Tag Archives: Travel

Tartu for 2 days: An alternative tourguide

Here is what you should do, when all over sudden you discover 2 free days in your schedule and you happen to be somewhat close: Visit Tartu! Plenty of books describe plenty of things to do, see, buy, eat… But only a truely young student who is doing his ERASMUS in that city can tell you the truth! So listen and listen carefully…

Dependent on your budget, get a fancy hotel or a less fancy hostel. Hotel Dorpat is highly recommended, with a breath-taking breakfast, decent rooms and with an amazing view at the river. In case of less money, get yourself a hostel room at Raatuse 22, this happens to be the place I currently stay (yes, we have a hostel in the dorm! We also have a sports bar and a driving school…).

Well, fresh up a little, we are going for a walk! We shall start at the Raekoja plats (town hall square), where all the nice little cafés are located. Passing it on the right side, we stand at the beginning of the Toome Hill. Have a walk! Especially in early autumn, when the leaves keep falling and the sun shines its last hours of the year, then having a long walk through the hill of Tartu might even be inspiring. Various monuments, some cafés and of course the Tartu cathedral welcome you!

After you finished your highly exhausting walk (about 1 hour) step down and find your way trough the Ülikooli street towards the Ülikool Tartu (the university – for reasons beyond my understanding situated in the “university street 🙂 ) Have a look inside! You may find yourself buying a ticket for a classical concert in the main hall or, due to lack of alternatives, just walk around. The building looks very impressive from the outside but the inside can easily be covered in 12 minutes. Step out again! Turn right! Head for café Werner – without any doubts the best in town, in Estonia, probably even in the entire Baltic Sea Region! Sit down, order a coffee (or 2, or 3) and try every sort of cake they offer – every singe one! It is worth it. The restaurant upstairs is less favourable. To have a decent dinner, either go to Pierre or Volga. Fair prices for good food in a warm atmospheres. Not recommended for Vegetarians (nothing in Tartu is much recommended for my people! The national/regional cuisine is really dependent on meat and fish), but a wide range of traditional Estonian/Georgian/Russian food is available. You will need it for the night. The nights are what makes Tartu the most interesting town in the entire country! Start your night with a decent housebeer at Püssirohukelder, preferable on a Monday, because then you might see crazy Estonians doing Estonian karaoke versions of popular songs. The housebeer costs 28eek per litre (that equals 1,80€ for a litre!). Don’t stay too long…

Next, hit the Illegard. Three beer = 80eek. Great deal. A much better deal is the five hotshots = 100eek. A hotshot is a drink consisting of espresso, Galliano and cream. Drink 1 (maximum 2!), leave the premise. It is time for Genialistide Klubi. Now it has an entrance fee of 5oeek, but when you make it at the right night, you won’t regret it. It welcomes the most interesting bands that come to town, have decent reggae parties and even a smoking room (a smoking room!). Hold your position for about 2 hours, than make your way to Zavood – the holy Zavood! End the night in Zavood, that is the only place to do so. Drink a “Funny Suicide”, have a plastic beer outside the ally and meet (weird) locals. Actually all those who got me “inspired” about my “Talking Politics” post some weeks ago I have met in Zavood. Leave when it starts raining (and believe me, it will start raining). Grab a bite to eat on the way home. Take-aways offer the cheapest alternatives at night, such as wraps, burger or onion rings. Sleep well – but not too long! See, if you sleep to long in Tartu, especially during the long, cold winter (September – June) you are running risk of missing the daylight for quite some time. After yet another breakfast, take on your good shoes, we are going for a walk. Destination: Supilinn. Within meters away from both Zavood and Genialistide Klubi you find the poorest area in the city but also the most interesting one. Old wooden houses from the 19th century present themselves in only a few streets which are named after vegetables, indicating that Supilinn used to be a place for “ordinary people”. Afterwards, have a coffee/tea in the Ülikooli Kohvik situated next to the main university building. Of course you can also return to Werner and try yet another mouth-watering cake 😀   The art museum (Tartu Kunstimuuseum) at Raekoja plats 18 offers a compact overview about current and recent Estonian painters and costs only 35eek entrance.  For the evening, I suggest eating out at either Pierre, Volga or Café Noir, all within minutes away from the theatre. The theatre? Yes, the theatre! The Vanemuine theatre at Vanemuise 6 hosts latest adaptations of plays to more than moderate prices. After the play, conclude the night with a walk along the river Emajõgi and finally fall asleep in whatever place you have booked in.

