Monday, December 10, 2007

Voyage to Estonia

Wow, what a weekend! After a long and uneventful 5-hour bus ride to Helsinki, Charlee, Lizanne and I were ready to get on the boat to Estonia and stretch our legs. What we didn’t anticipate was being continually approached by groups of married men. While holed up in a corner of the Starlight Palace lounge for the duration of the boat ride, I swear there must have been a flashing sign that said “come talk to us!” If it wasn’t one group it was another. We couldn’t believe it and it definitely started to get annoying. All we wanted to do was eat dinner and play cards – not flirt. They couldn’t take a hint, even when we told them that a) we’re not interested b) you’re married, remember? or c) we don’t understand Finnish. It was fairly amusing until they wanted to escort us to our hotel. Um, NO!

Despite the constant offer of men wanting to buy us drinks, the ship was very impressive. I was expecting the boat to be a ferry, like the one you take from Vancouver to Victoria. This wasn’t the case as our boat turned out to be an enormous cruise ship with sleeping quarters and everything. The Galaxy had 10 floors with bars, nightclubs, boutiques, a supermarket, restaurants, a cafeteria, buffet diner, a duty free store and sauna floor among other things. Apparently cruises to Estonia are very popular among the Finnish people. It’s an excuse to get off the mainland and drink all day on a booze cruise. And when I say drink – I mean drink. People of all ages were absolutely tossed. I’d say 70% of the passengers were stumbling around the boat with drinks still in hand. What’s strange is that a lot of the voyagers didn’t even get off the boat once arriving in Estonia. They stayed on all night partying then slept it off in their cabin only to drink again and sail back the next day. Weird.

We arrived in Estonia around 10:15pm, which is where the real adventure began. With nothing in hand except our backpacks and hotel confirmation, it was time to find our accommodations. Not really sure which direction to head, we trekked in the rain to the closest gas station for help. After a lot of mumbling and conversing with co-workers in Estonian, the attendant grunted and pointed in the general direction of downtown. Cold and wet, we decided to head that way and figure out the rest ourselves. While scouring the skyline for lighted signs to point us in the right direction, we finally found what we were looking for and saw the Revel Inn in the distance. After cutting through a muddy field and taking a couple of wrong turns we arrived in the hotel lobby 30 minutes later. Lizanne checked us in at the front desk only to find that the hotel was at capacity. Luckily with our reservations, we were upgraded to a nicer hotel closer to the Old Town. With our (Mercedes) cab fare paid for we arrived at our new hotel in no time. Finally checked in and tired from the long trip, we crashed on our beds. After a team meeting, the three of us decided to suck it up and go check out Tallinn’s nightlife. Walking through the lobby, our favorite hotel employee Denisss (that’s right, three s’s) offered to hook us up with a couple of free drinks each. We took him up on the offer and were ready for the fun to begin. When in Estonia…

After finishing our drinks at the hotel bar, we walked to the nearby club Bonnie & Clyde known for it’s dancing. We found the club all right, and a huge lineup. Not wanting to wait, I told Charlee to make it happen. She boldly walked up to the bouncer and said something along the lines that our boyfriends were inside so we needed to get in. Charlee has a way with words, as she sealed the deal and we were ushered in without having to pay cover – nice! The place was packed and the music being played was mostly house, making it a bit awkward at first. However, a couple of drinks later we were feeling the beat and making up dance moves. I’m convinced that Bryan Adams is a big deal in Estonia, as his music seemed to be played everywhere we went. On the bus, in the cab, in the hotel lobby and on quick rotation at the club. I must have heard Summer of 69 at least 3 times while on the dance floor. Once normally, once as a techno remix and once mixed with Everything I do! It was pretty funny, but being the Canadian that I am, I found myself singing the lyrics to all his songs. After a couple hours and one too many Bryan Adams songs, Lizanne, Charlee and I decided to call it a night. Tired with an early morning ahead of us the next day, we walked home with only one thought – our beds.

After compromising with Charlee and Liz, we slept in and were out of the hotel by 11am to explore the Old Town of Tallinn. A 15-minute walk was all it took for us to feel as though we had traveled back to medieval times. Narrow cobblestone streets, old historic buildings, artillery walls and towers – even people dressed as peasants selling herbs and woodcarvings made us feel like we were back in the 13th century. Taking pictures every step of the way, the street eventually opened up into a town square where a Christmas market was being held. Even though its mid-December, it didn’t feel like Christmas to me until I visited Tallinn. A huge tree was lit in the center of the square, Santa was in his rocking chair with children on his lap and I could feel and smell Christmas in the air (you know the smell I’m talking about!) I was immediately filled with holiday spirit and Christmas cheer. I love Christmas time and am normally the first one (other than Kelly) to bust out Christmas songs on my iPod. However, being in Finland this year made December feel like any other month. The problem was solved in Estonia with it’s rustic surroundings, people hurrying about shopping, the smell of fire, taste of holiday drinks and sound of Christmas carols.

