Estonia = SATINE + O


Arto and I returned from our “23-hour cruise” to Estonia yesterday night. Yes, that is how the cruise is advertised: depart from Helsinki’s west harbour at 7.30 p.m. and dock the next day at 6.30 p.m.

Although it takes a little over three hours to cross the Gulf of Finland from Helsinki to Tallinn, the cruise is planned such that passengers dine and sleep on board, all the while having fun at the casino, at the karaoke club, watching various shows, having sauna, shopping, going to the duty-free store, etc. Arto and I had a delicious meal at one of the Tallink ship’s (MS Meloodia) fine restaurants. I had three types of fish: salmon, perch and cod with black pasta and vegetables.

We went to our cabin where I volunteered to take the top bunk. The pillow was barely the size of the wad of cotton you pull out of pill bottles. The right side of my face is scabbed and yellow, and it appears as though I have a black eye. The skin under the eyes is very thin and sensitive, and any kind of trauma in that region (even though I did not actually fall on my face underneath my eye directly) will show bruising. The stinging is gone and FYI I felt I did not have to see a doctor in Helsinki when I arrived back from Norway.

Passengers were allowed to leave the ship between 08.00 and 10.00. Arto and I went through Estonian customs. Arto is a Finnish citizen thus he went through the E.U. customs area while I was stuck behind a longer line-up, for non-E.U. nationals.

When we set foot on Estonian ground we headed for Old Tallinn. The old section of the capital was cobblestoned and made up of narrow streets which were all snowy and unplowed. We passed liquor store after liquor store, which were selling alcohol at prices far cheaper than even the duty-free shop on ship. Arto had his sights on a Moldovan “Dracula” red wine while I was keen on the wines from the Republic of Georgia. As my friends know, I am a nondrinker, and when I brought back a case of Finnish Lapin Kulta beer three years ago, some of them will recall how I gave the cans away and even brought beer to Scrabble tournaments to give as souvenirs. Thus any Georgian wine I planned to buy would have to be drunk by people other than myself. I mean, I’ll try it, but I do not have the stomach to polish off half a bottle with one dinner guest. Arto and I looked at the wine prices in various shops and explored Tallinn’s new and used bookstores for bargains.

In a second-hand bookstore in Old Tallinn, I was delighted to find a 1960 paperback imprint in Estonian of Le Petit Prince. I regret that I forgot to record the Estonian name of the novel before I rode over to the University of Helsinki’s Language Centre (from where I am typing this). I also bought an Estonian book on the Beatles, and a novel in the Georgian language. At a bookstore selling only new titles, I picked up a Finnish-to-Estonian phrase book. I found the similarities between the two languages to be so alike that I could read the signs in Tallinn and know what everything was all about. Estonian, however, I believe is unlike Finnish in that there are far more Anglicisms and Russicisms (? – neologism alert). In cases where Finnish will invent a new word, Estonian is more likely to borrow from English.

I was happy to take photographs of the main post office in Tallinn, an Estonian mailbox and an Estonian postal truck. I now have postal photos from Åland and Norway in addition to Estonia.

Trucks in Tallinn left Arto and me gasping for fresh air after they revved up and sped away. The putrid nauseating stench of smoke hung in the cold air. What is it about the emissions from Estonian (or old Soviet-era) trucks? Talk about reducing one’s life span!

Old Tallinn was dominated by churches and a wide-open empty square. I took photos as I turned every corner. In new Tallinn we went to the main department store but did not find anything interesting to buy. It seems, at least in Tallinn, there are several security guards stationed at every retail store and on every floor of the main department store. Perhaps I am not aware of this phenomenon in Toronto since security guards tend to be in plain clothes and invisible. But in Tallinn’s two-storey main bookstore, there were at least three guards. In the department store too, sometimes it seemed as though there were more uniformed guards on certain floors than customers.

Arto and I bought our Moldovan “Dracula” wine and Georgian wine (respectively), then headed back for the ship after a six-hour stay. When we boarded, we reserved time for an hour-long sauna on the ship. I felt so refreshed after the sauna, and having an Estonian Saaremaa cold beer afterward. It put us in the perfect mood to dine at the dinner buffet, and I ate several plates of seafood and quail eggs.

Helsinki was covered in snow when we arrived and now, at 2 p.m. the next day, it is still snowing. I rode my bike on the sidewalk to get here and had to walk my bike part of the way. The snow is expected to increase throughout the week. This is the weather I expected to encounter when I got here three weeks ago! By far the worst-hit region in Finland is around Seinäjoki, the site of my 5½-hour train delay. They have received over eighty cm of snow since the weekend. My gosh!

Today I am off to pick up a few Finnish souvenirs like tar shampoo, cloudberry jam and a pocket dictionary of Helsinki slang. Then either today or tomorrow Arto and I will watch a newly-released movie on the life of the father of contemporary Finnish literature, Aleksis Kivi.

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