Category Archives: In Progress

Good Eatin’ – Pan-Fried Halibut

List Item: Try three quarters of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die
Food item: Halibut

I know that I should be wary of fish that is being reduced to clear, but I have been waiting a while to find cheap halibut. I know I’m being a bit cheap here feeling that £5 is an awful lot for 250 grams of flatfish (which, to be honest, it is). Then again I’ve paid more for things on this list by this point. I drew the line at £20 for two gull eggs (which I now regret) so let’s just get this underway.

I have to apologise for the onion rings. I figured that the plate would be a bit bare with just the fish and samphire… also I love onion rings. It just feels a little off to have halibut with onion rings.

So I fried the halibut steaks in butter for 3 minutes a side, adding a splash of white wine after I’d turned the fish over. I went for a simple way as I figured it would be hard to screw that up. Luckily I didn’t.

The halibut had delicate and slightly sweet flavour, quite a bit like turbot. The pieces of this fish really just melted in the mouth as I ate them so I think I actually liked this a bit more than the turbot. Which is good. Halibut is cheaper.

What you don’t see in the picture is the lemon butter sauce that I had with the fish. A flavour that worked perfectly with the halibut and samphire.

At this point I now have 100 to go until I can mark this as complete… again. I just wonder how long it will take for me to get there.

Progress: 651/751

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The Great EU Quest: Estonia – Happy Museum Day

Last full day in Estonia – just how I got to this position so quickly is beyond me, but that’s always the way when you are on holiday.

I think the best way to off this post would to wish you all a belated Happy International Museum Day. Yes, that is a thing and this year it was on May 18th. In Tallinn this meant that every museum we came across waived the entrance fee for a day. Just to be upfront about this, all the savings that we made today (which amounted to over 40€) happened by sheer fluke. I had no idea about any of this and really cannot believe my luck about any of this.

The day started out with us making the 3km walk from our hotel near the Old Town to Kadriorg Park. Our first destination of the day was the park’s namesake (Kadriorg Palace) but that doesn’t mean that we didn’t take out chance to look around before getting to the first museum of the day.

So this was the point where we learned about this day being International Museum Day and that museums across Tallinn were doing free entry for the day. We still had to visit the ticket office to get a sticker and check our bags, but apart from that we could pretty much stroll in.

As someone who has been feeling in a bit of a Russian history mood after finishing Anna Karenina I looked forward to the chance to stroll around this palace. It was built by Tsar Peter the Great for his wife Catherine (which explains the name) as a small Baroque style palace that would be used as a summer retreat.

As a building this has changed hands a few times (as has country of Estonia) and is now part of the The Art Museum of Estonia where it houses their foreign art collection. The fact that this was an art museum was of lesser concern to us since we were mainly there to have a nose around an imperial summer palace.


If you are to come to this palace there is one room in particular that will grab you and is referred to as the Baltic Pearl of the North. It functioned as a stateroom and, according to the information plaque, is the only room of this type in a Northern Europe to have been preserved as it was back then.

It’s a beautiful room. If it wasn’t for Helsinki’s Rock Church this would be the most impressive single room that I’d seen. Just the ornateness and the extreme whiteness of  the fixtures keep you looking around and finding new things to focus on. For me, it was interesting to note that this was actually quite a small room for its function when you consider the larger residential palaces of royal families. I guess that’s down to this being a ‘summer home’.

Seeing how it was an Estonian May, the garden wasn’t exactly ready for tourist season. It’s a shame as I can imagine it being rather beautiful once everything is in bloom. Hey ho, at least these flowerbeds see the light of day, unlike the statues that this palace has in a storage room next to the toilets. That was weird.


Continuing the theme of Peter the Great: the next stop was a few buildings down the road. It’s the cottage of Peter the Great which he stayed in as the palace was being completed. The idea that a Tsar would stay I’m a small building like this rather than just retiring to one of his other palaces is a bit of an odd thought. I guess it just speaks for the pull of Tallinn.

The museum itself is rather small since the cottage itself was rather small. It made for a more intimate insight into how one of the richest men in the world lived back then. Seeing all these things has really made me realise that I really should try to learn more about European history. After all, knowing about the past can help you know the future.

Before I get too philosophical lets move onto the next museum: the Kumu Museum. Essentially this is the main art museum in Tallinn with a collection split across 3 floors. The main focus of the art in this museum is Art by Estonian artists, but there are pieces by others in here too… even if I hadn’t heard of any of these.


If you start from the top and work down you are pretty much going back in time; something that I would really recommend. The more modern section was focused on art by women and was curated around an Estonian artist of recent years Anu Põder. The work varied from bizarre images of blow-up dolls with parts of their bodies being crushed to a rather sad installation centred around a Polish artist and her cancer diagnosis.


