Narva, Estonia

It wasn’t my choice but for something different and a change of scenery we decided on Narva, right, and I mean right, on the border of Russia with a river and a bridge to separate the two. A 3-hour bus journey from Tallinn, the scenery mirrored my enthusiasm becoming gloomier as the road cut through the wasteland. In all fairness it was winter.

2013-12-07 11.54.57The Friendship Bridge and Ivangorod Castle in the background

We were told that the restaurant at Hotel Inger where we were to reside served halfway decent food but a wedding party jumped the gun and we made our way to the Old Trafford. The connection between Man U’s stomping ground and this place still escapes me. The borscht was hearty and full of meat lacking salt but the flaky pastry that covered it added that extra touch of exoticism. Warm meat and aubergine salad could not have been a better combination of flavours with just a hint of sweetness in the dressing to give it another dimension. Echo Falls Merlot washed it all down and when a bottle of wine and two courses strip your wallet of €25 including tip, you’re a happy camper. Service, well, the two waitresses were somewhat stressed by the sheer volume of customers, this evidently being the most popular foodie joint in town, and the courses came in dribs and drabs some altogether some not at all but ultimately the task was completed and none of us left hungry.

Our guide Evgeni, was a pleasant young gentleman with a sense of humour and an ability to laugh at the realities of this place. We were taken to the old City Hall with its modern counterpart reflecting its façade, the river dividing Ivangorod and Narva with the Bridge of Friendship allowing motorists and pedestrians alike to cross over only if you have the right visa or documentation. The city of Narva, Estonia’s 3rd largest, has a tale or two to tell about occupation and the Hermann Castle can testify to this. Founded by the Danes in the 13thC and after several skirmishes with the Russian contingent a stone’s throw away, the need for a stone stronghold became evident at the beginning of the 14thC. Next came the Livonian Order who turned it into a convent and established the tower as an ‘up yours’ to the Russians who were constructing their ‘mine is bigger than yours’ Novgorod Castle on the other side of the river. The bastions surrounding Narva were also part of the historical footprint of the Livonians. But the golden age of this town can be attributed to the Swedes who ruled here during the 17thC. Downtown was transformed into colourful Baroque style buildings and international trade was its mainstay. One war lead to another and once again the Russians tried to lay claim to this city, this time successfully but ultimately the Estonians laid their hands on what was rightfully theirs. Unfortunately the city was bombed to bits in World War II destroying 98% of it.

Today it sports mostly low rise buildings set in tree-lined boulevards, except for the Soviet monstrosity with its so-called non-operational water tower on the roof. It’s struggling to put itself on the tourist map but together with it’s summery neighbour Narva-Jöesuu with the longest sand beach on the coast of the Baltic Sea, it complements tanning and splashing with its more cerebral cultural experiences and the lure of crossing over that Bridge of Friendship that’s only 170 kilometres from St. Petersburg. Hop on the Lux Express and if there are no queues at the border post you can get there in a couple or 3 of hours. Estonia City Guide