September 2021

With a week of our Estonian trip to go, we said goodbye to Tartu and headed to the “summer capital”, Pärnu. It’s a small city on the west coast where Estonians flock to squeeze the most out of the limited summer sun. We arrived at the beginning of September, so it was mostly deserted…and pretty chilly.

I had had a great deal of discussion with my wife about the wisdom of booking a garden cabin, considering the plummeting temperatures, but she had her heart set on one not far from the beach. So a cabin it was. Our AirBnB host expressed a degree of shock, offering a small apartment next door for the same price. However, on confirming our intention, he decided not to argue the point, saying we could move if we changed our mind.

Which we did. One freezing night under heavy blankets combined with a consistently leaky pipe later, we moved into the cosy little apartment our host had suggested. The host made no fuss at all, perhaps because he was the shiest person I had ever met.

Estonians in general go out of their way not to disturb you. If you are the kind of person who doesn’t like to be approached, then this is definitely the place for you. Our host, however, took it to another level. While he quickly came if we needed something, he vanished without warning as soon as his task was complete. We saw him near the house a few times, but he always quickly hid, seemingly desperate to avoid a chat. We were not offended, just a little amused.

Pärnu is a classic seaside resort with wonderful views out onto the Baltic. The old town is picturesque and full of greenery and boasts a legendary pizzeria called Steffani. Be sure to stop here and enjoy a beer in the garden. A beautiful mix of woodland and meadows, with cows grazing right up to the seashore, extends to the south. This would become our running route for the week, offering us stunning sunsets.

The main beach is long and flat as a pancake. Just alongside it is the stadium of second flight FC Pärnu. Naturally, we jumped at the chance to tick off yet another Esiliiga stadium. This was by far the most impressive we had been to in terms of the grandstand and also had the highest attendance of the matches we had seen. The match finished 2-2, but we spent much of our time trying to stay in the only patch of sun on offer.

To get the early autumnal chill out of our bones, we decided it was a good time to try Vana Tallinn, a spicy rum that is Estonia’s most famous tipple. It is a good way to warm yourself up quickly coming in from the cold, but a little too sweet (and strong) to consume in great quantities.

Before leaving, our final mission was to get a Covid test, with our departing flight leaving a couple of days later from Tallinn. The testing “centre” consisted of two ladies wrapped up in PPE in a tiny darkened room with a small computer flickering in the corner. It seemed a very dismal way of making money, but I guess somebody had to do it. I just wished (for their sake) a little more thought had been given to the decor.

Pärnu would certainly be interesting to see in (real) summer, but it was also very pleasant to have the vast expanses of coastline nearly to ourselves. We will be back for more pizza one day!


August 2021

Our dream had been to get out to the “real” countryside of Estonia since our arrival in Tallinn, so after a couple of weeks in Tartu, we caught one of the few trains a day to Elva. It had been recommended as a beautiful place to visit by my professor and it didn’t disappoint.

From the old wooden train station, we ambled towards one of the two central lakes the town boasts, stopping to buy some supplies at the local store on the way. After walking past the football pitch, we picked our way through a clump of denser forest, climbed over an abandoned ski jump and reached the second lake, far more deserted than the first, with a bored lifeguard the only other human in sight.

A small snack on the beach consumed, we set about traversing the residential lanes, all the houses immaculate with extensive, perfectly manicured lawns. As usual, we discussed getting one of these houses and living this bucolic idyll; an attractive idea if we were to settle in Estonia one day.

Our walk next took us to the south of the town, from whence many walking paths stretch out deeper into the wild. Part of our planned route turned out to be a rally track (a very popular sport here as well as in Finland), which had been used in a recently held WRC event. A little concerned it may have still been in use at the time of our walk, we stayed to the edge of it until we saw a couple of locals happily walking their dog up the centre.

Having a lot of time on our hands before the next (only) train from Elva, we decided to walk part of the way back to Tartu under our own steam. The beginning was fairly simple as the path we took shared the route of the Tour de LatEst, a cycle route that crisscrosses Latvia and Estonia, but we soon reached a point where we were forced to head offroad.

The route I had opted for on my trusty maps.me app existed for just long enough to get us close to our planned destination station, but just far enough from the previous one for it to be too late to go back when it stopped…existing. With no decent alternative, we thrashed our way through a bit of high grass before coming out on a track through glorious fields of crops.

Our relief was short-lived, however, as we soon came across a “NO ENTRY” sign barring our way. It was placed curiously, in the middle of a field, with no other lanes or paths as far as the eye could see. With a sigh, we ignored it and had nearly reached the regular (legal) road when we saw the farmer. He was mowing his exceptionally long “drive” and heading straight towards us.

Time to feign total ignorance! I smiled and said “Tere”, making a gesture inquiring if we were heading in the right direction. A disgruntled grunt was the “reply”, but fortunately there were no further repurcussions. Mow problem.