The art of the remaining two floors really helped to fill in a number of gaps surrounding Estonian history and the psyche of the people. For the first thing I didn’t realise just how important music is to this country, I know that they hold a song festival and that this is a major event in the Estonian calendar, but having this out into the context of the rise of Estonian national identity in the early 1900s really helped to cement the importance. I know that Finland went through similar with Sibelius’s work ‘Finlandia’ being an example this.

Also, it was interesting to see a lot of the art that was being created during the Soviet occupation. I mean, it hasn’t even occurred to me that there would be hippies in the Soviet Union during the 1960s, I figured that the cultural wall was so airtight that things like the counter-culture of the USA would have struggled to make it through.

Another thing that this forced me to appreciate is just how hard the job of curating a gallery of Estonian art must be. As a language and as a culture the Estonian people have been around for ages, but as a nation it has only been 100 years. To try and work out if an artist is Estonian or an occupying population (German, Swedish, Russian etc) must be onerous at times. So, full credit where it is due there.


3 km and a sea buckthorn juice later from one of the many shopping centres in Tallinn, we were back in the Old Town for the final museum of the day at St Nicholas Church. This is another example of a building in Tallinn that has been repurposed into an art museum, but at least the work in the church stays on message.

Whilst the interior of the church itself is very beautiful, the thing that has stayed with me  the most as I write at gone midnight (I really need to start these earlier, I blame the latest Trump scandal on CNN) was the depiction of the Danse Macabre. Essentially, this is a long painting depicting members high up in the social hierarchy (e.g. The Pope, an emperor and a king) being led by dancing skeletons. Essentially this a symbol of the plague and about how no one can escape death, no matter their status. I had to take my time to appreciate this one because it was so large and quite unusual. Regrettably the sister piece to this artwork was housed in a church in Lübeck, Germany that was bombed in World War Two.


The rest of the church/museum exhibited pieces from the church and, in what I believe is a temporary exhibition, silver work from one of the old guilds in Tallinn (or Reval as it was known back then).


After some final pieces of souvenir shopping it was time for an early dinner where we returned to Olde Hansa. It made for a nice way to bookmark the trip and allowed us to see inside this surprisingly good touristy medieval themed restaurant.


As a main course I went for the game sausages which is meant to be made from a mixture of wild boar, elk and (you guessed it) bear. I have no idea how much, if any, bear meat there was in these sausages, but they were absolutely gorgeous. As was the sauerkraut and turnips that it was served with. I know that my mum recoiled at the idea of eating bear meat, but I feel that if you are in a country with properly regulated hunting (as is the case with Estonia) then give it a go; else, maybe not.


For dessert it was a rose pudding with edible rose petals that was out of this world. Usually the tourist themed restaurants have something that lets them down such as the quality of food or service, but Olde Hansa really did knock it out of the park both times.

So yes, after a final walk around the Old Town it was packing in the hotel room and getting ready for the…oh wait there’s something else.

List Item: Try three quarters of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die
Food item: Boysenberry
Progress: 650/751

We bought a jar of boysenberry jam when we were in Helsinki and it only occurred to me as we were packing that I wouldn’t be able to bring this back because of the rules around liquids in carry on bags. I guess this is a downside of not paying to check in a bag. But hey midnight jam is midnight jam and I’ve reached another food list landmark!

Botanically boysenberry is a hybrid of a number of berries including European raspberry and blackberry. You get that from the taste. Usually I am not that much of a jam fan as I find the traditional strawberry and raspberry jams too sweet and blackcurrant jams as a bit too tart. This Finnish boysenberry jam is right on that sweet-spot between sweet and tart, therefore it is gorgeous and there is no way that I will be able to buy this in the UK.

So I’m needing to wind this down because it’s a travel day tomorrow. I’ve really enjoyed my time here in Estonia (and the day trip to Finland). It makes me sad that it is over and it is back to the daily grind. Seeing as how I have now seen Estonia and Lithuania one of the next countries on my list needs to be Latvia so I can complete the set. Maybe the same time next year as I have enjoyed being in Tallinn just before the tourist season hits.

So until then, goodbye Baltics. I’ll miss you.

The Great EU Quest: Estonia – Lahemaa Park

There’s no better way to start the day than coming across a food list item when you are going for breakfast. Especially when it can form part of a hotel buffet breakfast that will need to fuel a nice long bog walk.

List Item: Try three quarters of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die
Food item: Tallinn Kilud
Progress: 649/751

When I was doing my pre-planning for this trip to Estonia, Tallinn Kilud was the only ‘must find’ food item because of the extreme regional availability. So, colour me pleased when I saw this bowl of the little guys.

Having had rollmops before I kind of knew what to expect with these little fish. In essence these are sprats from the Baltic Sea that have been deboned and and marinated/pickled to the point that these become melt in the mouth.

