It began innocently enough.
Anna Grace was heading to the U.S. for three weeks; and Tony was departing for a work trip for four days that did not interest me. Clayton Theodore and I had big plans that involved sunrise hikes; the dog beach (yes, Vienna has canine beaches); and to otherwise importantly idle away a few hot summer days.
On Monday last week Anna Grace’s dog-sitter friend messaged to say that she would be in town and available to sit for CTF (translation: Teenager needs money) should I want to take a holiday. Suddenly idling away a few hot summer days didn’t sound all that exciting; and since CTF would certainly manage with nonstop attention from a fan, I spent the morning playing the, “Where can I go on the (relative) cheap?” game while poring over trip reports on the Internet, and Tallinn came out the winner. A little East meets West meets Scandinavia sounded fun!
I rolled my eyes and booked my flight on LOT, Poland’s carrier. Last summer Anna Grace and I flew LOT for a Gdansk city break and were a little less-than-impressed. In rolling my eyes, though, I had missed that the flight was actually operated by Nordica, Estonia’s carrier. Nordica, I discovered is one of those sad carriers that offers food and most beverages for a fee; with an 0915 flight I assumed that I would at least be offered coffee and have a package of crackers thrust at me. All I got was the (terrible) coffee, which, combined with an arm rest-hog row mate who slept despite my gentle nudging for 2 hours and the summer heatwave that was embracing the Baltic upon my arrival, I admit I was not as excited to see the second President of Estonia Lennart Meri’s official Mercedes displayed in the airport baggage claim area as perhaps I might have been otherwise.
Owing to this last-minute holiday my pickings for lodging were slim. A day after I had booked my flights a brand-new AirBnB listing appeared. What could possibly go wrong with a “Luxury Apartment in the Old Town” that had never been reviewed? From the airport I reached medieval Tallinn in about 30 minutes on the tram; and my AirBnB a short 5 minute walk later. Guess what? The host was waiting for me with a big hug (two hugs, actually), thanking me for being her first listing! And the apartment? Spectacular! A completely renovated and ginormous space decorated with vintage and extremely well-kept furniture pieces; the kitchen, modern in a classic fashion and with high-end electrics; as well as a spacious bathroom and shower. Fresh flowers on the dining table and soft Diana Krall playing through the little stereo was the tonic refresher I needed after my First World travel woes.
Soon I was off to explore Tallinn. Though I had a general idea of what I’d wanted to see and do, I dropped first into the TI office for a map and a look-see at the information on offer. As I was approaching the office, a woman carrying a “Free Sightseeing Tour” sign asked if I had arrived for the tour. Normally I am a do-it-yourself traveler, but the guide was five minutes out from the start of the tour and had no other takers, a point we both felt was odd given the crush of tourists in the area, so before I could stop myself I responded in the affirmative. A moment later a guy from Australia joined, and our little group of three set off. I have to write that I enjoyed this “private” tour. Our guide was interesting; her stories equally so; and I had a nice orientation to medieval Tallinn in two hours. AND, I got to see SteventheSeagull in person! (He is a Tallinn Instagram star.)
Later, “What to eat?” became the question. Always with me, right? The high temperatures (29°C) meant I wouldn’t be seeking elaborate Estonian meals; and being of Eastern European heritage I knew I would be more than happy eating various herring forms for three days, and if I tired of that there would always be another fish to take its place. Reviews at an Estonian restaurant on the main square (touristy, but not as obnoxiously so as in, perhaps, Prague) seemed to favor the starters and definitely the people watching, and so I requested an Estonian cheese sampler and the marinated and fried Baltic herrings. The server seemed excited that I had chosen the cheese sampler; she first informed me that it would take 6-7 minutes to arrive at the table, and after it arrived, proudly described the Goudas and Atleets I was nibbling, all of which were to my liking. The marinated and fried herrings were quite good, also, but would not be for everyone’s palate. Dark bread held a place of honor at the table, naturally.
The practical presentations are inversely proportional to the yumminess.
The cheese plate was quite substantial (I had also been warned of this by the excited server), so armed with this partial breakfast I ducked into the local market, Rimi, to cobble together an easy-to-prepare breakfast that would include the cheese, smoked, salmon, cucumbers. And dark bread, of course. (If I had to be employed at this particular Rimi, and overhear some of the conversations of the backpacker and gap-year set I would come to believe the end of civilization was nigh. From the two American-English speaking summa cum laude students behind me: “Is Dallas in Texas?” “I think so. Isn’t it one of those border towns?” and from the same two, “Don’t waste €0,50 on the chopsticks. We can share.”)
Why an easy-to-prepare breakfast? I may have forgotten to mention that in my reservation spree I bought a ticket on the 0730 ferry to Helsinki for the following day. This also happened to be the day of the Trump-Putin meeting…