Tartu may seem like a small town compared to Tallinn, but it has plenty to offer. After only one semester in Tartu, I decided that I couldn't leave just yet. As an Erasmus student, my schedule is a bit random so I needed to find other activities to fill up my time. Luckily Tartu is full of opportunities, even if you can’t speak much Estonian.
Möku is quite a popular place for students to gather in Tartu. A small, hipster bar located just outside the city center, it's a wonderful gathering place for the international students of Tartu. During the warmer months, you can enjoy the wide selection of handcrafted beers and vegan food on their unique courtyard, which houses various types of seating and a bike hanging on the wall. Göök (the vegan restaurant located in the bar) offers a variety of delicious and healthy foods varying throughout the day. My personal recommendation is the sweet potato fries - they’ll never fail to fill you up and are perfect for sharing with new friends. Supporting a green lifestyle, they offer reusable plastic cups that can be used at other bars around the city during a night out. Genialists’ Club, located just above Möku, is a common hangout for ESN (Erasmus Student Network) events that range from international dinners and movie nights to speed friending. The ESN student’s union is always working hard to creat interesting and fun integration activities for the new and old students.
How to get to Möku. Photo: Izabela Ginda
The bar itself often organizes various events such as Comedy nights that peak the interests of “internationals” and Estonians alike. The best part is that they organize English Comedy Nights, for those of us who have yet to master Estonian - last time they hosted American comedians touring Europe to do standup. A laid-back atmosphere means that you feel as if you have front row seats even if you're seated in the back of the room. I got the chance to talk to the comedians as they each took some time to hang out with the audience in Möku after the show. I came all the way from New York just to meet fellow Americans in a small bar in Tartu. Life is funny that way. With all that being said, after only a week in Tartu you will have probably already been there or at least heard of it. Friendly faces will always greet you at Möku, as its rarely empty even on Mondays. If you're not much for drinking Möku is still open during the day and offers a quiet and calm place to meet friends for delicious vegan food and a much-needed coffee.
Up for a board game?
If playing board games is more your scene than I invite you to this cute cafe. Agape Kohvik is a homey, comfortable cafe that organizes board-game nights every Friday during the semester. Located just at the bottom of the “mountain” that leads students from the Estonian University of Life Sciences to the city center. A “mountain” that allows me to convince myself that I’m exercising when out for a short walk. The cafe is filled with students, and lead by a compassionate team of both international and Estonian workers. It's a great way to learn more about the Estonian culture and pick up some basic Estonian words. Kohvik itself means cafe. Once you enter you can already feel at home, a healthy array of free snacks enter your view as you look inside. Carrots, apples, and bananas are placed in bowls for game players who need something to munch on while thinking up a winning strategy. You can also get coffee, tea and hot chocolate for a fair price. I personally recommend the mint hot chocolate, extremely sweet but very satisfying - even if it’s not that cold outside, but then again this is Estonia so it’s probably cold.
Board game night. Photo: Izabela Ginda
To escape the weather outside you can play anything from Monopoly and Exploding Kittens (not as horrific as it sounds, I promise) to Catan. One of my favorite games, Catan, is a competitive game based on building villages and roads on the board to be the first person to gain ten points, and how the emotions rise when your rival is up to nine. The cafe often holds mini-competitions, such as Jenga tournaments, for example, which are always accompanied by shaky hands and the sound of blocks clattering on the ground. When I played, I only got third or fourth place, but every time I beat someone it was an amazing feeling because you know that you weren’t the one making a racket. If you know a lot about Estonian culture then you may win at Kahoot! Or at least learn one or two words. The winner is gifted with a free coffee. It's important to note that you should bring comfy socks as there is a no-shoe rule. Every time I went to play games I ended up staying for many hours and always left with a new friend and an intense desire to beat them next week.
Estonian Culture Course
If you're interested in finding out more about Tartu and Estonians, the International House of Tartu hosts an Estonian Culture Course. Signing up for the course was one of my first moves when I first came to Tartu. Right away I was warmly welcomed by a wonderful Estonian Group Leader. We got to visit some of the most important museums in Tartu: Paper and Print Museum, the University of Tartu's Museum of Natural History. It offers a variety of exhibits regarding plants, scientific expeditions and taxidermy animals from all over the world.
Print and Paper Museum in Tartu. Photo: Izabela Ginda
The Estonian National Museum offers various interactive exhibits; the University of Tartu Museum dives into the city's history and the history of education in Tartu. The beautiful worn-down brick-red building used to be home to the University of Tartu Library. Of course, museums aren’t the only thing that the course offers. You gain a family of people who explore Tartu with you. I have been kayaking on the Emajogi river, blueberry picking in one of the many forests that surround Tartu and hiking in the bogs. The course provided me with conversation material when my parents wanted to test my knowledge of the town that I spent four months in.
Of course, these are only a few ideas. A quick search on the internet will provide you with many great events. To those who would believe that Tartu would be a boring little town, I challenge you. Tartu is full of many great opportunities, no matter what you’re interested in. You don’t need to live in a large city to be busy.
Text: Izabela Ginda