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Trip to Tallinn Estonia and Helsinki Finland

Monday July 4 through Tuesday July 11, 2016



Intro

Summers are hot in Austin Texas - almost 100 degrees most days - so this is a good time to go someplace cooler. They were having a virtual heat wave in Estonia and Finland - occasionally reaching 70 degrees, but most of the time in the very pleasant 60s. The days are very long - one day the sunset was at 10:42, followed by a sunrise at 4:08; since it doesn't get dark immediately when the sun sets, there are only a couple hours of darkness.

Getting There - July 4-5

Travel to Tallinn: The flights were straightforward... AA from Austin to JFK airport in New York, then an AA flight operated by FinnAir to Helsinki. A fairly long layover in Helsinki before the half hour flight on a prop plane to Tallinn. We could have probably made it in the same time on a ferry, but this was a continuation of the "Austin to Tallinn" flight (free), and we didn't have to go into town to the ferry terminal. Our Executive Platinum status (One World Emerald) allowed us to wait in a nice FinnAir premium lounge.

Tallinn Estonia, July 5-8

Hotel in Tallinn: We stayed at the St. Barbara boutique hotel, just outside the "Old Town" historic district. The building was so unimpressive I forgot to take a picture, but stole this from their web page. Very nice, reasonable price hotel, and best of all, just "across the street" from old town.

Across from the hotel was this brick building - the brick work was intriguing.

Old town was on multiple levels - churches and castle at the top, and market square and shops on the lower level

Many of the buildings had dramatic features

This is called the tallest building in Estonia. Why? It was KGB headquarters during the 50 years of Soviet occupation, and the joke was that from the interrogation rooms in the basement you could see all the way to Siberia. It is now residential condos.

In the evenings the market square was calm and quiet, with lots of nice restaurants and shops.

During the day the vendors arrived to support the tourists

Signs like this were "everywhere" as guides herded the countless groups from cruise ships through old-town. We saw as many as six cruise ships in port at a time.

Estonia declared their neutrality in World War II but back-room politics in 1939 put them under Soviet influence. In 1940 they were occupied by the Soviets, including arrests, deportations, and executions. When the German Nazis invaded in 1941 whey were initially hailed as relief from the Soviets (bad call). In September 1944 the Soviets reoccupied Estonia until 1991. Thus for over 50 years the Estonian language and culture was suppressed. We visited the Estonian Museum of Occupations, a worthwhile but sobering experience. With 50 years of state mandated atheism, one church had evolved from Catholic to Lutheran to grain storage, and is now a Baptist church. One exhibit suggested that over 60% of Estonian children were not from married parents (one study on the web says Estonia is the world leader in this sad statistic, but only estimates 31% of cohabiting parents are unmarried.)

The requisite castle was in the upper part of the city.

And nearby was a very pretty Russian Orthodox church

From the area near the castle you could look over the city, with the harbor in the background.

It is a very pretty town with lots of interesting buildings.

Jenny loves to wear her Aggie hat, and was stopped by a person who had taught there briefly many years ago.

The next day a gentleman at a cafe spoke to her - he had studied at A&M briefly.

We definitely did not eat at this restaurant.

But there was certainly a large variety of food. Note that Beer for breakfast is far cheaper than coffee and juice.

At one point we saw a very calm anti-Putin demonstration (they got tired after 15 minutes and left). The Blue-Black-White flag is Estonian, the Blue-Yellow flag is Ukranian... and the protesters were chanting in English.

Helsinki Finland, July 8-11

Travel to Helsinki: Rather than fly, we took the ferry. A big ferry, with three floors of cars and trucks and 4 floors of passengers. The trip on the water was about 2½ hours, plus a half hour to board and unload that many people. Opportunities to eat, drink, shop, and gamble if you are so inclined. We arrived at the hotel mid-afternoon.

Hotel in Helsinki: We stayed at the "Next" Rivoli Jardin boutique hotel. (I think Next may be a local chain.) The entrance was off a courtyard, accessed by a very small drive, below. It was a very nice hotel, but we would not have found it without the taxi taking us there.

Finland is officially bilingual - Finnish and Swedish. It took us quite a while to learn why street signs had two names - sometimes almost identical in the two languages, but other times completely different. However, practically everyone speaks excellent English.

Not far from our hotel, at the South Harbor (we had arrived at the West Harbor), is a market - closing as we arrived in the late afternoon.

Nearby is the Eastern Orthodox Cathedral Uspenski, at the top of a local hill and overlooking the city.

The inside of the cathedral was absolutely stunning.

The presidential palace (okay, not a white house), was nearby

The Lutheran Cathedral was also in the area... atop a long set of stairs, and Lutheran despite the onion domes. Also "next door" was the University and Library.

Our walk continued along the Esplanade, a popular park in the center of a main street, with lots of restaurants and stores. This statue was our landmark to return to our hotel, just over a block away.

The "Three Blacksmiths" is a well known statue, unashamedly male, but no specific purpose other than to show that the Finns are hardy people. Note the bullet holes in the base of the statue from one of the many wars.

Then on to the Central railway station, with lots of stone carved decorations.

Finlandia Hall is a conference center and music venue, although there are several other music halls in the area.

They do have a sense of humor. This is a street light

A popular tourist stop is the Stone Church, carved out of rock. This is the entrance.

The inside of the church is interesting, but not THAT special. A choral group from Austin Texas was singing here in concert the following week.

And if you thought a smart car was small, try this for size. A Google search suggests this is an Electric Renault Twizy, out since 2011, with a second seat behind the first (although we didn't see it).

The humor in their tourist shirts tickled us

Regular parts of Helsinki are attractive and colorful, so (in closing) some general views in addition to the special sights.

Getting Home - July 11

For the return, we took a slightly different route... Helsinki to Manchester England on FinnAir. Then a fairly tight connection from Manchester to JFK on AA, and a casual connection from JFK to Austin. However, we are starting to learn that a tight connection, especially between different airlines, often means a lost/delayed bag. We were not disappointed - our bag arrived two days later than we did.



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