Dateline: Kiev, Day 1 – Traveling, Again

Kiev, Ukraine
18 June 2009

Today was a travel day. It was nice not having to travel at nice for once. It was a short bus ride to the airport, which is just a few kilometers outside of Tallinn’s Old Town. The airport was quiet, just like Old Town. There was no line at the security checkpoint, which was good because I had to go through twice.

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Tallinn, Harju County, Estonia

I normally don’t travel with my Nalgene. However, on this trip I have. I forgot that I had some water left in it and you’re not supposed to take any liquids through security1. The security lady kindly asked me to empty it out, so I had to walk back to the check-in area to find a place where I could dispose of my ever so dangerous liquid (I opted for the curb outside).

I went back through security, putting my now-empy Nalgene through the x-ray machine. I hurried through the metal detector and it went of this time. I was slightly puzzled as to why the metal detector had gone off this time, and not the last time. I went through the exact same metal detector as I did last time, and I had the exact same items on my person. It took a few seconds before I figured it out; however, I shall leave it as an excersive to you to figure out why (bonus points offered for the proof).

The plane ride out to Latvia was non-eventful. The medium turbo-prop was not even half filled, which was meant that I got an entire row to myself. Once we landed, I passed through Latvian customs, getting a Latvian exit stamp (although not entrance stampt) on my visa2.

Boarding the 737 to Kiev was delayed for unknown reasons, and then delayed again as there was a minor scuffle between a passenger and crew member. There was a of talking, and then the passenger definitively slamed his carry-on bag to the aisle. I don’t have the remotest idea about what the issue was, but I think it had something to do with the guy’s seat…although I can’t imagine what the issue was. The captain was called out to talk with the passenger. The captain was calm and collected and spoke bits of English and Spanish before returning to a less familar language.

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The passenger was still refusing to cooperate though. The captain told the flight attendant to call the police, while the disgruntled passenger made his way to the very back of the airplane.

The police came, the passenger was escorted off, and we were on our way.

Going through Ukrainian customs is relatively easy, and far less stressful than Russian customs. Getting into Kiev and finding my hostel was a bit more tricky though. First, I had to find a bus to the central train station. A rather persistent taxi driver kept asking me if I wanted a ride, and I kept saying no…over and over. The bus ended up being a Grey Hound-style bus with no markings. I used my amazing powers of inference to determine that it may be going to the train station and later confirmed this, more or less, with the bus driver.

Unfortunately, the bus was making two stops this day (I actually suspect it makes two stops every day), and I got off the bus at the first stop. I went to go get my luggage, which was in the underbelly luggage compartment; but that involved basically stepping out into traffic. As soon as I tried to open the luggage compartment, the driver honked at me and explained that this wasn’t my stop…opps.

We get to the main train, my stop, and I go find the metro. It’s a short ride on the metro, which opperates the exact same way as the one in Moscow and St. Petersberg, although far less ornate on the inside.

I finally make it to the hostel around 5 or so, completely exhausted.

Some of the other guys in the hostel went out tonight. I joined them and actually had a pretty decent time. I didn’t get back until 4 in the morning.


  1. We shall save discusioning the absurdity of this rule for another day 

  2. Estonia and Latvia are part of the Schengen Agreement, Ukraine is not 

Dateline: Tallinn, Day 4 – The Discovery

Tallinn, Estonia
17 June 2009

Today started off innocent enough. I got up, dragging my feet, but finally made it out the door. I grabbed some Indian food for lunch before heading to the Estonian State Maritime Museum.

I tried to fanagle my way in with my drivers license, but the ticket lady was keen on my ploy and made me pay full price, which was still only US$4.50.

The museum is located at the north end of Old Town in the 15th century cannon tower Paks Margareeta, literally Fat Margaret. The inside of the museum has several floors with a central stair case, making excellent usage of space. I thought it was quite cool. The top of the tower is also open to the public and provides a very nice view of Old Town and the surrounding area.

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Tallinn, Harju County, Estonia


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Tallinn, Harju County, Estonia


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Tallinn, Harju County, Estonia


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Tallinn, Harju County, Estonia

I headed back down so I could walk to the pier to visit the second part of the museum. And this is where I discovered something rather interesting.

At the turnoff for the museum ships, I saw a rather cool looking gate. I went to go take a picture when I noticed that there were some signs pointing the way to a park. So I decided to go investigate.

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Tallinn, Harju County, Estonia


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Tallinn, Harju County, Estonia

The area was very…industrial…in nature and I decided that it must be some sort of old military installation. As I wandered down the rabbit hole more, there was an old lady who started yelling at me.

She beckoned me over; and I obliged, not wanting to get into trouble. She was selling tickets for something, although I wasn’t exactly sure what for. But, it was only 30 kroons1, so I went for it.

She gestured to me what I’m going to assume is the international sign for hanging…as in executing someone by hanging. Great.

