Op-shop fails and Cooking in Tartu

I’d planned to spend about three days in Tartu, and when I admitted this to more than one person working in hostels in Tallinn I was met with horror and warnings that there is absolutely nothing to do –  that one night or just a day trip would be more than sufficient to see the sights.  However, I’m glad I spent three nights there – the hostel was great, the city was beautiful and calm, and it was really just a great place to wind down and relax after four days in Tallinn and the associated craziness.

Walking along the river

I met a lovely woman on the bus, an Estonian who has lived in Canada for the past twenty years but comes back for a month every summer to see her family. We had a good chat for most of the bus ride, and when we arrived in Tartu she pointed me in the direction of Raekoja Plats, the town hall square, where my hostel was located. It was a pleasant ten minute walk along the river in the sunshine. I found the place pretty easily and was surprised at how nice it was – especially the kitchen, which was homey and had a very nice set of knives. This was very welcome after the collections of knives in Tallinn that calling blunt would be an insult to the usual blunt knives.

Raekoja Plats and the pink Town Hall

I didn’t do too much that first evening, just went for a brief wander around the tiny old town centre and located a little cafe for dinner. I was excited to see quiche on the menu. So, I was sitting at a little table in the street under a big umbrella, and soon two American girls came and sat down at the table next to mine. They were looking through the menu [which, incidentally, listed all the ingredients in each item], and one turned to the other and asked ‘Do you think the quiche is vegan?’

I was unable to control my laughter. Was she serious? Apparently she was. Thankfully, her friend appeared to be equally horrified at such an incredibly idiotic questions and in a rather patronising manner pointed out that the first five ingredients listed were egg, bacon, cream, milk and cheese. I mean it wasn’t even a vegetarian quiche – surely she’d have had to known that bacon comes from a pig, and if she was actually a vegan one would imagine she’d be aware that eggs, milk, cream and cheese are animal products and thus wouldn’t be part of her diet. Please note that I am well aware it’s possible to make a vegan version of quiche…but one would assume that the listing of the ingredients would have negated the necessity for such a question. Still, I’ll admit it made my day, especially given that about fifteen minutes later torrential rain decided to force me to retreat firstly inside the cafe and then back to the hostel – I managed to get completely drenched in the minute and half it took to make it back there. I then spent a while sitting in the window ledge watching the rain until the sneaky thing decided to change direction and I had to close the window.

I’d heard that there were a number of good little vintage and second hand stores in Tartu – it is, after all, a student city – and I thought it might be nice to do some op-shopping. I was told that there was a street in a nice leafy district called Karlova with a number of shops that might appeal. It was about a half hour walk away – more because I dawdled looking at some of the beautiful old wooden houses – and it felt like being right out in the suburbs. I guess it’s fair to say that while Tartu is Estonia’s second most populous city, this doesn’t mean a lot in a country of around 1.3 million people. Tartu feels more like a country town with a bunch of cool buildings and a new shopping centre than a city by any stretch of the imagination. Disappointingly I failed to find any treasures, but the walk was nice and it didn’t rain. Heading back into the centre, I figured I’d visit the shopping centres [there’s two pretty small ones] and try to find a new lens cap for my camera – I lost it at a temple in Luxor. It appears that it’s not an overly common size, 42mm, and no luck was had.

Street on the way to Karlova district

I decided that I needed to cook myself dinner, and I’d been craving pasta, so I went to the supermarket and bought everything I needed for my favourite lemon, parsley and parmesan pasta – well, with the exception of decent parmesan. Stuff in a bag that vaguely resembled some kind of hard, sharp Italian cheese would have to suffice as I was not paying €8 for a block of cheese! It took me about half an hour to find cream, as of course nothing resembles what it does in Australia. Milk, incidentally, comes in bags – I’m not kidding – plastic bags. Cream, on the other hand, comes in boxes and in different flavours. I didn’t want sour cream, or coffee cream, and they were the only ones I could identify with a reasonable level of certainty. So, I stood in front of the dairy fridges hoping that some kind person would come along and be able to point out what was plain old cream…this never happened so I ended up making a blind guess. It was cream, a bit thin and watery but it would do.

It was so exciting to actually be cooking for myself, as ridiculous as that may sound to everyone at home. Sure, I’d made myself billions of sandwiches, but it’s not the same. It certainly wasn’t my best pasta but it was lemony and cheesy and full of parsley so I was basically happy. Washed down with some very cheap Sauvignon blanc, it wasn’t too bad. The rest of the evening was spent watching Transformers with the guys running the hostel. The second one, the only one I’d previously seen, suddenly made a lot more sense!


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