August 11-12

I left St Petersburg at 6:25am for an 8 hour train ride to Tallinn. For half the time I was obsessed with the chant 'what have I done what have I done'. It was not comfortable and I'll leave it at that. Then my seatmate left the train, I put my feet up and promptly fell asleep and all was well.

My phone said "Welcome to Estonia, we're here for you." and then Yandex took me to my hotel, Hestia Hotel Baron, in a heartbeat. Wow.

I have been pronouncing Tallinn wrong in my head for ages. It's TAH-ln, not that other way.

St Petersburg, Russia
Tallinn, Estonia
Riga, Latvia
Vilnius, Lithuania
Minsk, Belarus
Kiruna, Sweden..Lapland, above the Arctic Circle
Umea, Sweden..and travels along the High Coast
Eslov/Malmo, Sweden
Copenhagen, Denmark for my flight home


Lucky Chimney Sweep brings Luck! Kids would rub the buttons of any chimney sweep they passed.

I know so little about the history of Estonia, I am going to use this first day's pictures to make a timeline of the events that are interesting to me, copying from Wikipedia..of course.

"The territory of Estonia has been inhabited since at least 9,000 B.C. Ancient Estonians were some of the last European pagans to be Christianized, following the Livonian Crusade in the 13th century."

800 the Estonians participate in the Battle of Brávellir on the side of the Swedes and against the Danes.

967 Estonian pirates capture the future King of Norway and sell him as a slave.


All of the Old Town is pedestrianized which is lovely. You can see from the inset the sections of the original city wall that remains.

1030 Prince Yaroslav I the Wise of Kiev founds a fort named Yuryev, the modern Tartu.

1054 Arab geographer Al Idrisi mentions Estonian places, also marking the foundation of Tallinn.

1193 Pope Celestine III calls for a crusade against pagans in Northern Europe.


So many charming streets that look like this.

All of the 1200s are taken up with attacking-defeating-being besieged and defeated, all in the name of the Crusades. The Livonian Brothers of the Sword ("the membership of the order is comprised of German Catholic "warrior monks" who fought Baltic and Finnic pagans in the area of modern-day Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania") play a large part.


This is a five road intersection and Tallinn has done a FABULOUS job of marking the corners. Wonder where you are? Just look up, every corner is marked.

1346 King Valdemar IV of Denmark sells Northern Estonia to the Teutonic Order followed by the Teutonic Order giving Northern Estonia to the Livonian Order.


It was seriously raining off and on most of the day but I enjoyed the HOHO bus anyway, all three routes. On the first route I was stuck in the middle of the bus and couldn't get a single shot but on the second and third I had snagged the front so Oh Goodie!

The pictures are all through windows, some more messed up than others.

1440 The Livonian Order becomes self-governing from the Teutonic Order.

1525 The Teutonic Order is secularized and the Livonian Order becomes de facto independent.


Someone must have done this for fun.

1558 Russia enters the picture along with Sweden and Denmark followed by back-and-forth invading, capturing, surrendering, and by 1582 Southern Estonia is part of Poland-Lithuania and the north is part of Sweden.


The radio tower is the tallest structure in Tallinn and I forget about the turret...

1625 Sweden takes Tartu and Southern Estonia from Poland.

1704 Russian troops under czar Peter the Great captured Tartu in the Great Northern War.

1708 Fearful of Swedish attack, Russians burned down the city of Tartu.

1710 The whole of Estonia was included in the Russian empire.


Taking all the routes of the HOHO bus was great because we passed through many parts of the city outside the Old Town. You can't actually see any of the Old Town from the bus because it's all pedestrianized anyway!

1819 Serfdom is abolished.

1869 Estonian Song Festivals established. This is a bigger deal than it might seem and has been held continuously every five years (+/-) since 1869.


Aww.

1889 Policy of Russification introduced where Baltic German legal and educational institutions are abolished or transformed into Russian.


Tallinn is devoted to maintaining their natural resources and parks and preserves abound.

1918 Estonian Declaration of Independence

1919 Bolsheviks were driven out of Estonia.

1922 Estonia joined the League of Nations.


Tallinn has a large deep-water port that accommodates the mega-cruise ships making tourism a huge part of the economy.

1939 The Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact was signed, promising mutual non-aggression between Germany and the Soviet Union and agreeing to a division of much of Europe between those two countries but in..


1940 The Red Army occupied Estonia and Latvia.

1941 Mass deportations by Soviet Union authorities take place in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

1944 After wide-spread fighting all year long by December the entire territory of Estonia was captured by the Red Army.

1949 An extensive deportation campaign was conducted in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. The Soviet authorities deported more than 92,000 people from the Baltics to remote areas of the Soviet Union.


1989 After 44 years, the Estonian flag was raised on the Pikk Hermann castle tower while two million indigenous people of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, then still occupied by the Soviet Union, joined hands to demand freedom and independence, forming an uninterrupted 600 km human chain called the Baltic Way.