I walked in, alone. The ground floor was labeled “Prison Kitchen.” I stepped every so lightly and cautiously. There was minimal lighting, mostly from the barred windows. In places were there was insufficient light, I used the flash from camera; daintily taking a picture around the corner before reviewing the results on the tiny LCD screen.

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Tallinn, Harju County, Estonia


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Tallinn, Harju County, Estonia


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Tallinn, Harju County, Estonia


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Tallinn, Harju County, Estonia

A rather rambunctious group of Russians teens came in behind me. It was good knowing that my screams for help would at least fall on someones ears, presumably.

I carefully stepped up to the second floor, and that’s where things began to get weirder. All all throughout the first floor, little bits of paper were glued to the wall with jokes. Some in English, others not. Then there was the doorway, stacked to the ceiling with pots. Another stacked to the ceiling with books. What the hell was going on?!

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Tallinn, Harju County, Estonia

I continued on. Rooms filled with beds…abandoned.

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Tallinn, Harju County, Estonia


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Tallinn, Harju County, Estonia


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Tallinn, Harju County, Estonia

At the end of the hall, a surgery room lined with stark white tiles. The surgery table is left abandoned in the middle with a surgical light overhead. A notebook is ready to tell the tales that the walls refuse to give up. However, it’s been encoded in a different language. A heart-lung machine sits ominously in the corner. I can only imagine the atrocities that could have gone on here.

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Tallinn, Harju County, Estonia


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Tallinn, Harju County, Estonia


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Tallinn, Harju County, Estonia


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Tallinn, Harju County, Estonia


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Tallinn, Harju County, Estonia

I go to the third floor, wondering if I’m pushing my luck too far.

The doors to many of the rooms are closed. Some with locks on them, others just refuse to open. This door has a port on it like you might find on a submarine. Who did they keep here?

Noises of someone coming up. It’s an Israeli woman who’s taking pictures for an art project. She’s decked out top to bottom in a red and black jump suit, carrying a large format camera on a tripod in one arm; a ring of keys in the next.

Single bed rooms; many with paint peeling.

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Tallinn, Harju County, Estonia


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Tallinn, Harju County, Estonia


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Tallinn, Harju County, Estonia

A plain room with a desk, a chair, and a couch. Perhaps for a psychiatrist?

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Tallinn, Harju County, Estonia

A communal bath and shower room.

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Tallinn, Harju County, Estonia

Another room with a metal bed attached to the floor. The smallest table I’ve ever seen sits across from it with three tiny seats.

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Tallinn, Harju County, Estonia

More artwork.

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Tallinn, Harju County, Estonia


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Tallinn, Harju County, Estonia

I’ve reached the end of this part. I go back down the stairs and outside, absolutely thankful to breath the fresh again. Confident I’ve picked up some sort of horrible disease (although I was careful not to touch anything).

I have no idea exactly what this place was for, but I do know two things: it must have been horrible and there’s no way in hell I would ever want to be trapped here.

I go into another building, a sign outside proudly announces: Poomisruum…Hanging Room. This must have been what the old lady was talking about. I was quite sure how they managed to hang people in the room, although I imagine it had something to do with the floorboards being removed.

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Tallinn, Harju County, Estonia

Leaving the hanging room, I proceeded to the prison yard. Nothing terribly exciting. A stark concrete cell outside, completely fenced in. A bench in the middle. I wonder how often people got to use these.

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Tallinn, Harju County, Estonia


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Tallinn, Harju County, Estonia

I left the prison area (I was mostly convinced that’s what it was at this point) and went to go find the boat museum. By time I got there, though, it was closing time. Oh well, the prison was much more interesting.

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Tallinn, Harju County, Estonia

I headed back towards the hostel, stopping at a grocery store to pick up some staples for dinner and breakfast the next morning.

As for the prison.

Well.

I had stumbled into what I later found out was Patarei Prison. It was built between 1829 and 1840 (yes, mid-19th century) as a military barracks. It was later converted for use a prison during the Soviet occupation for much of the 20th century. Essentially, Patarei was a KGB prison where they “held, tortured and killed political prisoners”2

This makes some sense, as the KGB headquarters in Tallinn was only a short 20 minute walk away, perhaps only 5 by car.

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Tallinn, Harju County, Estonia


Basement windows of the former KGB cemented up to prevent screams from being heard

As for the mysterious artwork? There’s an explanation for that too. A joint Finish-Estonian project between the University of Art and Design Helsinki and the Estonian Academy of Arts. It runs through the end of August 2009 in case anyone else is interested.

I was also able to dig up some blog posts to help fill in the blanks; definitely worth a read:


  1. US$2.67 

  2. http://journals.worldnomads.com/worker/post/8202.aspx 

Dateline: Tallinn, Day 3 – Photographs

Tallinn, Estonia
16 June 2009

I spent about half of today retracing almost all of yesterdays steps. There were some great photos to be had, but I didn’t want to take any because the sun wasn’t out, the light was crappy, and it was raining.

