrate so much on the touristy things, preferring instead to lose myself in my own brain, thinking about teas, the next few bits of travel, consideration for how and where I go.
After a while I spotted this little cafe that seemed promising from the outside. It’s window display drawing me in. This is the Black Magic Cafe / Bar. I entered and three ladies in traditional dress were at the counter. It was a bit of a surprise, from the outside this little place looks just like a small independent place, but it turns out it is the centre for the ‘Black Magic Balsam’. A traditional Latvian liquor. I should have realised what I was walking into, after all the shop is named after the stuff, but I’d walked in semi-blindly, still lost in my thoughts. I ordered a pot of Green Tea and a ‘chocolate cupcake’. What I got was a pot of simple, loose leaf Green Tea, nothing special, a nice enough flavour with the sort of seaweedyness that I enjoy. A little disappointing. But if the Green Tea was a little disappointing then the Chocolate Cupcake was definitely a complete anticlimax. What I got was, to be blunt, not a ‘cupcake’, as can be seen in the picture above, I got some ‘cake’. And the chocolate part of the chocolate cupcake was basically just the occasional chocolate chip. Needless to say that the cake was not what it was billed to be, so much so that I even asked the waitress whether it was the right cake at all; her reply was short and blunt telling me that yes, that was the ‘cupcake’. She had been abrupt when I first entered the cafe, but seeing as she was dressed up in ‘traditional’ costume I thought that it was going to be the same idea as in the Krug Inn in Estonia, a medieval sharp and blunt act, but I’m pretty sure that wasn’t the case. Maybe it was just my mood…
I do not know what it is about Riga, but I just can’t get into the place. It just doesn’t feel like my sort of place. I have been trying to like Riga, but I came to the conclusion today that if you have to try to like a place you are probably never going to like it. I’m sorry Riga, it’s nothing personal, I just don’t think you are the place for me. Maybe you can prove me wrong on my last day… it is Valentine’s Day after all…
Coming to Pärnu was a good decision. This little cute seaside town is very beautiful and has some similarities to a few British Seaside towns. I woke up and got ready to head into the town centre where I was meeting Ivo, one of the guys who I am staying with, in his Wine and Chocolate Café ‘Piccadilly Wine’. I wandered into town slowly, soaking up the sunshine and enjoying the relative warmth of -10’C, compared to the previous days -15 – 20’C. I found myself in the small town centre; traditional wooden faced buildings lining most of the streets, and then eventually found the Café; gentle music playing into the street from the café is the best clue. Inside is beautiful, one wall is lined with many different varieties of wine and also some teas. Gorgeous cakes line the counter and handmade chocolates gleam out at you temptingly. Ivo was talking to a customer so I looked around a little and then took a seat. When the customer was gone I got up and chatted to Ivo for a while and then had a lovely cup of Organic Pu Erh Tea. This tea is not to everyone’s taste, it is very earthy and dark and extremely complex. The tea was rinsed first, this helps to remove some of the dustiness that can be in the tea, it is not essential to do this as most people like it this way. But for a morning tea it helps to lighten it up a little. I was then given a wonderful Chilli Dark Chocolate Truffle. The chocolates in the Café are all made by Ivo’s business partner, specifically for the café and they all look amazing, and if they all taste as good as that one did then they all taste amazing too! I spent a good hour or so chatting and drinking tea. Then I decided to head for the seaside.
I walked through the little town, its beautiful buildings glinting with icicles, the trees lining the streets casting long, thin shadows across the perfect white snow. I made it to the seaside where I could not actually see the sea. For as far as my eyes could perceive the ocean was frozen, just pure white reflecting the winter sunlight, the snow fall from the previous couple of weeks unbroken and perfect. I walked out onto the ice for a while, spying into holes in the ice, clambering over mounds of broken and then refrozen ice. The peace and tranquillity was wonderful, that is why I am so glad I came here. The place was just so peaceful for me, probably a stark contrast to the summertime, when this little city becomes the ‘capital’ of Estonia. I walked along the coastline for a while, going out as far as I dared, which probably was nowhere near as far as I could have gone, the ice being so thick and solid. The snow crunching beneath my feet and the cold, salty sea air cleansing my lungs. I then turned off of the beach and into this little area behind the dunes and marshland. In this area are a few sculptures, and some buildings, one of which apparently houses the Parnu mud baths. I then decided it was about time for something to eat and so headed back into town. Through a nice little park with birds chirping in the sunlight and flitting about between the branches of fir trees. Back in the centre of town I found a little organic café that had been suggested to me earlier. It is quite nice inside, a little bit like they are trying to bring the outside in with Parisian style plastic seating and small tables. I had a nice fish soup and a cup of rooibos vanilla, which was much like any rooibos vanilla. I sat for a while writing and watching the world go by then left and headed towards the river. Next week will be the Parnu ice festival and at the crest of a small hill/mound by the river teams of people are currently building huge ice castles, igloos and other such sculptural works from breezeblock sized chunks of ice. I wandered amongst the activity then out the other side where a small group of lads were doing some snowboard stunts and taking photographs using a bungee try system where three guys would run with the bungee, stretching it out and into the hands of a fourth who would then propel themselves off of a small ramp and onto the railing of a staircase currently laden with snow, whilst two others would be searching for the perfect angle to get the best photograph. After a while standing, watching and taking a few of my own photographs, I went further up along the river to a little bridge that led to a dry dock and the Parnu Yacht Club. More wandering and then back into the centre of town, along the opposite bank of the river. In town I decided to buy my ticket for the bus and to warm up in shopping mall, buying a few snacky things for my bus journey. Then I went back to the apartment. Ivo was home when I arrived and we hung out for a while before we both then went back to his café.
Back in the café Ivo did a bit of work and I sat and wrote a little more. Then we had a little food and a really great slice of chocolate cake, warmed up a little to make it even more wonderful, and complimented with a bit of homemade strawberry sauce. Really, really great! After a while we left and went back to the flat, Liis, Ivo’s wife and my official couchsurfing host came home around 9:30pm after a yoga class and we prepared her some more food, as well as another helping for ourselves. Then we sat and watched a movie, I made all of us a hot chocolate using rice milk, and then I went to bed. A lovely day, relaxed, peaceful, comfortable, and now I’ve sat and written this, I realise, quite full!
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 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.
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.