Tallin is a long bus ride from St Petersburg. Having the bus break down on the way didn't help matters. Getting out of Russia was surprisingly easy. I ran my bag through an x-ray scanner and handed my passport and visa papers to an official who studied both for about fifteen minutes trying to find something wrong. I'd never seen an official so determined to find a problem with my papers--she checked and electronically scanned everything three times. No one else on the bus received so much attention; I guess I'm special. She was an attractive woman of about thirty (I didn't have anything else to do but watch this woman screen my passport and visa) who would have been very pretty if she smiled. From her demeanor it was clear that wasn't going to happen.
Other than getting an exceptionally studious check of my papers, I had no problems getting out of Russia or into Estonia. I was pleased, ten days in Russia with no hassles. Of course this left me with the Russian language Playboy I carried as a possible bribe. What do you do with a Playboy you can't read?
It's interesting traveling by bus from Russia to Estonia. As soon as we crossed the border the roads became smoother, the buildings better maintained, and the shops had a much better selection of goods and were run more efficiently. Estonia is still behind the U.S. and western Europe economically and in infrastructure, but is well ahead of Russia.
My first night in Tallin I stayed in Dorrell Hotel for 420 kroons, about $27, but the next night I got into a dorm room of the Barn Hostel in the old town center for 170 kroons, about $11. It wasn't luxury living, but it was cheap and convenient.
Tallin is a pretty city, and I got there early enough in the summer for some of the white nights effect. The people think of themselves as being Scandinavian, not Russian. Definitely not Russian. Ethnicity is important to Estonians, and many other Europeans. When I described myself as American to an Estonian he asked where my parents were from. When I said America he got impatient and insisted that no one was "from" America, my ancestors must have come from some part of Europe. I think I am of mostly English and Scottish decent, which seemed to satisfy him. English and Scottish were satisfactory answers; I wonder what nationalities are considered unacceptable.
One thing that struck me about Estonia was the number of Scotsmen there. They were obvious because they all wore kilts. I was told that Scottish men went to Estonia looking for brides. I guess the kilts were their way of advertising.
Actually I think the Irish are more popular in Estonia than the Scottish. There is an Irish Pub, Molly Malone's, that did a good business. One Saturday it had a visiting Irish song and dance troupe performing, and was so packed I couldn't get in. I was there the next night when no performance was scheduled, having my end-of-the-day milk and cookies, when the troupe arrived to kill a few hours before their flight out of Estonia. They started drinking, then broke out their instruments and began singing and dancing. Since there was a lot of drinking going on, I felt obliged to help. I also got to see an impromptu performance. My favorite part was when their lead dancer, who had quite a lot to drink, would dance. He would go through his "feet of fire" routine with a cigarette dangling from his lips and wearing one of those goofy carnival glitter wigs. The look was unorthodox, but he danced really well. He'd dance for one song, drink through the next, then dance through another. This went on until about four in the morning, well after the usual closing time, when their ride to the airport finally arrived. I stayed and watched the entire performance. I had a great time. The bar staff was less enthusiastic, they were happy to see us leave.
I was in Tallin for five days, but only took a few pictures. These are from the hill Toompea Castle is on and some "white night" shots of the square in the old town.
I visited Parnu after being assured that it was the summer capital of Estonia. I didn't expect to see a world class beach; I was just hoping to see some beautiful Estonian women sunning and frolicking. After getting to Parnu I realized how spoiled I have become when it comes to beaches. The weather was cool, gray and windy, the water was cold, gray and uninviting, and the beach was, to put it politely, unexceptional. Also, this was definitely a "Family Values" beach; minimal frolicking and the sight seeing didn't compare to what I'd grown accustomed to in South Bay.
The beach was a disappointment, but I had an interesting stay regardless. There was some kind of a music festival/conductor's convention going on while I was in Parnu. I stayed at the Hotel Monate and met Leanna, an attractive young conductor from the U.S. I somehow ended up on a pub crawl one evening with her and a group of other conductors. I was a little out of place, a somewhat scruffy retired officer/engineer with an international group of aspiring symphony conductors. It didn't bother me. Leanna was the only woman in the group, and the others were trying to impress her with stories of adventures in conducting. I just listened; I learned more about conducting than I had ever known. Of course since I didn't know anything about conducting before that night, any knowledge was more than I'd ever known. It wasn't a wild, out of control night, but I had fun.
I sent Leanna a postcard from Prague, but haven't heard from her. It was a nice postcard too; the most expensive on the rack. That's women for you; I spare no expense and get slighted.
On to Latvia.