The Tartu Excursion
The Tartu Excursion
Tartu is about as an obscurely named and located city in Europe as it gets. Located in the South-East of Estonia less than 100km from the Russian border, you’d be fair in asking why the hell I’d make tracks for a place like this. But to those who know me well, you’ll see that I explained why on line one. i.e. it’s obscurely named and located. Furthermore, I’d pretty much exhausted the regions major cities and needed somewhere new to check out while on the road to Finland from Poland. In terms of what else I knew about Tartu – it is the second largest city in Estonia and home to the countries major university. That, and the cities official tourism slogan, City of Good Thoughts, is both ambiguous and lame.
Our initial thoughts on the city weren’t good at all. The private apartment we’d rented for 2 nights turned out to be little more than a tiny state housing unit, slightly off from the center of the old town. In desperate need of a sleep, we crashed upon arriving for a few hours before heading into the old town center to find a place to eat. We were both gripped by that awkward state of hunger where you really, really want to find a place to eat immediately – but are woefully indecisive in actually choosing where. Eventually, we decided to slump down in a place that was probably the worst joint in town. Other than my pizza appearing positively noxious, the restaurant had its radio set to a station that belted out only the most garish broken-heart love ballads of the 80s and 90s, which we sat grimly listening too while we waited for said pizza to arrive. By the time we left, we found ourselves mildly depressed with the conversation having shifted to famous suicide scenes from movies.
Not to make too finer point of it but during the course of our eventual 5 days spent in Tartu, we struggled to find anywhere that served anything better than average food. We’d had the same problem in Vilnius but Tartu took it too dismal new lows. Even the service was wildly erratic. On our last night we decided to check out the towns’ premier, yet still lackluster, steak house – a place by the hilariously naive name of Meat Market. Our waiter resolutely ignored us for the first 40 minutes before suddenly dotting on us with a beaming demeanor, even offering up an additional appetizer, free of charge.
As I mentioned, we ended up extending our stay in Tartu for 3 more days – and clearly it wasn’t for the food. After our morose dining experience that first night, we checked out a couple of low-key bars before stumbling upon a club in the suburbs called Illusion, that was a godsend. In a nutshell, it was an amazing venue full of stunning girls who loved us. And it was only a Wednesday.
The next day we decided to organize something a little more spacious than the housing project we’d ended up in – and ended up getting a great deal on a luxurious central apartment that included a sauna, huge living room, satellite TV and a 100 more subtle niceties. One night, we pulled 2 different sets of girls back to our apartment just off mentioning the sauna. Everyone loves a sauna. The only downside through all of this was my rampant cold, which lurched from one state of awfulness to the next – though it’s worse symptoms thankfully remained cloaked during the evening hours. Overall though, I loved the place. The Estonians here were far friendlier than their friends from Tallinn and we weren’t starved for interesting company.
Among what we found out from various people were the three things a student traditionally has to do in order to properly call oneself a student of Tartu University.
- Walk over the arched raise of the main river bridge
- Swim in the main fountain outside town hall
- Have sex in the university library
Another (utterly crazy) local girl called Maie told me about two student games that only served to remind me how bland my own teenage and tertiary education years were. ‘Hide & sex’ is a game between a mixed group of 25 or so people ‘who like each other’. In it, 20 people go off to hide/mingle in various bars around Ruutli Street (known locally as the Bermuda Triangle) before five ‘hunters’ pursue them. You can probably figure out the rest. That may seem outrageous, but then Maie also did a line of coke off **I had to edit this part out**
The other one – threateningly titled ‘The Rape Game’, was surprisingly benign by comparison. In it, people sit in a circle and take turns trying to make out with the person opposite them, while others try and hold them back.
In the end I was reluctant to leave Tartu. I’d found an apartment where by day I could comfortably work, sauna it up and watch shark documentaries on Animal Planet. And by night, well, it was great fun. I was partially vindicated in my leanings to stay longer when, two days after I’d left, received the following Facebook message from a gorgeous Russian girl I’d met there. I’d taken her for having an innocent disposition.