May 25 – Tallinn
Yesterday we threw down for an all-day tour of some historical sights outside of the city proper. We went with this small outfit Gina found online, ESTadventures, and had a great time. The tour (and company) was run by an Aussie guy, Andrew, who came here to study five years ago and ended up meeting an Estonian girl, and well, the rest as they say is history.
The tour took us first to some bronze-age graves, which for this particular part of the world meant only (“only”) 3,000 years ago. Civilization developed a bit slower here vs. the warmer part of Europe, which isn’t too hard to understand. It was around 60 degrees and windy as we stood over the circles of stones, so jackets were a must.
The rest of the tour included an impressive manor house, as well as the smallest castle in the Baltics, which was built seemingly to fit Gina. I smashed my head on one of the doorways, but every passage seemed to suit her just fine. This “castle” is in fact one smallish cylinder–three levels, with a wooden balcony of sorts running around the outside on level number two.
Also in the small-and-curious category: the “Niagara of the Baltics,” which is this little waterfall about 20 feet high. Now, you have to first understand that most of this country is within spitting distance of sea level (highest point: around 1,000 feet) but it was still a little funny to observe this “wonder” that at the moment is moving about enough water to irrigate the lawns on my street at home.
We had lunch at a great place along the way where I enjoyed a dessert that I’ve noticed on several menus now: crepes (or “fine pancakes” in this case) with ice cream, though mine also included warm morel cherries–yum!
Now to today’s events, and the inspiration for the title of this post.
Gina is fighting off a cold, so while she napped after breakfast I went out to try to do some laundry. No luck–the place was a service, not coin-op. So, we washed a few vital things in the sink and thus got a very late start on the park/museum we were going to see.
We did make it–Peter the Great’s summer home, Kadriorg, which now serves as a national art museum–and had a very enjoyable time, especially looking at the collection of icons they have (typically smaller paintings of saints or specific religious figures). I think it’s fair to say that we both came back feeling like we left a lot on the table in Tallinn, seeing as we’re on a ferry to Helsinki tomorrow and there’s still a lot we haven’t seen here.
Well, the travel gods smiled upon us once again.
We were walking past the old town hall building and heard music coming from inside, so we stopped to look at the calendar of events next to the entrance to see what it was. Just then the door opened as this guy left and the lady standing behind him asked us if we wanted to come in to listen. Sure!
< < This is the door, by the way ;-)
So we sat through two soloists (trombone and trumpet) accompanied by piano followed by two larger all-brass ensembles playing a variety of classical pieces. The players seemed to all be between teenagers and early 20’s, and to my ears sounded pretty darn good.
Afterward, the nice lady showed us around the building, and here is where it gets amazing…
This town hall was first constructed in 1404, and the old building is effectively contained within the ‘new’ one (built in the 17th century). Almost everything is original. The furniture, the metalwork on the doors… hell, even the tile floor in the dining hall is still there. Most of it lies underneath a 20th century reproduction, but the original is exposed in one area under clear acrylic to show just how well preserved it is.
There is even a bench that predates the old building itself–it was carved in the 1360’s. There are old books of accounts from when taxes were collected in the 16th century, and a chest that contained the money with these whimsical mermaids worked in silver on the inside of the lid. Apparently this was an homage to the sea, the source of everyone’s wealth in Tallinn.
I thought all of this was cool, but you can imagine how Gina was eating it up (sick? I’m not… hey, look at that door!)
“Kid in a candy store” doesn’t begin to describe it.
After about 20 minutes of this, I finally asked this nice lady for her name. She said, “my name? My name is Elvira (pronounced ELL-vee-rah), and I am the director of this house.”
Yep, we got a personal tour of one of Tallinn’s most important buildings and our guide was none other than the big kahuna herself. That and some Youth Wind music to boot. All free, and all because we just happened to stop outside at that particular moment.
I think it’s fair to say that this made our visit to Tallinn. It was the kind of experience that you take with you, that you remember years after the trip is over. The story becomes part of your personal narrative. Thankfully this one didn’t involve losing my passport.
Oh, I didn’t ever tell you about the time I lost my passport in Vietnam <dramatic pause> before we re-established diplomatic relations? Well…
See slideshows for all the locations mentioned in this post on the Photos page.