Sunday, September 13, 2015

Tallinn, Estonia

The Friday, September 11, 2015
I never knew anything about this country until I saw a movie earlier this year about Stalin's effort to transport thousands of native Estonians to Siberia in 1940. He wanted to make the country Russian and decided that was one way of doing it. He soon lost the country to Germany but then got it back in 1944 and the USSR held on until 1991 when the country declared its independence.
The poor Estonians. Since the 1200's they have been ruled by Danes (who Christianized them), Swedes, Poles, Germany and Russia (mostly Russia - 200 centuries) because of their strategic position on the Baltic. After WW I, Estonia enjoyed a brief independence, but then was illegally annexed by the Soviets in 1940. You would think that would have broken their spirit. But today they are an independent country and a proud member of the European Union with one million inhabitants, 400,000 of whom live in Tallinn. (Ed kept thinking about a country of only 1 mil -- how do they survive?). They claim to have the most popular tourist destination on the Baltic after St. Petersburg and Copehagen. I don't know about that, but the old town was full of shops.
We started our tour in Tallinn's Upper Town, passing ancient walls and disembarking at Tall Hermann tower, also known as Toompea Tower, from which flies the national blue, black and white flag.
We learned that during the Renaissance many European cities were tearing down their walls because they impeded growth and were no longer effective. However, Estonia could not afford to do that - hence, still standing.
We walked up Toompea Hill and saw the Baroque Castle, which is now the seat of Estonian Parliament.
Directly across the street is the dominating Russian Orthodox Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. It was said the Russians built it in 1901 to intimidate the Estonians.
Today about 1/4 of the population is still Russian as a result of forced immigration over the years.
Nearby, we visited St. Mary's Cathedral. Originally a Catholic Church, it became Luthern in 1561.
Inside I was surprised to see that some people had private boxes from which to view the service. This one is even higher than the pulpit.
We continued to a scenic overlook where we could see Lower Town. Great Views.
Then our coach took us to Rocca al Mare, an open air museum which showcased 18th and 19th century villages. Included were a windmill, church, farms, cottages and barns all situated in a pleasantly wooded park.
We had a great day with perfect temperatures for our visit. We watched a folkloric show which was extremely good.
Then we saw their homes, which did not have chimneys but just an opening in the roof (not efficient for reducing indoor smoke),
and I caught this woman braiding straw for headbands for the native costumes.
After coffee and delicious pastry (which I think was made with rhubarb), and a quick picture with one of our hostesses,
we headed back to the boat.
While Ed napped, I went back in the city and walked around. The old town is VERY old, but the shops are full of new merchandise -- and all the bars were quite active. I can see where this is a popular tourist destination. With limited time, I made my way to the town square with its iconic town hall.
Again, very typical of town squares all over Europe and well preserved (or restored - not sure which).

I wandered back through one of the remaining stone entryways, feeling like I had passed through a time warp.
Tonight we had an earlier dinner (although dinner with its multiple courses takes 2 hours) and then went to a magic show (which was as much comedy as magic) but entertaining. Tomorrow - Russia!

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