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Phespirit goes to Estonia
Tallinn     February 2003

It was a patchwork vision of dusty blue fields that greeted Phespirit at one hour to midnight, as Estonian Air flight OV102 descended through clouds on its final approach into Tallinn. Estonia was a floodland, or so the illusion would have it, until closer inspection revealed that here was a country quilted entirely with snow. A good thing, then, that Phespirit had bought a nice warm hat for his return for the Baltics.

In sub-zero snowbound Tallinn, Phespirit spent a couple of days admiring the mediæval old town and its immediate surrounds. Noteworthy features included:

  1. Toompea Hill, with the old Dome Church, the new Alexander Nevski Russian Orthodox Cathedral, the Art Museum of Estonia, and the magnificent views in all directions;
  2. Icy cobbled streets weaving around the old town square - Raekoja Plats - where the thermometer on the side of the town hall confirmed all suspicions about the temperature;
  3. The frozen passenger port and its floating museum, the Icebreaker Suur Tõll, the largest surviving steam-powered icebreaker in the world - every city has its largest/oldest something;

Catching a number eight bus from the city centre, Phespirit headed eastward along the coast to see the Olympic Yachting Centre at Pirita - venue for the sailing events during the 1980 Moscow Olympics - and visit Maarjamaë Palace and Kadriorg Palace - both museums - on the way back. At the yachting centre, fishermen use hand augers to bore holes through the icesheet covering the harbour. Phespirit tentatively joined them out on the ice until the cold and a fear of falling got the better of him.

Phespirit travelled further across country on the 06:40 slow train to Tartu, the second city of Estonia. As the train clunked out of Tallinn towards the first paling of dawn, Phespirit nodded into a ten minute sleep. When he awoke, the scene outside was transformed into a snowscape of brown leafless trees and fresh animal tracks under pale grey skies; a constant scene all the way to Tartu, arriving at ten o'clock.

Tartu is relatively small and not overloaded with things to do - particularly on a Monday - but, armed with leaflets from those nice people at the Tourist Information Centre, Phespirit managed to kill a good five or six hours ambling around town. The most choice curiosities are to be found on Toomemägi Hill, such as the Angel's Bridge, the Devil's Bridge, the observatory, and the old, dilapidated cathedral with notices on its walls advising: BE CAUTIOUS! THE BUILDING IS LIABLE TO FALL DOWN!

Six hours of travelling to and from Tartu, and then a protracted wait for the flight back to London Gatwick via Copenhagen, Denmark, the following day, provided Phespirit with ample time to finish reading: 'A User's Guide To Tallinn'. This excellent collection of short articles such as 'Cure of ills' and 'Depeche Mode'i baar' has helped to fill the gaps in Phespirit's Estonian education. It's a nice country to know.

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