Published: August 30th 2009August 27th 2009
Erin on the Baltic Coast.
Our last stop in Estonia was Pärnu, affectionately known to locals as "Estonia's Miami." Truth be told, on a cool day at the end of tourist season, it felt more like Estonia's Hyannis
, which is actually a bit more my speed. We checked into our room for the night, which was as spotless as we'd been led to expect, and was perhaps the roomiest accommodation I've had in a hostel. Then we headed out on the town.
Lunch was the first order of business. After wandering the downtown's six blocks for a bit, we decided on a place with bar food where we could sit outside and enjoy the sunshine. We both ordered sausages and fries. Mine came cut up like little octopi. It felt like high-class presentation of kid food.
After lunch we decided to see a few of the tourist highlights before it got too late. We stopped briefly at the Red Tower, which is actually a white tower, and used to form part of the city wall. At one time it hosted prisoners; now it hosts small art exhibitions -- at the moment an eclectic wardrobe of refurbished clothes from another time. We then visited the
Lunch in Parnu
Hotdog octopi! Also, deliciously seasoned fries.
town's small history museum, which, as our guide put it, crams 11,000 years into four rooms. The temporary exhibit was fairly interesting -- a brief history of Estonian women's fashion. The exhibit pointed out something I hadn't put together before, namely, that high fashion tended to emerge from the world's most important ports -- it makes a lot of sense and explains some things about American attitudes toward coastal vs. landlocked cities.
It's not a visit to a seaside resort until you've dipped your toes in the water, so we headed next to the beach, passing through a residential district on the way. Pärnu seems to have stopped halfway through a huge effort at renewal -- probably something to do with the bubble and bust that we've all seen in the last year. About a quarter of the old houses have clearly been fixed up a bit within the last five years -- new paint in many cases, new windows in some cases. However, another quarter are in extremely bad repair. Overall, it seemed like every third house or so was for sale. The listed prices were not American resort-town prices by any means, but also not something your average joe could just up and buy. I do hope the renovation continues once the economy picks up again.
Anyway. Beach! It was a beach. A little flatter and calmer than the Nags Head seaside of my youth, and with very different marine life -- the birds were mostly crows and jackdaws instead of gulls and sandpipers, the seashells smaller and more delicate than those on Southern shores. The water was cold but not overly so -- I wouldn't have wanted to swim but it was perfectly nice for wading. But notably, the beach -- at 6 pm! on a sunny day! in August! -- was totally desolate
. The beachside shops were closed down, the ice cream vendors gone, the sunbathers all gone home. Now I totally adore a desolate beach, so this was just fine by me. But it was still a bit unexpected. I think the Baltic tourist season has already come and gone.
Lunch having been late we decided to press on and see another museum: the Pärnu Museum of New Art
. The rotating exhibit, Man & Woman, had some really memorable pieces, a few rather disturbing. The one that stuck with me was a looped video of a beautiful female newscaster, smiling at the camera while eating glass pebbles with chopsticks. In the background was Kate Bush's Army Dreamers
, a song which I hadn't known before and which hasn't left my head since. The whole exhibit was one of those things where you can't tell if what's going on is objectification of women, or wry commentary about the objectification of women, or objectification masquerading as wry commentary. Well, anyway, at least it was a nice contrast to medieval towers and serene birch landscapes. After this excitement, we headed home to make dinner and collapse.
Visiting several towns in Estonia gave me a little bit more perspective on Estonian culture than I'd had before:
- Every town has a Pikk street, an Uus street, a Munga street, and a Rüütli street, and most of them have a Kreuzwald Avenue, too. Also, there's usually a Raekoja plats.
- Estonians like their barn swallows. We certainly saw enough of them to understand why! (Also a lot of hooded crows, wagtails, and jackdaws.)
- Everybody has an apple tree. Estonian apples are mealy but extremely flavorful.
- I am pretty sure your Estonian town is not allowed to incorporate until you have at least one R-Kiosk per city block. In some places I think they approach one R-Kiosk per citizen. Graham is convinced that they must have the backing of some serious government heavies. I gently remind him that these are no longer Soviet times.