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Monday, March 6, 2017

Tallinn Tales Part I

A section of Tallinn's Lower Town Wall

We arrived in Estonia's capital from Helsinki on a snowy Thursday afternoon, then a took a taxi from the ferry terminal into Old Town, where we checked in at yet another hotel apartment, Old House Apartments. Our reserved two-roomed apartment was in another building only five minutes on foot from the reception desk, and both of the bedrooms overlooked Town Hall Square:

My daughter gives a guided tour around the hotel apartment (while my wife tries unsuccessfully to hide):

It wasn't perfect, of course - the water pressure in the shower was weak and I couldn't figure out how to operate the jacuzzi, plus on our first night there was a private party was held on the floor beneath ours, with loud dance music going on into the early hours of Friday morning (somehow I still managed to fall asleep). But of the places where we stayed on this trip, the Old Town unit was by far the best, and I could imagine myself living there as young, urban Estonian professional.

After a brief rest, we set out in search of dinner. Town Hall Square is dominated by the beautifully Gothic Tallinn Town Hall, dating from 1404:

Amber with a packet of fudge purchased from the stall behind her:

It wasn't easy finding a place with an empty table, somewhat surprising on a cold Thursday evening (I would learn why the next morning), but we eventually were able to sit down at a restaurant on the Town Hall  Square across from our building, where I could have a beer and study a map of Tallinn for the next day's sightseeing:

Back in our room and an Estonian cola for a nightcap:

We awoke on Friday morning to the sight of tanks and armored personnel carriers in the Town Hall Square. A quick Google search revealed that February 24 is Independence Day, a national holiday marking the 99th anniversary of the day in 1918 when Estonia declared its independence from the Russian Empire (the Tsar had already been overthrown and the country was under German occupation at the time). No wonder people had been partying downstairs the night before:

With fears a coup rapidly subsiding, we went outside after breakfast to have a look. These soldiers turned out to be Americans stationed in Fort Carson, Colorado (thanks to Russia and history, Estonia is a member of NATO). The G.I. on the left was impressed with how good my English was:

We headed to Freedom Square, where much of the large, paved plaza was fenced off for Independence Day observations:

The 19th-century St. John's Lutheran Church at the eastern end of the square

A glass cross commemorates the Estonian War of Independence

Shu-E wanted to stay to see the festivities, but I didn't fancy standing for several hours in the sub-freezing temperatures, so I convinced her we should use the time to see Old Town. It was difficult at first to get around due to street closures, but we eventually found ourselves in the Danish King's Garden, watched carefully by ghostly figures:

In the ancient hilltop citadel of Toompea stands Linda Hill, atop which is a statue of Linda, wife of Kalev, the legendary leader of the Estonians. The figure is said to sit atop her husband's grave; during Soviet times the statue of the grieving Linda became an unofficial memorial to the victims of Stalin's deportations and executions:

The 14th-century Pikk Hermann is one of Toompea Castle's three surviving towers:

The magnificent Alexander Nevsky Orthodox Cathedral was completed in 1900, part of the Russian Empire's Russification efforts in the Baltic republics. The beautiful interior can't be photographed, unfortunately:

The Lutherans aren't as uptight as their Orthodox compatriots when it comes to photography. Visitors can take pictures of the inside of St. Mary's Lutheran Cathedral (originally Catholic; founded in 1233; exterior dates mainly from the 15th-century, the tower from 1779), especially of the elaborate Estonian noble family coats-of-arms mounted on the walls:

Taking in the view of Lower Town across to the Baltic Sea from the Patkul lookout. Yes, it was cold up there:

Lunch break, and a bowl of wild boar stew washed down with a Saku beer (alas, the restaurant had run out of its homemade brew by the time we sat down to order):

More views of Old Town from the Court Square lookout:

Backtracking, we returned to the Danish King's Garden...

...and from there passed through the Short Leg Gate Tower, the most haunted building in Tallinn, according to Lonely Planet ("Ghostly apparitions have been reported inside this tower, including a crucified monk and a black dog with burning eyes."):

We didn't see any spirits as walked through the gate, and then continued down the slope called Long Leg to the 1380 Long Leg Gate Tower, which leads into the Lower Town:

Next, we went outside the friendly confines of Old Town to check out the best-preserved section of the Lower Town Wall, consisting of nine of the remaining 26 towers (out of the original 45):

The Great Coast Gate, and its crest on the outside wall and crucifix on the interior side. My LP guide describes the gate as "the most impressive of the remaining medieval gates.":

From the Great Coast Gate we walked along Pikk (Long Street) in the direction of Town Hall Square and our apartment hotel, pausing long enough to go into a souvenir store so my wife could do some shopping. Continuing on our way, we passed by number 59:

This otherwise pleasant-looking building is the former KGB headquarters. The basement windows were bricked up to prevent any sounds from being heard by passersby on the street. A memorial on the wall reads: "This building housed the headquarters of the organ of repression of the Soviet occupational power. Here began the road to suffering for thousands of Estonians":

The joke Estonians told at the time was that this building had the best views in all of Estonia because it was possible to see all the way to Siberia from there. As was the case throughout the former Eastern bloc, black humor was one of the best ways to get through some very dark times. And on this note, the rest of our adventures in Tallinn will continue in the next blog post.

Stay tuned...

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