At this point, where I have tried a number of picked fish like these, I am not sure what makes these little fish distinctive enough to warrant their place on the list. Maybe it’s down to the size, the region or because you can find tins of Tallinn Kilud in many shops as a food souvenir. Still, these with dark rye bread and soured cream made for a nice change of pace for breakfast.

So, the order of the day was a guided tour through the Lahemaa National Park by the company EstAdventures. I’m not one for paying for a guided tour, but since there was no other way for us to get to the park an exception was made. Just going to say this now in advance: I am glad we did as the tour was excellent and the guide was funny and super knowledgeable. If I find myself back in Tallinn I will look them up again.


The first stop was at the Rebala Bronze Age Graves. These were uncovered by the Soviets as they were building a road from Tallinn to St Petersburg – and since these graves were in the way each one was moved a few metre away piece by piece. To look at them now you would have no idea, but it’s an interesting fact.

What was also interesting to see is how the family dog received their own little section, right next to the circle of the master of the family. It goes to show how some things never really change in thousands of years.


From here we hopped into the car and went to Kiiu Tower – which I have seen as being described as Estonia’s smallest castle. Nope, it’s literally just a tower that the local rich family (of German origin as all these rich families seemed to be) used to help to defend their home from the Estonian peasants. We were able to go inside to the top floor (up yet more steep stairs) to find that it now contained a bed and some drawings to make it feel like Rapunzel’s bedroom in Tangled. It was very cute.


Now, for the event I was looking forward to – the Viru Bog Trail. A very large amount of Estonia is formed from mire and bogland, and at the Lahemaa park you are able to walk through it via a specially constructed boardwalk. It’s nothing as glamorous as the name would sound. We are talking about s continuous trail made of perpendicular pairs of planks. For the most part they are absolutely perfect, but despite the fact that these were fairly new a few had already started to break because of the wetness of the bog and the weight of people walking over them.

Truly, walking through this bog was the highlight of the day. Sure the ability to drive through a seemingly endless sea of dead straight trees was one thing, but these bogs really was something else.

At the beginning it was interesting because of how so much plantlife survives in such an acidic and hostile environment. Then you get to the parts of the big where ponds and lakes can develop because the ground is so saturated. It’s like the Dead Marshes from Lord of the Rings in the way that it is so eerily beautiful and int hat you can imagine long dead people just laying there in the big just waiting to be uncovered.


We turned around at an observation tower that allowed for some spectacular aerial views of the bog land and give an indicator of just far we had been walking. I think I must have taken a ludicrous number of panorama photographs on my iPhone and still I don’t think I have grabbed as much as I could have. It was standing up here that also made me thankful that it wasn’t a sunny day. With it being slightly overcast none of us were getting too warm during the track and, at least for me, that made the whole walk all the better.

After lunch we went to the Palmse Manor Estate for a tour around one of the 4 manors within the park. Apparently the owners of this manor was so powerful that he actually was a key fight in the assassination of a Russian Tzar and got off nearly punishment free. It must be awesome to be so powerful.

As part of this section we took a look around the house, the grounds and the orangery where I learned that people would rent watermelons so they could be displayed as status symbols… I mean in the world we live in right now this is a weird idea. To rent fruit to show off to people. I guess watermelons were the fancy watches of their day?

The house itself was nice enough, but all memories of it have faded compared to the sound of this ridiculous wind up musical cabinet that could be found in the music room. It made such a clamour that it could be heard throughout the manor. I loved it.

Between the manor and the final stop we made visits to small coastal villages at Altja and Käsmu. The sea was so calm in these bays that, at the latter place, you could see swans bobbing up and down in the middle of the sea. To be fair to our guide, he gave us so much information about these areas it is just that A lot of it is slipping my mind at midnight on the same day.


It was nice to spend some time by the sea and not seeing your stereotypical sandy beach. The scatterings of rocks, the abundance of grasses and the rather ramshackle fishing shacks just added to the character of the whole place .


Our final stop before heading back to Tallinn was the Jägala Waterfall – Estonia’s tallest waterfall at a mighty 8 metres high. To be fair, Estonia is a flat country so it would make sense that the waterfall wouldn’t be too tall.

The extraordinary thing about these waterfalls is the yellow colour of the water coming over the falls. It looks like industrial runoff, but the colour is actually because the water is coming from the bogs that we visited earlier in the day. Also of note is that this waterfall is retreating fairly quickly for a waterfall, which can be seen by the big piles of rocks at the bottom of the falls.

So yes that’s the tour and after two full excursion days I was definitely in the mood for food. Thanks to TripAdvisor I found a nice little place near Toompea that served, what felt like, Estonian food. You can tell it’s a good food because it was filled with Estonian people, who were surprisingly quiet. I swear that if you got a group of 12 Brits around a table having dinner together there would bite a lot of noise, but not Estonians. I think I am really growing to like these people.


