I was in Narva 10 years ago but I realize I have no recollection of the way the city looked. I have a dim memory of Peter's Square and the fortress but little else.
This is a good thing. I was kind of dreading writing about Narva in "now and then" terms, or now and "way back then" terms. with the temptation to impose the language issue on everything.
Then again, it seems locals are conscious about demographics in a wry and healthy -- and perhaps prescient manner. It's only 96% Russian, and who knows what the long-term dynamics could be. It's the EU, and Narva-Jõesuu is already marketing itself as the next Riviera. If not the Chinese, then perhaps southern Europeans.
Pretty Narva isn't. But not unforgivingly bleak, either. Visually, it's the place on this tour that is most like Tallinn so far. If I had to desctibe it to someone quickly, I would tell them to picture a part of the 20th century part of central Tallinn -- like Gonsiori street. Take away the Old Town, and put an early inspiration for the Fahle building --
-- and a international border checkpoint right on Freedom Square, and you have something close to Narva.
It's also a little like a theatre stage set for a town. It is drenched in history, but there are a lot of chalk marks, as it were. Now and then you run into a prop or a sign to remind you that you are right smack in the middle of history, even though the old buildings are missing:
I'm staying on the outskirts of the non-existent Old Town. I had to pick the most Swedish building I could find -- the Central Hotel. Just for some different flavour from the past few days.
The woman at the hotel reception had a lighter Estonian accent than mine (though she like a few other native Russian-speakers I have talked to grew progressively more shy about her language, for no good reason). She said that many Estonians come to Narva. "Viljandi, Pärnu..." Supposedly half business and half tourism.
Fantastic if true. I don't know anyone who has been to Narva in years.