1991 The Soviet Union recognized the independence of the Baltic States and in 1994 the Russian army left Estonia.



2004 The largest expansion to date of the European Union took place, extending the Union by 10 member-states: Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Hungary, Malta and Cyprus.

More Wikipedia because it's so easy to quote and source references are available:

"Estonia is a developed country with an advanced, high-income economy that has been among the fastest-growing in the EU. The country ranks very high in the Human Development Index, and performs favorably in measurements of economic freedom, civil liberties, education, and press freedom (third in the world in 2012 and 2007). Estonian citizens are provided with universal health care, free education, and the longest-paid maternity leave in the OECD. One of the world's most digitally advanced societies, in 2005, Estonia became the first state to hold elections over the Internet, and in 2014, the first state to provide e-residency.


August 13

The view out my front door.

The hotel has a buffet breakfast included that contains all the makings for a Full English Breakfast (eggs, beans, floppy meats, tomatoes, mushrooms, toast), other fresh vegetables such as cucumber and peppers, hot and cold cereals, lox, herring, and sardines, canned peaches and cottage cheese, fresh fruit, olives, pickles, etc., croissant, sweet rolls, maybe there's more that's not occurring at the moment.

None of it is particularly great but it's all good enough, and I do love pouring those breakfast beans over fresh tomatoes.

I also ate in a local café the first night where the pate was delicious, and I had a mouthwatering salmon dinner the second night.


I did a swing by the Visitor's Center to set up my transfer to Riga - I'm going to do a tour stopping off at several places along the way.

This gal made a phone call and that was it, no papers of any kind to confirm my reservation. I took her picture so I could find her should anything go amiss.


I made my way up the hill to Toompea, also called Upper Town. That's the Russian Orthodox Alexander Nevsky Cathedral.

I was talking to a couple of lovely young women in a shop because I was a little lost and they told me to turn right past the church and I said oh, the fancy one at the top and they said no, that's the Russian church. I almost laughed they said it with such an eye-roll.


Walking along..


..there were still plenty of tourists but instead of being in groups of 100, the groups were more like 20.

There was no immediate evidence as to the owner of that bike but once grandma had her turn others in the group all jumped aboard for their photo op too.


This was the church where I was supposed to turn right, and for 5 euro you get to climb up to the top of the tower. It didn't feel as high as St Isaac's in St Petersburg but it was a hike anyway.


Here's a view..


..and here's another one.


This guy was inside the church but the door was locked so I had to peek in through a gate.


A part of the old city wall that pops up from time to time.


Well this was something. I went in because it was crowded to find that it's Event Dining.

Copy-paste from their website: "Here we live according to the old Hanseatic customs, which are expressed in every act and every little detail of the servants, the current dwellers of the house.

"Everything that you see, hear, taste or touch, has been made by the role models of 15th century, so the traveling visitor entering the house will find themselves in the wheel of time, led by ordinary servant folks as their guides to complete your medieval experience."


"Here, at Olde Hansa restaurant we are dedicated to bring you all the wonders of medieval kitchen and spirits what drinkmasters have created."

The music was great, the ambiance, service, and food was totally fun, and the house-made schnapps was the star of the show. Good job Olde Hansa!


August 14

Tomorrow I'm on an all day tour to a national park, home late, and then the next day I'm off early for a 12 hour tour from Tallinn to Riga, again home late. So it might be a couple days before I can catch up.

There's a lovely flower market leading to the gates of Old Town.


I know.


I was walking outside the Old Town and came across these buildings, which I noticed we passed on the HOHO bus.


Inside they were half-way finished with turning the complex into shops, restaurants, and clubs.


I was heading to the only synagogue in Tallinn, opened in 2007.

Wikipedia's picture.


There actually weren't very many Jews in Estonia and then..


..there were none. Wikipedia thinks there were 1,900 Jews in Estonia as of 2007.


There was not a country called Estonia, with recognized borders, until 1917. I'm copying this from Wikipedia:

"Territorial changes of the Baltic states refers to the redrawing of borders of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia after 1940. The three republics, formerly autonomous regions within the former Russian Empire and before that of former Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, gained independence in the aftermath of World War I and the Russian Revolution of 1917.

"After a two-front independence war fought against both Bolshevist Russian and Baltic German nationalist forces, the countries concluded peace and border treaties with Soviet Russia in 1920. However, with World War II and the occupation and annexation of these republics into the Soviet Union twenty years after their independence, certain territorial changes were made in favor of the Russian SFSR.

"This has been the source of political tensions after they regained their independence with the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1988. Some of the disputes remain unresolved."


There was a KGB museum which didn't turn out to be much, but I was probably thinking of another KGB display in a cellar somewhere.

