Archive for July, 2017

July 31st, 2017

Visiting Tarto, Estonia

We have had a tradition for several years to travel abroad once during our summer holidays. This year, we decided to do some local travelling and visited Tarto in southern Estonia.

As Tarto is quite near, we decided to take our car over the gulf and drive there. The other considered option was to take train from Tallinn to Tarto and back. Probably it would have been cheaper, as the trains are very inexpensive in Estonia and we didn’t really need the car for anything on our trip – it was parked in a garage for the whole time we were in Tarto.

We had reserved a suite with a separate bedroom in the newest hotel (V Hotell) in Tarto. It has also the very first indoor hotel spa in the town, so this was an obvious choice for family with children. We ended up visiting the space every morning and evening. The spa had several pools with all kinds of fancy water streams, hot tubs, and four saunas.

The children would have spent the entire vacation in the spa, but we ventured out to the science center Ahhaa and the newly opened Eesti Rahvamuuseum – Estonian National Museum. Both places were just excellent. I’ve always admired how Estonians use the latest technology in their museums in non-introsive, almost natural way, and these were no exceptions. For example, in Rahvamuuseum, the descriptions of exhibits are on e-ink displays that switch language using a NFC key that we got with the tickets. Boys had such fun to change the language.

The exhibitions were also excellent. Especially the origins of Finnic people was organised so that you never felt having too much to see or digest. This meant also that children were able to focus on the exhibition instead of chasing each other around.

The only disappointments in the museums were their cafeterias. They had very Estonian set of dishes and cakes, and it was somewhat hard to find something to eat for the children. Almost every cake had sour cream and all salty dishes tasted quite bland – except for the salmon bread that had enough saltiness.

Besides the museums, we just strolled around the city. Tarto is surprisingly small town, everything in the centre is reachable by walking a few hundred meters. We visited the old fortifications on the nearby hill, saw the university, and enjoyed good food in upscale yet affordable restaurants.

The trip was also a good for improving my Estonian skills. I’ve been studying the language for five years – slowly – and can handle short conversations on familiar subjects. In Tallinn, everybody responds in English when I speak Estonian to them – my accent gives me away. In Tarto, everybody answered in Estonian and I had sometimes hard times to understand what I was being told. But it was an excellent refreshment of my active Estonian language skills.

While driving back to Tallinn we visited a nature reserve in Tooma. The reserve is a big swamp with duckboards and an observation tower. Very tranquil place, except for finding the right path to the swamp. I thought several times that we are lost, but fortunately Sanna was more level-headed and we walked through the farm to the actual scenic trail. Worth the visit, but you better read the instructions carefully to find the trail.

On the same route, we stopped by Põhjaka manor to have a very delicious lunch. Estonia is full of manors – owned by the Baltic Germans in the past – and they are in varying conditions. We saw a couple of very pristine manors while driving, but Põhjaka was in more “romantic” condition. Not rundown per se, but age was showing through.