Monday, September 19, 2011

A Sunday in Võru

“Let’s get outta’ here!” Mrs. Mingus urgently suggested this past Sunday, early in the afternoon.
—You mean, go back to Tartu? I asked, afraid she was tired of being at our family’s countryside cabin in Võru County. I’d been cooking experimental dishes for days, and didn’t want to see the end in sight.
“No, let’s go to Võru. I want to try that new muffin café called Café Muffin. Get some coffee, too.”

That sounded reasonable. I was anxious to get some steaks, if I could find them. Surely from among the six or seven large supermarkets—which I think is probably a lot for a town of fifteen thousand—one would have beef. So we loaded up the Little Minguses and drove the fifteen minutes into “the city”, as locals referred to it.

Muffin was closed. It was Sunday. Not a good day for cafés to do business apparently, with everyone working hard. It didn’t look like people were working hard, however. There were throngs of pedestrians wandering the streets. Many were bald, many wore baseball hats that seemed to be a size too big, many wore suits and sandals with grey socks. We joined them, wandering around, looking for coffee.

“What about Õlle 17, on Jüri Street?” I suggested. It was closed. Looked like it had gone out of business. “There’s a Kalevi Café a couple blocks up,” I suggested as an alternative. It was closed. Now it was the Võru Café. It was closed. Next to it was an odor shop and café called Aroomipood or something like that. It was closed.

“What about the Spring Café, down by the water?” We’d been there before. The place is pretty cool, but the service slow, food bland. But they had coffee, and you could sit on a terrace overlooking the lake. We got back in the car and drove there. It was closed. There was a family camped out in a tent on the beach in front of it. I overheard a motherly voice say, “Quiet Kevin, they’ll open tomorrow!”

“What about Katariina Café, on Katariina Alley?” one of us asked. I can’t remember who anymore. Caffeine withdrawal was affecting my memory. Talk was their pastries were good. Their food was not. It was heated-up, readymade, store-bought meals. We drove there. It was closed. Renovations. Not open on Sunday anyhow. There were confused people walking around outside. They looked hungry. They were holding wads of euros in their clenched fists.

We ventured to a local mall called Kagu Keskus. There was a corner café called City Coffee in it. It used to be a burrito joint. Burritos, in Võru of all places. They were very good, and cheap. Friendly staff. They were closed. The new place offered Russian ravioli and sour cream. There was a line for sour cream. The coffee machine had a sign taped on it that said “Accident”.

We’d heard about an Asian restaurant, in Võru of all places. We searched for and found it, on Freedom Street. It was in a gravel parking lot in an old, abandoned Soviet factory. We drove on. Probably closed. Sunday.

“Fine, let’s go to Ränduri,” Mrs. Mingus acquiesced. We like Ränduri, on Jüri Street again. Thing is, we go there too much, and it’s pricy. It took us a while to get there because of all the passers-by traveling via the network of crosswalks that connects the city. The Võru Transit Authority, a friend once called it. There was a line. The place was packed, I should add. Ränduri knows how to do business. I saw a black guy sitting at the public computer, watching YouTube videos. In Võru, of all places. Two kids walked in from the street and approached him. “It’s our turn,” they said in unison. The potatoes and house cake are amazing in Ränduri.

On the way home (no beef at any of the shops…Sunday?), we passed a nightclub called Club Tartu. Out of town we found a village called Sänna, on the highway to Valga. There was a sign that advertised a “Skywalk”, and it sounded interesting. We had time to kill. At first, our kids were eager to use the playground, then they saw the goats wandering across the village square in front of the manor house. We found the sign for the Skywalk and followed it.

This is actually pretty cool. A tiny little village, and the manor house is being renovated. It already houses a library with WiFi. Never understood that term, “wireless fidelity”. We’ve been married eleven years, and we’ve never needed wires. We started walking down the wood-lined path, between the buildings and toward the tiny creek, called the Pearl River. The goats were off to the side in a tree-canopied pasture, running away from us, leashes dragging behind.

Basically you walk through the manor park, which has been partially restored, and every few meters you see a sign that displays information about a planet. This has absolutely no relevance to anything in the manor park, except that you’re on a planet when you do this. But still, I didn’t know that Venus had an axial tilt of just over two degrees.

Moving on, you eventually come to a hill with steps leading to a large model of the sun suspended over a platform with benches, shrouded in trees. It’s a nice walk, in fact, very easy for kids. “Where’s Pluto?” my older daughter asked. She cried when I told her it wasn’t a planet any longer, so probably wasn’t on the tour.

We decided to rent some bikes, as we’d seen an ad for it, and see the rest of the Skywalk. We asked an Asian guy (in Sänna, of all places!), who was wearing an official T-shirt for something, if the bike rental was open. “No, it’s Sunday.” We decided to stop by the shop, but it was closed. On the way out of Sänna, we saw hundreds of head of cattle. A cattle farm? In Sänna, of all places.

“Maybe they have steak,” Mrs. Mingus suggested. The autumn sun was high in the trees on this beautiful day in Võru. In Tallinn, there’s a Club Hollywood. In Tartu, there’s a Club Tallinn. In Võru, there’s a Club Tartu. In Sänna, there’s a library and a map of the solar system.


Anonymous said...

ur hilarious!

Mingus said...

Contrary to what I thought, it IS possible to rent a bike on Sundays. If there is no one at the rental shop, there should be a number you can call, and the shopkeeper will be there straight away!