Estonia tomorrow – Backstory

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So yeah, flying out to Estonia tomorrow, to visit the capital, Tallinn. It’s not the most common holiday destination, hell most people probably don’t even know where Estonia is, why then am I visiting?

Truth be told, this was almost a 100% impulse driven holiday, at first I was just trying to use up some of my holiday days, if we don’t use up our allowance before the end of the year, we lose it – it doesn’t carry over. So I booked 3 days off to be able to watch E3 (Games conference).
I always watch E3, I can’t remember the last time I didn’t watch it in some way or form, and I usually watch it with people, whether it be my brother, my university housemates (when I was at uni) or with my internet buddies – you can probably see where i’m going with this.

L-fel is probably one of the older internet friends I still keep in regular contact with, a friend from the past when memes extended about as far as the ‘O Rly owl’, the games were still on DirectX 8, and I was still a teenager. It’s hard to trace exactly when we got to know each other, but I estimate it was somewhere around 2006 or 2007 on the purepwnage IRC channel. Since then we’ve been allies on alien worlds, enemies on a battlefield, and everything inbetween. We’ve seen communities form and crumble, good times go bad, and a few bouts of drama along the way.

And so, after booking my holiday time off, I got to thinking, 3 days and a weekend, a huge potential to go somewhere, do something big, and have another bizarre adventure.
A few weeks later, I booked the plane ticket, and tomorrow, I’m off to see the city of Tallinn, and more importantly, an old friend whom i’ve arguably spent more time with than my ‘real’ friends.

 

That said, I really hope he doesn’t murder me in my sleep.

L-fel in the distance about to get murdered (2010)
L-fel in the distance about to get murdered – WoW (2010)
Doin some fishin in Lost Saga (2010)
Doin some fishin in Lost Saga (2010)
L-fel post murder... by me. without him knowing it was me. (2008)
L-fel post murder… by me. without him knowing it was me. – Age of Conan (2008)

(Related blog post  – http://www.mengsbizarreadventure.com/2008/dogs-died/ )

PSU 'pose like a team' shot (2008)
Phantasy Star Universe ‘pose like a team’ shot (2008)

Estonia 2014 – Day 1 – Arrival and Old Town

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Flew out from Gatwick North at 12:30 ish, and touched down in Tallinn Airport at around 5:15pm local time, which sounds worse than it actually is, but the flight itself was around 2.5 hours, which inflates to 4.5 hours after timezone changes.

As I was leaving the airport, I got pulled aside by the customs officer, who started asking me If i was carrying any drugs, anything to declare, etc. Obviously thought I was trying to smuggle in some DVD’s or something in my tiny hand luggage (I mean, c’mon at least scan someone who had unscanned hold luggage).

There to greet me at arrivals was of course the smiling from ear to ear L-fel, who was shorter and funnier looking than expected, as soon as he opened his mouth though everything felt natural. As we journey into city via bus to get to my hotel, I get a full rundown of the city’s history from my experienced tour guide. A short walk later, and I’m at my hostel for the night, the Center hotel Tallinn.

Worse than travelodge, who would have thought.
Worse than travelodge, who would have thought.

If ever there were a firm example of ‘you get what you pay for’, it would be the Center hotel that i am typing this from (though to its credit, it does at least have free wifi, something even travelodge UK don’t offer). After checking in with the rather unfriendly hotel staff, I head up to my room on the 5th floor, a tiny square room with no ventilation, I head to look out the window and there is a girl in only a shirt smoking on the balcony, how she got there is a mystery to me still, why she was there with no trousers… well…

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Despite being 5 or 6pm, the sun is still bright and the skies still blue, so we head into Tallinn city centre, or Tallinn Old town as it is otherwise known. Majority of the city is fairly modern looking, an odd mix of old buildings and new glass faced retail and business buildings, and then all of a sudden you hit the Old Town and it feels like you have gone back in time.

