Daytrip to Helsinki

I made an audible during my trip, as a festival going on in Finland made every single hostel on hostelworld.com booked in Helsinki (and Tampere, too)! Not wanting to shell out $110 for a 2 star hotel, I decided to call a hot route — hot route! — and consulted skyscanner.net. Departure: Helsinki. Destination: Everywhere. After finding a cheap flight to Budapest, which is a perfect gateway to the Balkans, I departed from Tallinn, Estonia for a short day-trip in Helsinki prior to my flight.

The journey from Tallinn to Helsinki occurs on a “ferry”, which is really more like a cruise ship that doubles as a mall. Seriously. The views from the top deck, however, were freaking sweet, and I managed to kill a hangover with some coffee while taking in the views.

"And then we all bought yachts!!!" - MtB

“And then we all bought yachts!!!” – MtB

And in case you wanted a video version:

Eventually, the ferry docked in Helsinki and my quick day-trip commenced…with a stop at Subway since the food prices on the ferry were astronomical.

Notice how everyone is dragging a cart? The cart is full of alcohol since the prices in Tallinn are way cheaper.

Notice how some people are dragging a cart? The cart is full of alcohol since the prices in Tallinn are way cheaper.

I did the “free walking tour” outlined in my tour book, which brought me to the main outdoor market and some of the most popular buildings. I had my whole bag on me, so the walk was more like a workout, but my time was limited so I did my best to trek on. (I told myself “For the shire!” on more than one occasion.)

A big building.

A big building.

Tallinn (part 2): the nightlife

I know I’m behind on getting this up, but Budapest was an absolutely amazing city with so much to do that I was too consumed to do anything but experience Budapest. Trust me: you want to see my pictures and videos from there. But first, a look back at the nightlife (and hostel atmosphere) in Tallinn!

So Tallinn has a disproportionate pub and club scene because of its proximity to (the much more expensive) Helsinki. The Finnish people come down in droves for the weekend, party in Tallinn, and then bring alcohol purchased in Estonia back to Finland with them when they leave on Sunday. They’re both on the Euro, so it’s kinda strange there’s such a large difference in price just across the water, but it makes for a fun nightlife in Tallinn (and reputably a poor one in Helsinki).

No discussion of my time in Tallinn would be complete without a strawpedo video. What is a strawpedo, you ask? It’s when you put a straw into a Breezer and proceed to consume the beverage as quickly as possible; the straw enables you to drink much faster than normal. Like this:

Every night the hostel would host some drinking games in the social area prior to a free pub crawl. I joined on a few occasions, like the one seen below. You might notice the guy on the right with a box on his head. In the Estonian version of ‘Kings Cup’, the rule for drawing a 9 is that you become “Boxhead” and must drink whenever anyone else has to. Sadly, I was Boxhead for a short while once:

These people were fun.

These people were fun.

It's a good look.

It’s a good look.

The pub crawl visited a couple cool pubs that I probably wouldn’t have found on my own, including my favorite: The Red Emperor. The Red Emperor had cheap prices, good pool tables, a lot of locals, and this bad boy:

Large-scale Jenga! When it crashes, it's the closest thing to an earthquake that Estonia experiences.

Large-scale Jenga! When it crashes, it’s the closest thing to an earthquake that Estonia experiences.

The pub crawl passes the lit-up Old Town buildings.

The pub crawl passes the lit-up Old Town buildings.

The crawl ended up at their main club, which featured a bunch of Russian break dancers amid ridiculous lights and chandeliers. It almost felt like a Vegas club without the Vegas prices.

View from the VIP section overlooking one of the chandeliers and the ground floor.

View from the VIP section overlooking one of the chandeliers and the ground floor.

Tallinn (part 1): the sights

I’m breaking Tallinn up into two parts because I have an overabundance of pictures and videos from here which can be categorized into either a) sights or b) nightlife. So it’s the logical breaking point.

Tallinn has a number of cool things to see and do. The Old Town has a handful of cool churches, cathedrals, view points, old walls, cool underground restaurants, walkways, etc.  On top of that is the old prison and various other parts of town that were awesome to visit. No wonder Tallinn had more tourists (as a percentage) than any other city I’ve visited on my trip, including Berlin and Krakow, but excluding Auschwitz.

A view of Old Town Square with the city hall.

A view of Old Town Square with the city hall.

The main area, as you can see above, is the Old Town Square which doubles as the city hall and has a small, medieval style restaurant in it that serves just three things: elk soup, beer, and pie. I was told by basically everyone that it was a must visit, and they were correct: the ambiance is amazing and the elk soup was surprisingly delicious.

They force you to drink the soup from the bowl, which is extremely frustrating towards the end when you have more elk left than liquid. Flaw.

They force you to drink the soup from the bowl, which is extremely frustrating towards the end when you have more elk left than liquid. Flaw.

