Saturday, July 20, 2013

Finland, and Tallinn, Estonia

It's about time I started my blog up again.  I had every intention to do so while I was travelling, but I simply got too tired.  By the time I had done a bit of sightseeing, talked to friends, had a glass of wine, I didn't have the energy to do anything but download the photos of my camera.

Then when I got home, everything seemed too much - I had simply taken too many photos.  It took me two months before I could pick up my computer and look at where I had been.  Although it's interesting because some of my images I had completely forgotten about.

I'm starting where I left off - after my day in the Netherlands at Keukenhoff Gardens. The following morning I flew to Finland via Munich, Germany. Jaana was at the airport to meet me and we had so much to say to each other, I didn't even pick up my camera to take a photo, or even look out the window of the bus or train to see where I was going!  Jaana and I had known each other for years on the Say What? Club listserv, that caters for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.  We had talked in chat groups and by email since the mid 90s, so we were like old friends straight away with so much to talk about!!   

We had an early night as we were heading to Tallinn, Estonia the next morning by ferry.  We booked online then headed to bed.  The next morning we popped into Jaana's work on the way to the ferry to print the tickets and then we were off.  We caught the 9am ferry and I have to say I was pretty impressed.  It was the size of a cruise ship, and luxurious too.  Just a two hour trip to another country. Really, our ferries between Wellington and Picton need to take a leaf out of these guys books in terms of service, luxury, size and speed!  We settled down at the front of the ship with a drink and our phones taking advantage of the free Wi-fi.  In comfort....

We arrived in Tallinn about 11.00am. I had printed out a self guided tour which we did together. Together with two brains, we hoped we wouldn't get lost! Jaana managed to find the start of the walk. If it had been left to me, we would probably still be looking for it!

The start of the walk was at Fat Margaret's Tower. (No offence to any Margarets!). Fat Margaret Tower guarded the entry gate of the town (in medieval times, the sea came much closer to this point than it does today). The relief above the gate dates from the 16th century, during the Hanseatic times, when Sweden took Estonia from Germany.

Through the gate into Picc Street which means 'Long Leg'.  This street goes through the lower town and takes one to the upper town.  The city once consisted of two feuding medieval towns separated by a wall. The upper town—on the hill, called Toompea—was the seat of government ruling Estonia. The lower town was an autonomous Hanseatic trading center filled with German, Danish, and Swedish merchants who hired Estonians to do their menial labour.

I loved the medieval architecture... The street was the main drag for the medieval Merchants - many were warehouses complete with cranes in the gables. Below is one merchant’s home nicknamed the “Three Sisters” and is a textbook example of a merchant home/warehouse/office from the 15th-¬century Hanseatic Golden Age.

St. Olav’s Church (Oleviste Kirik, a Baptist church today), notable for what was once the tallest spire in Scandinavia. Its plain whitewashed interior is skippable according to our guide, though climbing 234 stairs up the tower rewards you with a great view. Jaana and I discussed whether to climb the tower, and decided that we didn't have the energy, but we did decide to see for ourselves whether the interior was skippable.

I'm glad I did because I found this lovely door...

And although the interior was plain and simple, I sitll thought it was rather beautiful. I thought perhaps because it was bare, that perhaps over the years it may have been pillaged.  Compared to the great cathedrals of Italy, the walls were devoid of art.

Back on to Pikk Street.. While we see a peaceful scene today, many of the buildings remind locals of the dark times under Moscow's rule. The KGB used the St Olav's Tower to block Finnish TV signals, and this building was local KGB headquarters. “Creative interrogation methods” were used here. Locals well knew that “from here started the road of suffering,” as Tallinn’s troublemakers were sent to Siberian gulags. The ministry building was called “the tallest building in town” (because “when you’re in the basement, you can already see Siberia”).  

I had to keep taking photos of the buildings - simply because I loved the doorways, and the crumbling exteriors, and the shapes.

Little alleyways looked interesting to explore, because of the colourful buildings and cobblestone streets.

Church of the Holy Ghost (Pühavaimu kirik) was our next visit.  The clock is from 1633, and the plaque on the wall is in Estonian and Russian. Before 1991, things were designed for “inner tourism” (within the USSR). This church retains its 14th-century design. In the back, the old flag of Tallinn—the same as today’s red and white Danish flag—recalls the 13th-century Danish rule. (The name “Tallinn” means “City of the Danes”.) The Danes sold Tallinn to the German Teutonic Knights, who lost it to the Swedes, who lost it to the Russians. Except for two decades in the early 20th century, Tallinn remained Russian until Estonia regained its independence in 1991.

Note how old those wooden doors are...

Inside above the altar, is a piece of beautiful ancient artwork, of which I've seen similar ones at Art Museums around the world. Priceless and valuable, and beautiful.

Next up was the Town Square...  A marketplace through the centuries, thishas many fine old buildings and is a reminder that this was the center of the autonomous lower town, a merchant city of Hanseatic traders. Once this was the scene of criminals chained to pillories for public humiliation and knights showing off in chivalrous tournaments; today it’s full of Scandinavians savouring the cheap beer, children singing on the bandstand, and cruise-ship groups listening to their guides!

St. Nicholas’ (Niguliste) Church is a 13th-century Gothic church-turned-art-museum but used to serve the German merchants and knights that lived in this neighborhood 500 years ago. The Russians bombed it in World War II: In one terrible night, on March 9, 1944, Tallinn was hit, and the area around this church—once a charming district, dense with medieval buildings—was flattened.

The concrete steps up to the church were damaged, and I can only surmise a bomb did this, as I can think of nothing else that might do this much damage to concrete.

