Unless the local Estonian people could speak English (and thankfully many of them could) communication was quite difficult because unlike most European languages, which evolved from ‘Indo-European’, Estonian belongs instead to the impenetrable ‘Finno-Ugric’ branch of languages, making it most similar to two of the World’s most difficult languages to learn, Finnish and Hungarian with a large number of vowels which make it a bit of a mouthful for beginners.
We found the bus stop and didn’t have long to wait for the bright green flexi-bus to arrive and once on board we were away and heading out of the city past the busy ferry terminal and then onto a road that followed the shoreline north. There was a scrubby beach and a bleak grey sea that stretched out beyond a couple of islands and then on to Finland. We had considered taking a trip to Helsinki and if the weather had been better, perhaps with some blue sky and sunshine, then we might have made the two hour crossing but the Gulf of Finland didn’t look especially inviting today.
After fifteen minutes we arrived on the outskirts of Pirita and the bus turned inland. This is where we should have got off but Mike, who was in charge of the map, was confident that this would only be a short detour and the bus would promptly rejoin the main road and take us into the middle of town. At the first junction he predicted a left hand turn but the bus went right but there was another junction ahead and he was certain this would turn left but again it went right and we were heading further inland and by now it was too late to get off. Not sure of where we were going we asked a fellow passenger who confirmed that the bus would eventually arrive in Pirita but he seemed genuinely surprised that we hadn’t got off earlier.
The bus passed through deciduous beech woods completely stripped bare of leaves, open parkland and communities of little wooden houses all shut up in preparation for four months of winter assault. It was a pretty little route that turned out to be one of the more up market suburbs of the city and finally we came to a small commercial centre where the bus turned around and took us all the way back in the opposite direction. And I mean all the way back because at the turn off where we should have left the bus in the first place it turned around to set off back to Tallinn and we had to leave it in exactly the place that we should have thirty minutes earlier. We had no complaints however because this had been a good value trip at only 9 Eeks (about .60p).
As the bus disappeared down the road we wondered if we had made the right decision because the place was austere and charmless with a desolate sea front with only a concrete promenade of obviously inadequate construction that had completely collapsed into the water and was no longer suitable for its intended purpose. Everyone declared it to be coffee time but all that we could find was a forlorn looking monster of a hotel called the Pirita Top Spa that turned out to be a dreary leftover from the days of Soviet occupation.
It had been constructed in the late 1970s and now, as though a symbol of all that communism stood for in Eastern Europe, it is in the advanced stages of decay with crumbling concrete, peeling paintwork and a harsh unattractive appearance and just like communism one day soon it will be gone completely. I generally don’t like to make judgements about people but the Soviets are an exception. It must have been lovely having these barbarians as imperial occupiers because one of the most burdensome legacies of the Russian era is the environmental damage they inflicted on their unwilling hosts and this place certainly contributed to that. As well as monstrosities such as this they left behind widespread pollution and across military installations on Estonian territory the army dumped hundreds of thousands of tons of jet fuel into the ground, improperly disposed of toxic chemicals, and discarded outdated explosives and weapons in coastal and inland waters.
The Estonian people resented the occupation and after regaining independence in 1991 the restored Republic only recognised citizenship of those who were a citizen prior to the Soviet occupation. This affected people who had arrived in the country after 1940, the majority of whom were ethnic Russians who were now required to have knowledge of Estonian language and history before being granted citizenship. The United Nations considers this to be a breach of human rights but I have to say that it seems perfectly fair to me.
Inside the hotel there had been some effort and a bit of an improvement but I don’t think I will be booking my summer holidays there. After returning home I checked the hotel web sites for customer reviews and this simply confirmed this decision for me.
From the outside we could see that the hotel was built in the style of a beached ocean liner and the reason for this was that it was constructed as a training camp for the 1980 USSR Olympic team – so presumably not designed for comfort and pleasure. It has undergone a couple of refurbishments but it must be hard to do anything with a building erected in this period, and one thing for certain is that it will never look good. The 1980 Summer Olympics were held in Moscow and the yachting events were held here in Tallinn, which was the first time that the Games were held in Eastern Europe or that an event took place in an occupied country.
Twenty-one years later Estonia was firmly part of the west and was the first ex Soviet occupied country to win the Eurovision Song Contest followed in the following year by neighbours Latvia.
It certainly was a curious structure, a monument to the past with no place in the future. We wandered around the boats and the sports shops and then when we certain that we hadn’t missed anything returned to the bus stop and caught the 1A back into Tallinn, this time going directly there without the unnecessary detour.