A Travellerspoint blog

April 2009

To Helsinki

sunny 5 °C

The food situation did improve after the first Hesburger disaster, dramatically so. I liked this cafe
so much I visited a couple of times. On the Thursday night, I found a lot of places were dead empty or so packed, I couldn’t get any service – I sat in the oldest pub in Tallinn, a very cool underground space, for a full quarter of an hour with no acknowledgement, so moved on. The place I ended up dining was a fashionable restaurant, chosen because it was not quite empty but it was pleasingly full by the time I’d done with my pepper steak.

Friday night in Tallinn is less pleasant – by 8:00 I’d seen one fight and run into lots of drunks. The woman running the hostel summed it up: lots of English men, looking for the cheap drinks and beautiful women (and yes, they were, very much so).

Two other cafes I liked a lot. One was underground

The other was out of the Old Town, in a very new shopping mall, within a bookshop, a very cool bookshop as it happens, with such a wide selection of English fiction I felt compelled to buy a couple of books, along with some DVD’s. They had a different cafe on each floor, both making decent coffee and one doing proper meals, such as the very tasty lambsteak I had for lunch. Dunedin would be improved if it had a bookshop like this one.

The major part of Tallinn was built in the Soviet Era – they built half a dozen suburbs, apparently very planned and in the neoclassical style. I’d have liked the chance to go explore. In between those suburbs and the Old Town is the downtown area, a weird assortment of styles running from the medieval through 18th century wooden to early 20th century neoclassical to stark glass edifices, all cheek by jowl with each other.

I walked all over and around this building, I'm not even sure it is abuilding and not a monument
and still have no idea what it is about – it showed very few signs of life, although it had the city heliport and a pleasant fountain

A couple of its neighbours, I found amusing. The photo might be a bit small to reveal the sign on this old wreck
but it is apparently the contemporary art museum. I remain a bit disbelieving about the sign on this place and all.

Tarkovsky shot one of his movies here, Stalker, but I will have to wait till I get home to see if these are props: my nice bookshop didn’t have that on DVD but I found a copy on trademe.

I’d ventured out without a jacket, and was finding it a wee bit cool but not unpleasantly so, until I saw this

This is probably the nicest part of Tallinn outside the walls

Maybe I should have stayed in Tallinn for longer, because I really liked it. But the original plan had been to take a ferry back to Rostock in Germany, more of a short cruise than a ferry (it takes a couple of days) but it was going to cost a fortune, way more than I could think of spending. So I hopped on the ferry across to Helsinki. It was a bit like being in a floating night-club cum cocktail lounge - a bit odd at 9:00 in the morning.
You'd think by now I could read a map, but i got way off course on the way to the hostel but eventually made it. Quite a big place, and iunlike any I've been in so far had big rooms with just two people in each. Kind of nice. Wandering back into town, I found a nice cafe called Engels Cafe opposite this church

I sat and ate some wonderful meatballs and roast potatoes in a sauce which had fflavours I couldn't work out, a slight sourness and a hint of spice. I went for a general walk, but it was cold and I wasn't feeling 100% so it wasn't a very exciting day. Coming back into town for dinner, I caught the very end of the Easter Procession - they really make a show of it. There was some black and white film being shown, using the church as its screen. The steps were occupied by dancers and lots of candles, and somewhere there were some actors, acting out the resurrection, singing quite operatically as they did it.

Easter Sunday in Helsinki is quiet - almost everything is shut, all the shops, galleries and the like. There were cafes and bars, that was it. I think it was even colder than Saturday, so I didn't linger.

Since I knew I'd be travelling and not wanting to carry lots of books, I brought with me the first two volumes of The Forsyte Saga. Each is just under 900 pages, it is a trilogy of trilogies, so plenty to keep me going. I've seen it on TV of course, but never quite appreciated what a loathsome person Soames Forsyte is: his attitude to his wife is the same as to any other property, she's a chattel (or, at one point, an unnoccupied house ready for a tenant), yet he can't work out why she doesn't like him. The night he forces himself upon her is the end. The opposite strand of the Forsyte family is all kindness and sentiment, in Jolyon.