If you would come right now, the following images might be waiting for you…

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Exploring Russia: Псков и Москва

Last Friday, I was given the opportunity to participate in a 4-day trip tp Russia, including 2 nights in the country’s sparkling capital MOSCOW! Of course, the preparations have started weeks ago, since I had to make prepayment and leave my passport in the hands of the local travel agency.

On early Friday morning, a group of around 25 people gathered in front of the dormitory at Raatuse, waiting for the bus to arrive. Among those I  could count more than 10 Germans 🙂 The bus would arrive with the woman from the agency who was going to guide us during the trip and take care of all (language-related) problems and obstacles. It turned out to be more than necessary…                                                                                                        After about 3 hours of driving, we arrived at the Estonian-Russian border. It took a good 2 hours to first exit Estonia, drive through a 2oom “no-mans-land” and finally to enter Russia, including several check ups on the passport, the pictures and, in my case only, a good look into my luggage. Once done, I witnessed the first heavy snow of this season.After we have successfully entered Russia, we stopped to pick up a tiny old woman, who turned out to be our tour guide for Pskov (NB: Tartu’s partnercity). We drove to this old (over 1,100 years) city and spend a couple of hours visiting the local Kremlin. It was rather interesting, yet the omnipresence of the snow and cold was a drawback to this excursion.

“You are not allowed to take pictures of the nuns and the monkeys!”

After  about 2 hours in the very extreme cold of Pskov, we drove to a small café where we had the opportunity to get some lunch. Next to that place we found a small supermarket and bought the groceries for what we believed should be a quite relaxing trip in the night train towards Moscow. I was mistaken… 😛 The bottle of really cheap vodka (100 ruble, around 2,30€) I took was to get us in a dizzy sleeping mood so we could have gotten up in with explordinary ambitions in the morning, ready to experience Moscow. However, what stood between this idea was the comfort of the train + 150 russian soldiers, who just finished their military service as paratroops and were looking forward to finally going home to their families, girlfriends, wives and kids (the soldiers’ ages: 20-25). At first, I was afraid my “non-russian-looks” could be the cause for an unpleasant night with 150 bold headed drunken ones staring at me. But then I opened my bottle of vodka, saluted to the next guy I could see and drank – the ice was broken! Following this was 4 hours of drinking, learning Russian (us), learning English (them) and experiencing a typical russian-style rooster fight, when the train militia tried to prevent the soldiers from excessive drinking. At 11pm, we were told to go to “bed” and sleep. Surprisingly (or maybe not, taking into consideration the gallons of booze those people drank) everyone obeyed. Everyone? No! 1 brave tall and very drunken German from Rostock decided to fight for resistance against this, what he called “Stalinist” idea of suppressing authorities. He was chased up and down the train for about 1 hour before being convinced by both our guide and the militia that sleeping would be a much better solution than spending the upcoming 15 days in a prison in Moscow – he was a very smart kid then 🙂

Saturday morning, 6.30am. Moscow. Cold. Windy. But still: Moscow! We took a bus to the hotel but unfortunately it was still pitch black outside, so I cannot much recall the first impression of this city. The hotel was…all right. The rooms were fine (I even got a single room, not the worst idea after having travelled in the same shoes for almost 24 hours!), and the view from the 16th floor could not have been better (I have never seen so many blocks of houses in my life – and I have been to Berlin Marzahn) but it was the breakfast that made me realise I finally came to the capital of the former Soviet Union: Noodles with cheese for me (with 1 sausage for those who eat roadkill), 1 yoghurt, 1 teabag, a little bit of hot water. Taking a second teabag equalled the amount of 15 days of prison as I am convinced…

Having eaten, having freshened up a little, were ready to hop on a bus and get our first guided bus trip around the city – big fail! 5 minutes after I was seated comfortably, I fell asleep. I was woken around 40 minutes later for a stop at something which I cannot recall. It has not even been the first stop we have made. The first one was something called “Kreml”, but that did not seem to be too interesting, so I haven’t missed a thing. Now since I do not remember what it was that we visited, I will just post the picture and whoever guesses correctly will help me a lot. Next to the unknown spot, we drove by the Moscow State University, the Olympic Stadium from 1980 and finally stopped at some tourist spot for taking photos, given the explicit order not to buy anything from the sellers, something we almost obeyed.

We also saw the ski-jump tower which has never been used, as it could not have been guaranteed that the athletes could land within the designated area. After that part, we went to the city to get some “typical russian food” which in my case was potatoes with salad, a vegetable soup and some ice cream for dessert. Afterwards, we were given 3 hours of spare time in the All-Russian Exhibition Center. Once a sparkling area for demonstrating the economic and agricultural success of the Russian republics it is now a rather sad place for buying old garbage, spending money on touristic products and saluting to the Lenin-statue every now and then. 3 hours was way to much, except the pavilion of Armenia, which hosts a fiddle, half the size of a match. And, of course, the amazing 5D cinema. For 500 ruble I was given a 3D-glass, was seated in a movable chair with wind blowing around my face and drove through outer space, the midwest and many rollercoasters. Big fun! The 90 minutes it took me afterwards to convince my stomach to remain on the inside were less fun, still it was worth the money 🙂

Later, we drove with the monorail (!) to a shopping mall, ate some overpriced (but nonetheless extraordinarily cheap) food, did the groceries in the supermarket and took the metro back to the hotel. After this really long travel and this long day with a lot of walking, I fell asleep at around 10pm.

Waking up in Moscow! After a morning shower and another Russian-breakfast-experience, we again took the metro, but this time to outer town. Kolomenskoye was the destination, which used to be a residential place for tsars of the Russian Empire. The museum was quite interesting, as many information were given about the time this place was of major importance to the empire. The areal has many beautiful-looking churches, the main one being the Church of Our Lady of Kazan, which seemed to have hosted a baby convention on that particular day… After yet another typical Russian lunch, salad, soup, deep-fried califlower (for all vegetarians!), we drove back to the city centre, buying tickets for the Moscow Circus! Before we entered the circus, we had yet another 3 hour trip to the Tretyakov Gallery which can be considered as the best art museum for Russian fine art in the world. As I prefer walking around a museum without getting explanations about 250 different paintings, I started comparing the tour guides from different countries. Obviously our Russian one was unwiling to make our trip anything but static, but the Germans were way more enthusiastic (did you hear that, Germany!!!). And to a much wider extent the Dutch guide was sort of reanacting certain historical scenes captured in paintings – fantastic! I also developed some talent in alternative interpretations of art… 😀

Finally, it became evening. Finally, we could go the circus! The famous Moscow Circus! It was worth every ruble (I have waited all my life to actually say this sentence with justifications!). Unfortunately I was not allowed to take pictures with flash and those I did without are sort of useless, but I’ll let you decide. I have taken videos though with promising footage. Everything one could expect was shown during the show. However, a great amount of time was dedicated to humiliating animals in the arena, namely horses, dogs, lions and even car-driving bears. In general, the show was sparkling and I am very glad to have gotten the opportunity to see it 🙂

After the show, we driving around the city at night, but the concentration among all of us was rather low, so I am sorry to not be able to provide you with any stories and/or pictures. Once back at the hotel, we hoped to get to the supermarket in time for a bottle of vodka, but it seems that strong booze can only be bought before 10am, which meant we came in a quarter of an hour late. Well, a couple of beers and some snacks would also do it, so we stayed in with a bunch of people in someone’s hotel room for some time, then went to bed.

