“Let’s go this way,” says Riho, trotting off along a little sidestreet we haven’t seen before.
We are spending the evening exploring the Old Town. I am, by now, quite used to this type of excursion involving a weird feeling of having travelled back in time, but nothing could have prepared me for the gradual departure from reality that seems to have followed my companion’s seemingly harmless suggestion. One narrow, eerily quiet street leads to another, each with more abandoned, dilapidated buildings than the previous one. It’s strangely disconcerting, walking through this sort of place. I’m always heavily aware of the lingering presence of the past; my mind naturally craves stories and explanations. There are none. I remain silent, listening to the echo of our footsteps as we stumble along the uneven streets.
One of the boarded-up doors has been forced open, and I peer interestedly through the crack. “If you push it, it’ll open,” says Riho, close to my ear. I jump nervously and glare at him. “Shhh!” I hiss. Tentatively, I push the door. It creaks loudly, and I freeze. I am a product of Generation Teen Horror Movie, and I know that I should run away right about now, but I can feel Riho’s disbelieving stare boring into the back of my head. I give the door a firm shove. Crrreeeeeeaaak, it goes, falling slowly open. My heart racing, I step inside, and as my eyes adjust to the darkness, I realise…
…it is just an old, run-down house. Well, what did you expect? This isn’t the Famous Five, you know.
Having said that, we do seem to see more bizarre things in the space of a few hours than I’ve seen over the course of my life. Rhio is particularly bemused, as he has never seen this area before, despite being fairly well acquainted with the Old Town. His incredulity mounts as we see:
- A Ukranian Greek Catholic Church (complete with prayer letter-box outside, for prayers to the Blessed Virgin with Three Hands)
- A number of unidentifiable ‘secret’ doors into the thick stone walls, including one which seems to be a theatre inside the wall
- St. Michael’s Cheese Restaurant, where everything on the menu is made from cheese (or just served with unnecessary whacks of cheese, so that it fits)
- A series of Genuinely Odd posters, including one that is apparently for a film called Nazis & Blondes (not a comparison I’m overly familiar with), with the tagline “Acting evil was their destiny”
- A little courtyard* tucked away down an alleyway, in what looks like the back yard of a house that is literally falling down and being supported by wooden scaffolding, where there is a bar, a chocolaterie, a ceramics shop, and an assortment of randomly distributed and utterly bizarre accoutrements with no explanation whatsoever.
“100 Contemporary Teapots of what now?!” exclaims Riho finally, when a casual glance through a window reveals the winning sight of the evening. His voice has taken on an almost hysterical tone, and I find myself being hoisted up in an attempt to see the end of the Oddest Title Ever. We are none the wiser, but greatly entertained nonetheless.
And is that a giant cigarette next to the random teapot poster, or have I reached the Desperate And Hallucinating stage of nicotine withdrawal?
What a very strange night. Forget your monuments, scenery and natural wonders: this is tourism at its finest!
* This courtyard was my personal favourite sight so far, and I intend to return very soon. My official reason is that it deserves to be written about in much more detail, but really I just want to experience the delights of a French chocolaterie in Estonia…