Archive for July 12th, 2008

tallinn

Saturday, July 12th, 2008

So I’m gonna come clean and admit that I knew jack nothing about Estonia before hopping on a ferry there. In fact, these past few weeks in and around the Scandinavian/Baltic region have been a pointed lesson in how little I really know about all the amazing history and culture throughout these countries. It’s been fun having a reason to learn. One of the nicest things about travel (including artist residencies) is the fact that it gives you a very concrete, immediate ability to understand more about a place. Being a tourist means that it’s still a pretty superficial understanding, but it’s better than nothing at all. (Kellie Pickler. Sigh.)

Tallinn is about a 90 minute ferry-ride from Helsinki. A whole new city, a whole new country. I’d known that its Old Town was a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but I hadn’t expected the insane cuteness of it. Somewhere between Disneyland and Medieval Times, but actually, in fact, incredibly old, if still somewhat propped up with rejuvenating cosmetic procedures.
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The Old Town was absolutely gorgeous, with tons to look at and scads of delightful little cafes and restaurants, but it seemed to be about 120% tourist-oriented, with much of the real life of the city taking place outside the old town walls. Still, it was pretty fun navigating the divide between the packs of cruise-ship retirees dominating certain sections of the town, and the hipster backpacker-types claiming the other part. And everyone seemed to find what they needed there, despite their differences.

The medieval walls that wrapped around the old town felt like I was situated within the village in Haruki Murakami’s novel ‘Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World‘ (a reference that will be interesting to about 1.5 of you out there).
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And what UNESCO World Heritage Site would be complete without a bar dedicated to all things Depeche Mode?
(Somehow, I don’t see this flying at other UNESCO sites like Yellowstone, or Angkor Wat.)
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On one of our afternoons there, we got out of the theme park Old Town, and wandered through the less packaged parts of the city: I wish I’d taken photos of some of the older wooden buildings mixed in with new architecture, as these were extraordinary.

We eventually found our way over to the park where the brand-spanking newish KUMU museum was:
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The mix of recent, modern and contemporary Estonian art was fantastic. And the museum was really quiet, just lovely volumes of space and time. Along with the visit to KUMU, we popped our heads into a couple of small galleries, and just leafed through some cool books on Estonian art. What little I was able to learn in our brief stay there makes me excited about finding out more about the Estonian contemporary art scene…