Monday, March 17, 2008
It feels great to be out of Tallinn.
Swedish tourists are declining in Estonia, Äripäev reported yesterday, because they find Estonia "too similar", and hence boring. They're probably spoiled or blind to detail. The positive side is that even if you live in Tallinn, you can take a refreshing city/town break an hour or two away -- without the hassle of travelling to weary old Stockholm.
In fact, if you're heading into northeast Estonia as I am, the joke is that you can even go to Paris -- there is a village by that name in a very scenic part of West-Virumaa.
I don't mean to write propaganda for the Tourism Board. I'm usually pretty blase about Estonia's microcharms (sometimes I even ask, a la the guy in Flasher's joke, do you have another homeland for me) -- but Rakvere, a county seat east of Tallinn, has impressed me with its vitality and charm.
This is a Monday evening in March, mind you, but there's life here. If I lived here and was, say, 20, I don't think I would tempted to pay 90 kroons for the hour ride into Tallinn, not every Friday night.
Rakvere town is at the foot of a highland region, the guidebooks will tell you.
You always have to allow for local standards when you hear Balts talk geographical relief ("Sigulda, the Switzerland of Latvia" and "Saaremaa's Grand Canyon" offer neither Alpine scenery nor burro rides). But there is no doubt -- there is a lofty atmosphere here, a feeling of being on a high plateau.
Especially on a day like this, standing on the famous castle hilltop, with light snow falling from a silver sky. The great statue of an aurochs watching over the road from Tallinn. The aurochs is what the bison was to the American West. I understand they have a small test herd that maintains the impressive expanse around the ramparts, and they sell aurochs jerky here in summer, when the castle is open, but I might be wrong.
Prayer flags flutter from one house, maybe in solidarity with Tibet.
I was sitting earlier at the Rakvere Theatre Cafe, which is lovely and built on a hillside. It's a little like Cafe Shakespeare at the Vanemuine in Tartu, if that cafe got a interior facelift.
There is more than that parallel with Tartu. The motto of the town says it is full of power. In any case, where else can you go that is an hour from Tallinn and has the soul of Tartu?
It's a more northerly sword-in-limestone power rather than the alluvial, fertile spirit of Tartu, though.
Like Tartu, which I believe is 75-80% Estonian, they're proud of the fact here that Rakvere is 85% Estonian, which is impressive for a town halfway between Maardu and Sillamäe. The Estonian population of 17,000 or so has stayed at the same level since independence. Interestingly enough, my family connection with Rakvere is my grandfather, who was half Ukrainian and one-quarter Russian -- yet Estonian.
Posted by Kristopher at 7:34 AM