After checking out the goods at the market, it was time to pull out our walking maps and explore this historic town. We definitely played the tourist role to a ‘T’ as people immediately assumed just that. Talking to us in English, volunteering to take our pictures, or trying to sell us something for more than the person before us. Nevertheless, we found our way and I enjoyed every minute of our wet 5 hours on foot. The history and character of each building was remarkable. I was impressed with the architecture and unique detail of each site. After trekking around for some time, Charlee, Liz and I decided we needed to experience a traditional Estonia lunch – and it was fantastic! The seasoned pork, sauerkraut and potatoes were full of flavors and very enjoyable. We even branched out and tried the popular Christmas drink Hoogvein, (also known as Gloggi) which is a hot wine drink spiced with cinnamon, ginger, cardamom and clove served with raisins and almonds. I’m not a wine drinker so it was painful for me to take more than 3 sips. Lizanne and Charlee felt the same way, as all 3 cups found the trash still ¾ full. After lunch a local suggested we visit a Bazaar one of the churches was holding, where we found a couple of good deals. On our way out we posed for a picture with Santa and then were cornered by a drunken old woman who wanted us to play a game with her. Since we were in a church and it’s almost Christmas, we decided to amuse her. Stuttering her words, slapping us on the shoulders, singing us songs and dropping the platter she was showing us was enough to have us all in stitches; which only egged her on. After telling her many times that “we had to go” and “we’re late” she released us from her clutches, only after giving us a bunch of chocolate. Needless to say, she was enjoying her Gloggi a bit too much and seemed to be having a jolly time!

Eventually the cold got to us and it was time to head indoors. We left Old Town and went to a modern shopping mall. Since the sizing in Estonia and Finland is so small, I have yet to find Christmas gifts for my dad and brother. I guess I’ll be a part of the Christmas Crazies when I get back to Vancouver on the 17th! After a full day, that evening we ate dinner at Chinese restaurant while mentally preparing ourselves for night #2. During the day we had asked a few locals what club we should hit on our last night out and PrivĂ© was apparently the place to go. Lizanne wasn’t feeling up to it, but we still got all dressed up and hung out at the casino bar for a bit, where Charlee suckered me into playing blackjack. I’m not much of a gambler so putting money on the table made me nervous, especially with a high roller on the table who was throwing down eeeks for days. (Eeeks is our nickname for Estonian Krooni’s because the abbreviation is eek. 100 eeks = 6.60 Euros) I decided to play it smart and only bet 50 eeks at a time. After an hour at the table Charlee and I had both doubled what we started with and made some friends in the process. The high roller was a real nice guy giving us tips and talking trash to the dealer! The casino got Liz in a better mood and we headed to PrivĂ© a little after 12am. Once again we were faced with a long line. No problem, as I told Charlee to do her thing and we passed through the ropes. Nice! This was definitely an upscale club with awesome music (read: music in English played on radio stations in North America). The DJ was tight and when we requested songs, they were played right away. Of course Soulja Boy was on the rotation and Charlee and I had to show off. It was pretty easy to spot basketball players in the club, and sure enough we were hanging out with Americans who played on the men’s pro team in town. It was a late night, but a great night making the conclusion of our trip memorable.

I got up early next morning as I wanted to do a bit more exploring around Tallinn before we left for the harbour at noon. While Liz and Charlee caught extra z’s I bought souvenirs and took more pictures before I bid Estonia farewell. The boat ride home was uneventful and oddly similar to the ride there with people drinking, smoking and stumbling around. Smoking should not be allowed in a public space like a cruise ship. I felt like a smoker from all the second hand smoke I breathed in. Not cool. It wasn’t hard to spot the 3 of us as we were walking around with our scarves wrapped tightly around our faces.

For a country I never dreamed of visiting, I truly enjoyed Estonia and would recommend a visit to Tallinn for anyone traveling the Baltic area.

If you’d like to view more pictures of my trip click here.



Anonymous said...

by the way, there was probably reason for so many Bryan Adams songs - he was recently in Tallinn giving a concert.

Jake said...

Bre you know why all those married men wanted to chat you up - you're a looker!! See ya soon girl

Anonymous said...

Wow, this blog is a cut above the usual, Bre. Very interesting, and I love the pictures. :)

Go Dawgs!

Kelly said...

Yay for Christmas time!!! I'm glad that Estonia found the Christmas spirit in you ;) Sounds like a fun trip, I can't wait to hear about all the other crazy european adventures you're going to have. Seattle is beautiful, I'm sorry I won't see you here.

Anonymous said...

Has anyone ever told you that your a good writer? Maybe you should start a blog for JD...

Sauce said...

Breeee!! U r such a good writer!! This is sooo cool that u write a blog! Anywho, this trip was sooo much fun, memories for life!