Us: Excuse us, do you speak English? Is this milk?
Him: Uhh, milk? ... No, this is milk (as he points). In Estonian, milk is Piim.
The last morning in Helsinki it was raining as we boarded another ferry to take us over to Tallinn, a relatively short 2.5 hour ride across a skinny section of the Baltic Sea. Arriving at port, the skyline was a complete departure from that of Helsinki.
The most prominent features are several green/black-roofed spires that belong to churches and the town hall, dating from 1402. Apparently it's the only intact Gothic style townhall in Northern Europe.
We hopped in a cab after scurrying around to find a pay-phone to call the George, the manager for the apartment we rented. The cabbie dropped us off at the address we had but there was absolutely nothing to tell us where to go from that point on. Turns out the apartment was through a tiny door, down a tunnel, around a corner and up three flights of stairs.
At the top, is one evening's grocery store conversation as we shopped for the next morning's supplies. All of us were staring at the refrigerated section of the store with bags upon bags of dairy products. The problem for us was that a) we didn't really know any Estonian and b) all the bags looked the same. We gambled and lost. Fortunately there was local friendly help. We still aren't sure what we picked up first.
Once the three of us actually got mobile the next morning, we set out to figure out where the heck we actually were. Normally when you think "Olde Europe" you may think of Paris, Rome, London, but Tallinn is just as old and has virtually no crowds. You can actually stroll along and have that be ok! Our place was a 5min walk to the old town square and we ventured there often. Even more often than that, we'd stop somewhere for a beer. Estonia has lots of beer and most of it is pretty good. Just about every restaurant has an umbrella with a beer brand on it. Most visible was Saku, however; this wasn't the best.
That doesn't mean there aren't scars and ugly Soviet buildings everywhere. Step outside the old town and you see signs everywhere of things past. Lots of Russian and Estonian graffiti on derelict and abandoned buildings, old trams, cars, houses, apartment buildings, warehouses, even a prison that was in use as recently as 2004 I think. Dad and I went to a concert/interpretive dance performance one night in one of said warehouses. From what remained inside, it looked like it was a dry dock that built war ships. I personally haven't been to a place where the history is as tangible as it was in Tallinn. Lots of buildings are just as they were after being bombed out in WWII and later. It made things very real. Most people are old enough to remember how it was under Soviet rule and it sounded pretty bleak from the stories. A bag of Skittles were a luxury item, said the twenty-something-year-old girl who lead our bike tour.
In retrospect, I think Tallinn was my favorite spot of the trip. It was just so interesting! An awesome mix of old and new and a very good lesson on Russian history, culture, food, beer, etc. Highly recommended by yours truly.
It'll be interesting to see how things progress over the next few decades!