At the beginning of April, my university in
Friday, April 25/Saturday, April 26, 2003: Journey to
Like most of my trips out of
After breakfast I caught the next available bus to the
airport, and had what seemed like an interminable four hours to kill before my
flight. The airport had Internet access, but the prices were insane so I
passed. Instead I sat at a café and had
another coffee which turned out also to be insanely expensive (18 grivnias,
about 3 dollars). Finally at about it was announced that my
flight was open for check-in. I got my boarding pass, went through passport
control and waited again to board. I
flew on LOT Polish Airlines to
I arrived in
After picking up some more maps and guidebooks at the
tourism bureau in the airport, I went outside and waited for bus 615 going
towards downtown. The bus was
recommended in Let’s Go
When we arrived at the train station square I got out and
noticed a Sony Jumbotron screen.
Because of the championships, the hostels were already full for Saturday night when I had called the day before to reserve a room. I had had to call a hotel booking service mentioned in Let’s Go (+358 9 22 88 14 00) to get a room for the night at Hotel Finn, Kaevankatu 3, telephone +358 9 6844 360. It wasn’t a full-scale hotel exactly—it was a single floor of rooms in an office building. It was cozy but clean with a bed, a TV and a shower in a very convenient location. That was all I could ask for.
I dropped off my stuff and went back to the square to watch
more of the game. Although it wasn’t
“White Nights” yet, I noticed that at it was barely starting to get dark. But by the end of the second period I was
bored of the game and a little cold, and hungry as always. I peeked in a restaurant called Zetor
(Tractor), but with the t-shirts in the gift shop it looked very touristy. I
went into an Irish restaurant across the way, but it didn’t serve food. It didn’t even have any Finnish beers on
tap. I went next door to a place called
After my drink and the end of the hockey game (
Sunday, April 27:
I had to check out of the hotel at . Since I had paid 65 Euros for the room, I
decided to spend as much time in the room as I could to get my money’s
worth. Also, foreign language TV shows
are not dubbed in
After I checked out of Hotel Finn, I walked a few blocks down the street to check in at the Hostel Erottajanpuisto located at Uudenmaankatu 9, phone number +358-9-642-169. Like Hotel Finn, the hostel was on a single floor of what looked like an apartment building that had been converted to office space. It wasn’t as well maintained as Hotel Finn, and I had to have roommates, but it was 43 Euros a night cheaper.
The shops in
The other exhibit I saw was a collection by a Nigerian Englishman named Yinka Shonibare. He had digital photographs of himself as a Victorian dandy from an Oscar Wilde play, and he took traditional African prints and created 18th and 19th century clothing and a family of astronauts with them. In an interview he said he wasn’t even sure himself what his art means. Was he trying to challenge traditional views of aristocracy, or was he trying to be a part of the aristocracy?
When I finished viewing the exhibits, I went to the museum’s free Internet kiosks and checked my email. I also went online to find information about movies. On Saturday I had seen signs at the Finnkino movie theater for “The Pianist”, but on Sunday the signs were gone. I took a stab in the dark and typed in www.finnkino.fi, and kept clicking on things until I found a schedule. There was a showing at Tennispalatsi at and .
Since I still had time before the movie, I walked down Mannerheimintie past
There were other interesting exhibits on Finnish history in
the 20th century, and on toys over time. But I have to admit that one of my favorite
exhibits was on Sancta Birgitta. There was (or is?) a village in
My brain full, I left the museum and wasted a lot of time wandering around looking for Tennispalatsi before I finally asked two security guards in the Metro station for directions. I had to walk by a construction zone, and I noticed that the crews had to dig through what looked like sheer rock. I felt like I was at the edge of the Earth, or on another planet altogether.
By the time I got to the movie theater, there were less than
10 seats left for the
show and they were all up front. I found
out that in
Now I had three hours to kill before the movie. I wandered around the shopping center. All of the shops were closed, but there was a bar called William K. Beerhouse. The beer I had literally and figuratively was not memorable. I saw a Chinese restaurant across the street, but it didn’t look very good. I decided to go back to Simone, but it is closed on Sundays! So is Jam Jam, a nearby restaurant and nightclub. I decided at this point the only places that were going to be open besides McDonalds and Hesburger were the touristy restaurants. So I headed to Zetor. It turned out to have a pretty good menu of Finnish cuisine. I had Karelian Stew, a hearty dish of meat and vegetables with mashed potatoes. Perhaps it was a bit pricey at 11 Euros, but it beat Mickey D’s.
After dinner I walked back to Tennispalatsi and saw “The Pianist”. What a sad and powerful movie. I could see why Adrian Brody won the Oscar for his performance; I believed that he really was this man going through these horrible trials, and not just an actor playing a role. I didn’t know that parts of the movie were in German. The subtitles for the English and German dialogue were all in Finnish, so I had to rely on my knowledge of German to get the gist of what they were saying. I only say that as a caution to others who might think about seeing this movie in a non-English language theater and don’t know any German.
Monday, April 28: Helsinki travel planning, shops, sights and movies
This was not the best day of the trip for me. For breakfast I went to another café on
Mannerheimintie for an espresso macchiato and a roll similar to an American
cinnamon roll without the glaze. It was okay, but not as good as the coffee and
food at Lapsipalatsi. Then I wandered briefly around a department store called
Sokos. The clothes were expensive so I
didn’t buy any. But I got a Mother’s Day card for my mother in Finnish. I’m not sure how I figured out that it was
for Mother’s Day. Perhaps the Finnish word Mummille
on one card and the Swedish word Morsdag
on the display sign helped clue me in.
Perhaps it was all in my imagination.
Whatever. From the store I went
across the street to a
Now it was time to turn to a more serious task: planning my
trip the next day to
The travel agent suggested I go up the street to the Tallink
ferry office to see if they had any space.
Tallink ferries also had no return trip space on the weekend, but I was
able to book a trip leaving Tuesday morning at for
Feeling dejected and ashamed of spending six months of a Ukrainian teacher’s salary for a three-day trip, I walked outside and pondered what to do next. Let’s Go said that the 3T tram line is the cheapest tour of the city. I got on, but it seemed to be going only through residential neighborhoods. That was interesting in itself, but I didn’t see anything that looked like an attraction. Perhaps I had gone in the wrong direction on the tram, I thought.
I saw a harbor area with large cruise ships and I decided to get off the tram. About this time, it started to rain. There were a few fresh fish and vegetable stands in the harbor, as well as people selling arts and crafts, handknit goods, and Russian fur products. It wasn’t fun to look at them in the rain. In the distance ahead loomed a building on a hill. With its black-roofed spires, dark red stone walls, and the dark clouds above, it looked like the hotel from “Psycho”. It turned out to be Uspensky Cathedral, a Russian Orthodox Cathedral. I went up the steps hoping to find sanctuary there from the rain, but it is closed on Mondays. And it was Easter Monday so it wouldn’t have been open anyway.
Despite the rain, I had to keep going. I walked down
I kept going down the street and ended up back at the train
station. I went to the tourist office in the train station to try to get ideas
for things to do on Saturday in
After lunch, I went to a shopping mall called Forum. I ended
up at a café called Fazer; there is a chocolate company in
After I finished, I went downstairs to the movie theater and
saw the showing of
“The Hours” (Tunnit in Finnish). I had
read the book, and the book and movie complimented each other nicely. After the movie, I walked up towards the
hostel and stopped in a restaurant/bar I thought was called “
After dinner, I went back to the hostel. I had had to change rooms (this happens in hostels because of their reservations system; don’t ask me why). A man walked into the room and was surprised to see a woman there (usually HI hostels have only single-sex rooms). I went to reception and was told I had been given the wrong room number. So I moved once again. I ended up with a couple of the same roommates I had had the night before, but I still didn’t really chat with any of them. I don’t know why; I just wasn’t in the mood.
Tuesday, April 29: Journey to
I left the hostel around in the morning. I had been told at Tallink that it
was short walk from the hostel to the train station, about 15 minutes. It was more like 25 because I had to walk all
the way to the other side of the U-shaped harbor. But I got a nice picture of the ferry and the
ice along the way, not to mention some exercise, so I guess can’t complain
about that. I felt like I was at an
airport. There were signs directing cars to Eckeroe Line and Tallink ferries
and signs for customs. Of course, those cars would be driving onto the ferry,
not dropping people off. And it makes sense that it would feel like an airport.
I mean, think about the word airport. Air port. Ports on the sea came first on
this world. I should say that airports
feel like the
Anyway, I went inside and checked in, and then went through
passport control. Passport control
seemed pretty tight to me. The border
guard looked very carefully for my entry stamp.
The stamps in my visa are all over the place, so it was hard. He must be used to backpackers, because he
thought I had entered from
I walked down a ramp (like a doublewide jetway; perhaps I
should call it a shipway?) onto the ferry. The last time I had taken a
passenger ferry was from
When we arrived in port, I went through customs, got more
guidebooks, and started walking to my hotel, Hotel Viru. I could see it looming in the distance, a
large, gray rectangular box that must have been built in Soviet times to serve
as a proper contrast to the elitist beauty of the spires and roofs of Old
Tallinn. Once inside, however, I felt
like I was in the hotel of a modern country that is ready to become a member of
the European Union. It was clean, with
lots of wood, steel, and a simple carpet pattern. Like the outside image of this hotel, though,
I could still feel vestiges of Russian or Soviet life. For example, the building was under renovation. Right next to my room was a gaping hole where
what looked like a new elevator bank was being installed. The noise was
unpleasant. I dropped off my stuff in a
beautiful, modern room with the bed at an odd angle, and a shower that was not
completely enclosed from the rest of the bathroom. These little surprises reminded me a lot of
the surprises I get living in
I left the hotel and went across the street to start meandering through Old Tallinn. I will tell you now that as I was wandering I pretty much had no idea where I was or what I was seeing. In the evening when I went back to my hotel I sat down with the map and my digital camera and tried to figure out where I had been. I was mostly successful. From this recreated memory, I now know I saw Viru (Street) and the old town hall, St. Nicholas Church, Fat Margaret (a former cannon tower which is now the Estonian maritime museum), the Great Coast Gate with a beautiful stone crest, and parts of the original town wall from the 13th or 14th century. I also saw a memorial of some kind, a steel arch that had a large gap in the middle.
I had originally planned to go to the one of the medieval
restaurants for lunch, but it was hard to find. I walked into a bar that I
thought was called Au Le Coq, but is actually called Nimega Bar. Au Le Coq is the name of the beer they sell
there. The beer was pretty good. I had
seafood soup, and then the lunch special (like a blue plate special). For 40
Estonian kroners (less than 3 Euros), I got
a “cutlet” (a ground beef patty; Ukrainians also use the word cutlet to
describe this dish) with a creamy mushroom sauce, potatoes, and beet
salad. Everything was tasty. The meat
tasted more like meat than the meat in the cutlets in the cafeteria in my
university. And it was nice to have a sauce
with flavor for it for a change. I’ve
learned to love beets in
The other two experiences of the day were clothes shopping
and coffee drinking. My friend Renuka
had told me about the wonderful wool sweaters in
Near ReWill, I found a coffee shop that also sold truffles
and other chocolates. I had an espresso macchiato and an Irish coffee
chocolate. Yummy! I sat in a wooden
chair at a table with a rich, red cloth tablecloth. I felt like I was in
someone’s living room in the olden days.
It was so wonderful I used my map and phone book that evening to figure
out that the place was called Café Chocolaterie Kohvik, and its address is Vene
6. Vene, by the way, is the Estonian
By 4 or 5 in the afternoon, I was wiped out. I went back to my room and spent the evening watching the “the Sopranos”, a British version of “Thirtysomething”, BBC World, and other good TV shows I can’t remember.
Wednesday, April 30: More
I woke up again to the noise of drills and what looked like a cold, rainy morning. I went downstairs to the second floor for breakfast. It was a first-class breakfast buffet with something for everyone—herring, grilled and cold vegetables, deli meats, cheese, beans, oatmeal, scrambled eggs, bacon, Karelian pastries, yogurt, cereal, toast, and rice cakes advertised as gluten-free.
After breakfast, I headed out to Old Tallinn again. I stopped in a mini mall to look for black pants. But everything there was made by Italian design. Which is a nice way of saying it was made for models who are 6 feet tall and weigh 90 pounds.
I went to another clothing shop to look for wool gloves. The
sales clerk immediately spoke Estonian, English, and Russian to me. She helped me find a lovely pair of gloves
for 145 kroners, and we started chatting. Her name is Astrid. She is Estonian,
but she left for
After I got the gloves, I found my way to the tower called Tall Herman, a palace (now Parliament? I’m not sure), a post office in a building that had some kind of connection to Peter the Great, and two viewpoints of Old Tallinn. Then I found a stone area called the Kings Courtyard. It was almost too much beauty to absorb in one day.
I went down the hill and ended up at an Indian restaurant
called Elevant. I am not a vegetarian,
but there is something about vegetarian Indian food that is so good I don’t
notice that there is no meat. I had vegetable vindaloo (incredibly spicy, but
it hurt so good) with rice and Indian bread, and two guava shakes to take the
heat off. I sat in large wicker chairs
looking at yellow walls listening to very mellow folk music. It was so peaceful. I did some more meandering and bought some
postcards in a gift shop. Then I went back to Café Chocolaterie for espresso to
write the postcards. I sent them from the post office in Old Tallinn. If they all arrive, I’ll know that
By now it was about and I decided to have happy hour at Arizona Saloon. I had Saku, the Estonian national beer, which
was pretty weak. The nachos were even worse. The chips were warm, but the
cheese was cold and had no heat. And
there was only enough for two or three chips. I asked the waitress to bring me
another dish of cheese, hot. I watched
another hockey game for a while, then went back to my room. I had heard that the eve of Labor Day was a
big party day in
The blues band was good but they played a set for only half an hour. Then it was dance music again. I was bored before . I was never into the “club scene” when I was in my 20s, but suddenly I felt old. Whatever.
Thursday, May 1: A Day of Rest
This day looked even colder and rainier than the day before.
I went down to breakfast and pondered why the hotel staff wore orange and black
hats from Halloween for Labor Day. I knew
most of the shops and restaurants would be closed because of the holiday. There
was supposed to be a concert somewhere, but I couldn’t get motivated to go. I
was tired of going out to movies. Going
bowling seemed pathetic. I decided I
just needed a day to do nothing. And
besides, I had spent all that money on the hotel room, I might as well get my
money’s worth. So I stayed in all day and watched TV. Which may seem silly since I could have done
the same thing in
I finally went out in the early evening to dinner. it was so cold and windy I ducked into the first decent place I saw, a place called Kaar Baar (the Bear Bar). There were pictures of fish dishes that looked good and reasonably priced. I asked the waitress a question in English which she didn’t quite understand and had a hard time answering. Then I heard her talking to the bartender in Russian, and I realized I was in a Russian-speaking bar. I asked her in Russian if it would be better if I spoke in Russian. She said yes.
The red wine was really good, as was the black bread and the fish with fried potatoes and vegetable garnish. But while I was eating, a meister came do some scary looking repair work on the men’s bathroom with what looked like plumber’s snake. Yes, I was definitely in the Russian part of town.
After dinner, I went next door to the Irish pub, since I had heard Irish pubs were expat hangouts. But I didn’t see anybody interesting. The Irish coffee was good. But as I saw the names Tanya and Oksana on the servers’ nametags, I knew once again I was in the Russian part of town. Not a bad thing, just interesting that I could see and feel the difference.
