“And another thing I’d like to remember to you…”

Day 7. 2 August 2003

Saturday. “The interesting thing is that…” there’s something else that I have to tell you. Ester is one of those people – a historian, archeologist and history teacher – who’s command of English, despite her protestations otherwise, is excellent, and who has a way with her words that can make everything she tells us something that we really do want to know. She joins us again for our second full day of leisure and sightseeing, taking us first to the smallest church on Saaremaa – at Kóljala.

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There are many interesting things about this church, and funny too, not least the paintings on the arched ceilings (sadly we were unable to go up through the walls into the roof space of this one!) – one motif in particular brings back the antics of yesterday. The leg swapping, bending over and looking between the legs by Alice and myself at the farm…

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We leave the church just in time, as the biggest coach load of tourists descend on the quiet church surrounded by trees. We hasten to our bus, and drive on to Karja – and the traditional windmills. We enter into the main windmill, paying our 8EEK to enter and ascend up through the sweet-smelling wooden interior, looking upon the inner workings of the mill. Later, we peruse the visitors’ book for an entry from previous BTCV groups but find none, and so Tom enters one in for today and we each sign beneath.

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Outside, we lounge around in the sun talking to the billy goats and their children, and watch as Jane, Alice, Paul and Charis play in the children’s playground. There has been less of a talk by Ester here, but I think perhaps she is saving herself for our next stop … Kaali Meteorite Craters. It is quite an amazing sight the white walls of rock around the lake still visible even after 4000 years of trees and vegetation. Interesting as this site is, the whole place feels very commercial with the concreted steps and viewing platform and the swarming bus loads of tourists coming and standing, seeing, and departing. We escape around the pack, walking the rim in a little more seclusion, retreating soon afterwards to an old school undergoing building works. We enter in, because of a photocopied sign stuck to the back door announcing hand made silk. Intrigued, Vicky, Steve and myself move further on into the building, and round a corner into the small school hall, laid out on every surface with fine silk. Back outside I buy a couple of wooden butter knives and a dolomite pot at a street stall, and we hit the road again – this time for Kuressaare and lunch…!

Culture shock overcomes us as we enter the suburbs of Saaremaa’s capital, with road markings and street lighting and curb stones and pavements and everything!! It’s a Saturday, and there’s the Annual Sea Festival happening in Kuressaare at the moment and so it will be very busy around lunchtime today – Ester informs us. We are to stop at the edge of town and try for food at what, from the outside, has the appearance of a roadside truck stop in a dilapidated old warehouse. It’s busy, but there are tables and limited food – we descend eagerly…

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…and what we find, is a Soviet-themed restaurant decked out in red, and hammer and sickles and all things soviet. Inside, we seemed to have stumbled upon a dancing and singing club: Russian songs and dances in traditional dress under the shadow of the themed-decor.

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We order the food, and settle back to watch the dancing, and drink the home brew as it is passed around us in the large red bucket-like vessel. It is universally disturbing amongst us, when from the far end of the room comes a dancer, and she – he – is the Queen of Spades! As featured in Steve’s pack of cards (Rome, tourist edition) with the classical paintings, and (to paraphrase the Estonian Air in-flight magazine) pompous antiquities, s/he has scared and disturbed us for seven days now. And now we are too meet her in person! In a Soviet-themed restaurant of all places?!! It is a relief that our food arrives soon…

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Seated in a booth by the window, with a bust of Lenin on the window sill, our table is lined with old soviet newspapers and there are Soviet era Estonian satirical magazines on hand to peruse, and enjoy the cartoon jokes. My Shashlik arrives, a beautifully tender pork kebab – the only thing lacking in it being the homegrown potatoes that I have grown to love. It is only after Tom, Alice, myself have finished our meals and made use of the newspaper decorated facilities beyond the worrying gas mask signage, that we realise that we needn’t have sat on the very edge of our bench and leaned forward to the table, as the bench was absolutely free-standing and could be moved!

We leave, our hungers well replenished, all certain to remember an extraordinary time spent extraordinary place where tables, books and lamps (all in working order) screwed to the ceiling. We head down into Kuressarre, and into our first real town since Tallinn.

