Tartu, Estonia, August 2016
What brings you here?, asks the young woman in charge of personnel at one of the many coffee places in Tallinn. Well, I've had this vague idea I would explore the country by train for I had recently been to Latvia and loved the old Soviet trains there. Unfortunately, I added, I've then discovered that the trains here are Swiss made and not any different from the S-Bahn I know from back home, comfortable but unexciting. If you're fond of old trains, she says, you should go to Georgia or the Ukraine. And, Saint Petersburg is definitely worth a visit. A totally different culture, including dancing in the streets. You probably speak Russian, I say. Yes, she answers, I do, enough to get by. And that much Russian is a must if you want to go there ...
What did you do today?, she wants to know. Walking around the old town for a few hours and I think that by now I've seen it. I felt reminded of a museum, hordes of tourists stare at buildings, take photos, listen to history lessons by tour guides – very definitely not my cup of tea.
And what about the people? They seem a rather sullen lot, I say. Right, she laughs, I'm myself from Vilnius and in Lithuania we're totally different. How's Tartu?, I ask. Cozy, she says. And so I go there.
Upon my arrival I learn that I had booked a hotel on the outskirts of town. My taxidriver has been around, he is a collector. Thailand, he says, four times. United States, three times. Fishing in Finland, three to four times a year. But isn't Finland expensive? Well, one hundred euros per day for a house on an island, divided by four. Food and drinks we bring along from Estonia. His hobby, he says, is barbecue. He does it every day. Even in winter? Yes, five below zero is no problem, twenty below zero is however too much.
The view from my hotelroom in Tartu, August 2016
I take the bus to Pärnu, a popular seaside resort. My hotel (compared to everything else, hotels are expensive in this country, reservations via the internet do often result in bargains) turns out to be an old sanatorium that also accommodates tourists. Old people (quite probably younger than I am) on crutches or with walking frames are all over the place. The very friendly lady at the reception informs me that it was built in the 1920 by a Swedish company and enlarged in the 1970s by the Russians – it looks like it, it feels like it, I love it!