Posted by NZBarry 13:45 Archived in Estonia Comments (0)

To Tallinn, via Norwich

sunny 10 °C

I was both relieved and a little queasy when I checked out the car in daylight: what had seemed to be a deep ridged scratch in the dark proved to be a line of birdshit. Eww! Leaving a bit after 8:00 it was a fairly slow drive to Southampton, lots of traffic making it so. I didn’t really panic until after I dropped the car off – only then did I realize it was due back at 10:00 and not 11:00. Makes a difference when you get to the Avis depot at 11:30.

Now the roundabout nature of my travels really took over – I caught a succession of trains to Norwich, where I stayed in a very pleasant Travelodge. I’m afraid I have little to say about Norwich, not because I didn’t like it, quite the contrary, it seemed very much like a place I’d enjoy, but because I was working quite hard – the deadline on my other project, although still months away, seems very close. So I got to see the shops near where I was staying, found a nice Italian place for dinner and that was about it.

Apart, of course, for my reason for being in Norwich in the first place. Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. I haven’t read as much Beckett as I should have, but enough to know the pleasure he gives me and Godot must be his best known work: it has been said to be the best play of the 20th century even though nothing happens, twice. Not only that, but the actors were a bit special as well: Patrick Stewart as Vladimir and Sir Ian McKellen as Estragon. I had tried to see this a bit closer to home, at Malvern, but it had long sold out when I tried. Same for other places, like Milton Keynes, so I was pretty pleased to get anything at all for Norwich, even though it meant lots of tripping about. This, by the way, is what my friend from last week was so envious about.

My only regret is that I was a fair way back from the stage, so the finer details of their facial expressions was a bit lost to me. I’m not sure why I didn’t use the small pair of binoculars the Theatre Royal had thought to provide each seat with. But the play was brilliant, much funnier than I expected, given that it is about two tramps waiting for someone never shows up (I’m not sure that anyone today would go to this play not knowing that) and who are amusing each other while they wait – a “tragicomic allegory of the human condition”. Suicide is not far away at times. Beckett said he introduces the other two characters just “to break up the monotony”. I do wonder about Lucky’s one speech – an extremely long and incoherent monologue: does he memorise the same “narrative” or make it up on the night?

Anyway, it certainly made me feel pleased I took the time out to go to Norwich, even though it meant a fairly early start on Wednesday, so I could get down to Stansted and catch my plane: Easter in Estonia was the plan, and it provide to be marvelous. Easyjet did the job, getting through Tallinn customs was a breeze and I was on a bus into town in no time.

As always seems to be the way, it took me a while to find my hostel, despite having a map in my hand and a larger one on a placard in front of me. Perhaps if I had just looked around – it took a drunk sitting at the bus stop to point out that the rather large building across the road gave a vital clue to finding what I was looking for.

The hostel was quite unlike any I have been in. It looks fairly normal from the outside
but inside, the hostel was basically a single living room – the beds were in the same space as the kitchen and the staff, who just kipped in whichever bed was spare. But it was warm and friendly.

The Lithuanian Embassy is directly opposite

This must be pretty old,
because they banned wooden buildings in the Old City a couple of centuries ago, because of worries with fire.

On my first night, I had a bit of a wander around the Old Town, had one of the worst burgers I have ever had (that’ll teach me for going to local competitors to McDonalds whenever I see one) and was beginning to wonder whether Tallinn was really the place for me. All doubts were dispelled over the next two days – my wanders had just taken me to the least interesting part of town.

It also revealed to me that there is a huge and fascinating bit of European history about which I know nothing. Tallinn wasn’t part of Estonia until the 20th century, didn’t have an Estonian Mayor until about 1916. The Danes were there first, then they sold it to the Hanseatic League, a German trading venture which prized Tallinn highly as a seaport - so it was basically a privately owned city and stayed that way until the mid 19th century. They put up buildings like this

The Swedes came along and established the Lower (Old) Town was Danish, under a town council. All was surrounded by a wall

Of course, Estonia was a bit of a football in the 20th century – the Russians took control, then the Germans, and then the Russians. It has only had independence since 1991 but is very much a place on the go.

