Welcome, readers!

Welcome to H&J's adventure blog! Please enjoy your stay, and please do leave comments for us. We love to hear back from our readers. We also love taking requests for future posts. Anything you want us to blog about? Just email us. Thanks for reading!

Services We Recommend

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Baltic segue

As previously reported, H managed to score us a pair of free tickets to Tallin, Estonia. Not ones to miss the opportunity for nearly-free travel (one still has to pay for food and incidentals), we made our way to the docks on Saturday afternoon to board the ship. Of course, having had a bit of experience with cruises originating from Sweden, we were mildly apprehensive.

Fewer empty suitcases aimed at the onboard duty free... a good sign.

We shouldn't have worried so much. The M/S Victoria is a much better appointed and maintained vessel than the M/S Cinderella. AND they have free wifi (via satellite) in most of the public spaces--which turned out to be a godsend, since we were hard at work on our submission for the Red Hat Challenge (deadline: 23:59 EST on Sunday). So there we were, writing away, IMing with our third, Montréal-based, team member... via satellite... while afloat on the Baltic Sea. World is a crazy place, n'est-ce pas?

We arrived in Tallinn in the late morning on Sunday, equipped with only our feet, our eyes, a camera, and our debit cards. We withdrew a wee bit of cash and started exploring. Our overwhelming impression was that Tallinn--apparently representative of the Baltics in this regard--teeters a bit precariously between its history and its eagerness to make up for the Soviet years. Despite having become a tourist trap, however, the old city persists in exuding a sturdy charm.

Cobblestoned rambles, cloistered ascents, and onion domes. Hard to get more Baltic--or more charming.

The old city cultivates an enticing variety of street vibes: expansive avenues, quirky corners, daring slopes, stirring vistas, and broad plazas. Tallinn gives the feeling not exactly of hiding something, but of being a bit coy. Whispers Tallinn, "There are many things to discover within me. Things not everyone knows about. Not secrets. Just... small treasures." Unfortunately, that means that most of the big, obvious parts of Tallinn have become calloused, as must happen to all cities which rely on tourism.

Given its complex character, it's little surprise that the old city evinces little fear at having a bit of fun--even at its own expense.

Knock, knock! Who's there? Big stone pigeon. Big stone pigeon who?

Notwithstanding the old city's often delightful urbanity, its relationship with the new city just beyond its gates remains uneasy.

Barricade the gates! Man the walls! The BSSs are attacking!

In general, the aggressive mixing of the old and the new results in some of the most exciting, potentially explosive, and unpredictable cultural alloys. Although Tallinn clearly had energy to spare for growth, to our ears and eyes its enthusiasm rang somehow hollow. The spanking new mall right across the park from the old city's gates (at the foot of the BSS pictured above) adds little to the city's character or quality of life... though I suppose it almost certainly helps the municipality's commercial tax base, a virtue not to be taken lightly. Tallinn seems determined to catch up with the rest of Western Europe as quickly as possible, without really having come to terms with what's happening to their lovely city.

H and I had been thinking quite seriously about a week-long jaunt through the Baltics, but our experience in Tallinn has shaken our determination on that front. While Tallinn's old city possesses a residue of character, its new city--so forceful in both aspect and pathos--has little to speak of. Who wants to see another old city overrun by its zeal for the "future?" I've seen enough of that in North America and in the rest of Europe. I can appreciate the Estonians wanting to put the Soviet experience behind them. It's just that that I believe that there must be better ways than to rush headlong into the soulless monotony of suburbia and an urban core of concrete, glass, and cash.

No comments: