29 August 2001


A down day in Finland. A recommended day trip - hop a ferry to Estonia, the nearby former-Soviet republic is an increasingly popular tourist destination for thems who like history, cheap travel, and mostly accomodating folks.

Three American journalists curious and willing - Shelley the leader, Mr. Gadget travelling with six flashlights and two cameras, and myself with a fear of deportation.

With Shelley and Mr. Gadget I boarded the Hydrofoil ferry for Tallin, the capital of Estonia. It's an hour and a half on the boat from Helsinki. Everyone sits facing foward, starting at two "Grundig" brand TVs that are turned off, and a wall full of duty-free liquor for sale. I ventured to the front borrowing Mr. Gadget's wide-angle lens to try with my camera. index.html
There was much trouble with the Estonian border guard.

In Honduras I carried my passport on me for fourteen weeks without fail. All that time in my wet shorts warped the passport such that my picture, which already resembled an over-serious lipless terrorist, came to look like a lipless terrorist's poorly executed fake passport.

Having a flawed passport hasn't yet kept me from entering any country, though the Scandinavians and the Japanese act very wary. I'm attached to this passport that bears the scars and stamps of my modern travelling life. Still when I came into Finland this time, the Finnish border guard wrote in my passport - "passi uusittava ennen scuraavaa maahantuloa." - something like that. I'm told it means, "Don't let this guy back into Finland without a new passport."

Of course I was just a bit worried that I wouldn't be allowed into Finland without a new passport, but the Finnish authorities were used to day travellers by boat and didn't seem to take my flaws too seriously. The Estonian guard was another story - disconcerted, reviewing my documents, checking with other officials, and acting very stern. Somehow it helped that he had a number of nasty looking scars on his left cheek. I wanted to take a picture of him reviewing my materials, but that seemed ill-advised at the time. Shelley later noticed him playing Windows Solitaire when we were on our way out of the country.



  Defunct Factory
Immediately off the boat, past customs, you walk out of the ferry terminal and past a giant defunct factory. Looks Soviet, or even older perhaps?

This photo was taken on our way out of town, as the sun set behind the factory.

  An Old Street
As we turned a corner into the city, this was the first sidestreet we caught sight of. I was immediately entranced; it looked so perfectly medieval, quiet, stone lined. The structure on the right is an abandoned warehouse sort of affair, with grass growing on the roof, and old iron doors bent back by decades of intruders. Inside it smelled strong of human over-sharing. index.html
  No Country,
No Problem
There was this banner hanging over the street, we three wondered what it said. I stopped a passer by, a woman with a very few curiously long red facial hairs near the corners of her mouth. She said the banner meant "No country, no problem." After my border troubles, it seemed a nice image to have; I wish I had taken a picture of her instead.

This was my feeling all day long - I saw many wonderful buildings I photographed and posted here, but I didn't approach citizens to ask to take their photo. I tried fleetingly to take some unbeknownst passer-by portraits, but this was blurry and awkward.

Older men were amazing to look at - nearly each one of them had their eyes wide and the corners of their mouth pulled back into a horrified grimace as their default expression walking down the street. Seeing one old fellow looking this way was a bit bracing; seeing four was discomforting. Thin wispy fair-skinned young women strode about on heels, wearing tight pants, wide flimsy colored sunglasses, and frosted hair. Attractive, in a sort of alien Venusian way perhaps. These were of course tempting photographs - fashion victims or activists? Good subject for debate with my peers perhaps. But stopping to ask them for a photo felt too much like "E-Z Estonian Bride Sluts dot com" or something - I've had too much spam about easy Eastern European women to take that lightly. Too bad really.

  Old Decorated
There were loads of old buildings in town, many in good shape, and many being fixed up. This building was quite well-maintained on the outside, with many strange affixed items - supports? It stood in a part of town that had initially housed old warehouses - each of the buildings had a sort of rudimentary beam-crane out front, near the roof. index.html
  New Ornate
This building seemed to be a sign of an emerging economy - a town with the cash resources to build something this gaudy. This was a new building near mostly old buildings, built in a sort of Hellenic Egyptian Deco style and painted in pastels. Delicious. index.html
Shelley was the driving force behind our Estonian day, suggesting the trip, carrying travel guides, offering walking routes and activities, and at the same time being amenable to other requests and ideas. index.html
  Three Generations
We sat down to lunch in the large public square. Next to us, three ladies speaking english asked us to take their picture. They hailed from Chicago suburbs, three generations of Estonian women. The grandmother left when she was 11 or so, and she's been back to visit family and nation another time five years ago. How has it changed in that time? You can tell there's money and business going on now because of the new paint and fixing up happening to all the houses, she said.

While we ate, and while we spoke, half a dozen teen boys approached us selling tiger balm and post cards. Most of these saleskids were well dressed; I was surprised by this. Maybe they earned money to buy their Adidas by selling waxy ointment.

  Depeche Mode - Estonia Tour 2001
Estonia enjoys some cultural imports. Here, a Depeche Mode tour poster hangs near the old city. index.html
There was visibile Nazi graffiti in different places around town. This is pretty alarming; I'm told Estonia was the country that most thoroughly cleared out Jews in the last century. This picture is of a wall walking towards the Danish King's Garden. There's two swastikas visible in the blowup; there's some crossing out and some mixed messages at work - not always clear what's being intended. And there's a URL for something I can't quite read. The Nazi crest is a clear sign of something unsettling. index.html
  Cool Cloth
Sign of a flourishing tourist economy: not only were there "Estonian arts and crafts stores" but many of these stores, if not most, seemed to feature contemporary goods; textiles, glass and metal work (not simply harkening back to ancient Slavic traditions - the usual first-wave tourist stuff). Here was a store with all kinds of brightly colored cloth and clothes by modern Estonian designers. I liked this large hanging very much; $300 is a bit steep for someone moving around, so I took a picture instead. index.html
  Basement Thrift
I like to go thrift shopping when I travel; it's nice to see what discarded clothes from around the world look like. And once in a while you can pick up something that actually fits and complements the range of stuff you'd usually wear. In this case, the store was called something like "Exotic" and it was a long low basement joint packed with incense, African masks, Asian statues, and used clothes in the back.

I ended up with an orange dress shirt, in excellent condition, and an orange light jacket, in fairly worn condition. Each was bright and exciting, each was 79 Estonian monies (about 16 to the dollar at that time).

  City Estate
index.html A stunning building - old, proud, sprawling, in the midst of Tallinn. It was utterly delapidated, under renovation.
  For Sale
By now I was charmed enough by the architecture and the pleasant weather (if not by the Swastikas) to consider living here. Real estate offices listed attractive looking Estonian properties far below the comparable prices near the large cities in the US. Divide by 16, and this property here is around $100,000.

Visit Majaekspert.ee with inquiries. A bit too remote for me.

  Plague Doctor
In a six-storey stone tower dating back before the creation of the United States, there stands a Tallinn history museum. Much of it is cannons, and miniature models of fortresses, occasional costumes and much text in three languages. Here was an example of an outfit worn by a doctor, a health care worker, during the time of plague. Plague wiped the town out, and no one knew why or how it spread. So health care workers wore a bunch of heavy fabric, with a long pointed nose stuffed with herbs, and carried a stick to poke at things without touching them. Even with these measures to prevent contagion, most of Tallinn died. index.html
  Mr. Gadget
On our way out of town, Mr. Gadget hears from his family on a mobile phone. index.html

August 2001

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