I spent two days wandering, mostly in the Old Town, and could have easily spent another couple. Here is some of what I saw, as I wandered:

The main street into the centre of Old Town is lined with bars and boutique shops and thronged with people

It opens on to the Town Hall Square
in which the Town Hall looks like none other I have seen

The wikipedia page has a couple of nice panoamic images of Tallinn.

More next time.

Posted by NZBarry 12:48 Archived in Estonia Comments (0)

To Exeter

sunny 14 °C

Another of those crazy days in which I got off to an early start, so early that most in the hostel seemed to be still abed when I left, and yet it was late at night before I was done for the day. Another spin back to Lands End didn’t give it any more appeal, but a quick duck down a side road and the day was off to a good start.

Sennen is the first harbour north of Lands End, tucked in under here
and tiny

Nice beach – I stopped and had breakfast so I could watch it for a while

Then it was back past the hostel and into St Just to look around during the day – it is like a small Dolgellau

But with added bonus of a Welsh amphitheatre, which has been here since the 12th century

As you head up the coast of Wales, you go through its mining district, silver mainly (plus, I think, tin). The Levant mine was actually on a cliff face and under the sea. Little remains today, however

There is still a fully functional mine, in the hands of the National Heritage Trust – I did pop in and wandered around the outside a bit, but I found the Levant more interesting.

The land round here is a bit wild

So too are the roads – very narrow in parts, with drivers like me taking it easy but the locals, not so much. At one point I had to back over to let someone past so far that I was sure I felt the car come into contact with the stone wall, typically concealed behind a benign layer of foliage.

The entire town of Zennor, where some famous poet came to live (I hope he liked long walks in the countryside!)
and suddenly I was in St Ives, a town which presents a few challenges to those seeking to drive through – this is the road

I was pretty much convinced that I had inadvertently driven into a pedestrian zone (I’m sure it is possible) but someone was following me, and then there was a car park.

St Ives is a very pleasant spot – it has a lovely waterfront
and quaint narrow streets, full of shops selling ice creams (I was warned to watch for the seagulls when I bought one) pasties (it is Cornwall after all – have to say that I prefer the Birmingham version, Balti chicken), nicnacs and gewgaws. Importantly, I found one selling the local beer – the Admiral Ale by the St Austell’s Brewery won the best ale in the world competition last year (it was tasty).

I really did try to take a look at Penzance, you can’t go to Cornwall and not go to Penzance, but I got caught up in a mess of narrow one way streets and was spat out at the south beach
so decided to press on.

Next stop was Newquay (on the north coast), another town with a weird system of one ways, so I again got lost, but did get out to its main beach

People may have heard of Rick Stein, he’s been on our screens pursuing fishy dishes. He owns half of Padstow, which is along the coast from Newquay. Since his fish and chip shop opened as I drove into town, I decided to join the queue (yes, there was a queue to get into a fish and chip shop – luckily it didn’t last)
for a cod and chips. Not that special, really.

Padstow has a tranquil little harbour

I had one more essential stop to make, so I gobbled my dinner and headed off, still along the north coast of south Wales. I feel quite special, parking my car here
(possibly not that recognisable, although this bit of beach has been on our TV’s quite a bit). Maybe if we look at it from another angle
or pan around

This is Port Isaac, but perhaps better known as Portwen, the home of one Doc Martin. Even if it hadn’t been famous (in some quarters), Port Isaac was well worth a visit, despite another set of narrow streets (I drove in one
and had no idea how to get out again, until I watched some people leave – straight out the way you come in).

It is lovely
so I decided to hell with it and went to the pub for a reflective pint. I had hoped to sit on the balcony on which Doc Martin had so many embarrassing moments, but it seems to have been built special for the show: the only balcony I could find was a terrible small concrete thing, one table deep with a grill work. No worries, the sun was out, the beer was good and I was happy.

So, it was near dark already before I headed off to Exeter, where I was booked into the YHA. Nice hostel, but I have no idea about Exeter (and I so wanted to see the narrowest street) – I did try driving into town, but my first finding of the hostel was a complete fluke, so I wasn’t sure I could repeat it. I did check the car for scratches – there was a horrible ridged silver gash. Expensive!

Posted by NZBarry 15:59 Archived in Wales Comments (0)

To St Just

sunny 14 °C

I don’t know what happened. I had about 200 miles to go, I left Bournemouth good and early and yet it was well after dark before I arrived. Traffic wasn’t bad and the sun was shining
yet the drive took more than 12 hours! Of course, meandering up every side road and gawking at various things does slow one down. First stop of any substance was just outside Weymouth
not sure how it happened but instead of making progress

I was curious to see Cheshil Beach, after Ian McEwan named his novel in its honour. All I knew was that it had a few pebbles
but it is unusual in another way

Those pebbles provide a challenge to those wishing to take a gentle stroll along the beach, particularly if you’re trying to go up or down. The noise made was curious as well, a kind of crash to start with, then a lingering scrunching rattling.

After a coffee at a very tempting looking restaurant, it was already noon and time to go – I had a date with a pic’n’mix bin. One of the major victims of the recession has been Woolworths, probably the most iconic and longest established (over 100 years) brands to go (well, there are a bunch of empty shops still around). In Dorchester, however, the manager decided that wasn’t good enough – her branch was making a steady profit, her community was behind her, her workers all saw Woollies as their family, so she re-opened her branch. This hit the press big time, and there was even a TV documentary on her last week I happened to see; she’s one of my heroes of the recession, and seemed like a lovely person to boot. So, I headed for Dorchester, which is about 20 miles north. Here’s her shop
The place was humming, and I did see the manager, had this weird impulse go shake her hand or hug her or something – luckily she left the premises before I got myself arrested. So I bought a gallon of pic’n’mix and had some lunch. Dorchester is just a solid sort of market town, but it has a nice church

Next stop was Lyme Regis – now this is town which knows how to be a beach resort! It has the beach
with plenty of bars and cafes fronting on to it
There are even pebbles for those who feel a need
Pity about the homeless guys

Lyme Regis is a town with a looong history - it is recorded in the Domesday Book (1086) and gained its Royal charter in 1253. It is still a nice town, one of the more genteel along the Jurassic coast:
and in between was a glorious garden

I must confess that I don’t know where this is, somewhere not far from Lyme Regis, and it might even be Beer (Devon) but it seemed peaceful
Ah, it is Beer, a fairly small town, a full 139 miles from my destination according to the marvels of google maps. I think the pub in Beer has one of the lamest sort of punning names I have ever come across - Barrell O' Beer. It was so warm I had to have an ice cream then, since the time had crept on to being well after 5:00, I basically tramped it.

Even so it was around 9:30 before I got to the hostel at Lands End (down a one way mile long track behind a farm).
Lands End itself was closed – no loss, there is a big building that obscures any sort of view, and the building doesn’t seem to have changed since I saw it twenty years ago. It was tacky and new then, now it is tacky and old.

So, dinner was a bit of a step down from last night – a mile the other side of the hostel is the stone town of St Just. All I could get to eat at 9:45 was Chinese takeways, so I sat with them and a beer in the near freezing cold at a picnic table and dined al fresco (the picnic table reminded me strongly of Massey, as I spent half my life at a picnic table there). But the Star Inn
was still going strong, so I went in and had a nice St Austell’s ale as a nightcap.

Posted by NZBarry 12:40 Archived in England Comments (0)

To Bournemouth

sunny 12 °C

Wales was not the only place to make me feel somewhat unwelcome. On the last day of March, I struck a triple whammy. I'd arrived home late on the Monday night, and didn't really think twice when I noticed my landlord's desk was missing. In the morning, however, it was a bit more than that; there was a strange car in the driveway, strange voices in the house and various items that I really didn't think were my landlord's, such as a pair of turntables. At work, I found I had lost my office key, and the fellow at the key cutting shop had two goes at cutting a replacement without success. And, worst of all, at around 4:30 I found out that my computer access was about to be cut off because it was the end of my time at Birmingham - despite me telling everybody I was leaving at the end of April. So, all in all, I was feeling just a little lost.

