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June 13th – Welcome to Estonia, Land of the Emergency Pants

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So much of what happened yesterday happened too rapidly to take notes, or take anything other than snapshots. So I'm attempting to recreate the former from the latter.

We (being myself, Jenny, Outi, Leon and Trondt) woke at 7, got down to the docks and boarded a pretty large ferry.   Spent most of the trip over parked at a table, shooting the breeze, and watching rain lash the Baltic.

After a couple of hours we arrived at Tallinn, disembarked, and this is what I saw out the glass wall of the dock.

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What you're seeing is the Old City in the distance. Anything that doesn't look quaint, is new.

Estonia's by turns bleak and cheerful, but I'm in no doubt that the latter is mainly an Old City trait and probably due to the people there being able to make a living from the tourist trade, and having to put on a good face. That said the people I met were genuinely, unaffectedly lovely. The people working at Olde Hansa really loved it there.

The walk from the dock to the centre of the Old City took about half an hour or so. Just getting to any part of the actual town involved crossing a muddy field. Huge trees with overhanging foliage that served as shelter for small camps of, well, drunks. No grass grew under the canopy, and groups of 1-3 men sat around talking, drinking. Underwear drying in branches.

The photos below show the progression from old to new as we walked.

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Olde Hansa. If you ever get the chance, you need to get some friends, line up a feast, and get drunk on food. It is the best.

I noticed once we got into the Old City the smooth footing we take for granted was gone. In places the road here undulates like a waterbed, flagstones imprecisely laid. Not a major safety hazard, but you quickly learn not to louche along the way you might in London or Manhattan. If you don't lift your feet a little, you risk tripping. I suppose that's what happens with 500 years of repaving.

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Spotted a light anti-tank weapon for sale in a pawn shop.

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Town square. There was an erected stage and a lot of Eurovision-style talent on display. Lycra-clad dance acts, young hair bands, that sort of thing. 7-year-olds in anoraks seemed to be getting into it.

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These kids were trying to get people into the torture museum. Toward the end of the day I had time so I looked around. Nothing old, everything recreated and, frankly, being in a room devoted to preserving the memory of lingering, loving bastardry didn't win me over. Didn't stay long, took no shots.

Okay, so the main attraction: eating at this legendary place. We wandered in and were taken upstairs. Rows of long wooden tables and bench seating. We had a booth, and our food was already laid out and waiting. Over the course of the meal the same girl would return time and again asking if we wanted more of anything

This is going to make me so hungry.

To warm us up they'd laid out:

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Rare, juniper ripened beef with horseradish.

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Spice merchant's berry sauce (berries flavoured lightly with honey,) and pickles seasoned with mustard seeds.

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Castle's fresh cheese (the white stuff, creamy and delicious), highly-blessed olives and French royal poultry liver pate. Trond ate three bowls of the olives, and the pate was absolutely delicious. It all was.

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At the bottom of the plate is some onion jam, which was spectacular. At the top of the plate is a hunk of hot rye bread with pork. To left are berries and pickles, and in the centre is the juniper ripened beef with horseradish.

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I started with light cinnamon beer, and followed it with dark honey ale. All their beer is made on the premises, and we drank it like water. The cinnamon was light and really refreshing. The dark honey ale just tasted rich and sweet and full and dark. Lovely. I'd have bought a crate if they sold it.

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I think this was the start of second course. Clockwise from upper-left: baked smoked sauerkraut; turnips with ginger; well-cooked spelt with saffron; Crusader's lentil sauce.

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Clockwise from upper-left: a mince of elk and boar (warm, scented, tastes almost chocolately); wild boar marinated in red wine (dark and strong-flavoured, fell apart in the mouth); sausage of wild boar, elk and bear, figs and almonds (strong-mild flavour, only slightly gamey, lovely texture); fresh herbed bread; baked sauerkraut; ginger turnips.

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Rabbit. Can't remember how this was prepared or what it was garnished with. The only thing I didn't try.

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Smoke-grilled salmon with nut sauce. Seriously smoked. So smoked it was like eating a cigar. Couldn't have more than a few bites. Sauce was incredible.

Took a few shots around the room as we deliriously - and in some degree of pain - waited for all of that to settle. We were absolutely drunk on good, good food by this point. Everyone was talking and laughing. One of the best times I've had.

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Irish coffee and a complimentary cloth-wrapped ball of fig and something. Tasty as hell. Felt a little incongruous - the coffee - but worth it.

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Rose Pudding. Tasted like cream and rose water lightly sugared. The rose petals themselves were lightly trated with sugar, but you couldn't tell from looking. We went through two or three pots of it. It was fantastic.

Legend has it that whoever eats all the petals would have eternal youth. Leon started crooning "Forever Young." I pointed out that ten minutes earlier it'd been "Everybody Hurts."

That done, finally, we managed to find the strength to get downstairs, settle the bill and explore the rest of Old Town.

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Herb planters outside Olde Hansa.

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The perfect gift for the man who like both guns and drinking.

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I kinda felt for this mime. He didn't seem to be having a good day.

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This is a closeup of a wall filled with names left by people on this one little street. Had a great shot of the entire thing... and accidentally deleted it.

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Caught up with the others eventually. Found them huddled outside a place, drinking wine, wrapped in bar-provided blankets. Finished up and headed back to the ferry.

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Aforementioned muddy field.

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Baltic Sea, around 10pm.

And that's pretty much it. Bought some lakka for R from the liquor store onshore, some salt-licorice for me, and we headed back home. Slept like a rock.

The Flickr album is here. And here's our menu.

June 9th: Trip Assignment – Food

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