Amber Shops and Elevants

Day 9. 4 August 2003

Monday. Wake at 0700 hours. Seleft reasonably well last night despite the 2am-ish finish of the Truth or Dare and the cold feet in the early hours of Monday dawn. I am one of the first packed despite having (by far) the largest rucsac. Quite ironic really.


Breakfast is as usual served up in the baar and is our now fond selection of malted-black and rye bread, cold meats and salad. Vicky is absent for much of the meal as she is still packing, and Jane, more asleep than normal. Everyone is (unnaturally) quiet. Our Russian landlady has mercifully left off the looped taped of Elton John and Ricky Martin – for which relief we give much thanks. I don’t think any of us could have coped with it after the night before…

Tim had a dream where he’d drunk a lot of pepper vodka – that, we tell him, was not a dream!! He later suggested a comparison photograph of mine and Steve’s rucsacs – from the sublime to the rediculous – but to this day we are not sure which is which. With our waterfalls refilled at the baar, we lounge around, for the last time, at the tables outside whilst we wait for the bus to arrive. In the end the bus arrives early and we sling our bags into the trailer, appoint Tim, as before, on shadow watch and pile on. Unlike before, the original Crazy Gang take each of the single seats down the side of the bus thus disseminating the craziness and the coolness throughout the bus, rather than confining it to the back seats. And so it comes, at last for the last, tearful farewell to Annika. We showered presents on her last night, and she had taken half a dozen or so orders for the cool *flying squirel* Elfond T-shirts and Tom had off-loaded his BTCV T-shirts to her to spread the good word. In the goodbyes, Annika, admits that we have been the best group she has workid with (but does she say that to all te groups?) and she reminds Tom (Tim-Tom) pointedly that she really does want to visit the UK again, do the tour of her new friends and maybe take in a conservation holiday along the way. And with that, we depart Sutu, and hit the main road to the ferry and to Tallinn.

The bus ride to Tallinn is uneventful we spend the hour to the ferry easing ourselves gradually into the day and dozing restfully. That is, until Jane wakes everyone up with the unladylike cry of “Oh shit! Passports…”. Luckilly, Vicky, being the responsible one (Steve’s words not mine —Ed), had picked up both their passports and tickets which they’d left cunningly (and for safety) in the wooden box at the rear of the sheds. And so, emergency over, we are all able to doze off again until we get to the ferry, although having arrived minutes too late for the 10 o’clock sailing, but we did have a pleasant sit by the shore in a fresh sea breeze, throwing stones in the water. Paul researchs into arranging accommodation for his Charis’ extra night in Tallinn. Time passes quietly and life is easy as we just relax in good company away form the stuffy coach.

Boarding the ferry we head straight through the ship and out on deck, making for the highest leve. A week ago we were heading out as stangers … and now we are heading back, as friends. Passing a very heavily laden Russion ore ship that is barely above the water line we congregate with coffees, and the extended Crazy Gang discuss options for the free time in Tallinn. Hannah brings out her list, which we develop further with the help of the Lonely Planet guide: Sweet Museum (apparently they have a very good museum shop); Kiek-in-de-Kok tower and the museum (with a name like that it just has to be done!); the Outdoor Museum (if we get a 6 hour Tallinn card, that will get us the bus fare and reduced entry, and free entry in a couple more museums); Wooden houses (Hannah and Alice trekked outside of Old Tallinn last Monday and apparently they are really cool); Fire Fighters Museum (I forget why, but someone said this was a good one?!); Bus Ticket (not ‘cos we want to go anywhere, but because of the bus ticket – we must have one for the scrapbook!); Amber Shop (so we can all get a little bunny like the one Tim has bought his girl).

With our Itinerary decided and recorded in the “ships journal” the conversation turns to the BTCV. Onely one person from each set of volunteers has to give a good write up for the leader to be okay (work it out…) but a s Tom’s done an excellent job providing us with choclate, wine (well, alcohol in general), piggies and other things (but not that we have been easily “bought” or anything), I don’t imagine that anyone’s got reason to complain. The whole volunter team bonded well, admitedly with the (leader appointed) Crazy Gang at it’s centre, but thankfully no cliques formed – indeed everyone got on very well.

As the ferry is preparing to dock, we return to the car deck and to our bus, even if we do arrive in our seats choking and half-dead from the fumes engulfing the car deck as impatient coach drives rev their engines to be away.

Back on the mainland, and the main road to Tallinn, the dirve is eager to get ahead and pulls out, putting his foot down to overtake two busses, one lorry, and three cars, pulling only just in time before a coach thunders towards us on the other carriageway.

We all seem to have woken up by now, and hunger from the journey begins to take over. The box of cakes from the farmer – a last memory of Saaremaa – is passed around the bus, and pieces are taken – and yet there is still cake left!