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Paul and Charis choose to skip our tour of the castle when Ester takes us there, slipping off instead to find an agreeable Bud in a relaxing pub. The rest of us are told the history of Kuressarre castle as a defensible stronghold and a German prison. She tells us the history of the defensive tower and of it’s only entrance 15 metres from the ground, and the only access a single bridge that could be removed with the lion that was kept in the pit beneath. To our disappointment, Ester has no power here, to allow us the wooden ladders and steep stairs to this tower, but we do go up on the roof and walk the battlements. We then descend from the top of the castle to the basement where we are alarmed and unsure to find stuffed animals. The meteorite rocks are interesting but the rest, make us all feel uneasy.

“So. That’s it – I think.”

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After saying our good byes and our thank you’s to Ester we head out into town. Finding a supermarket, we scamper round gathering up biscuits, fresh fruit, Estonian chocolate, water, and iced tea. I buy four Vana Tallinn miniatures as gifts for those that have been looking after Pepper – my cat – or given me rides into Oxford to get busses. Even the non-drinkers among us are all particularly impressed by the size of a single vodka display cabinet stretching across the front of the store…

With the inclusion of Hannah, the Crazy Gang regroup outside the supermarket leaving Alice and Tom to choose the wine that we are to give to Annika and Krista and the farmer as thank you presents. We head down a back road to browse an antik shop. I am tempted by old gramophones or samovahs – bargain priced and in very good condition at just 3000 EEK (about £150) – but sense wins out. For Vicky, too, sense wins out, and she returns to the shop to buy the silver Christmas tree decoration that will replace the one she remembers having on the family tree as a child but which has subsequently been broken. It should be a good gift for her parents and hopefully put an end the (allegedly) naff fairy that they currently have.

Venturing back into town we find a market in the last moments before closing time, but still manage to find a pair of wooden pigs, carved from the local juniper, in the form of salt and pepper pots (Tom has previously told of his love of pigs, his collection back home, and of course we have all played the game!) – this, a present from the four original members of the Crazy Gang. At another stall alongside the softest gloves you will ever touch made from dog hair, Jane purchased for herself some fingerless gloves with mitten extensions. We all make a mental note to visit her in the winter and see if she’s wearing them.

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Wandering back through town we arrive at a park and meet Ele and Karin heading off in the opposite direction. They tell us about a football match going on in the castle grounds, and we decided (well Jane and Steve did if we are being honest about this…) to go and check it out. What we found, was an informal yet serious affair of five aside football, a police presence and lots and lots of supporters. They were picnicking on the grounds and hanging off the castle walls. Whilst there, we see the lady from behind the bar back at Sutu, who is just leaving with her son.

It’s nice to just sit down and relax after a day on the move, but we only manage about fifteen minutes before having to tear ourselves away and make our rendezvous back at the bus. On route home we stop off for a sauna, which is very nice and very relaxing. It’s traditional Estonian it seems and we are segregated into the sexes, with us guys going in second after the girls have enjoyed half an hour or more. We sit in the confined little space, all six of us, on our towels, wrapped carefully round, and it is only afterwards that the girls tease us with the knowledge that towels were used purely for sitting on in their sauna…

Even so, Jane reports that it was a fair shock to enter in to be confronted by row after row of full nakedness.

Back at Sutu, dinner is waiting for us upon our return, and I am in for a shock! We have pasta for our supper and no potatoes… I feel cheated. I miss them. They’re my friends…

We are all quite tired after a day of sightseeing, and I spend a little while just tidying my chalet/shed and chilling out before the night time of cards and drinks (as usual) that follows. Tim provides some cheap champagne for us, which tastes kind of vile, and we are not certain what we are celebrating but we assume it’s the apparent lifting of the curse of the tooth.

Back at the bar, our regular hostess has departed, and the weekend shift has arrived, in the form of a surly Estonian lady who speaks no English and prefers if you speak Russian. She speaks little to us, and obviously looks down upon us and our games. As the evening winds past midnight two Estonians on holiday pitch into our conversation, full of beer, determined to play cards and tricks on us…

…and cheesy music plays on. Just how many times can you stand to hear Candle in the Wind and Ricky Martin on continuous loop…?!!

Day Eight: Fish scales and eel skins, riding native horses, the secrets of the farm museum and frisbee in the Baltic…


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