Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Completing the set II/III

Written 8th July

For those of you now feeling sorry for poor birthday-neglected Will ("oh don't worry about me, I never have exciting birthdays" says eeyore) we did forage steak, beer and chocolate cake for dinner, and watched the tail end of the sunset over the steely grey baltic, so it wasn't so bad after all, and yesterday was great!  

A brisk morning cycle through leafy Kadriog Park and past the palace built by Peter the Great of Russia for his wife Catherine I, brought us to the edge of the old town with its mediaeval towers and walls.

Tallinn is a fairytale castle of a town, almost too lovely to be real.  It feels very different from Riga and Vilnius too.  For a start, it is way more touristy - being as it is, an easy daytrip from Helsinki  and a popular cruise ship destination - but without the tourists, the gothic architecture is a complete contrast to the baroque of the other two, the language looks and sounds different - related as it is to finnish not the other baltic languages - and the people look different - definitely more tanned and blond and scandinavian looking.  Proper foreign then!

After a brief wander round the old town square and market - along with seemingly every cruiseship passenger in the northern hemisphere, well, that's what it felt like! - we beat a hasty retreat

past some typical buildings

and the two independence monuments

to the Museum of Occupation to complete our Soviet/Baltic education.

And, despite the amount of time we have already spent in such places over the last week, this one was still interesting and completely different from the others. And was somewhat a contradiction within itself.

The museums in Riga and Vilnius both focussed very much on the oppression, the resistance and struggle of the two nations with very emotive displays and texts.  The Tallinn museum was very much more factual and focused on the Soviet way of life and how society was organised, changed, functioned under soviet rule in an almost impartial way.  The displays of artifacts were not very interesting, but the whole period was meticulously documented in a series of videos, mostly showing actual news reel footage from the time and contemporary interviews wiyh people who were there.  So they were recounting their experience of the night the soviets came and took them and their families from their homes in the middle of the night to be deported,and how they were waiting for "the great white ship from the West" to come to their aid any day - some of them even talked about WWIII being started to rescue them - but you would easily miss it amongst everything else.  And as there are 8 videos, each half hour long, I suspect most people do miss it!  But as it started raining again outside, we stuck with it - and i'm glad we did!

One thing we didn't know, is that despite everything that was said in 1940 by the US, they did apparently agree that the Atlantic charter would apply to the borders as they were in 1941 - ie after Stalin's occupation under the guise of mutual assistance and his 'acceptance' of the Baltic States 'requests' to join the USSR - so on that basis, they were never going to come to the rescued of the Baltic people anyway.

It also said that within days of it being signed, the governments of the baltics knew about the Non-Aggression pact between Stalin and Hitler and the secret appendix to the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, even though the actual wording wasn't formally released to them until 1987.

The museum also showed the news footage of the Nazi arrival in Tallinn and their genuine welcome by the people who hoped for liberation.  Very very different from the footage of their reception in Paris which was shown by contrast.  The ease with which the nazi's swept across the region in a mere two months should have perhaps been a warning to the west about what Stalin was like.  Many of the estonians actually volunteered to join the german army and left with them on their retreat as they deemed the alternative to be so very much worse.

It also seems - again, just an impression from the way it was presented - that out of all three countries, Estonia did have the highest standard of living - although possibly not for the actual estonians - and the most contact with the outside world, with ferry routes from Finland being restarted in the 1960's.  They were also the only country to manage independence without bloodshed in 1991 but by that section of video - the one I would probably have been most interested in - I was a bit history'd out so didn't really take as much in as I would have liked.  Ho hum, there's always wikipedia...

Lunch then - well nearly dinner by this time! - and massive traditional pancakes filled separately with smoked trout and sour ceam and minced meat and cheese with sour cream on the side.  Humungous, cheap and yummy - no need for dinner then!

And a much cooler, tourist free stroll round the city. 

No walking tour this time, just a pleasant wander through the squares, past and into the churches - including this one which seemed set for the indoctrination of the masses with tv screens, a forest of speakers and mandroid jack points in every pew back, spooky

- and up to the various viewpoints. 


With an early ferry, we had planned a sensible early night.  But not to be.

The 'spend all remaining currency in a supermarket' plan worked well - in anticipation of expensive scandinavia we now have enough polish pasta, tuna and sweetcorn, lithuanian beer and orange juice,  latvian beer, rice and muesli and estonian beer, eggs and onions to last us to Nordkapp!! In these countries which don't make cheap local wine, I am finding a new appreciation for cheap local beer... - and then we started talking about petrol - much cheaper here - which led to pondering about gas - when did we last fill up? - and the realisation that whilst we have seen gas at every petrol station from Bulgaria to Latvia (and a variety of makes and models of cars converted to gas, including a lot with the gas filler in the back of the rear bumper - surely that's not good in the event of even the smallest accident???) we haven't actually seen any here and by a quick calculation, we must be almost out...  And then to make matters worse, the AA book confirmed that it should be available in Estonia but definitely isn't in Finland and only in very limited places in Norway...  Oh dear. Still, just goes to show that the lpg conversion wouldn't have been so cost effective after all, as its there we would really want it! 

Thus ensued a slightly desperate search for gas which took us to three in town petrol stations (clueless girls who didn't know what we were talking about) and then to the main roads heading out of town...  We were just contemplating a) how far it was back to Latvia (really too far), b) where could we buy and store a Babette size bottle like Rafi and Meli (really not ideal) and c) could we manage without the fridge if we just bought a new camping stove (probably), when a guy in a petrol station way, way out of town directed us to an industrial estate just round the corner from where we had started... 

Which, when we eventually found the place despite the complete lack of any signage, turned out to be open at 11:30 at night and staffed by people who spoke english!  What are the chances of that??  We can now have a cup of tea at the north pole!

And we got on the ferry no problems - despite the ridiculously early start, not getting to bed until 1am and the obligatory I-know-I-have-to-get-up-early-so-I'll-wake-up-in-the-middle-of-the-night-in-case-I-miss-it sort of night that usually precedes an early start.  This time made worse by waking up to find it as bright as day out, panicking, then realising it was only 4am... Remind me, why am I so excited by white nights??

So here we are, on the express ferry to Helsinki and beyond, just crossing the 60th parallel - that's more north than the Orkney Islands! - only 12 to go! And a whole new sub-continent or whatever you call it.  How exciting

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