Friday, September 5, 2008

Tallinn to Riga; Saturday 30th August

sWe’re sorry to leave our very comfy hotel in Tallinn.. sorry to leave Tallinn, and Estonia, where far too little has been seen and done. Whenever I say to someone “I must come back” they respond skeptically, travellers don’t come back, they always go somewhere new, apparently. Not this little birthday girl, I’ve been dreaming of a visit to Estonia for at least fifteen years, and twice I’ve not done it justice - two years ago we didn’t make it to Helsinki OR Tallinn, because of time, health and money problems; this time our time has been squished up by circumstance..

I did enjoy the little bits of the city I saw - yesterday we toddled downtown to post nearly 10kg of stuff home - more books than usual; and an accumulation of purrchases from St Petersburg (dear ones, just wait for Christmas!). I have been buying shawls, they satisfy my need for textiles which is otherwise very hard to satisfy - I can’t see dress fabric shops, or wool shops, or even general haberdashery, in the shopping centres I’ve found. Purrhaps these are more suburban-centred, and I’m not going far enough afield. There’s never enough time... I’ve been skirted around textiles, finding prints (they have patterns too), handicraft items (like socks and hats), shawls, sometimes there are books about handicrafts, that sort of thing. But for those of you who may be hoping for parcels of fabric, patience, patience.. I WILL find some, I am a very determined purrson. But it may take until Berlin and/or Freiburg, where we will be helped firstly because M speaks German, and secondly because we are visiting family in Freiburg and they will be able to help me find stuff. I hope!

M and I had seen ads for a City Tour bus, one of those jump on/jump off circling buses which have earphones with a spiel on various languages. We found the bus stop, just down the road (and across a rather scary triangular road/traffic island/tram track arrangement, death hurtling towards us from every direction).. but the Red Line bus didn’t leave for an hour. We were cold, there was a chilly wind and even I, in a jumper (TWO layers of clothes, it will never catch on) was not too keen on just walking around. We headed for a shopping centre where we could see we could walk through in the warm... and what a find! You know by now that M is no shopper, unless it’s newspapers, books or cds. Well!!! We stumbled into goodies all around - first of all, excellent heating; then a huge stationery sale to replenish our rubber bands, staplers and notepads. I (ever the sook) bought some little notepads with cats and l lions on the cover.. M went looking for newspapers and dunnies. The dunnies were (it’s alright, you can keep reading without taking your pill) extremely posh and fabbo for a big shopping centre. Excellent, big tick of approval. AND!!! we found a newsagent which had several shelves of magazines in English. SIGGGGGGHHHHHH.... I have replenished my trashy magazine supply, lavishly. I LOVE the English “HELLO” magazine, with its photos of ‘the young royals”; snaps of snooty-looking society grrls (there is a very particular look of the rich, young English lass; very groomed and well-dressed but just slightly edging into bizarre [eg high fashion dress, iron-straight hair, but tarty tarty fake fingernails in fluoro pink; or that weird look of a French manicure on one’s toes, those little white lines on the toenail tips look really strange to me], topped off with a flinty down-the-horsey-nostrils glare into the camera. If you look like a very-well dressed horse, couldn’t you smile a bit?? Horses don’t seem grumpy to me...

.. where was I? Oh yes, trash reading. My second choice was a British “My Home is Better Than Yours TM* “ which is full of fantastically over-decorated homes converted from dairies, tar factories, coal miners cottages and fallen-down 60s council homes. The best bits are the careful not-mentioning-of how obscene the amount of money was spent to remove the cowshit and uproot the local rat population; and the casual mention of designer items - nearly always a strangled chair or a pony-skin toaster (I kid you not; I have it in print, a snap of a toaster with a pony-skin .. well, skin. Not a cover, but actually attached to the outsides of the thing. WHO thought of that? Had they forgotten their little white pill that day???). My third choice was In Style, which I am saving up for as long as I can stand to wait. M asked me at dinner tonight if I was enjoying my fix of Hollywood gossip and I had to disappoint him - no news of Brangelina or Paris; no ‘beeped’ photos of Britney doing something else without her underwear; no faked gossip about Our Nicole or Their Scarlett.. cripes, just writing this is making me fret. What if something really juicy has happened and I am the only person in the world who doesn’t know about it?

After our purrchases (M found a German magazine he likes but no English papers) we started looking for a Money Exchange and a coffee shop. Getting closer to the time for the Red Line bus - and of course I saw an Estonian handicraft shop and was lost. Mucho goodies found there, including some small but very characterful knitted cats. I’ve given one to M as a good will and anxiety-lowering token. He took to the little cat (black and white stripes with glinty green eyes) at once, and presently it is sitting on Andy the Norwegian bear’s shoulders, getting ready for some nocturnal mischief as soon as it’s lights out.