Since I missed the chance to do so in Helsinki – I knew that I had to try some elk stew. Honestly this elk meat tasted a lot like a mix of beef and ostrich rather than venison that I have had before. It was lovely with the sauce (that contained beer) and the vegetables. It just furthers shows to me that it’s important to try local things even if they sound a bit outlandish when compared to what you are used to at home.


For dessert I finally got a chance to sample kama. From the sound of it this is a very Estonian food that can be had for breakfast or as a dessert. It’s made when different grains are ground up until they are very fine and are mixed with soured cream and some sweetener. It sounds a bit weird, but it was a nice mild way to round off a meal. So I would recommend at least trying it when making the journey to Estonia.

So tomorrow is the last full day. I know I say this every time but I can’t believe that the end is coming so soon. Still. One more day to see more of Tallinn and soak up as much of Estonia as possible.

The Great EU Quest: Finland – Helsinki!!!

The phrase “when in Tallinn” comes to mind:

List Item: Visit all EU countries
Progress: 17/28


Country: Finland
Year first visited: 2017

I mean, when you are able to get to another nation’s capital in under two hours it is rude to not pay a visit. So that’s what we did and we temporarily bid farewell to Tallinn and said hello to Helsinki.


We booked ourselves on the first and last boats of the day so we could make the best use of our time as possible. This, however, meant leaving the hotel just before 7 to walk across town to the pier. Whilst we were tired this did allow us to experience Tallinn Old Town in a different way: almost completely deserted. It made it feel like we were on an old film set, so it was both cool and a little bit eerie.

Now, whilst there are many different ways to get across the water to Helsinki we went for the Linda Line. It’s the fastest at about 1h 45m whilst also having the best times in order to have a full day excursion. It’s a bit no frills, but as someone who finds it easy to fall asleep in most moving vehicles I didn’t notice much about the boat before we docked in Helsinki.

To say I was ridiculously excited to be setting food in Finland would be an understatement. This is one of those countries that I’ve always wanted to pay a visit to and, like with Estonia, it’s because of the Finnish flag. What can I say, I’m a sucker for a flag with blue and white with no red.

Thanks to an excessive amount of Googling I managed to piece together a decent itinerary for a day in Helsinki – well it worked for me and has made me want more time in this city at some point in the future.


So from the boat we went through Market Square to the golden topped Upensky Church. In retrospect, I regret not having bought breakfast from one of the stalls in the square. I mean how often do you come across this many chances to eat reindeer for breakfast. Maybe next time eh?


Anyway, this church is the first time I have stepped into an Eastern Orthodox church that isn’t the Russian sect. The roof of the dome still had the starry sky quality and there was still a lot of gold on display, but there was still a different feel to it. For one thing the workers in the church felt a lot more accommodating and relaxed around tourists. Also, the moratorium on taking pictures wasn’t there, which is good for the sake of memories.


After this we made our way to the Helsinki Cathedral. This glistening white building truly dominates the skyline in this part of the city, which reminded me of the castle in Himeji. We clearly had the perfect weather to see this particular building. Just the contrast of the bright white with the pure blue sky made for some great picture taking.


The inside of this Lutheran cathedral was a massive contrast with the Orthodox church. A plain white interior with a few statues to key figures and a lot of smooth lines made this church feel beautiful in its own way despite being sparsely decorated.


By now we were getting hungry and, thanks for the need for brunch, we got a cruel awakening at how different the prices are between Finland and Estonia. These two sandwiches and the drinks cost us just over 20€. They were great sandwiches (one was avocado, tomato and cashew nut) but this was a lot of money.

On our way to see the key landmark of the day we came across the Parliament building, which was being restored, and an army marching band that were practising in a space nearby. It was fun to watch and there was a lot more moving and chanting than I would have first expected. It was also rather cute when the band leader saluted the crowd whenever we applauded.

 List item: Visit 100 of the Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Travelist
Progress: 71/100Sight: Temppeliaukio Kirkko
Location: Helsinki, Finland
Position: #311

If you come to this church from the wrong angle you would be excused for wondering where the church actually is. The Rock Church (which is a much easier name to say than the Finnish one) has been carved right into the natural rock formations that pepper Helsinki. You can actually climb on top of the church since there is a path that helps you clamber up the rocks.

The inside of the church is something truly special. I have seen anything quite like it and if it was not for me seeing the Sagrada Familia two months ago to would be the best church that I had visited in years.

It’s really hard to get a good photograph of the Rock Church that shows off what makes it so special. For one thing the natural rock walls make this an acoustically special church. Plus all the natural light that is allowed to come in just helps to make this a very relaxing space. This really is a special place.

