Two Trees

The sun is out constantly, the air is hot and humid.  Sometimes I struggle to believe I’m still in Northern Europe, this weather is a far cry from what I was so used to in Scotland.  Thunderstorms roll in most nights, which aren’t usually that unwelcome, as they clear and refresh the muggy air.  32-34’C average the last few days, BRILLIANT!


Better late than never

What better time to post my pictures of the first day of the Euro 2012 Football Cup than on the LAST day of the Euro 2012 Football Cup?  The Fanzone in Warsaw has been a great place to hang out and watch the games, the atmosphere has so far been great and the people all very happy and sociable.  Despite peoples reservations about how they would be treated and regarded in both Poland and the Ukraine, I should thing almost everyone has been pleasantly surprised, and I hope many of them have realised what a gem they might have been missing if they have never travelled to this part of Europe before.  Polska Polska, Bialo i Czerwoni!!! (Poland, Poland White & Red!!!)

The cheerleaders, however, could have done with a little more practice, and a little more stamina….

Definitely Polish…

Quite possibly British…  (we aren’t all like this I promise!)


Day 31, Pärnu, February 9th 2012

Tea 31: Organic Pu Erh, Piccadilly Wine, Pärnu.

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!


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.


Day 25, Tallinn, February 3rd 2012

Tea 25: China White Monkey, Majasmokk, 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!


Day 24, Tallinn, February 2nd 2012

Tea 24:  Qi Pao Tea, from CHADO tea shop, old town Tallinn.

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…

                       

                        CHADO