Taylors in Finland

The Grand Adventure
Mary Ann's Fulbright Exchange to Oulu, Finland
August 2001 - June 2002


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6 - 9 December 2001

6 December, Thursday
On to Tallinn

We were up at 0630 to catch the Silja SuperSeaCat Four “fast” ferry from Helsinki to Tallinn. It is a 90 minute, 85 Km ride south, across the Gulf of Finland to Estonia. It was smooth and I didn’t feel queasy at all. (JMT - “cat” is deceiving because the ferry is a mono-hull, not a catamaran – it is just "fast like a cat".) It was a brisk morning and we saw a beautiful sunrise about 0900 before we arrived at 0940. When we disembarked, along with 350 others, all was well until we arrived in the holding area for Passport Control. They had only four of the ten booths staffed and one was only for Estonian citizens. Of course there was no queue, it became a “Finnish merge”. But it became more the survival of the fittest to see who would make it through Passport Control first. The pushing and shoving could cause a panic attack for some. I survived because I must have let my ego get into it and was determined I would cross the line before the man on my left (who was trying to squeeze me out by moving his bag in front of me) or the woman on my right jostling me with her big bosom. I made it before they did. (John - I didn't, but Mary Ann got into it! It was a quiet, slow-moving war of wills.)

We caught a taxi to our hotel which was 5 Km east of the city center to an area called Pirita. This is where the Moscow 1980 Olympic yachting events were held and our hotel probably housed the athletes. The sailing center was across the street, next to the river and we had a great view of the Gulf of Finland. After getting settled we bought a book of bus passes (10 rides, 70 EEK or 4.00 USD) and headed to Old Town Tallinn which is one of the best preserved medieval cities dating back to the eleventh century. It had a great port for early trading. Estonia has been ruled by many countries including Denmark, Germany, Sweden, Russia and the Soviet Union. Estonia has been independent since 1991.

Encyclopædia Britannica's web site says:
Seaport city (pop., 1996 est.: 435,000), capital of Estonia. It is located on the Gulf of Finland. A fortified settlement existed there from the late 1st millennium BC, and there was a town there in the 12th cent. In 1219 it was captured by the Danes, who built a new fortress. Trade flourished after it joined the Hanseatic League in 1285. In 1346 it was sold to the Teutonic Order, and in 1561 it passed to Sweden. Russia captured it in 1710, and it remained a Russian city until it became the capital of independent Estonia from 1918 to 1940, when Estonia was annexed to the U.S.S.R. (1940-91). In World War II it was occupied by German forces 1941-44 and was severely damaged. Rebuilt, it became the capital of independent Estonia in 1991. It is a major commercial and fishing port, an industrial center, and the cultural center of Estonia, with numerous educational institutions. Historical structures include a medieval city wall and a 13th-century church.

We browsed the Christmas Market in the Town Hall Square, We listened to some great folk music while looking at the Christmas crafts. We went to the basement of the Town Hall where many local artisans were displaying their work. We couldn’t resist a few of the items. We had lunch at the Arizona Saloon and then walked to Keik in de Kok, which is the tallest cannon tower in Tallinn, built in 1475. We walked the spiral stairs up four floors, each with museum items and displays, and took pictures from the top floor. Then we walked around a Danish king’s courtyard and then on to a café, built along the city wall, to get warm. John said he could say he had his worst Irish Coffee ever because the coffee included the grounds. We then hiked around Old Town and started popping into the stores. We found a few more Christmas presents. Old Town is very picturesque with snow on roof tops and the Gothic-style buildings. Sometimes I have to pinch myself to see that I am not dreaming. By 1930 we were hungry and decided to check out some of the restaurants in our “Tallinn This Week”. We ended up at Eeslitall , the oldest restaurant in Tallinn. We enjoyed our meal and the atmosphere. After dinner we took a taxi to avoid walking on the icy streets, which I appreciated.


7 December 2001, Friday
Tallinn continued

We took a sightseeing tour around Tallinn. The first hour we were on a small bus. We went to the Song Festival Grounds where the festival is held every five years. It was built in 1923 and the stage was built to hold 12,000 singers; it now has space for 35,000. We went by Kadriorg Palace built by Peter I for Katherine in 1718. It is now home to  Estonia’s museum for foreign art. They have reconstructed some of the gardens and houses in the area and have plans for the remainder of the gardens as money becomes available. We rode out to see the apartments that were built during the Soviet era. Very dreary. The apartments were given to the tenants at the end of the Soviet era but now they have to pay for the heating and utilities. (JMT - the apartments are about 60 square meters or 650 square feet.) Heating alone in the winter time may run 1,000 EEK (Estonian Kroon) out of an average income of 3,500 EEK (before a tax rate of 26%). People are quite impoverished and things are changing slowly. We drove by an area of some of the wealthy before the Soviets took over in 1944. These homes have been given back to the families but most of them cannot afford to renovate them and they are in poor condition, by our standards. Under the Soviets, living space was limited to 60 square meters per family (just over 645 square feet). After the bus tour, our guide led us on a walking tour through part of the Old Town, finishing up in the Town Hall Square.

We were to meet Dave and Lori Heintz at 1300. They had come to Tallinn with her school for an Independence Day school seminar. We had agreed to meet at Maiasmokk, a restaurant just off the Town Hall Square that opened in 1864. When they arrived we had lunch including a wonderful cheese/shrimp soup to warm us up; it was -11°C (12°F) outside. After lunch we shopped and then tried to get tickets for an evening jazz concert but they were sold out. We decided to go to the Estonian Ballet with Lori’s school group. The ballet was “The Wedding Journey” by M. Murdmaa & S. Kallen and was a mix of classical and modern ballet. It was very good.

