The Crazy Gang At Large in Tallinn (reprise)

Day 10. 5 August 2003

Tuesday. Today I lie in to the grand ol’ hour of 8 o’clock. I’ve slept well – having settled surprisingly well back into the comfort of beds rather than the boards we’ve been used to on Saaremaa. I shower, and find my way to the breakfast room for cornflakes, appelsin, kohvi, karma and sandwiches, and work on noting down the rest of last night into my journal. Gradually the others join me in various states of wakefulness and we begin to make plans.

The List is produced and and we decide in what order to attack it. Tom tells us that he’s read in the Lonely Planet guide that you can buy Tallinn cards at the train station, and get the bus from there to the zoo – it then being a pleasant 15 minute walk along the coast to the Outdoor Museum. It sounds simple. It sounds like a plan.

At 10 o’clock we head out (a party of nine) – the Extended Crazy Gang plus Shaun – across Tallinn, veering away at the Town Hall Square down Pikk Street and out the gate at the far side of the town. We soon reach the railway station via an exceptionally clean and pleasantly fragrant subway. The ticket office is easy to find too. However the Estonians behind the counter seem to have never heard of Tallinn cards, or at least feign incomprehension at our request despite the presentation of a leaflet all about it. We try other shops – no one knows anythign. Tim asks a man a locksmith. No luck. Then the locksmith has a change of mind – maybe he can help us? He locks up his shop and leads us through the station to the ticket office we tried first. He too has no luck. He leads us on further down the platform, and left, and left again into a another booking area. The kiosk is closed. He explains the situation to a lady in a neighbouring counter and it seems hopeful, so we thank the man and he leaves us. As it happens the lady can’t help us, but tells us to try the travel agent out the door, along the street, turn right at the end of the station building, and it’s on our right…

It all seemed so easy back on the ferry out of Saaremaa. Tim heads off for one last go at purchasing nine 6 hour Tallinn cards, but we’ve already more or less decided to cut our losses and stump up the fairs individually for the bus and the full price at the museum. We do have a bit of fun, hiding from Tim, each lined up behind pillars not really wide enough. But still, it’s good fun at the time, even if doesn’t fool anyone – not even Tim.

The No. 7 bus – a trolley bus – arrives and we prepare to board. It’s 15 EEK anywhere apparently (although we are not sure if that’s return or not), and as some of us our currently running short on *small* change we pair up to buy tickets from a crotchety, surley, middle aged women who proceeds in taking whatever money we through at her and handing back a selection of tickets. I hand over 30 EEK and get seven 5 EEK tickets back of which I sensibly (as it turns out) decide to stamp half of through the machine. When we later discuss this and realise that the lady saw us coming and fleeced us properly with the last few paying very little but getting no tickets back. She obviously decided that between the lot of us she had got enough money and the horn honking from the bus behind was enough to have her want to get on with her journey.

There is a little uncertainty on our journey through the subhurbs of Tallinn about just how we will know when we arrive at our destination, but we assume that a zoo should be fairly easy to spot. As it turns out we needn’t have worried, because: a) Shaun remembers that he read somewhere about how all the bus stops have numbers and so all we have to look out for is the number, and b) the zoo is very much obviously a zoo and right opposite our stop. We disembark, with the various leaders and ex-leaders among us (almost all of us) doing a quick head count.

And so we find ourselves opposite the zoo, in the middle of a retail park and outside a MacDonalds Driv’thru – yueuuchk! Still, we can see the coast from here and there appears to be a road heading towards it, so we try our luck. We walk past several developments of exclusive harbourside appartment blocks before reaching a promising sign outside of a six foot high green security fence with trees beyond, that proudly pronounces the Estonian Open Air Museum as being 800m further along.

A cousin of Jamõo’s crosses the road in a slight diagonal motion to cross again after we’re gone. Perhaps our reputation goes before us. At the entrance hall to the park Jane volunteers to buy our tickets, and in us paying us back, come by change. It all saves us the bother of nine queuing up each to buy our own. I purchase a guide map of the park and we head out, momemtarily tempted by hiring cycles before realising they didn’t have enough for all of us.

What we find further in is a larger version of the museum at Jörri (without the addition of drunk locals and homebrew – and flies – which we kind of miss—) but the reconstructions of old Estonian farms and villages with their log constructions and thatched roofs from across the years (and across the regions) are fascinating (even if some us do get told off for attempting to weigh ourselves on the grain scales!).

