Tartu (27 June 2013)
Buses nowadays are so impressive. They even provide Wi-Fi on board. For free! But of course freebies are quite often not reliable. I left Riga on one such bus in the late afternoon and made the almost 5 hour journey to Tartu. Along the way were interesting villages and I wished that I could have stopped at some of them to explore a little of the Latvian and Estonian countryside.
The border crossing was at Valka (Latvian side) and right across the now open border was Valga (Estonian side). Both used to be part of one town until politics split them apart. Except for the different signs used on either side, and the fact that I had crossed quite a visible border, it was really hard to tell the two towns apart.
By the time I got to Tartu it was close to midnight. Thankfully I had booked a room at a hotel just across the bus station.
It rained in the morning, the only day I got to see Tartu! I was quite disappointed but what could I do? I borrowed a huge umbrella from the helpful girl at the hotel and went on my way.
I first found myself at the Estonian National Museum. It was really quiet in there and I enjoyed having the place mostly to myself. The museum showcases the history and culture of the country and I thought it was a good introduction to my visit.
Next I went up Toome Hill and visited the old Tartu Observatory. The new observatory is of course much newer and updated and quite a distance away from Tartu centre. The old observatory was the first reference point of the Struve Geodetic Arc. This arc was a chain of survey triangulations stretching from northern Norway to the Black Sea and used to obtain the first accurate measurement of a meridian. Today, the old observatory has become a museum of astronomical equipment and although I hardly understood how they all worked it was quite fascinating nonetheless to see them.
The top of Toome Hill is like a garden and a number of buildings belonging to the University of Tartu (such as the old observatory) are there. The rain had stopped after a while when I was up there and I could walk about a bit. It was quite nice. There were also the remains of the former cathedral that was destroyed by war.
The old city centre of Tartu is small but nice for walking. I wish the weather was better though. Everywhere I went reminded me of the fact that Tartu is in fact a University town. Despite the age of the buildings, the town felt young and fresh.
The day I was in Tartu appeared to be convocation day for the graduating class at the University of Tartu. All the graduates were out in their best clothes and taking pictures with their friends and families. The sight of them and their happy faces made me miss my days as a student. I wish I could go back to school and be a full time student again. Give me exams over ridiculous timelines and demands anytime!
The day ended soon enough and it was time to make my way to Tallinn. Tartu was a nice stopover between Riga and Tallinn. But it probably reminded me too much of the freedom I had enjoyed while I was a University student.