Medieval Times

Trip Start Oct 13, 2012
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Trip End Nov 19, 2012


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Saturday, November 10, 2012

I will never forget Wednesday November 7th, 2012. Maria had been studying for her final exam in college for weeks now, and today was the big test. It was also my last day in Moscow and I had to leave for the airport first thing in the morning. And on top of that, I woke up to the unbelievably bad news that Obama had been re-elected! So needless to say, it was a very sad and depressing day. Maria was a great host and I'm very thankful for her hospitality. We said our tearful goodbyes, and then she headed off to school to take her exam, and I headed to the airport.

I arrived at the airport, enjoyed one last outrageously expensive cup of coffee, then boarded my Estonian Air flight and headed north! To Tallinn, Estonia! It was only a 90 minute flight but it felt like I just landed a million miles away. Estonia may be technically still in Eastern Europe but in reality it's one of Western Europe's best kept secrets. Ever since the fall of the Soviet Union, this place has been on the fast track to a modern society. I landed at a beautiful new little airport, and was able to take the special airport bus almost directly to my hotel!

One thing I was not expecting was just how friendly everyone is. Unlike the cold, quiet Mosconians, they all say hello when I approach them. But I didn't know they had their own language. Since they were so close to and used to be controlled by Russia, I just assumed they all spoke Russian. I have never in my life heard anyone speak Estonian and it's very interesting sounding. But they also all speak English and other languages as well so it's very easy for crazy Americans like myself to communicate.

I checked into my hotel which is perfectly located right near all the action in the old city center, then I headed out exploring. Honestly I kinda thought stopping here was going to be a bit boring and uneventful, so I wasn't expecting too much. But boy was I wrong. As soon as I entered the old part of the city I felt like I was transported 1000 years back in time. This place is one of the oldest cities in Europe and is full of medieval and maritime history. A history the locals actively promote as their main tourist attraction. It's so great. It's like I'm at some kind of Medieval Disney World! All the museums are brand new, very modern, and totally unique. I visited some pretty cool places including the Cannon Tower which is part of the old fortress, took a tour through hidden underground passages under the fortress, and checked out the awesome Seaplane Harbor which has a submarine suspended in mid-air inside.

But the most interesting thing by far was the KGB Museum at the Hotel Viru. The hotel was built by the Soviets in the 60s and the KGB played an integral part in its construction. They completely bugged the entire hotel with microphones and receivers everywhere, and spied on guests and also monitored telephone conversations from their super secret communications room on the off limits 23rd floor. Then sometime in the Spring of 1991 (nobody knows when) they just vanished. So, the hotel staff sealed off the room and left it exactly as they found it for years. Then they started giving tours. And the tour guide actually worked at the hotel during Soviet times so she was very knowledgeable about Estonian life under the constant threat of the KGB. It was a really interesting tour.

A LOT of money is pouring into this city, and since they switched over to the Euro last year, giant cruise ships dock here every week bringing thousands of people here to shop and eat. There are great shops everywhere and I had no idea that the main thing to buy here is Baltic Amber which is very beautiful. Mostly girl stuff, but they do actually sell amber stones with tiny insects naturally encased inside that were 60 million years old, just like in Jurassic Park! I really wanted to buy one but they are ridiculously expensive and I'd probably lose it somewhere anyway.

But the biggest surprise here in Estonia is the food! One things for sure, these people know how to cook. And not just simple things, but very complex dishes with great flavors, textures, and sauces. I would almost say as good as the French. Maybe not, but it's close. I did not have a bad meal while I was there. But the culinary highlight for sure are the numerous medieval restaurants in the old city center. Everything is totally original. There was no electricity so the entire place is lit with candles and torches, and they only serve items that existed in the 13th century. And the menu is quite exotic. At first I was going to try the Bear. That's right they serve Bear, but it was super expensive and the waiter suggested I try another specialty of the house. So, I ended up having an amazing meal consisting of Wild Boar, Elk, and Deer served with wild berries, and some kind of spelt dish because I didn't know it, but they didn't have potatoes in the 13th century. It was really excellent!

I also went to another nearby medieval place that has literally been continuously open for over 400 years! They were traditionally a stopover for travelers passing through town. People could come in, get a hot bowl of soup, some beer or wine, and have a place to sleep for the night before moving on. Today it's almost exactly like it was then. So, I had a great bowl of Elk soup, a meat pie, and some beer. While I was there I met a very nice Finnish couple who were visiting for the weekend. We talked for like an hour and they gave me tips on what to see on my next stop, Helsinki!

Tallinn is just a fantastic little city and it turned out to be a big surprise highlight of my trip. Even though it was super cold and rainy, I still managed to have a great time. I was told that in the Summer time it's even better with tons of outdoor activities and concerts. So since I'll be returning to St. Petersburg at some point, I'm definitely going to make another stop here as well. And next time I'm ordering that Bear......
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