There was just enough time for me to stop at Robert’s Coffee (an English chain, but quite a superior operation) for a giant takeaway fix, before we nipped our shivery way back to the bus.

First we took the 'Red Line tour' - an hour around the 'best bits' of Tallinn. There's a strong focus on architectural history - information about pre-war )I and II) styles; Stalinist features (exclusively grey, forbidding and dingy); modernist and a return to the Estonian 'style' - very much influenced by Peter the Great, of St Petersburg, so we see a lot of the gracious pale yellow and cream palace-styled buildings. The commentary is in English, via headphones, with two speakers - a very Amurrican bloke and an English woman with a lovely Zoomerzet accent, lots of gggs. M is tired after this so he goes off to rest. I stay, encouraged by the driver who points out that our tickets cover all the tours, all day. I hop back on and take the 'Green Line' tour, which goes further afield and shows off some of the coast and harbour. Once again there is a strong focus on architecture and the history of building/rebuilding/fires/renovations etc. I took lots of photos, but reviewing them I see I was mostly capturing details of colours and quirks of buildings and the scenery, rather than 'standard tourist spots'. And, writing this paragraph nearly a week later, my impressions have faded.. mostly I recall that it was fun being on the top of a two-decker bus, seeing at least something so I know what I'm going back FOR, and being able to rest while seeing something.

The trip to Riga was MUCH easier - a comfier bus, and the only thing that happened at the border was a brief stop while a nice black doggie had a snuffle around in our luggage (under the bus0. We'd seen everyone getting out their passports, so we did too, but there was no need for them. The driver hopped back onto the bus smiling broadly, and took off with a bit of a wheelie. I gather he was pleased there had been no mucking about. He was a nice bloke, and not as addicted to the smokes as our previous driver. Still no food/loo stops, but we were better prepared with water and some snacks. We arrived in Riga in the late afternoon, so no problem getting into the hotel or finding dinner etc.

Riga (the Old Town, where we stayed in a hotel converted from a monastery, with a few little bits of the old walls and niches left in the re-build) is far too beautiful - romantic and pretty and dignified and full of people who smile.. not so much of the rich totty element as there was in St P, and the streets were full of music, from buskers and cafes and shops.. so welcoming.

We had been told of a concert tonight, at a nearby church, featuring choir and bagpipes. I've collapsed into a sleep, but M goes along to have a peek. He watched a bit of it, enjoying the spectacle of seeing the piper march in down the aisle to the choir - he was watching through the glass doors in the foyer, thus avoiding the expense of a ticket. After a bit he charged back to the hotel to wake me so I could see just a little bit of the spectacle. When we got back to the church, the doors were closed with signs saying 'CD recording'. But a woman right behind us ignored all the signs (in four languages) and grabbed the door handle and went in. Orright.. so we went in too. A woman (perhaps a concert manager, or perhaps a church warden) came over to berate us, but M put his finger to his lips and went 'Shhhhhh!' and we turned our backs. It worked - she went away.. the choir was purrforming a new work (sorry will have to post details later), a very wonderful piece, with some very clever lighting effects, and a lovely, spare orchestral accompaniment. We watched, spellbound, until the very last whisp of sound floated up into the church rafters.. and the applause burst out. We'll be looking out for the CD, the choir was I believe the Latvian State or National Choir, and they were indeed very good.

We retired to eat - and found a cafe/bar called 'Velvet'. The music - dance music - became progressively louder throughout our meal, and we could see another table of large German men peering at the bar. All was soon revealed (as 'twere) - M went over to get something and blimey, there was a dolly-bird dancing on the bar! All set up with a pole to swing on. She was almost wearing some scanty black gym gear, with hot pink bands around her curvy bits. And super-high heels. She was very wiggly, and there were a number of men seated on barstools at her feet...and one guy, somewhat relaxed, who was sort of wearing around and dancing back at her in a very loose-limbed fashion. Of course I had to have a look! - the Germans were a bit surprised, kept staring at me while I watched the dancer.. maybe nice girls don't watch pole dancers? I dunno. I thought she was a good dancer, but SO uninvolved with her worshippers.

That day was brought to you by a bucket of Prada; somewhat raised eyebrows, and the excellent vegetarian meal I had - stuffed zucchini, cream potatoes and a very fresh salad.

Two days later we attended another concert, at another church, this time as paying customers. This was also a premiere, of .. hmm, brain won't co-operate, sorry, I'll add it, I will! ..., with organ, soprano, and a saxophone quartet, followed by a saxophone octed. Very very wonderful, amazing acoustic - a lovely high sound drifting up to the very high arched ceiling, quite warm, and with some interesting cross-echoes. We managed to shake hands with the composer (so laden with flowers he could hardly get a hand free!), and M went crazy with the CDs on sale - four of them are currently on their way home.

No comments: