Escaping Russia wasn’t difficult with over 10,000 roubles stuffed into my hat…
I queued up, was patted down and handed over my passport to the irritable customs officials. All the while I was constantly wondering what would happen if they asked me to take my hat off.At the time, I assumed they would think it was drug money and drag me kicking and screaming to a small room where dignity would surely say goodbye forever. How would I explain that actually, the money was from the gig I’d played in a small, crowded St. Petersburg bar just a few hours ago?
I was, to say the least, drunk and exhausted. Thankfully my dignity remained untarnished and I made it into Estonia unmolested – Roubles intact.
Tallinn City Centre and Food
It was 4am by the time I arrived at a bus stop three miles outside of the city centre of Estonia’s capital, Tallinn. Walking along the street, white from the winter snowfall I managed to find a bistro to hole up in until I was due to meet Martin, my contact in Estonia. The bistro was empty apart from a despondent waitress who sighed at me as I rifled through my pockets to find change for a coffee. She almost threw a tantrum when I plucked up the courage to order a pizza.
Four hours later I met the nervous but generous Martin. We made our way by tram to the squat where I was able to curl up on an old sofa and catch up on some well-earned sleep. This was day five of my European tour. Just me, an acoustic guitar and what was to be a group of Estonian punks whose questionable anarchist views didn’t quite match up to the intelligence of Noam Chomsky or Naomi Klein.
Martin and I eventually ventured into Tallinn’s old town, a wonderful historic part of the city complete with medieval buildings, unique bars and restaurants.
A Christmas market was in full swing, selling an assortment of hand carved gifts and “Hõõgvein”, the local mulled wine. Martin gave me an insight into Tallinn’s rich history, parting legends and fun facts along the way.
Eager to discover Estonian food we chose to overindulge ourselves at ‘Kuldse Notsu’ Kőrts’ a restaurant in the bustling town square where I enjoyed a delectable pork platter that was large enough for two. Martin, who explained he was a vegan after I’d ordered – leaving me feeling particularly sheepish – chose a vegetable soup, the only thing remotely suitable on the menu.
To suggest that Estonian food is meat centric is an understatement. Like many countries who once lived under Soviet rule, even the bread rolls have bacon inside them – vegetarians beware. Despite the dietary hitch, the food was fantastic particularly for carnivores.
The gig took place on the top floor of a disused factory in the middle of an industrial estate.
Local punks began arriving through the door complete with Mohawks and safety pins. In comparison to the Russian audiences, this was rather intimidating. Despite their appearance I could not have received a warmer welcome. The gig was fantastic, 40 minutes of sing-alongs and anarcho-punk fuelled fun.
I felt a rush of appreciation for the Estonian punk scene.
Returning to the old town with the punks from the gig Tallinn’s nightlife was raucous. Teeming with young people, dancing, drinking and laughing we visited a few bohemian-style bars, all of which played western rock music and served a wide selection of local beers. The fog began to fall and my memory becomes a little fuzzy…
Without doubt Tallinn is a fascinating destination. Bursting with 800 years of historical sights and attractions, most notably Tallinn’s old town walking tour, where visitors learn from the Nazi occupation all the way back to the crusading knights of the Teutonic Order during the 13th century.
Often overlooked by many backpackers in Europe, the city is well worth a visit and an exceptional example of a medieval city persevered through time.
Have you been to Estonia or had some unique travel experiences in this part of the world? Join the discussions below and let us know!