I was in Tartu today, one of those president-goes-to-Baghdad secret trips. Only my wife and my closest advisers knew. Picked up a package and accessed a faster connection for some work I had to download and upload. I also de-stressed by being totally by myself for a few hours. Besides work, I managed to do a few other important things.
1. Went shopping for new running shoes. Parked on Aleksandri (apparently many areas are free on Saturday - unlike Tallinn where free Saturday parking begins at 3pm) and walked down to the Tasku. But it was 8:55am and Tasku opened at 10am. Something seems to always be getting in the way of me and Tasku, when Tasku isn't getting in between me and the bus station. So I went to the Kaubamaja and bought a pair of Merrell day-hikers marked down 30%. Looks like these sorts of hybrid rugged shoes with their earthy colours, light weight and soft as silk enveloping feel -- companies like Salomon, Montvale and Merrell -- have really arrived in Estonia. Frankly, I don't see any argument for buying a pair of cheesy looking sneakers made by the Adidases and Reeboks of the world, though some of them did make me think of Michael Jackson and the 1980s.
2. Aura 50 m swimming pool. Not only much cleaner than the local Anne canal, but beats the sweaty gym socks off Kalev Spa in Tallinn. Half the price, too. It's odd because as far as I know Tartu has only one real quality poolfor its 100,000 people (there is no ujula or swimming pool on Ujula tn) but Aura always seems uncrowded and clean. And the sauna is spacious and a claimed 85 degrees C -- that's hot even for an institutional sauna. Lobster effect.
3. Driving around. Not everything in this town is scenic -- I remember the first time I came into town from the south, on Turu. A bleak stretch followed, every bit as nondescript as Peterburi mnt in Tallinn (the US equivalent is the last section of the NJ turnpike between Newark and the Holland Tunnel). But in general, this walking-size city is a good drive. Intersections and right of way are clearly marked in places like Karlova. Compare that to the similarly warren-like district of Kadriorg in Tallinn, which is simply confusing.
4. Lunch. This is someone else's blog topic...but I went to Little Italy -- well, Gildi street in the Old Town, which offers both a generic Italian restaurant and La Dolce Vita, which is clearly the local Controvento. I pretended to be American but sat there perusing a copy of the 50 best restaurants issue of KÖÖK magazine, in which all 50 restaurants appeared to be in Tallinn, at least as far as I got when the food arrived. I have to say the only problem I have had with Italian food anywhere is that it has tended to be a little briny. Clearly I made a mistake by ordering out of season -- fresh and green brimming-over plates were carried to nearby tables while I ate tortellini in brodo followed by a pasta alla putanesca. Both very salty but at least the latter was spicy. I had a green tea as a beverage, and they brought literally about a half gallon pot to the table. Either they don't get many solo diners or they are aware their food has a lot of salt in it.
5. Books. My wife and I have been reading more. Both of us on relatively poppy Oprah stuff. Last time I was in Tartu, I went to the Apollo book store -- when I finally found it in its new location -- and man, was I disappointed: no cafe and practically no English books. I was warned that the situation in Tasku wasn't much better with English so I didn't seek out the Rahva Raamat. I went to the University book store around the corner from Little Italy. Not much had changed. Still two storeys, some classics and interesting scholarly offerings, but kind of desultory and unsatisfying. Maybe there is a good bookstore lurking somewhere in Tartu and I haven't found it yet...