The Old Town has a long street (actually named ‘Long Street’ in Estonian) that leads up to the Dome Cathedral and old Russian-influenced church. I bought two paintings along this cobblestone walk from the guy you can see here on the left.

Piik Walkway

Looks good on the outside, but isn't great on the inside. Sorta like a model.

Looks good on the outside, but isn’t great on the inside. Sorta like a model.

Just behind this church is the Dome Cathedral, which had some pretty sweet views from it.

I've got a REALLY weird tan going on.

I’ve got a REALLY weird tan going on.

And in case the picture wasn’t enough, I have a roughly 1 minute clip showing the views from each of the windows at the top of the tower.

There was also a viewpoint directly next to the Cathedral that views the other side of the city. I had a tourist take a picture of me there, too:

Check out the sexy jacket I'm wearing. Somehow they don't have any H&Ms in Estonia, so I had to splurge for this one.

Check out the sexy jacket I’m wearing. Somehow they don’t have any H&Ms in Estonia, so I had to splurge for this one.

I also managed to take a trip to the old prison that a Russian Czar had created in the late 1800s. This place actually served as a prison all the way to 2005, which is absolutely insane once you see the squalid condition of the interior.

One of the prison cells at the Patarei Prison. Easily confused with a dorm room at SLO, I imagine.

One of the prison cells at the Patarei Prison. Easily confused with a dorm room at SLO, I imagine.

Just behind the prison, but still on the prison grounds and therefore surrounded by barbed wire, was an outdoor bar on a beach. The views here were pretty awesome, especially with the barbed wire fence just on the shore of the Baltic Sea / Gulf of Finland. I took a handful of pictures and had a beer.

Saku is their most famous, commercialized beer. The wind actually knocked it over shortly after this :'(

Saku is their most famous, commercialized beer. The wind actually knocked it over shortly after this 😥

The view out there is not Finland, it's another part of Estonia.

The view out there is not Finland, it’s another part of Estonia.

On the way back to the hostel, I walked along the ‘Cultural Kilometer’, which was basically a pebble road (1 KM in length) that ran along the sea. There was one point that was sorta like an inlet in which I took some nice panoramic pictures.

What CBS would use if they ever ran a 'Survivor: Tallinn' season.

What CBS would use if they ever ran a ‘Survivor: Tallinn’ season.

On the final day I went on a walking tour which took me to the Freedom Monument and a few other sights I hadn’t yet seen in Tallinn.

More like a cross than a Freedom Monument, but to each their own. Yes, it rained shortly after this.

More like a cross than a Freedom Monument, but to each their own. Yes, it rained shortly after this.

There was a lot to see there and I didn’t even make it to some of the stuff outside of town that was apparently worth seeing.

Tartu: you’re dead to me (during the summer).

I made a two night journey to Tartu, Estonia on my way from Riga to Latvia. The stop in Tartu made sense for a few reasons: it was raining everywhere in Latvia and Estonia, so the beach town and nature spots made no sense whatsoever. So, instead, I made my way to the second biggest city in Estonia, and the one with the biggest university: Tartu. However, as you may have guessed, it was completely dead in Tartu since it’s actually summer break for all the students. It didn’t help that I was there on a Sunday and Monday, either.

That said, I met a few cool people there and it was nice to have a few days to recover from Riga. Also, I saw in my tour book that the museums were all closed on Monday, so as soon as I got to Tartu on Sunday I went directly to their famous museum: Estonian National Museum. It just so happened that they had a temporary exhibit about the Hippy movement in Soviet Estonia that was incredibly interesting, noting who my father is.

It said 'no pictures', but I say 'no trinkets' and they never listen either.

It said ‘no pictures’, but I say ‘no trinkets’ and they never listen either.

The first night I met a guy from San Diego in the hostel who knew the town really well, and even knew of places open on a Sunday night. We went out and grabbed a few local beers while shooting the shit about football and other American sports.

A small Soviet-style club on a back alleyway that Tom (the San Diegan) knew about.

A small Soviet-style club on a back alleyway that Tom (the San Diegan) knew about.

The next day, I went and saw basically all of Tartu in about three hours, as I walked down the main street (Raekoja Plats) which leads into the main Cathedral Hall. After that, I walked to the 13th century St. John’s Church. That was probably the coolest building in Tartu:

One of maybe three cool buildings in Tartu.

One of maybe three cool buildings in Tartu.

With just one night remaining, the Spanish guy staying at the hostel and I went out to the same bars that Tom had shown me the previous night, had a few of the local beers while joking about the people there, talked to a few local guys who wanted to know what the hell we were doing in Tartu, then called it a night. It was a nice break between Riga and Tallinn, but I would not go back there unless school was in session. There just wasn’t much to see or do.

Riga 1, David 0

Four nights in Riga, Latvia will take a lot out of you. That generally happens when you watch the sun rise three consecutive nights, but it also comes back to why I spent three nights in a row up until 5+ AM: Riga.  Running on fumes, I present my photos and videos from Riga.