Time was marching on, so after a bit of light souvenir shopping we made our way back to Market Square to catch a waterbus to the Suomenlinna Sea Fortess. This means a 15-20 minute boat ride where you get a chance to see the Helsinki Islands whizz by. I cannot recommend doing this journey enough. It was a real eye opener to the number of islands around the city and their different sizes.


The Soumenlinna Fortress itself was extremely interesting to walk around and is something I would have thought of doing if it wasn’t for different people on the web. The idea that this fortress, in the space of 2-300 years has been used to defend Sweden, Finland and Russia (due to the many times Finland has changed hands over the years) makes this an interesting structure.

Add to that the different sorts of buildings including gardens, courtyards, barracks of differing building styles and a church then that’s a snapshot of what is at Soumenlinna. In warmer temperatures this would make for a great picnicking spot – for us we made use of one of the many cafes where hot chocolate and chocolate-almond torte helped replenish some energy supplies.

After a few hours on the fortress and a bit of wandering around Helsinki’s Design District it was time to be back on the ferry and head off to Tallinn. By the time we got back to the hotel it was 9 so we nipped out for a quick dinner at the nearby shopping centre.

List Item: Try three quarters of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die
Food item: Wild Raspberry
Progress: 648/751

So it appears that I could have crossed this off ages ago. When it said wild raspberry it pretty much covers most of what we in Europe would call raspberries. Therefore I decided that I would look for some sort of raspberry treat in order to cross this off. A chocolate raspberry cake seemed exactly right for this challenge. Lord knows I needed it after such a long day.

There you go. A day in Helsinki and I am still typing this up despite the fact it is gone midnight. Tomorrow will be another early start as we join a tour to Lahemaa Park and other surrounding areas. It’ll be good to get a chance to see more of Estonia.

The Great EU Quest: Estonia – The Old Town

Oh man after minimal sleep there was a well deserved lie in today. Aside from a rather weird pillow that kept re-inflating itself as you got comfortable this bed at the Palace Hotell in Tallinn is one of the most comfortable I’ve ever slept in.

 List item: Visit 100 of the Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Travelist
Progress: 70/100Sight: Tallinn Old Town
Location: Tallinn, Estonia
Position: #112

So today is the day that we properly covered the Old Town. There are still places like St Nicolas Church, the KGB museum and Kiek in de Kök to check out but that’s what the final full day is for.

One thing that continues to completely astound me about the Tallinn Old Town is just how well preserved it is. A huge proportion of the city wall is still intact in some shape or form and there are gates and towers that still survive to this day. Similarly, it would appear that the Tallinn Town Hall is 600-700 years old and is the oldest hall of its type in Northern Europe. Just, wow.


As a nice link with my trip to Vilnius, we first sought out the plaque symbolising the northernmost point of the ‘Baltic Way’ – a protest in 1989 where over 1 million citizens of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania formed a human chain through their capitals. As of now I have now stood at both ends of the chain. I guess I’ll need to find out if there is a similar commemoration in Riga when I end up visiting.

After this we were originally headed for the walkable section of the city walls… but being the eager beavers that we are we got there s bit before they opened. So we instead headed for Toompea (a small hill within the old town that overlooks everything). It is here that you can find the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral and Toompea Castle.


I say Toompea Castle, but this is not a castle as we had expected. Instead, what we have today is the very pink Estonian parliamentary building that has been build into some of the surviving castle walls and towers. The tallest tower has the beautiful Estonian flag hanging from the top. Yes, I am still enamoured with this flag and I have already bought a number of souvenirs containing the flag.

So from here we mooched around Toompea for a while. Getting lost in the winding streets and pastel buildings whilst entering way too many souvenir shops. Some embassies are up on Toompea including those of Ireland, Canada and the Netherlands. honestly, I cannot fault any nation that managed to snag a spot on Toompea, this is where you can get some beautiful views.


Such as this one. From up here you can really appreciate just how close the sea is, which goes a long way towards explaining all the cruise ship holidaymakers you see roaming the streets of Tallinn in large groups.

By the time we were done with Toompea a drink was in order for whatever reason we decided to go to the cafe built into the walls around the Danish King’s Garden. Oh my god the steepness and winding of the the stairs. It’s shameful to admit just how much my knees ached after climbing up these and I very much deserved a slice of apple pie.

We eventually made our way back to the walkable walls and took a walk along them. It isn’t a long walk despite the length of walls that are still around, but I guess not enough of them are connected or stable enough to allow a longer walkway. The people of York really should count themselves lucky there.


From this vantage point of the walls it is clear that the Estonians are very proud of their city and all the buildings within it. Honestly I can’t blame them. I have yet to go too far into their more recent history, but if it’s anything like what the people of Lithuania went through then they deserve every inch of national pride.

We dipped into a beautifully decorated Russian Orthodox church (that sadly didn’t allow any pictures, but trust me it was beautiful with its starry ceiling and gilded iconography) before venturing outside the city walls. You see, tomorrow we booked a trip on a ferry across the Gulf of Finland to visit Helsinki – so we did a hint of reconnaissance to try and find the port.


