reede, august 05, 2005

Eesti Reis in Review: Travel By Tallink

This is a bit by bit review of our trip back to Estonia, which occured between July 23 and July 31, 2005.
Our trip to Estonia really began on the Tallink ferry connection between Stockholm and Tallinn. Moving around in Europe, you get to understand why some people in, say Scotland, may think Estonia is quite far away, so far it is unknown to their base geographical knowledge, even though it only takes a few hours to fly there. This is unusual for Americans, but you have to realize that Europeans are actually tribes. They may have wireless Internet and three mobile phones apiece, but they are tribes nonetheless - like the Masai or the Apache. Estonia in the Scottish mind is probably quite far away - on the otherside of Scandinavia and then some...almost Russia. Nostroviya!. So gliding across the Baltic from Stockholm to Tallinn you get to feel like you are mixing tribes. Estonians and Swedes drink side by side in ferry pubs, and their children speak the universal language in playrooms.

I first started to really recognize that I was indeed back in Eestimaa when I awoke in the middle of the night and went to the 25 Hour Cafe to get a drink of water.
From the lower deck boiled up the flat sounds of totally drunk South Estonians.
For you uninitiated, the South Estonian accent/dialect is flat as gurgling mud. It sorts of sounds like a hot-wired washing machine on spin cycle.
These excellent specimens of the ancient Aiestr tribe were drunk, and they looked like something out of Bonnie and Clyde. The leader of the drunks had short hair and was talking a kilometer a minute, clearly invigorated by his beverage of choice. He had ordered a sandwich from the server, and was practicing his Italian.
"Per un momento" he said as he searched his wallet for necessary cash.
"Kas te oskate mis 'un moment' tahendab?" he asked [Do you know what 'un momento' means?] "Tahendab yks hetk, itaalia keeles." [It means 'one moment' in Italian].
Being very thirsty this guy pissed me off, but the scene couldn't have been better. His drunken tattooed friends smoking and gulping down spirits while Don Juan de Abja-Paluoja held court.

In the distance as the sun came up later we could see the Estonian coast. The Swedish archipelago (and Finnish as well) is rather rocky. But the Estonian coast still looks like a soothing, wild forest. You can see few settlements. I can't believe that it was forbidden to travel like this only 30 years ago, but here were were sailing into Tallinn harbor, with Oleviste Kirik there to greet us, and an eight day whirlwind tour of Estonia ahead.

When I first came to Estonia in 2002 Tallinn's harbor left something to be desired - especially when compared to the sleek modern Finnish harbor 40 km away. But here I could see the money had indeed flowed south with all those Finnish drunks. One by one ancient warehouses that look like the marine waterfront of Bridgeport, CT are being torn down and replaced by Nordic-looking office spaces, hotels, and shopping centers, which mix in a sort of kitschy, tacky touch. For whom they exist, I don't know?

There are only 1.3 million Estonians, and of them, I bet few are qualified or have the capital to buy that office space. Are the Nordic capitalists pondering a move to Tallinn? Could be.

The ferry terminal is actually quite a nostalgic place for me. It is where I sort of met and fell in love with my wife. When you are married, you don't notice that you are married (I know it's hard to explain). But when you see the place where you sort of knew you were going to be together it is a powerful feeling.

When we got into the terminal, we had the triple disaster of Marta running around, Epp trying to locate her Hansa card, and me being a nervous wreck. Marta in particular enjoyed riding the elevators, while Epp was busy cancelling her card and getting a new one by phone. Still, despite the pandemonium, we managed to pull things together and move outside. Estonia's air is especially clean, at least to these New York lungs, and it is a powerful intoxicant. You breathe it in and all you want to do is relax. It can be disarming. Things move at the same pace, perhaps more efficiently, but without that rabid New York anxiety that leans on you everywhere here. In a sentence, it was good to be back.