Favorite things in Riga

So many things to do in Riga!  We even managed a couple of day trips from Riga as well.  Here are a few of our favorites!

Beautiful Parks

Walking was our preferred method of getting around town because of the beautiful paved paths for both pedestrians and bicyclists.  It was less than a mile to Old Town Riga from our apartment with 4 different trams running almost at our apartment’s door step.  Sometimes we would just walk!  Take a look at these photos from our first full day in Riga – sunny and warm (if you call low 70’s as warm).

Latvian National Museum of Art

The biggest surprise in Riga was our visit to the Latvian National Museum of Art.  We didn’t know a lot about art from the Baltic region.   I discovered an artist that I love, and truthfully had never heard of before. His name was Janis Rozentāls (1866-1916). He was one of the first famous Latvian artist who achieved success outside of Latvia in both Russia and France. He was born in Russia but moved to Riga when he was 15. Check out some of his paintings!

The museum building was built in 1905  It just underwent a major renovation and is absolutely gorgeous. Inside you witness the development of art in Latvia, the Baltics, & Russia from the 18th century until now. That lovely man below in the lobby of the museum is Clay.

clay at museum

Riga Art Nouveau District

We had a sunny day to cruise around the Art Nouveau section of Riga.  These people were seriously nuts.  There’s decoration on every part of the buildings, including the bottoms of the staircases and the glass in the windows.  These are just two examples, but about a third of the city center is done in this style.  Later after visiting more areas of Riga, we learned that this Art Nouveau is not just in the city center, but in the suburbs as well.  Stunning.

Riga Central Market – Foodie Paradise

Riga’s Central Market is nothing short of amazing. Not only is it the largest market in the Baltics, but it is the largest market in Europe! The main structures of the market are five pavilions constructed by reusing old German Zeppelin hangars. (see aerial view). Each hangar has a specific market for example the fish is all in one hangar, meat in a separate hangar, etc. Behind the hangars are yet more veggie and flower markets.

While at the Central Food Market later in the week, we had a delicious lunch at a local pelmeni (ravioli or dumpling) restaurant in one of the hangars. The pelmeni is not traditional Latvian food we learned, but Russian. It is served in many places across Riga. This one had a Trip Advisor “stamp of approval”. Maggie and Clay agreed.  I had the meat (beef and pork combo) pelmeni, and of course how could I pass on cold beet soup. It was full of chopped cucumbers, green onions, & celery. (next to the last photo) Regardless, it was delicious.  Clay had the cheese pelmeni and lamb soup (last photo).

 

Day Trip #1 to Jūrmala

Took a field trip to the beach community of Jūrmala.  It was about 68 degrees and the water was 61, so no swimming for us, and not many other people, either. Still a nice trip through the countryside to a pretty place. Maggie had a traditional Latvian lunch: Perch sausage with gray peas (which weren’t gray, but so dark brown they were almost purple). No food pictures today – we gobbled it all down as soon as the plates hit the table.

 

Day Trip #2 Cēsis

Day trip via bus to Cēsis (population 18K). Cēsis is known for their Medieval Castle, We arrived mid-morning, and headed straight to the visitor center to get a walking tour map. We decided to see the Medieval Castle, after we had a nice long walk and lunch. Attached are some photos from our walk around the city. Tuesday was a perfect day to go because few tourists and sunny & high 71 degrees.

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The hilltop Russian Orthodox church of Transfiguration (above), which the von Sievers built at their family cemetery (like many Germans on Russian service they converted to Orthodoxy)

The next photos we saw on our walk were of the local kindergarten on left, and St. John the Baptist Church on the right.

 

After lunch we headed to the 12th century castle which is the #1 reason tourists come to Cēsis.  It was fun taking a lantern through the dark places and trying to not use our cell phone.

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The young man above was making a die, using techniques that predate the castle.

