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!

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Day 17, Helsinki, January 26th 2012

Tea 17:  OK, not Tea again, Hot Chocolate……, Valrhona Cafe, Kamp Galleria, Helsinki.

Apologies for the terrible photo, but my battery ran out straight after taking this one, so it’s the best you’re getting today!  And yes, it’s not tea, but hot chocolate, but maybe that can become a theme too…..once a week maybe?

So today I had a lazy morning, and then headed into town for about 2p.m.  I was going to visit a gallery I had picked up a flyer about, but when got there, luckily not too far from the station, it didn’t look all that appealing from the outside so I gave it a miss. Instead I headed back on myself then went back towards the old town.  Today was a slightly warmer feeling day than yesterday, possibly due to having put my long-johns on today….. So I decided to visit the part of town I had gotten a fleeting glimpse of yesterday, the old town and then on down to the seaside.  The buildings in old town are all very pretty, some looking quite medieval, whilst others have got an art deco feel to them.  One even looked as though Charles Rennie Mackinstosh could have had a hand in it’s design.  After pottering in and out of streets, window shopping in antique and shoe shops I headed further south to the sea.

The sea was a great sight, and it smelt like the sea too, which immediately made me happy.  I think that is one of the things I will miss most on my journey down through the balkans.  The icy tessellations were rippling up and down, rather mesmerizingly.  I headed across a frozen wooden bridge that lead to a small island, the wood creaking and crackling beneath my feet, somewhat unnervingly.  The tiny island was locked to the land by ice, and completely saturated by foot deep snow, making it tricky to navigate.  But reaching a small crest the extent of the ice could be seen and beyond the sea lapped about happily, making the ice ripple and wave up and down even more.  I stood and watched this rhythmic motion for ages, hypnotized by the movement.  My hands began to ache with the cold, bringing me back to my senses.  I wandered around this island a little longer, and across a sea defense barrier onto another tiny spot of land then headed back to the mainland.  I wandered through two majestic snow covered parks, my boots sinking deep into the soft, perfectly white snow, trying to warm my hands back up with sheer will but to no real avail.  I decided today was the day for visiting the chocolate shop I had seen a few days ago.

On my way back into the city centre I passed the Galleria Sculptor, on Eteläranta.  I decided to pop in, and was greeted by a show by Peter Svedberg, entitled My Cut.  He has created a number of mirror based scultures, sort of kaleidoscope type things and a fantastically simple, but perfectly executed illusion.  The pieces, initially simple looking, were actually quite complex and intriguing.  And, as I’ve said, executed extremely well.

I made it back to the small arcade of posh shops that constitute the KAMP Galleria shopping centre and headed for the chocolate shop, a Valrhona store.  I browsed through the various bars of chocolate and was convinced by one bar in-particular, the words ‘Floral and Oaky‘ doing most of the work, so bought that and ordered a hot chocolate.  I sat down and was brought a cup of delicious warm, velvety, rich hot chocolate.  The kind of hot chocolate that makes your cheeks tingle and a smile come to your face instantly.  There was no pomp, no cream, no fancy chocolate dribbles, just proper, excellent hot chocolate, smooth, with the perfect balance of sweetness and the edge of bitterness.  And served with a smile and a little square of chocolate and a glass of water, perfection.

After this delicious break in the day I wandered around town, back to the bookshop I had visited yesterday, sneakily read a few bits and bobs, about Nothingness, Wabi-Sabi, and about tea.  I then met Eeero at the station and we headed out to watch a performance at ‘Lanterna Magica’ called ‘Between Two Skies’, a collaborative performance and installation between Nanni Vapaavuori, Elina Lifländer and Leila Kourkia.  The performance was intriguing and the space was fascinating, starting in what looked and felt like an ancient abandoned basement, and turning into a hugely comprehensive secondhand bookshop, filled to the rafters with what has to be one of the best ranges of reading material I have seen for a long time.

After the performance we went to get some food, we went to the basement of one of the many shopping arcades and ended up in a little area that was again, like the place in Stockholm, reminiscent of a small scale Singapore style Hawker centre.  We got some food from Habibi, the Middle Eastern stall, though how middle eastern Goats Cheese on Chicken with chips is I do not know.  But it was tasty and filling, and reasonably cheap.  We ate and then jumped on the bus home, bumping off of snow piles on almost every corner we encountered, not to mention the roundabouts…..