Day 2 – Around Tallinn, Estonia

25 Sep

The time difference kicked in badly today (only 2 hours I know), but I still made it to breakfast with plenty time to try the cereal, sausage, ubiquitous chicken sausage, square scrambled eggs, toast and jam.  Also tried a bit of the “typical” Estonian porridge.  Don’t want to start a salt v sugar debate here, but some white stuff was added, and it was good.  Memories of “buckwheat” have been beaten.

The group, including the 3 others – Clive from Neith, Wales and Lynsey and Becky (UK, somewhere), joined us for a morning tour of Tallinn.  Tauno led us up some stairs to several viewing balconies in the Old Town.  Tallinn’s old town is split into the Upper and Lower areas.  The Upper Town consists of the parliament building, the Russian Orthodox cathedral and several others buildings which are in private ownership and therefore at varying levels of maintenance.  We were offered some cinnamon coated almonds – very nice!

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A view of the lower town, from the upper town

The sun was almost out, and I was squinting without sunglasses – mental note to remember tomorrow.

We visited Tall Herman’s tower – whomsoever flies their flag here, rules Estonia.  Apparently old people phone the police, if the flag isn’t raised daily, to ask if they’ve been invaded again.  The Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is interesting, as Estonia is officially not religious, and especially not Russian.  The fact that it sits opposite the parliament building is a twist of history.  We went in and witnessed an Orthodox service in progress. Fantastically colourful sight.  Very musical, with no instruments.  Apparently they last a while, so we didn’t hang around.  Surprisingly, there was a gift shop.

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We also saw the only road into the upper town – the only one that “cars or tanks” can drive up.  An indication of its past.  One huge boulder remains of those used to stop the Soviets from driving their tanks up.

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Moving through the city walls and into the lower town, we passed many churches (they are Lutheran here, but Baptists and others were also represented).  Some churches are now museums.  The city walls originally consisted of 40 towers, a lot of which still stand.  The various remaining sections of the walls now host a selection of restaurants and bars, offering great views.  Some people also built houses attached to the wall – cheaper, as they had one less wall to build!

Many stories have been passed down the ages, including how the Danish flag was invented here – it fell to earth and the Danes caught it before the Estonians could.  There are also many ghost stories to be told – and faceless monk statues feature heavily.

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Moving through large groups of other tourists we hit the painted marzipan shop, with a woman hard at work.  The selection was wide and varied, and nothing like previous attempts from my work colleagues.  I may have sampled a few.  The paint doesn’t change the flavour.  Very nice, but I’m not sure I’ve seen a lot of Estonian almond trees so far.  Also on dispay was an 80 year old marzipan doll – apparently still(!) edible.

Other highlights included the Great Guild Hall, Catherine’s Passage, the oldest Pharmacy in the world (before Colombus discovered America!), the house of the Brotherhood of Black Heads (sounds as racist as it probably was), the former KBG HQ, where they spied on Finland, Fat Margaret’s tower (named after the Queen of Denmark) and a former phone box that is now the smallest Russian Orthodox church, ever.

Tauno managed to keep my interest for most of it, but some of the group were flagging after 3.5 hours.  We went our separate ways and Yok Leng, Steve, Ruth and I headed to KUMU – the contemporary art museum, a tram ride away.  At the tram stop, we listened to music in the local park and watched a man entertaining children (and us) with huge soap bubbles.

The tram was modern and every 10 minutes.  We walked through the Kadriorg park to the KUMU Art Museum.  First on the priority list was lunch.  My general approach has always been to try something I don’t recognise, and this time I came up trumps with a Sea Buckthorn smoothie – very nice.  Also washed down with lamb dumplings and a cheesecake.  The diet is well out of the window.

Following that, we start at the top of the museum and worked our way down.  The top floor was mostly of the white space type.  I felt like asking if that beam in the corner was art, or left over from a ballet class.  I didn’t.  The other floors were more typical, if somewhat baffling.  I think I just don’t get art.  I’ll leave you to judge for yourself …

Catching a slightly older tram back to town, we lost Yok Leng, but 3 of us continued to the Museum of the Occupation (1940 – 1991).  Smaller than I had expected, it had some good information about the Katyn massacre.  Basically, the Soviets killed lots of the Polish army during the second world war, and blamed Germany.  They only admitted it in 1991.  Some harrowing stories of executions.

Estonia became independent in 1918, and has been occupied twice since then.  For most of it.

Leaving the others I headed off to the Kiek in de Kok tower.  Literally translated as “peep in the kitchen”, it allowed medieval people to spy on the kitchens of their neighbours and their enemies.  Climbed all the stairs to discover it had a roof on it.  There were large windows on the top floor cafe, but not the best views.  So, it was off to St. Olav’s Church to climb the highest steeple in Estonia.  Detoured past the town hall square which was hosting a celebration of ethnic minorities, complete with stalls selling handicrafts and a huge stage with one old woman singing.  I portray that badly.

The Tower of St. Olav’s was reasonably priced at only €2 for all 258 steps.  Unfortunately, they didn’t include passing places on the narrow polished stones stairs. I’d say “spiral”, but I don’t want to start that off …

The top was 4 planks wide and sandwiched between the actual copper roof and a barrier with lots of holes.  Arrows directed people in one direction, but no signs controlled the speed.  Or overtaking. Fantastic views though, and the sun lit up the upper town.  The first time I was truly able to appreciate the height difference. (Estonia is very flat – the highest point is 317m above sea level).  No building in Tallinn is allowed to be higher than the steeple of St. Olav’s.

Back at the hotel, Ruth, Karen, Steve and I met for dinner.  Elk was hopefully in, but the restaurant was fully booked.  Vegetarian had to be an option.  We ended up as the only people in Scheeli.  Very nice food, with a lot of good extras – bread and even the goat’s cheese.  Pear cider (Estonian obviously), washed down my duck.

One before bed in the hotel bar was Vana Tallinn Cream – a Baileys equivalent, but Estonian obviously.

I have a feeling I’ve only just touched the surface of Estonia.  Tomorrow will be a long drive and ferry to Estonia’s biggest island.  Time for some sleep.  Your comments are welcomed.

 

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One Response to “Day 2 – Around Tallinn, Estonia”

  1. Ortho Dundee September 26, 2016 at 4:05 pm #

    Nice Blog Tony. Always a pleasant distraction before heading home from work. Think I may stop and buy some marzipan on the way home!

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