I knew that Tallinn is close to the sea, but I had never realised just how close. It’s not a beach city like many others, but there’s something about being close to the sea that just adds to a city.

List Item: Try three quarters of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die
Food item: Zander
Progress: 647/751

Dinner time! With the sun setting around 10pm it does feel weird to be having dinner in complete daylight.

Thanks to a happy coincidence after walking through St Catherine’s Passage I managed to find a restaurant that served zander! For the uninitiated this is a fish that is related to perch and is also known by the name pike-perch.

Honestly, I was expecting something a bit plainer for some reason. They way that the good people of Munga Kelda prepared this (pan fried with salt, pepper and dill before adding a bit of cheese on top) was absolutely gorgeous.

I guess I would say that The taste of the fish is the fish version of gamy. You can also tell from the taste how this is a predator fish like pike and black scabbardfish. Still, it’s a white fleshed fish with larger flakes than the scabbardfish.

So yes, that the first full day done. Early start tomorrow to catch an 8am ferry over to Helsinki. I’m really excited about visiting Finland… hopefully I don’t spend too much on weird souvenirs and squeaky cheese.

The Great EU Quest: Estonia – Arrival

That’s right. It is two months after my trip to Barcelona and I am on my travels yet again. Another completely new country for me which means…

List Item: Visit all EU countries
Progress: 16/28

Now this is one of those countries that I would have expected to have visited before Lithuania. I have always had a soft spot for Estonia for a particularly stupid reason – their flag. It’s weird I know, but I have always found Estonia to have the best looking national flag in Europe, which means that I will likely end up spending too much on souvenirs that make use of it.

Country: Estonia
Year first visited: 2017

Unlike a lot of other holidays this day of arrival was a true first day since the only flight between London and Tallinn required us to be at the airport by 5am. Honestly, I am shocked that I am at the end of the day and have yet to really feel the need to fall asleep.

Aside from crossing off another EU nation there is another reason for this visit Estonia: Tallinn’s Old Town. Therefore we went for a hotel that would allow us to make the best of it and I am able to take a picture like this:

So after a bit of light complaining about how tired and hungry we were it was time to venture forth into the Old Town itself. Since we are doing a proper explore of the Old Town tomorrow I won’t be crossing this off until then, still we were able to get a good feel for it.

The first thing that really grabbed me was just how well preserved so many of these old buildings are. You read, on conveniently located plaques, about how certain places date from several centuries ago and yet they look in better condition than most UK buildings from the 1960s.

Lunch was in a place called Olde Hansa – a restaurant I’ve seen mentioned in a bunch of guides about Tallinn. Why? Because the servers dress up in medieval garb and the foot is meant to somewhat resemble food of the time. This is a place that even serves bear meat! Tempting, but not 50€ tempting.

The food was hearty and reminded me a lot of food that I had in Bled a few years ago. I am under no illusion that most medieval serfs could have only dreamed of a plate like this, but it was fun to pretend.

After this it was a general explore of the area. We came across a large market selling flowers, giant tombstones, a huge variety of local handicrafts and many prospective places for future coffees and food. Like I said, there will be more of a proper explore tomorrow, but it was such a beautiful day that it would be a shame to let sleep deprivation get in the way.

One big thing we did see/do was the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. Its of the buildings that I can see from the hotel room and the onion domes are a really imposing presence at the top of the Toompea Hill. Whilst this is not the largest Russian Orthodox church I have seen, it is the one that has made the biggest impact.

Inside, this is far from the bare or nearly bare Orthodox churches that I saw in Vilnius. Aside from the abundance of iconography and the enforced near silence, this church really had more of a Catholic feel to it.

Fast forwarding quite a bit now to dinner. Since we wanted to catch up on sleep we grabbed some bread, cheese and ham from a nearby supermarket to have for dinner. Luckily for me I was able to find a list cheese.

List Item: Try three quarters of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You DieFood item: Leipajuusto
Progress: 646/751

In Finnish the name basically means ‘bread cheese’, but in English speaking countries it’s called ‘Finnish squeaky cheese’. In Estonia, it would appear that they call it ‘Lapland Cheese’. Anyway, no matter what you call it this was an interesting cheese.

My god it doesn’t half squeak with every bite that you take. I knew that it would squeak, but not on every bite. It should be weird, but I think this might have been the most fun I have had with food since shabu shabu.

Tastewise it’s a bit like a creamy cottage cheese or a springy hard mozzarella. It has the texture of halloumi, but is unsalted so I can see how you might want to use it as a substitute for the Greek salad cheeses.

