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Home to the oldest university in Estonia (the University of Tartu), the Supreme Court of Estonia and the Ministry of Education and Research, Tartu is the political, intellectual and financial capital of Tallinn. Sitting on the Emajogi River that connects the two largest lakes in Estonia, it also claims to be the spiritual capital. Apparently there is a Tartu "vaim" (aka spirit) that imbues the city with a time-stands-still vibe. Awash in wooden houses, stately buildings and beautiful parks with a stunning riverfront, the city is small and provincial. The university students, of which they constitute a seventh of the total population, infuse a vibrant atmosphere and a young flirty feel throughout the streets. This is the perfect town to base yourself in if you want to explore the south of Estonia.
If you don't want to pound the pavement, there are bright red and white public buses to get you around the town. It is leafy and historical with a beach to laze on and wide streets to meander around. Tartu escaped the brunt of the Soviet town planning that Tallinn was hit with. Here, you will find gorgeous 18th Century buildings sitting in a classical town center complete with the symbol of Tartu, the kissing students fountain. There is a neighborhood where all the streets are named for soup ingredients and cloaked in quaint wooden houses. There is the AHHAA Science Center to gawk at and the museum lovers can have their pick of the KGB Museum or the Estonian National Museum to invade. There are plenty of green areas and parks to contemplate your navel in such as Toome Hill, Barclay Park or Raadi Park. For those that want to say a prayer or two or who just want to admire the architecture, there is an abundance of religious options to explore. Make sure you have a drink at the Gunpowder Cellar that was actually a "gunpowder cellar" up until 1809 and now holds the Guinness world record for a pub with the highest ceiling. The Old Observatory is the working place for many famous astronomers and sits on castle ruins on Dome Hill. You can run your hands over the ancient textured surface of the remains of the Town Wall, amble along Lai Street admiring the aristocratic dwellings and be amazed at the view from the pedestrian only Arched Bridge, where the arch is used for balancing acts by students after long night drinking sessions.
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