It was definitely worth waiting, as I got some amazing pictures.

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Tallinn, Harju County, Estonia


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Tallinn, Harju County, Estonia


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Tallinn, Harju County, Estonia


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Tallinn, Harju County, Estonia


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Tallinn, Harju County, Estonia


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Tallinn, Harju County, Estonia

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Tallinn, Harju County, Estonia


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Tallinn, Harju County, Estonia

I also went to the Estonian Museum of Occupations, which was open today. It was quite an amazing exhibit, although I felt like there was a lot of video content (which at least had English audio).

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Tallinn, Harju County, Estonia


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Tallinn, Harju County, Estonia


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Tallinn, Harju County, Estonia


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Tallinn, Harju County, Estonia


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Tallinn, Harju County, Estonia


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Tallinn, Harju County, Estonia

To top of a great day of walking and photos, I went back to Hell Hunt and had a delicious dinner of pork chops and beer. I hung around for a while, talking with a couple guys who work for Skype who were returning home from a business trip to Asia and decided to make a stop over in Tallinn.

Dateline: Tallinn, Day 2 – T and D

Tallinn, Estonia
15 June 2009

I woke up early today, actually using my alarm clock for the first time on this entire trip, to meet a T, a good friend from work, and his wife D. T follows my blog and let me know a couple months ago that they would be on a Baltic Sea cruise about the time I would be in the Baltic states. It happened to work out that we could hang out for the day in Talllinn.

Unfortunately, today’s weather has been downright crappy: rainy and cold. But we made the most of it. D had Rick Steves’ Scandinavia book, so we did the walking tour that Rick details. Afterward, we grabbed a bite to eat before going to explore more of Tallinn.

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We first tried going to the Estonian Museum of Occupations, however it was closed (on a Monday). I looked through the ripped out pages of my Europe on a Shoestring book and thought that going to the Tallinna Linnamuuseum (Tallinn City Museum) would be the next best bet.

We started working our way up to the opposite end of town, weaving our way through the streets to find whatever might be off the beaten path.

The Tallinna Linnamuuseum open and was a pretty neat little museum of Tallinn’s history. It was getting close to 4, and T and D needed to leave to get back the boat. We said goodbye and parted ways.

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I went back to the hostel and took a nap before heading back out on my own. I was pretty hungry, but nothing looked terribly exciting. Because of the weather, no one was eating outside. I walked down through the town square, out of Old Town, and to the shopping center across the way. It was mostly a mix of western foods that I’ve been desperately trying to avoid, usually in vain. Nothing looked particularly appetizing, so I started walking back toward Old Town.

I eventually settled on McDonald’s, again. Although, this time I had a Chicken Bacon Onion (CBO). It seemed like a local offering, seeing as they didn’t have it either of the McDonald’s in St. Petersburg, and certainly not at any McDonald’s I’ve in the US.

It was decent, and certainly better than having a биг мак1 again.


  1. Big Mac 

Possible Itinerary

After months of plotting, I think I have a possible itinerary. I’m going to call it Itinerary v0.1. It’s basically a version of The Lonely Planet’s Behind The Old Iron Curtain in reverse.

  • Seattle, Washington
  • Paris, France
  • Berlin, Germany
  • Moscow, Russia
  • St. Petersburg, Russia
  • Tallinn, Estonia
  • Latvia
  • Lithuania
  • Belarus
  • Ukraine
  • Poland
  • Hungry
  • Romania
  • Bulgaria
  • Macedonia
  • Albania
  • Serbia
  • Bosnia and Herzegovina
  • Croatia
  • Slovenia
  • Austria
  • Czech Republic
  • Berlin, Germany
  • Seattle, Washington

A quick glance at the math yields 21 countries in 60 days, or about three days per a country. I still think this is a little fast, so I will be whittling this down to hopefully 15 countries or less (4 days per a country is a bit better, I think). The entire Behind The Old Iron Curtain trip is supposed to take 2-3 months, according to The Lonely Planet, with a budget of €30-50 per day. Currently, this would be $38-63 per day. Or up to $3,800 for 60 days. This is definitely within my budget. Although I don’t think that includes transportation. Still, I think things are looking pretty good.

I also checked United and A) I definitely have enough frequent flier miles; and B) it will only cost about $60 to book the US to Europe part of the flight.

Now, at this point you may be wondering why I want to tour former Eastern Bloc countries. Two words: Cold. War.

A little know fact about me, if I had to be a history major, my area of expertise (I’m assuming history majors have these) would be the Cold War. I think the Cold War was amazing for a variety of reasons. Two super powers on the brink of self-annihilation. Covert operations. Incredible leaps in technology that we’re still taking advantage of today. The list goes on.

There’s a still a lot to figure out though, including, but not limited, to: A shorter list of countries I’d like to visit. Medical Insurance. Theft Insurance. Visa for Russia (and possibly other countries). A travel partner (for at least some of the trip).