28km out of Tallinn we pull over in ta layby to let Ele and Karin out. They cross the road, and wait for their lift back to Ele’s grandmother’s. As we pull away, we wave, they wave … and then there were fifteen…


We arrive at the Oldhouse and before Tom can make clear his instructions, Mari has stood up and announces to the group that shes had the best holiday ever but that unfortunately she cannot come to our last night meal at the Olde Hansa tomorrow night. It’s sad. She’s been so quiet all week, and it must have take some courage to make her speech. Later, we reflect on this, and how she won the holiday in a competiton it seems – an environmental poetry competition – it’s the kind of thing that probably would never have happened without BTCV and is what makes these International holidays so important. And so, as we unload our bags and descend, some of us for the second time, on the Oldhouse, now we are fourteen.

There is confusion on entering into the Oldhouse who is sleeping in which rooms, but the couples quickly disperse into sings and doubles room, Tom takes the single at the front with the window that doesn’t work and the display of antiques behind the curtain, and Vicky takes the last of the singles as this will also be her room on Wednesday night (and coincidentally the same room she had a week ago). The two dorms of four are filled by the rest of us: Jane, Hannah, and Alice to one and Shaun, Tim, Steve and myself to the other. It is during this time that Anne leaves us, leaving us as thirteen British volunteers in an Estonian guesthouse…


Gathering outside on the cobbles shortly outside, the Extended Crazy Gang head off in search of a salad (with green things!) for bread. What we find is a street cafe opposite the flower stalls and just a few doors down from the repunzal towers. And we settle down to a gorge meals of Greek Salad, garlic bread and Saku. Oh, and did I mention the garlic bread? – it really was gorge…!!!

First on our Itinerary we decide, has to be the amber shop, however Tim can’t remember exactly where it was and since I wanted a streetmap of Tallinn (‘cos I like these things as souvenirs), and as we are sitting right outside a bookshop, I dash away whilst someone orders the bill and buys the map. We spread it out on the table, and find where we are, and Tim finds where I need to get him to for him to remember the way.

The bill is settled in record time (we are used to these Kroon things now), and we all had broadly the same so there are no arguments. In fact, when you think about it, we’ve all been remarkably good about me paying for them because they are sharing the bill, and someone pays that for me – its all worked out very well. And so we set off, making our way straight up Vinur Street, past the Black Sea, where we received Tim’s text almost exactly a week ago. Some of us, extract another 500 EEK from a cash machine as we pass it (for the last two nights in Tallinn), and then we see it.

The Olde Hansa. Standing proudly on the corner of Vinur Street, is the medieval restaurant Olde Hansa – our venue for tomorrow night’s Last Supper – Jane, myself and I think, to a lesser extent Steve and Vicky whoop with joy. This is the restaurant that we passed on our way back down through town last week, and considered for our lunch on that day (because of the earthenware drinking goblets mainly!). It is so cool, so gorge that this turns out to be the Olde Hansa…

At the amber shop, Alice and Tom set about choosing an amber bunny for Alice, and Tim hovers between us all, as I pick out a cute little amber dolphin. Amber is a local thing of the Baltic region and it seems necessary to find something. As Jane picks out an inlade amber hair clip I find myself drawn to the amber pendants. Annika had had a tooth on a leather cord that she used to hang round a neck, and I had begun to think that I would like something similar. But I’ve never worn jewellery, and my nerves get the better. I leave with just my dolphin.


There’s a market in the town square, and Vicky tries to persuade Tim that he does want to buy the (rather large) painting for sale at around 5000 EEK. It’s mid-afternoon already and we wander leisurely down one of the lower streets that run parallel with Uus Street. We enjoy a relaxing cup of tea outside of an exclusive Indian restaurant. Tea is served in glass mugs and I can’t help thinking that the beauty of fresh cup of tea is somehow lost when you add the milk and it turns a kind of brown, murky colour.

We sit, and rememise over the holiday, and – for Hannah and myself – think of amber. It’s no use. We cannot fight the temptation any longer. Like with Vicky and her christmas decoration in the antique shop in Kuressare, we have to go back and buy amber pendants. I begin to get quite excited about it. I’ve never warn jewellery of any sort before, but this … and everyone seems to think that I should…

But first, we head back into town, Tom and Alice to venture further on in search of the bus station and Tom’s ticket to St Petersburgh, whilst the rest of us make for the Town Hall Square and it’s clock tower. It says that for 35 metres it’s tall and steep, but then for a further 15 metres it higher and steeper and narrower … and they are right. It quickly becomes very tall, very steep, and very narrow. We emerge out at the top onto a tiny platform barely big enough to fit the six of us.



5 o’clock. The bell tolls out the time just a foot from our heads. We hadn’t noticed it before, or at least it hadn’t registered that we were actually standing alongside the bell on this platform, and it scares the hell out of us. We all jump back, and are lucky that none of us go tumbling down the stairs. We marvel at the view take some fantastic roof top shots of old and new Tallinn, and descend again to the market in the square beneath.