We then climbed up to the Danish Kings Garden, and looked out over the rooftops of the Lower City, then popped through the wall.  We were now in the upper town. We watched people do archery for a brief moment then walked to the Russian Orthodox Church right just above the archers.

The Alexander Nevsky Cathedral was built here in 1900 over the supposed grave of a legendary Estonian hero—Kalevipoeg. While it’s a beautiful building, most Estonians don’t like this church. Built to face the national parliament, it was a crass attempt to flex Russian cultural muscles during a period of Estonian national revival. We stepped inside to find it really busy.  

No photos were allowed, but I managed to fire one off.  I wonder if the ladder there is the 'Stairway to Heaven?

Across the street is the pink palace—an 18th-century addition that Russia built onto the Toompea Castle. Today, it’s the Estonian Parliament building, flying the Estonian flag—the flag of both the first (1918–1940) and second (1991–present) Estonian republics. (Locals say they were always independent...just occupied—first by the Soviets, then by the Nazis, and then again by the USSR.) Notice the Estonian seal: three lions for three great battles in Estonian history, and oak leaves for strength and stubbornness. Ancient pagan Estonians, who believed spirits lived in oak trees, would walk through forests of oak to toughen up. (To this day, Estonian cemeteries are in forests. Keeping some of their pagan sensibilities, they believe the spirits of their departed loved ones live on in the trees.)

From here we walked around the Upper Town. It was pretty hot. I loved the blue skies, the buildings, the colours, the old street lamps, and all the flags. This the Tall Hermann Tower: This tallest tower of the castle wall is a powerful symbol here. For 50 years, while Estonian flags were hidden in cellars, the Soviet flag flew from Tall Hermann. As the USSR was unraveling, the Estonians proudly and defiantly replaced the red Soviet flag here with their own black, white, and blue flag.

We came across an old medieval door complete with armour...

Patkuli Viewpoint:  In the distance, ferries shuttle to and from Helsinki (just 50 miles away). Beyond the lower town’s medieval wall and towers stands the green spire of St. Olav’s Church, once 98 feet taller and, locals claim, the world’s tallest tower in 1492. Beyond that is the 985-foot-tall TV tower (much appreciated by Estonians for the heroics involved in keeping the people’s airwaves open during the harrowing days when they won independence from the USSR). During Soviet domination, Finnish TV was responsible for giving Estonians their only look at Western lifestyles. Imagine: In the 1980s, many locals had never seen a banana or pineapple—except on TV. People still talk of the day that Finland broadcast the soft-porn movie Emmanuelle. An historic migration of Estonians flocked from the countryside to Tallinn to get within rabbit-ear’s distance of Helsinki and see all that flesh on TV.

After all that walking I was more than ready to sit down and have dunch, or linner, or more simply - one very late lunch.  I tried a local dish - sausages and sauerkraut.  It was rather nice, especially with the beer!

We headed back down to the lower town after lunch as we had time to view the big department store before heading back to the ferry.  On the way I passed my old Auckland suburb!!

And Jaana found a new friend!

We also passed this amazing flower market - stall after stall.  I wish I could have somehow recorded the scent - it was divine.

And the blue Crysanthemums were rather pretty.

Inside the department store I was sorely disappointed when I found no bargains.  Shoes were between 300 and 600 euros, and handbags not much cheaper.  Clothes were also expensive.  I hope the Estonians have cheaper areas to shop than this!  But I did see beautifully dressed peoples shopping and spending money.  I felt very scruffy in my walking shoes and jeans!

Our ferry back...

While Jaana explored the duty free, I found a place I could get outside on the boat and take photos of the sunset.  The sea was like glass.

Back in Helsinki Port, we passed lots of low lying islands, some with houses on them.  I hope the sea doesn't rise too much higher!

And seagulls wheeled and cawed around the ship as we were docking.

We got back to Helsinki about 9pm and Anne flew in from Netherlands a few hours later to explore Finland with us.  But I really enjoyed my day.  If anyone wants a copy of the walking tour - please either leave your email in a comment and I'll email you the document, or press that contact me up the top right and ask for one with your email address.  I fully recommend a day in Tallinn.

I apologise how many images there were in this post - but I did cut it down as much as I could!


PBScott said...

An interesting post, with some stunning photography, the color and contrast on your images is fantastic, what is your secret?

Anonymous said...

Using a semi pro camera, not a point and shoot, knowing how to use it in terms of light conditions, and I also work on all my images afterwards in various programmes depending on the image. Like a dark room.


Shirley said...

Your last photo seems like a painting, and hey don't apologize these are really amazing photos I'm glad you posted them. I was kinda hooked on your photos though I wasn't able to continue reading hihi. This is exactly what I'd do when I visit Estonia.

Anonymous said...

The last photo was done on a slow shutter speed and so the gulls were caught moving - giving it a painted look ;) Glad you enjoyed.

Unknown said...

Hi Robyn, ahh the memories you bring back from our visit at about the same time. By the look of the colour of the skies we could have been there the same weekend in April (around about the 20th from memory). Shame you didn't spend more time there, there are some great sights to be had outside of the Old City also and even then you could ramble around the streets of the Old City for days on end and not get bored. We did a weekend there also with our 2 kids and they just loved the atmosphere and didn't bore of it either. We stayed in an apartment on Pik Jag where the original city wall was still visible on the interior of the apartment. Enjoy your travels around home now then.

Anonymous said...

I don't get too much time in each place, as I want to see it all, and as I'm not living there, don't have the time to stay. You're very fortunate to be able to do this with your family :)