Folkklubs ALA Pagrabs

One of our favorite places in Riga is a music venue/restaurant called Folkklubs ALA Pagrabs.  Live music every night, and good food – Latvian home cooking at it’s best.  One of our favorite bands was Retro Limited – a fun and energetic group to say the least.  They describe themselves as gypsy jazz.  Clay asked the question –  how do you describe a band that plays, “All Of Me,” “The Mario Brothers Theme Song,” and “Smells Like Team Spirit the same night?  We went to this place 4 times in our 2 weeks stay in Riga.  I think that sums up our experience.  If you go you must have the the traditional Latvian meatballs made according to grandma’s recipe served with baked potatoes and sauteed sauerkraut and a rich onion-tomato cream glaze.   Or, perhaps the traditional battered chicken fillet with mushrooms, caramelized onions, pickled cucumber and goat cheese topping –  served with green pea-potato mash and brown onion cream sauce.  YUM, YUM!

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Riga Motor Museum

Another favorite was the Motor Museum. This one not only has cars, but plenty of films and interactive displays to keep the non-car buffs entertained: like a bus ride out to the country, where you could sit in a bus and watch a 1950’s landscape roll by, or an ottoman where sitting in front of a race car activated the sounds and vibration of an auto race. The displays start with horse-drawn carts, move on to early bicycles, but quickly get to cars, cars, cars.

They show the development of the first cars and motorcycles, showing bad ideas, like the 1904 Overland, which was fueled by acetylene – the idea was to get the whole tank replaced every time you went in for a fill-up; or the 1920’s Selve, which went out of business when Mr. Selve ran off with another woman, possibly forgetting that Mrs. Selve was the primary financial backer.

The unique part of this museum was the display of Russian cars, contrasting the simple, boxy cars made for “the people” (not that everybody could buy one) and those for the Communist leadership: mountains of metal, menacing even when they were standing still.

On a related note, they had two BMW 326’s from the 1930’s, one of which had been owned by a man in East Germany who kept it in running order by replacing parts with whatever was available from other cars, trucks and even tractors. Over the years, there was very little left of the original past the BMW logos on the front and back.

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We also like the display of cult cars: the Citroën 2CV, East German Trabant, and of course the Volkswagen Beetle. Maggie had to tear me away from the loop of VW TV ads from the 60’s. I remembered every one, and could even say some of them along with the announcer. Very annoying to people around us.

 

Žanis Lipke Memorial

Our last thing to report on from Latvia: the Žanis Lipke Memorial – a tribute to a Latvian man, a smuggler, a non-Jew, who saved at least 50 Jews from extermination during the Nazi occupation of Latvia. He built a hideout for escapees under his shed at home. He then got a job with the Luftwaffe, transporting workers from the Jewish ghetto to the airplane factory in Riga. As he was transferring workers, he would substitute escapees for workers and workers for escapees, and one by one, he, his wife Johanna, their children and other helpers would stash people away into their network of hideouts. The Nazis counted the number of people he brought in and out, but didn’t keep track of their identities, so with trickery and bribes, he was able to distract the guards long enough to make the transfers.

That went on until the Soviet Army recaptured Riga in October 1944. The detained people were free of the Nazis, but Žanis was questioned by the Communists for years. They couldn’t believe that he did all of this for nothing – they kept asking him about the Jewish gold he must have retained as payment. Finally in frustration, he shouted to the Soviet interrogator that  the Communists were the same as the Nazis, except Nazis shoot you while looking you in the eye, but Soviets shoot you in the back. Instead of getting shot himself, he earned the respect of his interrogators, and they never questioned him again.

In the end, Žanis and Johanna and the network saved 50 Jews out of the 400 to 500  Jews who were saved in Latvia, out of the nearly 20,000 who were killed. This was at the cost of several people being captured, questioned and tortured, and at least two members of  the network killed by the Nazis. For that, Žanis was named “Righteous Among the Nations” by the state of Israel, an honor for non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust.

Here are pictures of the memorial and a recreation of the shed, below which is a recreation of the hideout. On the floor of the hideout is a video of an interview with Johanna. In this frame, she talking about watching people starve and asking, “What could we do?”

 

 

Favorite things in Riga

Goodbye Tallinn!