I got to Riga on a five hour bus ride from Klaipeda, Lithuania. The bus ride was arguably the worst of my life, as it was on a very small van turned into a bus that decided to go on the bumpiest path to Riga possible, while keeping the windows down — there are a lot of cows — and the AC off. Oh, and there was also a kitten on board that meowed every ten seconds for the entire trip. I was not amused. There were, however, some nice views of the south of Latvia, like this one here:

Lake in South Latvia

Lake in South Latvia

Upon late arrival, I had some food and then drinks with a Swiss couple staying at the hostel. They told me of a walking tour they’d do the following morning that would visit some of the less frequently seen stuff in Riga: the not Old Town stuff. I obliged and found the tour quite interesting. This first photo is of one of the hangars that the Germans built in 1941 to manufacture zeppelins, but never put into use, that has since been turned into the largest market in Europe. This is one of those hangars (of like 5) with each hangar having a different food type to choose from:

Not zeppelins

Not zeppelins

We also went to a “black market” which was basically just a flea market where people were selling things that only people from Bakersfield would be interested in buying: used toilet seats, remote controls to TVs that went out of production decades ago, rusted axes, etc.  I also found some expired Soviet passports that I would have totally bought if I had cash on me. You’d think a place like this would accept debit:

I spy the Bens rummaging somewhere in this photo.

I spy the Bens rummaging somewhere in this photo.

Exhausted after the tour, we stopped at a local brewery that had a unique food menu. I decided to try the baked salmon with potatoes and vegetables, covered in a “cheese and spinach hat”. This was the best meal of my trip thus far:

I actually came back for the same meal the next day.

I actually came back for the same meal the next day.

That night I went out with two guys from Dusseldorf who didn’t know the other Germans but swore they recognized Till. We stopped at a beer garden, had some of the commercialized Latvian beers (which are worse than Busch Light somehow), and generally stumbled around town checking out random places until we found a small bar with 8 girls dancing and no one else inside. We joined until 6 AM and took turns helping the DJ mix and stuff. It was also right next to this place:

It's like a postcard

It’s like a postcard

The next morning — don’t know how I woke up for this — I did the Old Town walking tour with the Dutch couple I became friends with. (The male was 6’7″ but could not dunk somehow.)  The tour guide knew an absolutely stunning amount of Riga’s history, which was quite an eventful one. I think he could actually give Bobby a run for his money in jeopardy. On the tour I rubbed some good luck animal statues which had some long story behind it:

These buildings are almost older than my dad's jokes. Almost.

These buildings are almost older than my dad’s jokes. Almost.

The tour ended close to St. Peter’s Cathedral, so I decided to shell out the money to take the elevator to the top of the tower to admire the views. Fantastic decision.

The views up here were pretty sweet, but I still prefer the views from St. Vitus's Cathedral in Prague

The views up here were pretty sweet, but I still prefer the views from St. Vitus’s Cathedral in Prague

George Bush: "I assure you, I'm not high."

George Bush: “I assure you, I’m not high.”

That night I attended the pub crawl with about 30 others, which ended in yet another watching of the sunrise. (Before going out, though, I had some Moldovan wine (pictured below) along with homemade Caprese salad.) The pub crawl was average for a pub crawl, but I ran into the same four Aussies that I spent time with in Kaunas out at one of the pubs, which definitely added to the fun. At the final bar, there was a group of Latvians who were incredibly interested in everything America — and were absolutely stunned when I told them that I dislike both Bush and Obama, as if third parties didn’t exist in the US — and invited me to join them in walking through the Art Nouveau district to the Freedom Monument for the sunrise. Great choice.

Surprisingly one of the best wines I've tried this trip.

Surprisingly one of the best wines I’ve tried this trip.

The end of a ridiculous night is the beginning of another day. Could be a Minus the Bear lyric.

“The end of a ridiculous night is the beginning of another day.” – David Marver, though it totally could be a Minus the Bear lyric.

My final day in Riga was spent shopping for not trinkets. Found stuff for both Jack and Jackson, and I didn’t buy anything for Kern, so it was a total success.

At night, the girl who worked the front desk of the hostel convinced me to go out and have one beer, even though I had a 8:40 bus up to Tartu, Estonia the next day. I said ‘screw it’ and went to a pub close to the hostel. I was sitting, sipping my beer while people watching to good American music when I was approached by a bride-to-be and the rest of her bachelorette party. They wanted a drink for the bride, but when they found out I was from San Diego, California, I was instantly invited to join them for the duration of the night. It was insane. I took some footage of the bride-to-be making it rain in a way that was apparently normal in Riga: spraying Bacardi and Coke out of your mouth.

Time to pack for the bus. No sleep necessary.

Time to pack for the bus. No sleep necessary.

Three consecutive nights watching the sun rise was enough to completely wipe me out. I slept the entire bus and as soon as I got to the hostel in Tartu. You win, Riga. You win.