The Tsar's Summer Palace and Olde Hansa
Tsar Peter's summer palace, Kadriorg, lies in a park 2-3 km from the old town. We could have taken a tram, but it is a pleasant weather for walking. The cars' studded tyres crunch the asphalt loudly. It is another beautiful day with a clear blue sky. There is no wind and the temperature is just below zero.
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On the way are pretty wooden houses from the old days. Kadriorg Palace is now an art museum. It opens at 10 - in half an hour. The president's residence is also in the park and is guarded by two frozen soldiers.
You have to watch your step, because snow and slush has frozen to clear ice on the gravel paths. By the end of the road lies Tsar Peter's modest summer cottage. I guess the palace was built later. The cottage is now a museum. This is also where you find Kumu, the large new museum for Estonian art.
We settle on a sunny bench outside the palace and wait for them to open. A group of Danish tourists passes. Their guide talks about Tsar Peter and Italian architects, and they walk around the castle.
The guide is in a hurry, and the elderly non-athletes can hardly keep up. On the sunny bench we appreciate that we alone decide the pace.
The palace opens and we buy tickets. We want to see the palace rather than study the art exhibited on the first and second floor. The palace's grand hall is pompous and decorated with baroque stuff here and everywhere, but that is how they liked it back then: pompous.
The imperial family album is on the walls and not particularly interesting, unless you have a weakness for empresses. There are a few really good paintings by Russian realists. I especially like a portrait of an old man with a crutch.
There is also a room with intarsia (inlaid wood). Quite pretty, but nothing compared to what you see at Palazzo Ducale in Urbino, Italy. Afterwards we talk about the bad smell - it was as if all the custodians had chewed garlic.
If you want to know more about Kadriorg, you can visit the museum's homepage.
A path leads through the park to the coastal road. A small squirrel with a bushy tail runs about seeking food. The sun has melted the ice, and the path is slushy. Part way back to town we follow a path along the shore. Many Estonians are enjoying a Sunday walk in the nice weather.
There's a small kebab bar in the shopping centre near the hotel. The waiter's hair is pomaded Elvis-style.
While we wait for the pita kebab we listen to pop music from the Middle East. I guess they are singing for a free Kurdistan, elimination of mothers in law or some other universal topic.
160 EEK for 2 pita kebab and 2 cokes is cheap. Siesta-time.
Postcards and Water Pipes
We go out at three, buy postcards in a kiosk and drop into the coffee bar just around the corner. Here's a smokers' room. Young people are smoking water pipes lying comfortably on low cushions. They are not smoking funny stuff - it smells more like apple tea.
We write the postcards on the low table and then leave the dreamers with no particular goal in mind.
The sun is low and makes the colour-happy house fronts glow. By Niguliste church there is an outdoor skating rink, and we pass some restaurants with interesting menus. "Ribe" in Vene seems internationally orientated with a gourmet touch, and it isn't that expensive. Interesting!
In a few hours we'll dine at Olde Hansa, so we sneak home to relax.
Restaurant Olde Hansa
Restaurant Olde Hansa is a genuine tourist trap, and I have made a reservation from home. The concept is medieval food, medieval interior, medieval music etc. - a total experience.
A waitress in medieval attire greets us as we enter. The room has dark wooden furniture and is lit by candles. On a small balcony three girls in medieval dresses are playing soft medieval music.
We are asked to wait for the hostess and kill about 15 seconds sipping warm schnapps, which is spicy and slightly sweet.
The first floor is a grand hall. There are wall paintings (medieval motifs of course), and here too candles are the only source of light.
The waiter is a professional young man in tight Peter Pan trousers, and he speaks excellent contemporary English. In 1999 I visited a restaurant by the docks in London. They were into the medieval business too, and the food was about as bad as you can imagine. It isn't at Olde Hansa - on the contrary.
For starters we have an excellent bird's liver pâté with sweet stewed onions, something pickled and a solid piece of bread with cream cheese. Helle's main course is a stew with game and ginger marinated turnips. I have smoked fillet mignon with mushroom sauce and a mixture of boiled grains of some sort. It is okay and flushed down with a contemporary Chilean red wine.
The long table in the middle has seated a bigger company. They are American girls, three young men and two teachers (or whatever they are). They are served a never-ending flow of dishes, and from time to time somebody tries to blow the cow's horn given to the toastmaster.
One of the girls must "pour" warm cheese for all of them. It is difficult, because the cheese is like long spaghetti. It isn't very different from cheese on the pizzas, she probably devours with pleasure, but her face mirrors disgust with the cheese worms.
Toilets are on the second floor, and American girls form a twittering line. The men's room is vacant and I enter with no second thoughts, because it says "Dansker" on the door, which means "Dane" in Danish, and that is what I am. Even the toilet is styled medieval fashion, but at least the paper isn't parchment.
We cannot resist dessert and order apples in pastry with honey and almond milk. It is sweet and delicious, and the berry schnapps makes a good companion. The bill says 1385 EEK.
Of course a place like Olde Hansa is a tourist trap, but one must admit that they give you a total medieval experience.
Restaurant Olde Hansa
Vana Turg 1. Tel. +372 627 9020
Email: reserve at oldehansa.ee
Medieval food and experience. Reservations a really good idea.