On its own the taste is milk, but it is lifted by the presence of other flavours like bacon and onion – I know this because some of the cheese had bacon pieces in it. Much like the smokey blue cheese, I am already sad that I won’t be able to get this in the UK as this would be perfect to have every now and then.

So there you go, the end of day one and as I finish writing this I can feel the lack of sleep catching up to me. Tomorrow will be a full day exploring the old town – who knows what we’ll find.

XL Popcorn – In The Realm Of The Senses

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 604/1007
Title: In The Realm of the Senses
Director: Nagisa Oshima
Year: 1976
Country: Japan

Well, this is a hard film to write about. It isn’t everyday that you watch a highly acclaimed film that features unsimulated sex in pretty much every fashion you can think of. Honestly, I think other than Dogtooth and 9 Songs this is the only cinematic film I’ve seen with actual sex scenes. It is also the first film I’ve seen that features a boy having his penis pulled by an adult woman as a punishment… that was an incredibly… awkward/uncomfortable scene.

So, what kind of film would feature scenes like this as well as those of a man having his penis cut off and a woman literally laying an egg. Well, In the Realm of the Senses tells the true (but fictionalized) story of Sada Abe – a woman famous in Japan for killing her lover in an act of auto-erotic asphyxiation before castrating him and carrying his parts around in her kimono.

To get to this point there is a lot of ground that needs to be laid in terms of their relationship. She, a former prostitute and him a married man that owns an inn. The chemistry between them is there from the word go and, much like Jeux d’enfants, this film becomes a game of sexual one-upmanship which results in his death.

Is the depiction of sex gratuitous? Yes, but you can’t tell this story without it. Also, it manages to walk the tightrope between art film and pornography since the scenes are so intrinsic to understanding the characters. I think seeing this as a gay man helped me to look past a lot of that and see this as a highly engrossing, erotically charged piece of film making. Although… it might take me a while before I hard-boil another egg.

Let’s Get Literal – Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

List Item: Read 100 of the greatest works of fiction
Progress: 39/100Title: Anna Karenina
Author: Leo Tolstoy
Year: 1878
Country: Russia

Well that was a step up from UlyssesI mean, you would get pages and pages of text that didn’t deviate completely from the main plot line. Okay so that isn’t the highest bar to set when reading a book – but try reading a large tome of Russian fiction between hospital visits and unsuccessful job interviews.

Having read both War and Peace and Anna Karenina I am in the rather cool position of covering both of the big Leo Tolstoy books. Doing a rudimentary comparison between the two books I have to say that I preferred War and Peace. Why would that be?

Simply – it’s the plot lines. For a book called Anna Karenina I was surprised the more of the book wasn’t about her and her story. So much of the book gets bogged down in Levin (who is the Tolstoy surrogate) and his relationship with Kitty that my interest started to wain. In War and Peace all the main threads kept me interested – not so much here.

The thing is, this book would have worked with just the Anna and Vronsky sections – which is what I imagine most of the cinematic adaptations have done. These are the best sections, but even then the whole thing is shrouded by the spectre of punishing the woman who loses her virtue.

It’s one of those tropes that you can spot a mile off in these older books – a woman loses her virtue and she must be punished. It is infuriating. She has an affair because, much like Lady Dedlock in Bleak House, she is bored with her life to the point that she can no longer feel anything.

In the case of both Bleak House and Anna Karenina it’s not like the women have married mean or abusive husbands. It’s just that there is no passion in their lives because the men are more concerned with station and reputation. Both husbands love their wives, but the age gap is so great that the life of the still youthful wife is being wasted.

The love triangle is more sad than romantic in this book. No one ends up happy and no one gets anything they really want. You can see it coming a mile off (especially if you know about that ending), which is what made the Levin and Kitty story rankle with me.

With Levin and Kitty it is meant to be a story of marrying for love despite initial obstacles. However, their relationship isn’t that interesting despite the fact that they have their issues. We also end up with Levin going away from his atheism/agnosticism and reverting to his Christian values because of this relationship – which I know is of it’s time, but that also left a bad taste.

I think I missed something with this book and that is likely because I have not been in the right frame of mind to read something so heavy and, in places, tragic. Then again there aren’t a lot of light reads on this list, so if I want to complete this list I will need to find a way around all that.

For now it’s back to the world of comics as I follow up Hajime no Ippo with a boxing manga from the 1960s.

What’s On TV – Eureka

List Item:  Watch half of the 1001 TV Series You Must Watch Before You Die
Progress: 192/501
Title: Eureka
Episodes Aired: 77
Year(s): 2006-2012
Country: USA

Eureka is one of those TV shows that has been my long-term ‘to watch’ list for years. Mainly because the hub seemed very keen on it and, as with most things he wants to watch, I wanted to give it a go before I gave it a definitive yay or nay. Now that I have watched this for the list I really wish I had started this earlier. It was one of the most pleasant surprises that I have encountered so far for the TV show list.