Or rather Nõo problem, as it was in the tiny borough of Nõo that our wandering came to an end, with an ice-cream to celebrate. An unassuming little place with the obligatory disc golf park, another Estonian obsession. Time to head back to the “metropolis” of Tartu, with lashings of Vitamin D in our skin and fresh country air in our lungs.


August 2021

Time for a new life. Six years of Japan and a three month stay in South Korea are over. Time to visit E-stonia, much vaunted for its technological advances, and to finally do an MA, appropriately enough in Educational Technology. The course is at the University of Tartu, but the adventure begins in Tallinn, the Estonian capital.

A previous visit

I had actually visited Tallinn on a day trip by boat from Helsinki back in 2012. A very early morning wake-up and the relatively compact nature of the city meant I was able to fit a surprising amount into a small window of time, including a walk along the coast, the legendary pancakes at Kompressor, and the inimitable Valli Baar, where I was challenged, and encouraged, to knock over the former Estonian boxing champion with a single finger to the nose. By whom? By the Estonian boxing champion himself of course. He had also circumnavigated the globe by ship, another feather to his unusual bow.

Both these places are true remnants of a bygone era. The service is gloriously grumpy and the welcome, if not overtly hostile, is certainly not affected. Indeed, a deliberate and pungent release of wind greeted my arrival to an empty Valli Baar, empty except for the barman who dealt it that is.

Back to 2021

Fast forward to 2021 and, after jumping through numerous Covid hoops to reach Estonia, there are zero checks at the airport, so my wife and I walk straight through the cosily decorated main hall and into a taxi that takes us to the leafy suburb of Nõmme. A week has been booked here in a spotless AirBnB cabin to acclimatise to Europe.

It was an excellent choice. Tallinn is by no means a big city, but in Nõmme you don’t really feel like you are in a city at all. After a good night’s rest, we made our way to the sleepy centre for a morning pastry at a local bakery and a little reverse culture shock. Everybody was so much bigger and blonder than people in East Asia.

No masks

Also, nobody was wearing masks. Almost in spite of ourselves, we discarded ours for the day as well. It must have been something to do with being free of the plane and travel stress and starting a new chapter. It would take rising cases and a government order to get (most) people wearing them again indoors. In Nõmme, we also passed a health centre offering vaccinations and, once we had applied for an ID number from the Estonian government, we were able to get the jabs that had eluded us in South Korea and Japan.


The Vana (Old) Linn (Town) is the place most visitors to the Estonian capital flock. It is fairytale picturesque with its towering turrets, narrow lanes and historic architecture. A short walk up Toompea Hill takes you to a town above the town, which includes the Estonian parliament, the Nevsky Cathedral and two wonderful viewing spots to get your bird’s-eye view of the capital. A stroll down some nearby steps brings you to the excellent and reasonably priced Vegan Restoran V. Order a dark Valmiermuiza, a Latvian craft beer all the rage in Estonia at present, to wash your meal down with.


Heading out of the Vanalinn past the main train station, you will find yourself in front of the Balti Jaam Market, which offers a variety of eating options. A little beyond that, you enter Telliskivi Creative City, the definition of a hipster’s paradise with breweries, wineries, craft markets and edgy street art aplenty in a nicely compact post-industrial space. There is also a falafel place serving very generous portions hidden down some back streets that we made use of twice for a cheap and tasty lunchtime snack.


The main lung of Tallinn is the verdant Kadriorg Park, a haven for joggers and the host of Estonia’s famous singing festivals. Peter the Great constructed it after conquering Estonia. Places you can visit within it include the house he stayed in, the residence of the president (replete with beehives), Kadriorg Palace and KUMU. KUMU is a visually striking modern art museum well worth popping into. Unfortunately, we (unintentionally) got our tickets just a couple of hours before closing and so were forced to rush our visit to the top two floors.

The Seaside

Part of the reason Peter chose Kadriorg for his residence was its proximity to the sea. Tallinn is also a port and with its location come many beaches and coastal walks that you can enjoy when you want to get out of the (not so big) town. The water temperature may be a bit Baltic, but you can stick to sunbathing or a gentle jog if you prefer.

Nõmme and FC Nõmme United

Finally back to sleepy Nõmme, its beautiful wooden market and old wooden houses with leafy gardens…and its second division football side, FC Nõmme United! On our first day in town, we had spotted posters advertising an upcoming game in the Männiku Stadium, hidden in the forest. It was only 2 Euros (or free if you were wearing club colours) to attend, so we did.

They were taking on the youth team of Levadia Tallinn, a rather better known side (well, for European football fans anyway). Despite a dominant performance, they could only draw 1-1. To my great surprise, my wife (who normally is completely uninterested in football) was very keen to see them again, so we watched them play Flora Tallinn’s second string away (just 3 quick stops on the train) soon after; that match also ended up a draw, this time 2-2. There is just something about seeing a game live that a TV can never replicate!