Moving on through the village we are again tempted by a ride around the park, this time on the back of a horse and cart, but the horse is obviously having his breakfast (or lunch, or brunch…) and the old man driver is definitely not keen. So we find a swing and try that for a bit. It’s good, but no comparison to the one back at Jörri. Next we visit an original wooden church moved here from it’s original location, and (much like the church at Koljala just three days ago) we leave as a large tourist group descend upon its stone flagged floors. At this point a light drizzle – the first rain of the week – begins to descend on us, and we hurry back to the traditional village Inn with it’s oak tables and it’s choice of just three things on the menu. Hannah and Tim, enjoy a very nice vegetarian option whilst the rest of us opt for red soup with, you guessed it, meat. Whilst most of us skip drinks, Tom, enjoying his day off has his mug of Saku.

After lunch, and a spot of journal writing for me, it’s back to the village. The Old Estonian with his horse and cart is much more amenable now and I, together with Jane and Shaun with Tom and Alice at the back take a cart right round the park and museum. It’s good fun and it does give us an excellent opportunity to check out where to go next. At the conclusion of the ride we do also manage to break not just a smile but a full guffawing laugh from the Old Estonian, when the horse sneezes snot all over the front of Jane’s dress!! He is still laughing as we depart and rejoin our compatriates lounging around outside the Inn eating Olde Hansa’s sugared nuts and making friends with Sophie the ginger puss.

Next, we amble down one of the main streets, past a millstream and it’s mill to an old fire station and a village school where Alice plays teacher and puts Tom flirts incorrigibly with “Miss” (and is put in detention for it…). Leaving the main track, we wind our way through the woods and look around another village, this time with a collection of traditional tools on show – including what is proudly translated as a wooden vat with a spout – or a watering can in other words!


…or that, at least, is what the sign informs us when we see it pinned to the side of the next swing we come across. We wander amongst these last two villages, coming together again one by one or in pairs at the swings whilst Alice and Tom visit the windmills towering above us. Some half-hearted swinging later and we make a direct route back to the park shop, spend some Kroon on guide books and postcards and venture out to catch the No. 27 bus back to Tallinn, sharing out the unstamped tickets between us and boarding from the back, we alight at the park with the alchies and the officious police where Tim had considered staying on his first night had his hotel not found his booking in time in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet out the back next to the broken toaster…

Crossing the park we walk along the foot of Tompea Hill with the castle walls towering on above, and round the town to some steps that climb, in stages, to a viewing station. From there it is a short walk through medieval streets to the Alexander Nevinsky Cathedral, and then a slight drop down to the Kiek in de Koch tower and museum. It’s a museum of the defensive history of Tallinn, and many a fine cannon are on display, as are the holes in the centre of the floor, which allow you to look from the highest ramparts into the deepest basement – or to, peak into the kitchen from where the tower gets it name.

At a little past 5 o’clock we head back through the Old Town, stopping at the Alkohol shop for stocks of Vana Tallinn, honey liqueur, pepper vodka, Estonian wine and brandy. Back at the Oldhouse these supplies are stashed away for either packing into rucksacks as gifts or for consumption later. We have a couple of hours now to just chill out, shower, and sort our bags again. During this time, Hannah successfully show me how to tie the loosening knots on the leather cord for amber pendant, so that I can now slip it on over my head and then shorten the lengh so that it doesn’t hang down medalian like in front of me.

By 7 o’clock we gather up our wallets and our cameras and head out across the road to the bar opposite (often visited but of which we still don’t know its name) to have a drink and wait for the arrival of Krista, Ele, Karin and Anne. However, one drink of Saku later and Tom, Alice, Steve, Vicky, Jane and myself leave to make an early appearance at the Olde Hansa and find them waiting for us there. As the rest of our party join us – we enter in…

Last Night Medieval Revelry by Steven Davis

There were parties all around us but we were the largest by far and away. The Olde Hansa has more intimate tables on the terrace outside and on the ground floor, but ther larger, more raucous groups like us are sent up to the first or second floors where the tables are more akin to a banquet. We all intermingled, although the Crazy Gang bar Jane stayed close together along the length of the middle of the table. The toilets on the upper floor were a treat in themselves to behold (although the ladies definitely had the edge over the mens, so we all made sure we went and had a look! Medieval style murals covered the walls of the room suppoted by solid oak trusses and decorated with wrought iron work, and lit almost in its entirety by candles.

As she innocently passed by, Tom yelled out and stopped Jane in her tracks to get a photo of the Original Crazy Gang in the “sublime scenario” of a medieval restaurant, flagons in hand – truly crazy but cool if ever you saw them…

The waitresses brought round drinks and large, conical flasks of water. The smaller glasses were of blown green glass,and the larger tankards were loveingly crafted teracotter that added to the taste of the drink within. The musicians on lute, clarinet and flute only played for a whilde, but with the roudiness created by all the parties only a little could be heard. Choosing the main cours was difficult – most went for the main only, though some followed the meal with a pudding as well. Vicky, on my right, had salman with forest mushrooms and I had chicken lightly flavoured with almonds and we mixed and matched. Plates were about a foot in diametre of roughly shapen stoneware, and rimmed, thereby casting much of the food in darkness though they were piled high. In addition to the meat and fish there was barley and potatoe (mashed) and baked into pies, salad, vegetables.