Not that I could get too worried, because I had a date. My bookclub friend had agreed to come for a drink and a movie; it turned out we were both a bit late, so it was just the movie - Duplicity, with Julia Roberts and Clive Owen. There were smart elements to it, but a very long and tedious set up of the commercial background to the plot slowed things enormously. Afterwards, we wandered back through town to catch our respective trains. There is something I'll be doing next week; when I revealed it to her, she had conniptions because she'd tried hard to do the same but had missed out.

Wednesday, all my problems got themselves sorted out: my landlord had swapped houses with his daughter without telling me; Birmingham gave me a month's extension on my stay, and I found someone to cut a proper copy of my key. Actually, I didn't so much find him as return to him, as this is not the first time I've lost the key to the office. He operates from a shop which seems to mix elements of Arkwright's shop in Open All Hours and Steptoe and Son - a hardware shop stuck down a side street stacked to the rafters with a weird and wonderful selection - you have to thread your way between piles of stock and the old Indian fellow sitting eating his lunch or sucking away at a cup of tea and then wait while the key is laboriously filed. So, to celebrate everything coming right, I went to a French bistro in town, Chez Jules, and had the kind of food I had found so elusive while in France - a wonderful braised beef dish.

Then the very roundabout start to my Easter break started. I had to see a fellow at Southampton University for my work, so decided to take the weekend in Cornwall. I had a bit of a cock up on the transportation front (does anyone remember Jimmy (played by Geoffrey Palmer) from The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin these days?) Instead of organising the train to Southampton, I had bought a ticket to Portsmouth - an expensive mistake, as it cost the same again to go the last twenty miles to Southampton. There, I was finally reunited with Travelodges. I didn't really see very much of Southampton - I spent the morning at the University (MUCH better coffee and food than at Birmingham), saw my man and collected another rental car.

I only had a short distance to go (another cock up on the transportation front - as events transpired, I should have pushed on further West) so decided to dawdle, taking a detour in the New Forest (which is not that new, and only vaguely forest, but there are horses)

After a while, I found myself in a very cute village called Beaulieu

It is famous for its Abbey

There is also a motor museum; while I didn't actually see it, the local car dealer may as well have been a museum
That's an Aston Martin, by the way. Eighty-five thousand quid, if you're interested.
I couldn't quite see how much they wanted for the Rolls
Slightly more than what I customarily spend on cars, I suspect.

Town itself was just a single street
with an olde-worlde grocers and a very pleasant cafe (more teacakes!), and a cool looking school.

Continuing on my trek around the south coast, I came to Lymington, somewhere I would have liked to stay, it had a nice feel to it,
lots of decent looking cafes and B&B's but, since my trip was so short, I had everything booked in advance. I thought it a bit random to see this on the dock, with no-one in sight

As I headed towards Bournemouth, I came across the "ancient Borough of Christhurch" and really did plan to take a look (I missed out on the "ancient Borough of Wellington", which is near Telford) but didn't spot the right turn off and found myself in a path leading inexorably to Bournemouth, where I had a pleasant stay in a very traditional English beach resort hotel. Bournemouth has a pier (closed for a private function)
a deserted beach
and about a million bars, cafes and restaurants (but it has always been a watering place - that is how Galsworthy described it more than 100 years ago in The Forsyte Saga). It took a while for me to find a place that appealed, most were empty and silent with waiters who would look at me anxiously as I went past willing me to go in. I was about to resign myself to fish and chips when I came across a very cheerful Mexican place, called Coriander, one which went well beyond the normal tacos and burritoes - I had something described as a "Mexican casserole of Chicken, in a spicy tomato and vegetable sauce, with crispy potatoes & melted cheese" and very nice it was too.

Reading this week was Aldous Huxley's Brave New World. The things I was most fascinated with, he spent least time on, such as the drive to keep consuming in order to keep the wheels of capitalism running (although there was a lot of detail about the production of the various classes of people). The moral standards were inverted; girls who went with the same guy for more than a week were perverse; promiscuity was to be congratulated. One thing that has stuck in my mind is the one accolade given by the guys to the girls - they are said to be pneumatic (this had interesting resonances given the pneumatic pants described in Antic Hay and that the best sofas are those which are pneumatic).

Posted by NZBarry 17:21 Archived in England Comments (0)

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