I’ve been to my fair share of old castley looking places, but this is the first time it’s been so natural, unlike many old places filled with battlements, stone walls and lookout towers, in the Old town segment of Tallinn these features are all just there and people (tourists aside) just seem to almost ignore them, like they are completely normal. The result is a slice of city that has all of the modern conveniences we know (daim frappe from McDonalds was amazing) mixed with a surreal old time feel.

We walked the cobble roads around the old town for some hours, through small parks, around castle walls and past churches. Rather impressive in particular were the Alexander Nevsky cathedral and the view from Toompea hill, the latter of which featured a balcony overlooking the rest of the old town.

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After this, for whatever reason, Lfel decided to go full adventure mode, I had no idea what I was in for, but we headed towards the harbor area, which turned out to be just a small collection of old docks with no ships, just a bunch of fishermen. It was around this point that a rather eerie fog started floating in from the north.

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There was a massive kind of egyptian looking temple thing to the east of us, complete with staircase upwards, naturally, we headed towards it. This giant structure is the Linnahall, apparently an old sports/concert venue in the past, it has since fallen into a rather sad state, but was home to an impressive quantity of graffiti, some better than others of course. One thing lead to another, and we were soon walking down a disused path down the linnahall and through a fence into a funfair which was situated next door. We didn’t ride on anything, but the fog had given the whole place a rather creepy feel, the fact the place was half empty as well didn’t really help.

 

After slowly making our way back to civilization, we stopped in at an italian restaurant called Vapiano. Upon entering the restaurant we were presented with a smart card, this as it turns out is your tab, you then go up to the counter which is actually a line of chefs, you order your food, and then they cook/assemble it in front of you, fast food style, at the end of the meal, the lady at the door scans your card and you pay your bill. It was a really unique system that I don’t think i’ve seen anywhere else before, a strange kind of restaurant twist on an asian style hawker system, but the service was reasonably fast and friendly, and the price was very reasonable (25eur for 2 meals and a starter w/ alcohol), I had a sweet spicy chicken pasta dish with an amazing pear cider, much better than expected.

After dinner I was too exhausted to keep exploring the city, not that there was a massive lot left of it to explore anyway mind you. We headed back to Lfels place for a casual bit of games before I returned to my small prison cell in the hostel.

Estonia 2014 – Day 2 – The City, The Guns, The Games

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After a rocky night of sleep, waking up at 4…5…6..7.. I checked out at the Center hotel and headed to Lfels, stopping off at a shop along the way and buying a white(!) lion bar along with some water.

We headed out relatively late and walked towards the city again, eventually we stopped in at the solaris shopping centre to get brunch, the food court had an oddly homey feel to it, despite having an odd cafeteria feel to it. I had pork goulash with some fried potato hash thing, it was surprisingly nice.

From here we would keep walking southwest, past charles church and into the gigantic national estonian library to be impressed at the sheer scale of it.

Then, it was a bus ride and long walk to the Tondi shooting range, found in the basement of a building which was already quite out of the way. The entrance itself took us about 5 minutes to find, and lead into a very spartan setup of office area and the shooting range itself.
We sat down while we waited for the previous group to finish, when suddenly, obscenely loud gunshots. I nearly shat myself, we turned to see a pair of men firing scoped rifles down range.

Eventually, it was our turn, our ‘menu’ for the afternoon was made from the glock 17, the sig sauer P226, Taurus revolver, Beretta CX4 Storm rifle, and infamous AK-47. The trainer brought us over, gave us goggles and earmuffs, taught us some basic gun safety and then directed us towards a table full of weaponry. We started with the Beretta rifle, then the glock, then heavier sig-sauer (made completely of metal) and then the AK. The guns were all significantly larger than I had in mind, and much heavier as well, even the pistols had fair weight to them and commanded respect.