Being a show that originally aired on the Sci-Fi channel (aka the home of Sharknado) my expectations weren’t too high. However, a few episodes in I was hooked. I had to make my way through the rather rickety pilot in order to get there, but I got there.

The premise of the show is interesting enough – a secret town in the US that houses residents of genius intellect who are the progenitors of all the major technical leaps in the last 50-60 years. Our way into this rather eccentric town is through the (initially relucant) new sheriff who isn’t book smart, but uses his layman knowledge to help solve the cases of the week.

Okay, so it feels like a riff on the standard fish out of water cliche, which it totally is, but Eureka plays with this by making the problems outlandish and firmly in the realms of science fiction. One week people are being flash-fossilized, the other sees the main characters being trapped by an artificial intelligence who is petrified of abandonment. Sure, the science can be a bit off, but that’s part of the fun.

The real thing that impressed me about this show, however, is what they did in Season 4. Between Seasons 1-3 we get to know the cast of characters incredibly well. They live and grow with decisions having lasting impacts for many episodes to come. Two characters in particular that benefited from this are deputy sheriff Jo Lupo and a geeky (and adorable) scientist called Fargo whose roles become greatly expanded from how they were initially introduced in the pilot.

Then everything changes. Where shows like Parks and Recreation and Desperate Housewives used a time jump to bring fresh storylines and inject new life into a show, Eureka does something more daring. They change timelines. This means that 5 of the main characters are transplanted into a alternative world and have to come to terms with the differences that this brings.

This could have been a catastrophic story decision since established relationships are effectively retconned and new relationships are introduced that are already in progress. I can see how, if done poorly, this would have led to an extreme backlash from fans who have lost their favourite shipping or just feel a sense of unease at no longer being able to make certain assumptions about the world of Eureka.

Amazingly, they pull this timeline jump off incredibly well. The show still remains a light sci-drama with a lot of the same beats, but it allows for a lot of development in a quick time as nearly all the major characters are now promoted to higher positions than those they had before they jump. Also, and this is more impressive, this shift is permanent rather than part of a smaller story arc.

It’s not a highbrow show, but it sure is an addictive one if you want an alternative sort of procedural. From what I’ve read this might just be the sci-fi/geeky alternative to Northern Exposure – which just makes me want to check out Northern Exposure all the more.

XL Popcorn – The Towering Inferno

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 603/1007
Title: The Towering Inferno
Director: John Guillermin
Year: 1974
Country: USA

In a number of my write-ups I have maintained that I follow the 1001 list not because it features the 1001 best films of all time, but because it gives an interesting cross-section of cinematic history. With recent watches of Ugetsu Monogatari and The Wages of Fear I have been neglecting the less… critically loved films on this list.

Yes. I know that The Towering Inferno was the highest grossing film of 1974, won 2 Oscar and even got a nomination for Best Picture. However, let’s remember that Suicide Squad became an Oscar winning film this year and films like Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close have gained Best Picture nominations. The system ain’t perfect.

So yes, the reason that The Towering Inferno made it’s way onto the list is because it is seen as the best example of the disaster movie craze of the 1970s (other examples including Airport and The Poseidon Adventure). They are the movies that Airplane! was pastiching to such a successful extent that it is still hilarious without having seen any movie it’s referring to.

The basic premise of The Towering Inferno is simple: corners have been cut in the building of a super-tall skyscraper (this building in the film is so tall that, in reality, the first real world building to surpass it was the Burj Khalifa in Dubai) a fire breaks out and disaster ensues.

The amount of death in this film is so gratuitous that by the end they say 200 people have died and you can kinda believe it. As someone who still gets upset at the thought of the plane crash scene in Die Hard 2 it takes a lot to desensitise me to the deaths of innocent people in the film.

There is a bit in The Towering Inferno where a whole lift full of panicking people are basically flambed and I, true to form, got upset at the very idea. By the end of the film I felt a bit more blase about the death count – mainly because of the ridiculous manikins and models used to depict people falling to their death. Some of them were just stupid and actually helped to make this film fun again. Still don’t like the lift scene though. That’s a nope.

On the whole The Towering Inferno is a good film if you are in the need of a brainless afternoon. It’s actually worth it to see Fred Astaire (seriously, why the hell did he agree to be in this film) show the kids how it’s done. Only Paul Newman (as the angry architect) is able to hold some sort of candle to Astaire in this orgy of fiery death.

I know that Steve McQueen shared top billing with Paul Newman and, rather famously, insisted on having the exact same number of lines as Newman… but I honestly didn’t notice him at all. I’ve seen him in films before, but his scenes just blew by me completely until an explosion got my attention again.

So yes, as a part of cinema history or as a film to watch on a slow afternoon The Towering Inferno is a good pick. It’s not great, but it’s a good enough diversion.