Friday, May 2: A final tour of
Once again, I lollygagged in my room as long as I
could. I had a late breakfast, then
checked out and put my bags in the left-luggage room. It was a sunny and crisp
day. I decided to stay out of Old Tallinn; it was time to explore the “real”
city. I started walking down Narva
Mnt. I don’t know how “Mnt” is
pronounced, but I think it is a word that means “a highway going towards the
I went back across the street and followed the signs in the
park to Kadriorg, a palace commissioned for Catherine the I by her husband,
Peter the Great. It is an aristocratic
palace with a carefully sculpted back garden.
Allegedly it houses a sculpture collection that is open to the public,
but I couldn’t see a way in. I also
noticed in the garden that there was a section that was fenced off. I thought
it was just closed while they finish repairs, and that it would be open later
in the summer. But when I kept walking up the road to another palace nearby, I
discovered the palace next door to Catherine’s Palace is the palace of the
Estonian president. Two guards with
rifles and a short set of steps were the only thing that separated me from the
front door of the great pink edifice.
All I could think of in that moment was my president’s White House and
everything that protected it from entry.
How nice for
I sat by an unmarked statue in another part of the park and
soaked up the sun, then walked through the park and past an old school and a
modern-looking football stadium until I ended up down the street from my hotel.
I had gone in a large circle somehow. I
didn’t want to go back to the hotel or Old Tallinn. Instead I went in the
supermarket across the street called Selver. It was gorgeous. I got some provisions for the return ferry
trip. I saw the “new
After stopping in vain at a few department stores to try to
find the new CD by the American band The Bangles (I’d been hearing the new
single on the radio), I grabbed my bags from the hotel and walked back to the
ferry terminal. Passport control took forever—I
didn’t get through until a few minutes after 5 for what was supposed to be a departure. The dining lounge I had sat in on the way to
When I arrived in
Saturday, May 3:
I got up and went back for breakfast one more time at
Lapsipalatsi café, and back to the post office to check my email. I had lunch at the Kiasmus museum café, which
was okay. I went to a bookstore to
browse, and then found a walking street of shops and cafés. The name of the
street escapes me now. It was only +8
Celsius (46 degrees Fahrenheit), but it was sunny and for the residents of
I walked to the fortress and on my way a man asked me in
Finnish presumably to take a picture of him and his girl friend. I said “Yes” in English. They took my picture
in return. It turned out okay. The fortress was really lovely. I still don’t quite understand Finnish
history; I think it was a Swedish outpost if I understood correctly. The archways and stone rooms were amazing.
But I was equally awestruck by the child climbing around on an ice floe like a
seal, the view of
I walked back in time to miss a ferry back to
I told the two ladies that I was going back to Simone if
they wanted to join me. We walked down but it wasn’t as good as last time. The soup wasn’t as warm, the water wasn’t as
cold, and it seemed to be hard to keep the conversation going. After dinner the girl from
Sunday, May 4: Return to Khmelnytsky
I got up early and walked down to the train station square to catch a bus to the airport. I didn’t see signs at the bus terminals for the bus I needed, so I went to plan B, the Finnair bus terminal. But the office is closed on Sundays, and I didn’t see a schedule. Fortunately, inside the train station are several electronic tourist information stands. I was able to find the bus schedule and platform number for bus 615, saving me from having to go to plan C (a taxi). I got on the bus and paid my 3 Euros. Halfway through the ride, ticket control got on to check people’s tickets. I panicked. I had paid but had not received a ticket. Fortunately, they understood me in English when I said, “I paid 3 Euros,” and they got my ticket from the driver.
I checked in, had a donut at Robert’s Coffee, and did some really last minute shopping at the department store Stockmann (got some of that Fazer chocolate). I got my Bangles CD, and a CD by a female Finnish rock singer named Maija Vilkkumaa. I have no idea what she’s saying, but she rocks.
The flight to