This was on the top floor of a fancy hotel just outside the rooftop bar. I went for the views but sadly it wasn't to be.


Tallinn seems an excellent destination for shoppers. The stores have a wide range of goods and of high quality from what I can tell strolling by the windows.

I admit the temptation of Baltic amber!


Part of the city wall at night.


These are all restaurants.

Speaking of restaurants, here and in St Petersburg the invasion of American fast-food has been held pretty much at bay. There are the McDonalds of course but not on every corner and with no local specialties, some Burger Kings, a KFC now and then, and an occasional Subway that I haven't tried yet but usually do on these long trips.


August 15

I'm off for an all-day tour of Lahemaa National Park.


First stop, Jagala Waterfall, Jagala-Joa, Koogi Estonia, the widest waterfall in Estonia at 50 meters off a limestone cliff.

There are no mountains in Estonia, the highest rise being about 1,000 feet. Estonia is very flat.


From below. We all thought it was cute.


Oh goodie, storks in their nest. I didn't know at the time but this was to be my only wildlife sighting.


Our knowledgeable and entertaining guide.

Second stop, Viru Bog. Estonians, as we were advised, eat everything, and he would periodically just eat something and offer us all a sample.

The tour didn't go quite as advertised since one of the drivers was sick, so she did drive her van of 8 guests including me, and we combined with another driver, this guy, and his 8 guests for the guiding part of the tour.

He did manage though, to entertain the much bigger group, and I'm not complaining.


It was very beautiful.


I already forget so much..those trees? I forget, but they don't have a great variety of trees in the bog, only four species? I think?


The whole trail was a boardwalk, to keep the tourists alive, but before it got too deep and too wet we got to jump on the peat of a bog, springy, like jumping on the bed, it was cool. And of course there were things to eat here such as blueberries, cranberries, and lingonberries.


Reflections!


The guide says people swim in these bogs but wildlife does not abound since the water is so acidic.


The first part of the boardwalk leading to the viewing tower is relatively wide and smooth but..


..the rest, the most actually, is these two boards. I often stepped off the boards onto the supporting beams to let faster folk pass.

But I wasn't the last one back so that was a relief.


The Lunch offered in a traditional-style building.


Our next stop was a visit to a traditional village green which included the favorite peasant pastime - swinging.

The Estonians made swinging into a competitive sport, right along with wife-carrying, and they are very good cross-country skiers, having a lot of snow and no mountains.


We were a very amenable group from 5 countries.


From the village we walked through another beautiful forest..


..and emerged to face Finland, across the Gulf of Finland.


Here's a cutie-pie picking flowers for the family members who were playing on the beach.


Our last stop was a stroll through an old manor house complex now being used as an event venue.

I'm going to try to put some of the history I learned in the timeline from the first day. It was a ton of fun and I'm very glad to have done it.

Tomorrow I'm off, again early, for the 12 hour ride to Riga. It's a tour, 5 hours driving with many stops along the way.


August 16

Here's the group of eight tourists and a driver that drove from Tallinn to Riga in a 12 hour tour stopping off for some attractions along the way.

First stop, the ruins of the crusader castle of Viljandi.


They had a swing too, bigger than the one in Lahemaa, and many took the opportunity to give it a go.


The Valga Military Theme Park..meaning they have some tanks, a helicopter, some military trucks, and a modest museum.

And this guy too.


Another painting..


..and a fighting crab.


This is an apple tree, they called them summer apples, with very thin skin and a very delicious taste. We all stood around eating the apples and then I went back for a photo because it was a special treat.


At the museum our lively guide Laura, pronounced La-oo-ra. She said she would not respond to Lara because she did not like that name.

She is a Lithuanian from Vilnius and although we were traveling from Estonia to Latvia, we heard A Lot about the superiority of Lithuania in almost every regard, still, it was very interesting to feel for the relationship between the three Baltic countries.


Lunch. Better than the last tour because we picked our food on the bus and Laura called it in so the process went much more quickly and we were the only group there so it was quiet and we could all talk to each other.


Crossing the unattended border into Latvia, marked only by the smallest sign, we then stopped at the Gauja National Park and the sandstone cliffs of Sietiňiezis.


It was a good walk with mostly stairs.


Back into the minivan, we're off to the medieval Old Town of Cçsis


Oh dang, I forget the story.


The Christ Transfiguration Orthodox Church, built around 1842 in the Byzantine style.


Our last stop was at the Soviet-era bobsled track in Sigulda.

A fellow from Texas was broken down in the parking area and everyone was trying to help, translating with a Russian speaking fix-it guy.


You can see the three kickoff points for the bobsled, luge, and skeleton. The inset is an aerial from the internet. We walked all the way down.


Tim having a photo-op in one of the bobsleds.

tw.


Here's the route of the tour and I was settled into my nice Riga hotel with a complimentary upgrade by 10pm.

 




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