Monday, 24 March 2008

Telling Tall Tales To Tobias In Tallinn

So blah blah blah, the ferry from to Estonia was fun - too brief to mutate into a booze pickled carnage-fest a la the last one, thank fuck, but the two hours were merrily set off by a blizzard that made Helsinki and its surrounding islands look the height of picturesque bleak. The thing I've found about these parts is that snow being the norm - or at least normal - feels more exotic or whatever than going somewhere megawarm.

More blah blah blah, Tallinn is lovely, in many ways more like an Eastern European capital than a Scandinavian one. Mostly because it is (or a Baltic capital, anyway), but it's definitely got that Scandinavian air of chilly chic going on, combined with a compact, medieval old town, the semi-dilapidated likes of which you don't get so much oop north. I suppose in some ways we didn't actually interact with it all that much, other than a solid wander and to aimlessly gawp at old buildings, the providence and purpose of which we were never really clear of, but it was nice for that.

Tallinn also has a reputation as a haven for weekending Brits looking for cheap beer and a good vomit, and this trip's fearless descent into cliche continued unabated as we set eyes upon the nearest pub to our hostel. Dubbed Hell Hunt, the very prominant logo was of a naked woman straddling a wolf. Glorious. Actually it was infinitely nicer than that fruity facade might suggest, and while we didn't really do much for the rest of the day other than sit there and drink local beer at about a quid a pint, it was nice to be be able to do so with impunity. Well, more impunity.

We also got a-swigging with a Swiss chap from our hostel by the name of Tobias. Showing us up for the utter dilettantes we are, he's been travelling the world for two years in his 4x4, and has seen Things I Will Never See, experienced Things I Will Never Experience, I'm very jealous, etcetera etcetera. However, there is something ruthlessly efficient about him that sat a bit strangely with me... he genuinely finds the idea of public transport quite offensive, he carries a laptop with him everywhere, has a very spiffy website detailing his adventures (, should you want proof that this isn't all just in my head), and generally appears to have a business plan drawn up to kind of justify his entire trip as an investment in his future. He was telling us how he'd had to fly home to Switzerland to sort out a visa for Cambodia and I asked him if he'd felt a bit disappointed at having to breach the whole romantic illusion of being out in the wilds or whatever, and he looked at me like I was mad. I dunno, he wasn't really a nice guy, per se, but he was very interesting, and even if deep and meaningfuls weren't exactly in abundance, he was a wellspring of appropriately lurid anecdotes, my favourite being the time his 4x4 hit a cow in Argentina, causing said bovine to flip through 360 degrees, then just get back on its feet and pretend the whole thing had never happened in dignified Argentinean fashion.

On the second night we went for a meal at Olde Hansa, possibly the only medieval-themed restaurant in the entire world to not come across as kitsch-bordering-on-embarassing. The service is just the right side of hammy, it looks great, and the weird food (if you're ever looking for a good side of spelt...) and drink (ditto herbal beer) was either nice or such a demented failure that it was worth it anyway.

Largely at Tobias' urging we went clubbing afterwards, which wasn't entirely expected, but we weren't exactly opposed to it. The place was called Hollywood, it was a student night, the music was as dreadul as one might expect, and I've not seen so many people in one room since the start of this trip. It was fun. But yeah, clubbing is clubbing is clubbing...

Tobias, bless him, has spent the last two years clinically sleeping his way through much of the world's womenfolk with a supervillain's ruthlessness and a superhero's courage. That Cambodian visa? Well worth it, he spend a month getting chauffeur-driven around the country while he bumped uglies with the leader of the opposition party's daughter. Hell, you might have slept with him. He's a persuasive man, I wouldn't blame you.

Now while me and Mark have been having many deep talks about brilliantly deep shit and stuff, the game of 'call which one you're going to sleep with' has, well, possibly dominated our conversation to the point of obsession, not least in Tallinn where the ladies are, quite frankly, a comely bunch. However, in terms of putting our money in the region of our mouths... well, Mark has a girlfriend, and for reasons ranging from vestigial principles to old skool cowardice, wandering up to a strange girl and buttering her up with platitudes has never exactly been my style.

This is EXACTLY Tobias' style, and the collision of the two rather called our bluff, i.e
Me: Call her
Tobias: Yeah, she's cute. So you're going to go talk to her?
Me (thinks): Ah, the thing is, my Swiss friend, that while this whole 'calling' thing unquestionably has its roots in objectifying women as lust/sex objects in a way that - if I really think about it - makes me fairly disgusted with myself, the thing is, that, on a more significant level, it's ironic, both in terms of satirising the type of English blokes who wander around yodeling letcherous obscenities at foreign (and indeed British) women, but also in sending up mine and Mark's general inability to act as Casanovas in any given situation, even if we wanted to. Indeed, though there is a measure of hypocrisy in justifying it this way, there is a tenuous argument to be made in framing the whole thing as an elaborate in-joke about how pathologically respectful we are towards women. Now shove that in your 4x4 and park it.
Me (says): Um. Maybe later?

Shortly after midnight, I wryly reflected on the fact I was now technically 27, which - excruciatingly - spurred Tobias on to actually secure me a girl. Not as in hire a hooker, but to use his vastly superior powers of charm/confidence to secure me a sympathy pull. As you're all doubtless aware, after a few beers I'm happy to jettison the semi-progressive morals I oft espouse, but I still felt silly when more or less ordered to go talk to Christina, also 27, a stewardess for Scandinavian Airways. Her English was amazing, and she was a fun, vivacious person, but the type of rubbish I drone on about doesn't really translate especially well
to, well, anyone, frankly, let alone across a yawning cultural schism, and I could see Tobias looking at me in bewilderment as I yammered on about, I dunno, badgers or something. Anyway, we relocated to the wordless frug of the dancefloor, which toned down the awkardness a few pegs, but there comes a stage in a chap's night when he realises he's only flirting with a girl so as not to disappoint a random Swiss dude who he's never going to see again and probably doesn't really give a shit. That time was about 1.30am. I then danced like a bastard for two and a half hours and had a jolly good start to my rock'n'roll year of death. The end.

Well, not quite... I think lavish descriptions of cities the reader either won't go to or can make up their own minds when they do are a bit redundant, but I did in fact do a bit more sightseeing in Tallinn, I did enjoy it, and I don't want to give the impression this has been a total booze fest. Thanks to Mark's frail-bordering-on-childlike health and only tenuous curiousity with regards to other cultures, I took one of his many lengthy sleeps as an opportunity to potter outside of the old town on my own. I went to Kadriorg Park, which is big and well kept and dotted with nice old buildings dating back to Czarist rule; a really nioce place, but most of the fun came simply from wandering around a snow-strewn, pine-covered park. It stretched right down to the sea, and it was fascinating (if freezing) to watch what seemed like hundreds of apparently masochistic swans battle gamely against steel-blue, rock hard breakwaters just so that, y'know, they could hang out with the other swans. I thought that was nice.


Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

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tobias said... was a visa to Vietnam and China, not to Cambodia... Other than that: interesting to read, maybe a bit subjectiv and partly exagerated, but who can blame a blogger on that?