In general, the rifles were much easier to control than the pistols, with the shoulder stock and second hand taking the weight off the weapon. The pistols felt heavier and had more recoil than the rifles, with each shot throwing my arms upwards, and taking a moment to re-align my aim again. Did I mention the guns were loud? it was tolerable with the earmuffs on, but for one shot I forgot to, and I went deaf for a half second or so.

After firing all of the weapons, she tried to sell us extras, which, considering I have no way to fire guns otherwise, I took, as did L-fel.
I ended up purchasing a single round for the legendary Smith & wesson .44 Revolver, a mammoth of a handgun with an equally enormous noise and recoil. L-fel on the other hand went down a more retro route and paid for 3 shots on the Mosin-Nagan bolt action rifle (and cut himself with the recoil).

My spread on the whole was pretty good for a beginner’s I thought, with all shots hitting the target, and majority in the inner segment. it was an amazing experience, and though expensive, i’m glad I went to try it out.

My target was the left one
My target was the left one

From here we headed back to the city, the old town in particular, to finish off the segments we didn’t get to visit yesterday. a bunch of the smaller side roads which lead around the inner castle walls.
We also went to the old town square, a large clearing by a church. The square itself was surrounded by restaurants, each of these restaurants featuring their own waitresses dressed in old style, each trying to lure you in, not unsimilar to the maids in Akihabara Japan, only with a medieval twist.

Finally, we headed back to L-fels to chill out and spend the rest of the evening watching E3. Though there were of course a few hiccups, his kitchen has no baking trays for example, his toilet lock fell off when he was in there, and he ended up stuck in his own toilet for a good 5 minutes, and probably a few other bits and pieces. But for the most part, a great relaxing night watching E3, with someone I would normally watch it with, only this time, in the same room.

 

Estonia 2014 – Day 3 – Patarei prison and Kadrioru Park

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A very late start, after what was practically an all-nighter watching E3 until 6am. Conferences were all pretty decent this year, though somewhat of a lack of surprises. Some games in particular looked jawdropping (The Order, Rainbow 6 Siege, No Mans Sky). But anyway…

After getting up at around 2pm, and having a brunch of eggs and bacon, we headed to the northern coast to visit Patarei Prison. Upon entering the compound, the place was pretty deserted, only after walking for a few minutes did we come across what was essentially a caravan in front of the entrance to the main grounds, a woman came out to take money from us and then we were on into the ‘museum’. I say museum in quotations because Patarei Prison is about as much of a museum as my foot is an artpiece, this place was basically just straight up an abandoned prison, with only a few spots of electrical lighting and some ropes for no-go areas, but for the most part, this was just an abandoned building which a dark past.

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We walked around inside, it was very cold compared to outside, almost like walking around a cave network, only the main corridors were lit, and most of the rooms off to the side were dark or near pitch black – my slight fear of the dark surfaced a few times upon seeing completely black corridors leading into god knows where. The floors and walls had been completely unkept, broken tiles and peeling paint everywhere, and just about everything made of metal had been rusted shut.

Outdoors areas were equal parts rusted and overgrown, and barbed wire was randomly strewn around in places. Patarei prison was definitely one of the more bizarre places ive been to in my life, and certainly sent a chill down my spine. Of special note, I swear that one of the rooms I went into, I saw a guy sitting down at a machine, only to blink and have him disappear in front of me. I didn’t stick around that room too long o_o;;

After the prison, we took a long tram journey down to Kadrioru park, which was essentially Tallinns main park, it was pretty big, with much more trees than I expected, some pictures below. We also walked through the art museum briefly while it was raining.

Dinner was a pizza at some small local shop, and then back to the house again for the final bits of E3 and some much deserved rest. my body still somewhat not recovered from staying up until 6am, plus with the ridiculous amount of walking we did today (Tallinn is equal parts cool and annoying in that you can walk to more or less all of the attractions).

This more or less ends my visit to Estonia, with only one night’s rest left, and then a trip to the airport in the morning. It’s been an interesting short holiday, and I think I really managed to see the majority of Tallinn in these few days (which probably says something about the size of the city).