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
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
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
7 December 2001, Friday
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
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.
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
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.