Monday morning. I showered, I ate (no comment on the what I ate), I packed my suitcase. Then we left to enter the Kreml, this time from the inside! To be honest, I had no idea what to expect from that since I ever really paid attention to the pictures on the news, but I was only partially impressed. I mean, the areal itself looks just stunning, with plenty of huge buildings used for a lot of very important political reasons, but nonetheless I had always pictured it differently. We entered nearby the famous Spasskaya Tower and quickly made our way across the roads towards the “Tsar Canon”. We ended up in the “Cathedrale of the Assumption” where we again compared tourist guides, again with the same result 🙂

And then it was time…

Time for the Red Square! Within walking distance from the Kreml, we reached it. Words cannot really describe the moment I have seen it for the first time. The place actually is not very much bigger than the Vismarket in Groningen nor the Pferdemarkt in Oldenburg, but with its surrounding buildings and its two main ones on both ends it feels just stunning to be standing there, on a square which has witnessed tremendous amounts of history! I could have spent hours on the bricks, just walking and looking around, taking picture after picture, entering the State Historical Museum or the St.Basil’s Cathedral, but unfortunately time was limited. We still had to visit the newly (1995) built Cathedrale of Christ the Saviour. Also a very beautiful building, but again we were rushed through by the guide, who would in turn for the usual “5 minutes for pictures” grand us 90 minutes of excessive shopping in the main tourism street of Moscow where thousands of people trying to sell crap to us. Surely an interesting way of setting priorities…

The rest of the story is not worth spending too much time on. We took the same night train back to Pskov (this time without any soldiers!), arrived at 8am, had breakfast, did some groceries (well, mainly vodka) and then went on the border. This time the border control only took around 45 minutes so that by 1pm, we were back home in good old Tartu! It was a fun trip but way to short to experience a city with nearly as many inhabitants as the Netherlands. For a first visit it was very good, but I know that coming back next time, I will get a tailor-made plan of what to see and what to do.

Спасибо и До свидания!


Day trip to the South of Estonia

Last Friday, after days and weeks of doing nothing but occasionally studying but frequently drinking, I decided to participate in a bus trip to the more interesting aspects of the south of Estonia. The trip was offered by some geology faculty classes and was free of charge. So I met up with some people from ERASMUS at the early hour of 8am down in the lobby and we took off.

The first stop was at Taevaskoja (Heaven’s Chamber), where we walked in the woods and took many pictures of the 400-million-year old sandstone cliffs down in the valley of the Ahja river. Below are some of the better shots I have made:

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Julian ante portas – 7 days in Tartu

Thursday, 3:35pm – tere hommikust! It is 1 week I have spent in the city so far, so I would like to provide a small overview of what my experiences and impressions are at this point. Good news first, I managed to purchase an internet cable (since WI-FI is only theoretically usable in the house!) and a memory card for my camera, so that I can offer some pictures next to written material. Therefore the 1st image to be seen is the municipality of Tartu. It stands right at the head side of the Raekoja plats. In front of that building, it is the sculpture of the Suudlevad tudengid, the “Kissing Students”, which was decided upon by the people of Tartu who were encouraged to voice preferences about what statue should stand at that spot.

I am still only living in my appartement with my Estonian roommate giving me company but since introduction is supposed to start by next week Wednesday, we expect the remaining 4 people by Sunday the latest. It sure will be interesting to see how 6 guys will cope in a very small place, with limited kitchen furnitures, limited kitchen utilities limited and kitchen-cleaning ambitions! This is my appartements’ kitchen:

The City of Tartu has just over 100,000 inhabitants, making it Estonia’s second biggest one. However, with approx. 20,000 students enrolled annually, it makes its claim for the country’s academical and cultural capital. The university – Tartu Ülikool – is situated just steps from the municipality and was founded by King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden in 1632, making it the oldest university in Estonia and the second-oldest in the entire Baltic region (after Vilnius). Below I provided an image of its outside front:

As one can probably already imagine, everything within the city centre can be reached by walking. Distances from me to the pubs, the university, the bus station, the mall or the food market rarely exceed 10 minutes. Besides the train station (which is almost 25 minutes walking!) it is only the football stadium which requires some more time. That stadium will be my destination upcoming Saturday, when the local Tammeka JK Tartu takes on JN Nömme Kalju!

More pictures shall follow soon…!