Jane and Steve seem keen to return now to the Oldhouse and grab a few minutes sleep, and just relax a bit after the day, the early start, and last nights late night, and the rest of us are enclined to do the similar. However Vicky is persistant at tempting Tim to buy the painting that has caught his eye (although he does subsequently decide to resist), and Hannah and myself have that Amber Shop to return to…

Finding the shop again, we spend some time choosing simple pendants, and purchasing it. I am a little disappointed that the chains they have won’t be suitable for my neck, and as we wander back through the Old Town to our guesthouse, we do keep an eye out for somewhere that might sell suitable cord or leather. We pass a church, with the sound of organ playing drifting out onto the cobbled street. Attracted by it, we slip our 2 EEK contribution into the box and enter in to look around at the many painted stalls and carvings. When we leave we cross the street to get a better view, and it his here that we find a small alleyway filled with market stalls. Most of them are in the process of shutting up for the day, but there is one which is open with wooden medalians (simillar to the ones given to us at Jööri) on leather straps. I fetch out my amber pendant and starts looking to see of the strap is something that I can use, the store holder, a friendly old lady attracts our attention with a call and holding up of narrow leather cord – perfect! Handing over my 15 EEK we head off, and back to the Oldhouse where Steve is there to put a temporary reefknot so that I can wear the amber that night.

Elevant —the atmosphere is so relaxed, you never feel like leaving. The East-meets-Scandivia pastel walls and off-lighting, the creaking of the hardwood floors, the cusy sofa-chairs, and a rarefied taste in music lend it an ambience so pleasant, so subdued, it’s worth dropping in, if only for a delicious Indian tea or coffee. Even the washrooms ar bigger and nicer than most Manhattan apartments! Of course, the food is first-rate too (try its korma, 85 EEK), and all meals come with a side salad.

On our penultimate night in Tallinn, Fiona and Gordan have headed out separately to try the food at a Russian restaurant they found reviewed in the Lonely Planet guide, and Paul and Charis, having decided to head out into town in search of normal food, and have invited Shaun to join them. This leaves the Extended Crazy Gang to head out into the Old Town and find somewhere. First, we stop by the Olde Hansa and confirm numbers for tomorrow night, and whilst Tom is inside doing this, Steve, Hannah and myself buy some of their delicious sugared almonds from the servant manning the stall outside – very nice.


We then wander back down Vene Street to where we had spotted an Indian restaurant earlier. We take another look at the menu, and, having established that the terrace is regrettfully full, decid to try our luck inside. Upon entrance to the establishment we discover a well-proportioned building, with a huge entrance hall, taking up two floors and containing a solitary large wrought iron spiral staircase. We ascend to the next floor. The restaurant is divided across two large rooms on either side of the large entrance hall, and it is the second of the two rooms where we at last find a waitress to provide us with a table for eight and menus.

We sit and peruse the menu of Wild Boar Biriyani and Mousse Korma whilst listening to the rarefied taste in music and soaking up the atmosphere created by the deep windowsills, grand, large and stripped wood doors, and cottage cheese painted walls(?!!). Our meals arrive (I think, in the end, we did all choose from the Wild Menu), and we agree that this indeed likely to be the best Indian You will find within 10,000 kilometres of Tallinn.

You have entered
a very unique environment.

If it is bossanova You are listening to right now, then it’s probably performed by Japanese, if the rhytms are asian, they are created by some London genius of Indian origin, and the hip hop is obviously mixed by DJs from Vienna.

The room around You is ecologically clean. The wall surfaces are finished with natural paints, the recipes of those originating from Medieval Europe, containing ingredients like eggs, cottage cheese and natural pigments from Northern Africa. The doors and floors are covered with natural oil.

The most unprecedented experience is the food. The menu You have just opened combines elements from Indias long history and noisy streets of today’s Calcutta, five star restaurant chefs and Northen India’s homemade food, other national cuisines and ayurveda medicine. Here You will find a large variety of traditional vegeterian and as many untraditional meat dishes – everithing You will find nowhere else in Tallinn and dare I say in 10 000 km radius.

This environment is open, like a poem, the whole world in it’s colorful variety flowing through it.


The toilet too, is a big draw, and we all make sure we visit it. We can agree with the Lonely Planet guide that they are indeed bigger than most New York appartments. They are large, sparcely furnished rooms, simply whitewashed in colour with muted tones to the natural stone and shell floor. The toilet itself is diagonally opposite upon entrance, and alone in the corner of the room. A large mirror stands in a big alcolve, and the waste bin is a plain, large, stone urn, draped with a single red towel. The simplicity of the facilities is elegance in itself.

We head back up to the Town Hall Square to find a bar where we have a drink and/or coffee and play a game of cards in ever-decreasing light. “Shithead” is the game, and we play by candlelight whilst drinking our kohvi and our Saku. We then retire to the Oldhouse to sit up a bit longer in the girls dorm, laughing and joking and passing round the Vana Tallinn and the last of the Pepper Vodka. Shaun puts in a brief appearance, as does Paul, and Tom and Alice retire early to bed. And then we all go our separate ways after arranging a time when we shall venture out on tomorrows Itinerary of sightseeing.

Day Ten: Nice men at railway stations, the complexities of the Trolley Bus, a warning for swingers and a last medieval meal…