Sightseeing day. We slept in to about 9 AM and had to hustle downstairs to make the 10 AM breakfast cutoff. That sounds like not much but you try getting a 2 year old to do anything.
Breakfast at Scandic hotels (it’s a Hilton brand here in the Nordic and Baltics I stay at alot when traveling) is pretty standard. Plates of cured meats, various cheeses, pickles, 6 kinds of yogurt (it is still Europe), bowls of various granola mixes. For the foreigners they add powdered scrambled eggs and some suspect bacon. Needless to say while on my Euro adventure I have learned to eat yogurt and granola for breakfast. The Scandinavians love an open face sandwich w/ a slice of cheese, a slice of meat and a cucumber or tomato. They will make 3-4 of these in various configurations and eat them w/ a café latte. Sophia ended breakfast for us with a burp that kinda got away from her. No one had an appetite after that.
Now to the bus tour. We have found a nice generic bus tour is a good starter for any new city. You hit the major landmarks and can navigate back to the things that are interesting. We nearly missed our bus as Sophie dropped something foul and required a quick change just as the bus approached. I apologize for all the scatology but traveling w/ a 2 year old is a whirlwind all its own, just want to give you a taste. The tour was alternating in Finnish and English and we got a decent overview. It lacked any historical detail which I would have liked but we made the circuit and added a few sites that Tina had not planned for us. See the Group 1 pics for more detail.
After the bus stopped, we had a 1 hour walking tour through the old city. There is an Upper and Lower city and they are primarily 600 years old. The Upper city was occupied by the occupiers de jour (German, Russian, Swede, Dane etc.) and features a palace that each new group knocked down and replaced with something more to their taste. The Russians were last and frankly their design choices are nowhere near as interesting as their current games shows (I will get something down about the Russian version of Wheel of Fortune tomorrow; it is on par w/ Mexican game shows. Take that in for a moment and yes, it is that funny). The Lower city has always been where the Estonians lived and has changed little in those 600 years. To get a flavor on this I recommend reading up on the Hanseatic League (Tallinn was called Reval back then) on Wikkipedia or some such. As the Lower city never really was much interested in the Upper's comings and goings, the Uppers thought it best to put a wall around the Upper City to match the one surrounding the whole town. It is well worth the trip to stand under these massive (10' thick in some places) stone walls that the city has grown around. There are 20 some towers still there and all are impressive. Group 2 pics are from the walking tour.
Lunch at some Indian place on the Town Square. Pretty forgettable but it always is a crack up to see white women wearing traditional Indian clothes.
Next stop the Estonian History Museum. They actually have 2 history museums and this was the part from olden times to 1900. Did I mention it had 5 rooms and that is counting the lobby and coat check? Estonia only has 1.1 million people so let’s cut them some slack. The museum was great for a 6 year old and strangely featured an old woman in each room who clearly is stationed there permanently. She sits by a space heater reading until someone comes in at which point she stands up and hovers behind you. They made no attempt to talk to us and nodded in the affirmative no matter the question. I assume this is what they do with pensioners as it seemed unlikely that Grandma know alot about wheellock rifles. They had a weapons room containing some weapons from the umpteen million wars that have been fought here and some others they must have found cheap on E-bay such as the old US Navy Colt Revolver but which seemed to have nothing to do with the history of Estonia (Gurka knives?). The money room was cool less for the money through history (you tend to pile up old coins when you are on a busy conquistador street) and more for the old maps in the room. There were 'new' world maps spaced about 200 years apart showing the know Nordic/Baltic world at the time. Finally is the sort of timeline room starting with hut done up to be from the really olden times, through several conquests including the beheading exhibit (cue the 6 year old) on through the various times Russia conquered/annexed/absorbed/ Estonia. Each room had a nice lady and one lady had a full beard.
From there we just wandered the streets a bit, killing time till dinner. Sophia tends to the extremes of stubbornness and we fought a running (and losing) battle all day to keep gloves on her even though the temp was around 32 F. Back to the hotel for diapering, resupply etc. and then the car ran out of gas. We voted against venturing out for dinner and had a couple of pizzas sent up.
Trying to get everyone to sleep in a single room is an interesting challenge, we all have to stay quiet long enough for J to drop off (almost instantly) and S to crying (varies up to hours). It’s a fragile, tense time and the slightest thing can ruin the whole deal. After achieving the perfection of silence for a minute or two, Sophie lets slip a small fart. Say what you want but farts are funny. You could feel everyone trying not to crack up until Sophia stood up and announced "I tooted, Yay Sophie". I carry intense bruising from where Tina attempted to slap me back into silence and it took a good 45 minutes for calm to settle in again. I don't know where Sophia hears this stuff.
Group 1 - On the Bus
- This is a statue of a naked lady, nuff said.
- This is my sister-in law's name and I have never seen it anywhere but on her driver's license. It’s either a phone store or some type of gentlemen's club, I couldn't be sure.
- This is the Estonia singing thing. I don't recall the name but the deal is that they freaking love choirs. Every 5 years they have a huge choir festival and up to 30 K people can be onstage at once in that shell. I can't decide what is more ludicrous, 1) 30,000 people singing at once or 2) an intense love for choral music. Their split from the Soviets in the late 80s was centered on the song festivals. They doubled as political rallies and their's is dubbed the 'Singing Revolution'. There was basically no violence, I think the Soviets just thought, this choral singing thing is really lame, and you can have your damn country.
- Did you know that 1) the ocean can freeze and 2) ships can go through it? I think Oliver Stone should check on the Titanic, something doesn't add up.
- This is an ancient convent that one of the Russians blew up. We will go back on Friday so I'll know more then about who did it but the surviving walls are truly incredible.
Group 2 - Walking Tour
- Alexander Nevsky cathedral. The tour guide said not to be impressed as it was basically a copy of some other Russian orthodox churches but I couldn't help but be. Growing up a Protestant, all the gilt, icons and ornamentation just blow me away. No pics inside but we got a postcard showing the icons and stuff. I don't know if we will go to Russian orthodox hell but in trying to light a candle under a pic of a black Jesus (is this where I drop the 'holla'?), we snuffed out the big candle. It got cloudy for a minute and the earth trembled slightly but we slid out and didn't get caught.
- see 1
- see 1
- see 1
- OMG, I just realized there are 70+ pics in this collection, no way I can comment on each so here are groupings:
- 7 pics of the Town Hall building and surrounding square. It’s the oldest town hall in Europe still in use.
- 6 pics of 3 churches. One of them was damaged in WWII and the Soviets (never big on the opiate of the masses, decided to rebuild it as a concert hall). The site now has WiFi (see next to last pic).
- 9 pics of us standing on or in front of things. The first is a well that provided for the whole town. They would sacrifice cats to it so that it would not dry up. Sacrifice means killing the cat and throwing it in. Needless to say, the Plague hit hard in Estonia.
- 5 pics of things that kill people from the museum. The last is a favorite of mine.
- 40 or something from Around Town.
- 4 signs that I liked. Can't identify #1, #2 is the coolest gutter I have ever seen, #3 is the first WiFi bombed out church I have seen, and #4 just cracked me up.