Thank goodness! On the way to our hotel we saw a McDonald's.
There were McDonald's all over Russia too! I hope they don't think all food in the US is like McDonalds... We also walked past a huge flower market, which reminds me of a practice we saw over and over again in Russia-- men buy women flowers all the time! The woman in almost every couple we saw walking together in Russia was holding a bouquet of flowers. How nice! We should work on making that happen in the US...
Anyway, after putting on warmer clothes (it's pretty freaking freezing here), we went to check out Tallinn's Old Town. Old Town appears to pretty much be the main event in Tallinn, and for good reason. Every single street is a perfect picture, and there are restaurants and cafes on every corner.
The main square is dominated by an original Gothic style town hall, complete with little dragon sculptures coming out of the windows.
The Estonians seem to be very proud of their Medieval background-- there are dozens of restaurants and attractions devoted to reminding you of this past. They even have people dressed up in outfits walking around and speaking English in medieval accents, talking about the history of Estonia.
There are (normally dressed) people stationed throughout the square to help you find what you are looking for, and the entire city smells like delicious pork sausage and roasting potatoes. And they have an entire restaurant devoted to Garlic! Excellent!
We decided to pop into a cafe to warm up and had some "hot wine," which was wonderful and needs to be replicated at home. It's basically a mix of mulled/spiced wine and sangria-- so mulled wine with fruit in it-- delicious! We also had some pastries, which are so much better here than in the US. The US needs to get it's shit together with the quality of it's food. Even fruits and vegetables are better in Russia/Estonia than in the US. How is that even possible? Where is they finding these fruits and vegetables in such a cold climate? They must be shipping them in from Southern Europe or something. If the food is so good here, I can't wait to eat and eat and eat in Italy and France.
After the cafe, we went into the oldest pharmacy in Eastern Europe!
It was really cool-- filled with old dried herbs and other substances that used to be used as medicine. There were tons of little bottles all over the shelves and bunches of plants all over the walls, and they even had weird things like dried bugs/reptiles! They also had a functional pharmacy in the middle of the displays.
This pharmacy sold normal over the counter medications, but they were packaged to look old and quaint. Cute! Jackie-- it was like Jim's old pharmacy trinkets on speed! I think Jason would like it if we fixed up the store to match this one :-)
We had the most amazing dinner. Traditional Estonian food is excellent-- seems to be similar to German food. Pork, sauerkraut, mustard, thick breads, potatoes, yummy! Our plate of food was so epic that I had to take a picture of it.
We could only finish about half of it, but we are looking forward to the rest of it later. Unfortunately, the leftovers leaked a bit in Dad's day pack, so now one of our travel books bears the marking of dinner. We spent a little while people-watching and taking pictures in the main square after dark. Estonia clearly has a pretty strong party scene! Earlier in the day, the square was full of shoppers and tourists but after dark, the youth comes out to hit the bars and carry on. Fun!
They also had people tooling around devoted to tourist entertainment. One guy was spinning torches around and breathing fire! I took a really cool serious of pictures of the progression of his fire-breathing act-- I'll post them at the bottom of this entry.
Then we went back to the hotel to relax and get a good night sleep; the night bus wasn't particularly restful. We spent some time watching CNN World News, which is WAY better than our local CNN. I've learned so much about what is going on in the world right now, and it is pretty depressing.
What is also depressing is the huge mess that is going on in the US right now. They're shutting down the government because they can't play well with each other? Why does our government insist on behaving like children? Oh well, I'm glad to not be there.
Saturday morning (4-9) we seriously lucked out with the weather, so we went back to Old Town. The sun was finally out, and the sky was a beautiful blue.
After taking another round of pictures in the new light, we ventured outside of Old Town to Toompea. Turns out that part of the city is enclosed by really cool stone walls, and there was another church named after Alexander Nevsky-- a little hit of Estonia's Russian past. We popped into a little cafe to warm up and had some coffee and pastries. The coffee in both Russia and Estonia is SO much better than the coffee in the US, and I bet it gets even better as the trip progresses! Hooray!
On the way back to the hotel, we stopped in a little chocolate shop that sold handmade Estonian candies. Apparently, Estonia is known for their chocolates, and they were really cheap! We got two chocolate bars and a bag filled with wrapped candies for only 2 Euros!
And they are totally fantastic-- wish we could bring some home but it is still too early in the trip to be accumulating too much stuff. You all will have to settle with Swiss and Belgian chocolates :-) We also bought some crackers, apples, and Brie cheese to have a little picnic on the bus. The Brie cheese was so inexpensive-- we got two big rounds of it for less than 3 Euros!
Then we collected our packs, walked back to the tram station, took the tram to the bus station, and got on the bus to Riga! This bus is much more peaceful than the bus from Russia, although they are playing "Alejandro" by Lady Gaga in some unknown language. It's not English, Spanish, German, French, Italian, or Estonian... but it sounds like it is actually being sung by Gaga... could be in Russian? I'm not good enough with the languages to tell, but it's pretty funny. Also, the roads are infinitely better than the ones from St. Petersburg to the Russian border. Thank you, European Union! So I will post again from Latvia in a few days. Nägemist!
Goodbye beautiful Russia, hello paradise! Well, it's a bit too cold for paradise I suppose, but Tallinn is totally amazing. This city is a perfect mix of what Epcot and Medieval Times are striving to achieve with their attractions in the US. It was also much easier for us to navigate than Russia, which probably has a lot to do with how much smaller Tallinn is than St. Petersburg or Moscow. In our first hour in Estonia, we withdrew Euros from the ATM, bought bus tickets to Riga, bought tickets for the tram, took the tram to our hotel, checked in, and settled into our room. Almost everyone speaks English, but the language is pretty easy to read and understand (only basic words obviously) because it is closer to Finnish than to Russian, and is not written in Cyrillic lettering.