So I’ll admit it: I’ve spent most of my time today with absolutely no idea where I am. Tallinn Old Town’s winding alleys and cobbled streets have got the better of me on several occasions. I’ve tried my best not to be the tourist wielding a map, squinting to try and make out distant street names. Fair to say, I’ve failed utterly. I did find my way into a quite wonderful art gallery at one point – the gallery of Neeme Lall. His art was alright. Nothing special, particularly. But it was just the way the tiny gallery, jam packed with paintings and creations, which doubles as his studio and triples as his house (you can see up to where he sleeps) that I was taken by.
But yes, the rest of the time, I just got lost. To try and find some sort of bearing, I joined a walking tour. There really is no better way to get under the skin of a city than finding one of the free walking tours delivered by local students (in this case an Estonian girl on her summer break from a journalism course a the University of Strathclyde). They’re less boring than your standard walking tours – I mean who really wants to know what year all the churches were built in? Rather than all that, today we heard about the farce that went along with building the city’s Freedom Monument, which was first mistaken for the German military’s Iron Cross; was then revealed to actually be an Estonian military medal of honour, but alas one that had never actually been awarded to anyone (Estonian military history is not particularly distinguished); and then ultimately began to fall apart owing to shoddy workmanship and had to be bailed out by the city University’s design and engineering department.
We also learned about Kiek in de Kök. No, not a man’s worst nightmare. We thought that’s what she said too. Kiek in de Kök actually means ‘A look in the kitchen’, and refers to a tower at the end of Tallinn’s city walls in which… legend has it… A guard was once posted on sentry duty. His wife, cooking dinner for him every night down below, told him that if he could guess from the smell what was cooking then he’d get ‘a surprise’ (our guide failed to define exactly what this surprise involved. That was left to the imagination).
So he tried and tried, but alas he couldn’t guess what on earth was cooking. So he never got a surprise. Then, one day, he realised that by standing at the opposite side of the tower, he could ‘look into the kitchen’ below. Or, ‘Kiek in de Kök’. And after that, well, surprises all round, I guess!
…Its either that or the ‘kitchen’ they’re referring too was, in fact, the enemy’s battalions massed on the other side of the wall. Which historians are a little more sure of. But what do historians know, right?
The only dampener on the walking tour – quite literally – was the rain, which absolutely bucketed down for a good hour, drenching us all from head to foot. Credit to the tour guide, she ploughed on, and throughly earned her tips at the end. But it did mean I basically spent the rest of the day trying to dry out. I’m hoping tomorrow is somewhat dryer – I’ve got a day out exploring the bohemian district planned.
And then, St Petersburg!