When coming home from a long night in Club Tallinn or Atlantis or whatever place, one should not miss crossing the arch of Emajogi bridge! This is sort of a test of courage for everybody, but if you're not too drunk it's hardly dangerous. Okay, so the arch is pretty high. Okay, so it doesn't have a rail or anything similar. Okay, so the police is waiting at Raekoja plats to prevent people from crossing the arch. But, hey, this is a local tradition! You'll have a beautiful view from up there, especially in an early summer morning where mists rise from Emajogi river and the landscape is really magical. And you can be proud that you've done it!
Tartu Kevadpäevad (or spring days in English) are the town's biggest celebration taking place each year in the end of April / beginning of May. As Tartu is a university town, most events are organized by students. However, the events range from night aerobics to theater plays, from children's events to mudwrestling, from wine races to boat races. In fact, the boat race (Kummipaadiralli) is one of the main events: Everybody who wants to participate comes with a weird, often self-constructed boat that is pretty likely to sink soon. Then, they have to row through a course of approximately 150m. Unfortunately, in the middle of this course the current of Emajogi river is very fast, so that it is a lot of work to finish the course at all. The most important thing of the race is fun, not winning. So don't be surprised to see people dressed up as sheikhs, people having a barbecue on their boat or people who cling to other boats so that they don't have to row themselves...
Another great event is the night singing (Öölaulupidu). Estonians are known to be a people that enjoys singing at almost all occasions. There's a huge treasure of folk songs and at this event people gather on a certain place on Dome Hill to sing these songs. Not all of them, but quite many. Sheets with the lyrics are provided so you can actually sing along. The atmosphere is magical: Thousands of people all singing together to the sound of acoustic guitars... Fires lighting the darkness... and you in the middle of it!
The tasty Estonian variety of garlic bread is popular as a starter or snack, it is great with beer. Many pubs and restaurant offer it. I also got it in a private home.
Probably this dish is so simple that a recipe does not exist. Slices of dark brown bread are cut in stripes and roasted in butter - I assume garlic butter. It can be eaten 'like this' without further extras but the garlic sauce is a plus. It was a cold white sauce, think sour cream, aioli, or similar; I think any of those would do. The roasted bread stripes are rubbed with a fresh garlic clove and then dipped into the sauce and eaten.
A pub in Tartu names it Suudle mind veel! ("Kiss me again"), LOL...
I recommend everyone in your surroundings to share this snack, otherwise... they will regret it.
What is the best way for students to let off some pressure from a long semester of classes, and a long winter spent in many hours of darkness? In Tartu the students welcome spring with a massive series of events revolving around the May 1st holiday. The Spring Student Days of Tartu are something to behold. I was fortunate enough to experience and take part in two of these week long events. Parties, special themes at the night clubs, a bon fire on May 1st, contests during the days, a race of self-built cars (or something that travels with gravity at an accelerated speed) and of course the great boat race on the river are jammed into one week. Rain or shine the people are out and about all over the town. Pirikov Park is filled with students and activities all week long as one of the many hubs of activities. Each year the events vary, but there are a few that I will remember. First is the boat race. The first year I just watched, the second year I competed in the race…well sort of but that is a long story. The car race is fun to watch as is the wine run. On the more traditional cultural side there is usually a folk song party. For the close of the second student days, the final party culminated with everyone holding hands in a large circle singing along covering the a large park behind the cathedral ruins. It was a unique and very memorable experience. There is also a student days in the Winter but, it features a greater deal of indoor activities, and lacks much of the energy of the Spring Student Days.
I do not know whether the police in Tartu still uses this picturesque Soviet motorbike with sidecar, I took the picture in 1992 when the Estonian police had lots of vehiicles which elsewhere are found in museums of vintage cars. At my last visit in Estonia in 2002 I did not see anything llike that but I was not in Tartu.
Since students are such a big part of Tartu's existance, summers in Tartu are actually very calm and quiet. You can find the usually day trip tourists from Tallinn or those who are on a tour of the Baltics, but the town itself becomes much less active. The locals are still out but much of the youth heads home. As a result many of the bars and clubs are much less crowded in the summer. Club Tallinn (one of the most popular night clubs in town) actually closes for the summer and moves to Parnu.
If you want to see Tartu when it is most alive, the week around the first of May is Spring Student Days when there are all sorts of events going on all around town.