When the performance was over we said good-bye to Dave and Lori, they had dinner arrangements with the rest of the school group, and we headed to Old Town to look for another restaurant. This evening we settled on Casanova, an Italian restaurant, where we had another delicious meal in a comfortable setting. A good end to a good day.


8 December 2001, Saturday
Tallinn and Helsinki

We packed and caught the bus to the ferry terminal where we checked our suitcases so we could head back to Old Town to try and see some of the sights we had missed like St. Olaf’s Church. The Three Sisters are three well-preserved merchant homes and show the pattern of living on the first floor with storage on the upper floors. Only the first floor has glass windows and the upper floor openings are wooden doors. We saw some of the best preserved sections of the city’s surrounding stone wall after passing the Dominican Monastery. Alongside the north entry gate is the Fat Margaret (Paks Margareeta) cannon tower dating from the 16th century which has been a cannon tower, barracks and prison. Once it was only 360 yards from the sea but the land is rising and parts of the harbor have been filled for docks, etc. Over the entrance is a great coat of arms. As we were exploring we found a little shop where we bought some cheese to take to the Fulbright Christmas Party in Helsinki. We also found a tiny shop that sold wooden toys; we bought some for the gift exchange at the party. It was now 1400 and we decided to take the taxi back to the ferry and used our last 100 EEK – so our money worked out perfectly. It wasn’t very bad going through Passport Control this time. We were on the ferry at 1445 and it left at 1512.

We were back in Helsinki at 1700 and started walking toward the school where the principal, Ismo Lehikoinen, a Fulbright Alumni (he exchanged to Iowa), was hosting the Christmas Party. Along the way we came to the hostel where Dave and Lori were staying but they had not checked in yet. (JMT - turns out their ferry was over thirty minutes late. Someone had forgotten a coat on a bus and Passport Control was very, very slow for them as well.) Their hostel looked more modern then ours and we decided to try it the next time we are in Helsinki.

It was great to see Crystal Meriwether, Maarit Pulli and Stacey White from the American Embassy. Jennifer and Elisabeth were already there when we arrived. We had a wonderful a cappella choir to entertain us; what beautiful voices! Then Marie-Camille, Lori and Dave arrived. We met many alumni and shared our experiences. After a delicious pot-luck meal everyone introduced themselves. Then Santa’s daughters sang and his son played the piano. Santa then handed out Christmas gifts. Around 2145 we began to clean up, coat up and say good-bye. We took a tram downtown and then walked to our hostel.


9 December 2001, Sunday
Train to Oulu

We were up at 0800 and walked to the train depot, fortunately only four blocks away. After breakfast at the station and buying some reading material we began our seven-hour ride to Oulu. Our train arrived in Oulu about ten minutes late and we saw our bus to Oulunsalo pull away from the stop while we were across the street. The next bus was an hour later, but it was just above freezing without any wind so it was no problem waiting for the next bus.

Mary Ann


Footnotes by John:

Tallinn is a great get-away. Three things are the most appealing – the history, Old Town and the prices. You get a good feel for what the town was like a long time ago. But I don’t envy the horses back then; cobblestones are tough enough to walk on with rubber-soled boots. History in California really starts around the Gold Rush in 1849, 150 years ago, while history in Tallinn began in the eleventh century. It is fortunate now, that at one time, the city of Tallinn didn’t have the money to demolish Old Town. I’m reminded of Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia (I was stationed at nearby Yorktown while I was in the U. S. Coast Guard) where the entire town is there, not just a building or a plaque with “… slept here”. The prices are great for visitors; a wonderful evening meal was 25.00 USD including refreshments, dessert and coffee. The ballet tickets for both of us were less than 8.00 USD. Everyone on the return ferry had something they had purchased in Tallinn or in the duty-free shop on board the ferry.

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Helsinki's streets were empty at 0630 as we walked to the Silja ferry terminal from our hostel. (1852)

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Passport Control at the Tallinn dock. We spent forty-five minutes before we were able to leave the terminal. (1853)

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Our bus back to the main part of Tallinn. As the sign shows, this was the Olympic center for sailing. (1854)

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First view of Town Hall; the square is to the right. (1862)

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Christmas Market in Town Hall Square. That is Mary Ann in front of me wearing the backpack. (1863)

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The Harju Street Remains. (1870)

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Weapons in the Keik in de Kok tower, which was the tallest in Tallinn.  The hole in the floor was used to hoist supplies between floors. (1877)

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One of the views from Keik in de Kok tower toward the Gulf of Finland. (1881)

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The Christmas Festival in Town Hall Square included a fashion show.  Tallinn is not wasting any time adopting western business practices. (1917)

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Alexander Nevski Cathedral built in 1900. It remained in use during the Soviet "occupation". (1913)

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The view from Maiasmokk restaurant while we waiting for Lori and Dave. (1920)

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Casanova restaurant. (1923)

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Our "single" dessert. (1926)

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Three Sisters, 15th century, are typical house/warehouse combinations. (1935)

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Part of the remaining city wall. (1941)

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It is starting to freeze up along the edges of Helsinki harbor. (1954)

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The choir with great voices. (Jyri23)

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Marie-Camille, Mary Ann are visiting while Elisabeth and Jennifer chat. (Jyri26)

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Santa visiting a family who had exchanged to California. (1978)

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The Helsinki train station at 0900. (1993)


Last Update 2003 11 14

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