Friday, September 08, 2006

Country by Country: Estonia

Ok I am going to try to write a country by country recap in the next few weeks/months. Since I didnt have a laptop while I was overseas it was hard to do more than 30 minutes to an hour at a time at an internet cafe so I was not really able to put all my thoughts on the blog. I did manage to keep a diary/notebook of thoughts, but looking back alot of these posts were written after a few too many Beers, so it makes it almost unreadable. I am going to start off with Estonia, as while it was my 3rd country(UK, Finland first), I spent 3 nights here so I have something substantial to say about it.

For those who dont know where or what Estonia is, It is located way way up north in Europe, Just south of Finland and East of Russia. That is the flag for those of you who want to see such things up at the top of the post. The capital city where I was is Tallinn, and the population of the city is 430,000 of the 1.4 million people in the country. The language is more a mix of Finnish than it is of Russian, who were the main occupiers of the country over the past century, yet the Country has a long history way before the russians took over in recent memory as it was been taken in the past by the Danes, Swedes, Nazi's, Russians you name it!

I arrived from Finland via a Ferry. The Ferry ride was 3hrs, yet the distance covered was only 18km, so basically a person could walk as fast as this ferry was moving, yet the reason for the slow boat was was SHOPPING. Finland is so damn expensive that tons of Fins come over to Estonia and buy up as much Beer, Wine, Spirits, Cigarettes, Perfume, whatever they can legally carry back. Waiting for the boat at the Helsinki port the best sight was when the boat arrived from Estonia and every man, woman and child were each carrying on a rolling cart the allowed 5 cases of beer. I can feel them knowing a beer at a pub in Finland is about $7.50, whereas the same beer in Tallinn is about $2.50. The boat was was nice, as it had plenty of shopping, a casino, places to eat. I was actually having a slight hangover, so I didnt do much on the boat but lay there and wish it was moving faster and not in a circle. This thankfully was the first and only a very few early hangovers, by the 2nd week my liver was working overtime and I didnt feel after effects, in fact I was like a functioning alchie.. able to stay up all night and drink and sightsee or travel by day.

The Hostel I stayed at was the Old Town Backpackers. This was initally a bit of a struggle to find. Seems the Hostel has moved their address from what was posted online on their website and also on the booking sites. So I arrive and at this time my backpack was heavy and uncomfortable, it would later basically be like having another arm and I didnt feel it at all walking up hills, in the heat. So after making my way, the LONG way from the port to the Old town, i came upon the old address. I rang the bell, knocked on the door, threw rocks at the window, anything I could do finally someone opened up and told me "sorry hostel moved, other side of town.." I was able to find it on my map, but it felt like a long hike. Upon arrival things calmed down a bit, I was staying in a room of at least 8 other people, but it was thankfully a large room, unlike that crap in Amsterdam. I think the cost was about $15 per night for a dorm bed, definately a good deal and about average for my overall Hostel cost.

So what were my expectation of Estonia, well every article I have read about it boasts of it being a party city, the new party place in the Baltics. Take this New York Times article as an example. I must say I wanted to goto this famous Club Hollywood, but never managed to get there during this trip. While I did have fun hanging out, and had met a few people in Finland who were living in Tallinn, so I had people to hang out with, overall I didnt feel it had the top 10 most beautiful women in the world as Maxim Magazine claimed, nor was it a big Party Capital.

The Beer, yes the most important thing.. The bar The Hell Hunt, had an amazing selection of beers on tap. Everything from Belgium, Estonia, Dutch, German to even Miller Lite. The cost of these were about $3 to $4 each, which at the time I thought was a greal deal, but I would later learn when I got to Eastern Europe $4 will buy you a round of Tequila shots. The local favorite beers are Saku, or A Le Coq. Both are very good golden pilsner type of beers, very refreshing. Cost were about $2.75 each, and without feeling pressure to leave a tip, a very good deal. The music in the bars was typical western Hip Hop, I didnt get a chance to experience any Estonia pop tunes at least at the bars I was at.

Food, They have their own fast food Hamburger chain, which is actually based in Finland its called HesBurger, I ate there on a rainy day, and must say it was great soak up the beer in the stomach from last night food. A whole meal of a big burger, coke and fries was less then $4, cant beat that at all. As for a real Estonian meal, I cant say that I had one during my time there, but considering its proximity to the ocean, I have a feeling it would have been fish and sadly for me probably uncooked fish and I aint down with Sushi, so the HesBurgers were just fine.

People, the most famous Estonian from a goole search is Supermodel Carmen Kass While I didnt see any girls like her walking the streets there were plenty of cute girls, but more of the blond/blue eye variety. As fro foreign tourists, there were a few, but early in June it still seems like a dead period for tourism as the city seemed fairly empty. The old town streets are a maze, but after a few days you can manage to get around and not too lost by using the old town city hall square as your reference point. I met an intersting American guy who was working in Kuwait doing oil rig/drilling whatever and was on his vacation and decided to come to Estonia he claims for both the weather and women, he was an interesting texas loud kind of guy, while not someone you would want to travel with, surely someone having a few beers and watching a game was fun with.

Overall Estonia is a very nice place, but by no means the party capital of Europe in terms of late nights or lovely women, the lovely women award would later be awarded in eastern europe and the late nights are better surely in other places. But I would not rule out Estonia as a stop either on the way thru the Baltics, or if you are on the way to St. Petersburg Russia as it seemed alot of people at the Hostel were on the way to or from.

Below here is my favorite picture of the old houses vs the new construction boom going on in Tallinn. Taken from the top of the Old Town City Hall which is about 300 feet high and you gotta walk up a tight circular stairway to get there.

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