Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Escape to Estonia

Escape to Estonia is what many Finns might call it. There is this fascinating thing- Russians come to Finland for better groceries and Finns go to Estonia for cheap alcohol. I am not sure what people go to Russia for. Anyway, we managed to successfully navigate the trams to the Tallink terminal and were surprised just how many people were there for a Monday. Going over it was mainly senior citizens and some families. And lots of cars and trucks carrying various loads of people and merchandise. As soon as people hit the ferry the shopping and eating began along with some low level drinking and gambling albeit at 10:30 a.m. We found that the cushiest couch was in the pub by the door to the outside where the smokers went. The wind was however blowing away from us which made it a nice hangout. When we arrived a couple hours later, it had, disappointingly started to drizzle which reminded us we had all left umbrellas and jackets behind. First stop was for two light jackets and one discount umbrella- orange, brown and turquoise is apparently not a popular color combo- it  was cheap.
Once we found our way into the Old City, things were great. However, compared to Finland, Estonia is a bit of a mystery. Not only are there few signs, they are not at all travel friendly, with the exception of the large and very clearly marked bars, super alcohol stores, and my favorite combo- the alcohol, tobacco, exotic dancing and hookah lounge.
We eventually meandered in the right way, but there could have been more to guide us.
Our persistence paid off, however with the absolute historical treasure trove of the old city. I easily took over a hundred pictures and could have taken many more. The stores, churches, and concentration of buildings is quite impressive. It actually took some time for us to take it in, and to let the swarm of people headed for eating and drinking to get started. I am not criticizing these behaviors but there really was a swarm effect. And in some ways, there was a Ren Faire meets Epcot quality at times in the main square's activities.
There are however, many sidewalk cafes, and shops, as well as people dressed in period-ish costumes leading street games, and serving food. There were also some good shops with handicrafts in addition to the requisite souvenir shops.
Once we wandered around the main streets and side alleys, we were ready for a coffee and treat break. While there was one shop that heralded its mention in the New York Times, we found a less well traveled but delightful shop with caramel cake, Sacher torte, and tasty cappuccinos and macchiatos. And it was peaceful.
As our time went on, we found the Holy Spirit Church which was a must-see for me, and after talking with the docent, and explaining I was a Lutheran Pastor of a Holy Spirit Church, was given a chance to stand in the pulpit, and access the chancel normally roped off from tourists. The triptych at the altar originally contained additional folding panels which were closed during Lent, showing only Christ and Saint Elizabeth of Thüringen. The full panels then when opened depict the blood emanating from Christ becoming the sacrament and imagery of the work of the cross.
The central portion of the altarpiece depicts the miracle at Pentecost.
In addition to the altarpiece, the other interesting note was the pulpit which not only contained carved imagery of the evangelists, but as I stood in the pulpit and looked up, over head was the dove of the Holy Spirit, however, unlike other depictions, this one only shows the underside of the bird's belly and feet above the preaching spot.
As we were heading back to the port, school was letting out, and I wondered what it must be like the grow up in this town, surrounded by history but also large crowds of drunks. When we returned to the ferry the crowd on the ride home was significantly different. It was mainly men, who were returning from the day or longer. There were men pushing around shopping carts heaving with cases of beer and other alcohol. One whole end of the ferry was a collective alcohol metabolizing area so it seemed. And there were a few women coming and going. Given that it was Monday I wondered what the weekend must look like.
When we returned, and hopped the tram, I noticed a man who looked like an aging rocker from the 70's- Long reddish hair, black trench coat and T-shirt, and jeans with black and white two tone spiked shoes, and lots of rings. He was pushing a luggage cart with four cases of beer. As he tried to drag the cart onto the tram, the cases slid, and one tore, sending spurting and spinning beer cans on the tram, as the rest collapsed in a heap. He began muttering in Finnish and repeated efforts to shore up the beers failed. The beer began to trickle through the tram where we were seated. As he hoped someone would solve his beer problem he began scooping up cans and offering them around, and then switched to English saying this was the first time he ever bought beer from Tallinn. At each stop as the door opened a beer rolled out. When we left he was still trying to salvage the rest of his purchase. At least for him the escape to Estonia did not have the ending he hoped.

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