After the meal, it had to be done: Jane and myself had a flagon of spiced red wine. Vicky tasted it several times, having to hold an authentic pose for several rounds of picture taking – sightings of the lesser-spotted Vicky drinking being a *must have* in anyone’s photo collection. I finished off my rollof film, which I only put into the camera that morning and Thomas had the genius idea of passing round his digital camera for people to take random photos. It did two rounds in all, of which about half were good ones, so the camera was passed round a third time for folks to see. Charis seemed to hav a knack for taking very good ones of herself, and Hannah went for the arty approach on the candles as a subject.

Other parties were leaving and it was gone 11 o’clock before they came with the bill. It was a relatively easy process for them to sort the bill into groups of 4, but then seemed to take an age before they cam out and sorted out the costs. At this point, whilst we were waiting Thomas gave the journal to Krista (after complaints that there were no views from the Estonian perspective) for her to give her input and she contributed a couple of pages (These will be posted here as an Afterword —Ed.). She thought we were the best group she’d worked with, as did Annika and Tom – but then we did bond well, with the Crazy Gang at the core of the nineteen of us.

In the end Tim offered to pay for the girls as it was quite expensive – even a relatively small meal of almond chicken and a mug of herby red wine and table water (15 EEK in itself!) came to about 250 EEK (£12.50).

Upon being asked how she came to be the Assistant Leader on our holiday, Krista said that she’d taken on the job after seeing an advert in a newspaper. She had a couple of weeks practice as preparation in assisting a group leader, and the rest, as they say is history. Krista, herself, had cycled in to Tallinn to join us (about half an hours journey). During the meal she had phoned Annika to leter her know we were thinking of her, and both Tom and Tim spoke to her and we called out Terviseks (Cheers remember in Estonian, but the literal translation is Healthy Sex!) to her. She was flying ou tto Sweden soon and couldn’t be with us on the eveining in anything other than spirit – much to the disappointment of all us.

We left the Olde Hansa and headed onto a local traditional pub – Molly Malone! We had a quick drink there with Krista and Paul and Charis lingered with Shaun and a pint of Pills while we piled back to the Oldhouse. In between everyone finishing their first drink and us leaving, I knocked back another lemonade and a bushalls whisky – there doesn’t appear to be a locally distilled equivalent and so I’ve had to make do with exotic cider Kiss’, pepper vodka, honey liqueur and Vana Tallinn, often in the same night/session. In leaving Tim, lifted Krista’s bike down the steps for her and in riding around on it knocks the reflector off the spokes whilst Krista gives us a tearful farewell. Krista tries to explain that it’s happening all of the time which prompts Tim into making the inevitable joke (about bikes) – it’s as poor as joke as his the next morning… Back at the Oldhouse we piled out of shoes and socks, grabbed up bottles and headed for the last session in the girls’ dorm. Tom brought some Russian Vodka and a half-sized bottle of Van Halen (our adopted name for the local Vana Tallinn for reasons long lost in the midst of Saaremaa but having something to do with Van Halen’s Jump?!!). Jane had a bottle of red wind that Vicky had drink of and there was yet more alcohol – so much that there were no unopened bottles or only parially drunk ones in the morning.

Paul joined us after a while, though he’s now a spirit man by choice and Charis wasn’t feeling well. After a few drinks Tom and Aice departed for their own last night party, and a little later a slightly drunk Hannah did after a last tearful goodbye to everyone first. Her flight was out early morning, as was Shaun’s – who had already gone to bed despite sleeping in our dorm and setting his alarm for the ungodly hour of 6 o’clock. We didn’t know it yet, but this was the last we would see of either of them – very upsetting – the group was shrinking fast.

Tim and I appeared to be the only ones drinking the vodka, which I cut out after a while, thought Tim continued. Jane asked about the secret of the tooth, and hearing already that it had had its hiding place revealed (by Tim himself), insisted that as she would be sharing the same flight home tomorrow as Tim and the tooth she ought to be told, she was let into its secret: it was in his washbag with those things that some people were shocked that BTCV leaders carried – but then it is best to be prepared.

With Thomas drinking Vana Tallinn in a civilised manner by the glass, and Tom, Alice and Hannah departed, and myself and Tim (just slightly) the worse for wear, we thought it prudent to curtail the session – pre-empting any telling off by the management for our rowdiness – and so called it a night.

Day Eleven: Final Farewells in the Town Hall Square, and the Secret of the Tooth Revealed…