Goodbye Tallinn! Hello Riga, Latvia

Tallinn – you are without question one of our favorite places to have visited. The beauty of Old Town, the well documented history here, and don’t forget the numerous museums and summertime festivals. Ah, lest I forget – the weather. Highs in the 60’s and low 70’s with lots of sunshine for our entire 2 weeks! On to Riga!

 

Baltics for idiots

Last Meal in Tallinn:

Clay and I waited to the last day in Tallinn to go to the restaurant next door to our building. Our landlady had highly recommended it. We went today for a late lunch/early dinner, and after the most amazing meal – went on Trip Advisor and learned that it is the #5 ranked restaurant out of 780 restaurants in Tallinn – the Vaike Rataslaevi 16.  We were stunned by the food and the value for our money. Wine prices were moderate as well. The service was excellent – Peeter was our waiter, and if you go, you will be lucky person to have him as your server.

Clay had the Braised Elk roast with cauliflower cream, carrot, parsnip, and blackcurrant sauce.  I had the Grilled Pork Tenderloin with broccoli, potato cake, and mustard sauce (one on the right).

 

For a starter I had the beet soup with elk meat, red lentils, sun dried cherry tomatoes (on right), and for dessert the frozen bluecheese cake with carrot and buckthorn sauce. (on left).

 It was a great way to end our visit to Tallinn!
Goodbye Tallinn!

Tallinn, Estonia

Museums and Festivals

If you have seen our almost daily updates on Facebook, you might want to skip to the next section, because many of the same photos were on Facebook.   With two weeks here in Tallinn, we had a chance to tour many museums and a couple of festivals.

TV Tower and Life in the Soviet Union:

Our last visit to a museums in Tallinn was to the famous TV Tower, which also houses an excellent museum of life in the Soviet Union.  It was billed as a “Time machine” to Soviet-controlled Estonia in the 70’s.  Clay and I agreed that it didn’t look that much different from our homes in the 50’s and 60’s.  I do remember my Mother having a hand cranked washing machine on our back porch in the 50’s, but it was much larger than the one below.

This was a more light-hearted look at their history, to a time when you had to be Party member to buy a car or eat in a restaurant. There were two kinds of bicycles to buy: men’s and women’s. The TV played commercials for products that didn’t exist. The top women’s fashion magazine sold 30,000 copies a month – they could have sold more, but they weren’t allowed to buy more paper than that. The examples went on and on. It was sad and funny at the same time.

Below are a couple of additional photos from the museum.  The first is a photo of “Uncle Uno’s” car. He couldn’t buy a car, but there were no restrictions on buying parts – so “Uncle Uno” made his own car. The body is fiberglass, made in a concrete mold in a big hole that Uncle Uno dug in his back yard.  The second photo is of a homemade motorcycle. Want a motorcycle? Make your own, out of a bicycle, a chain saw motor and some other spare parts.  By the way, the chain saw was invented by an Estonian man while in a prison in Russia as a political prisoner.

Uncle's car

 

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Kadriorg Palace and Park

On a beautiful cool, sunny day in Tallinn, Estonia, and we thought it was a perfect day to visit Kadriorg Park (about 175 acres) and museums. We started first with the Kadriorg Palace, which was built for Catherine I of Russia by Peter the Great. We had lunch at an outdoor café in the park, and then wondered through the grounds. Hope you enjoy a few photos from the day.

Walking back through the park to catch the tram back to Old Town, we heard beautiful music (opera) coming from our left. Investigating, we found it was the start of the annual Flower Festival. Pure luck to find it and enjoy the music, flowers, and people watching – one of my favorite activities.

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Some additional photos as part of a slideshow:

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Estonia Maritime Museum (Seaplane)

I swear, we’ve been to so many maritime museums lately, you’d think we were blue water sailors. We’re definitely not, but we are learning a lot – mostly, no matter how big a ship seems in the museum, it’s tiny out on the water.  Below are some photos from our day at the Maritime Museum.

The photo on the left shows the inside of the museum. Looks as if Jules Verne had written Alice in Wonderland.  On the right is me making my way through the large submarine on display there. 

The museum building is a seaplane hanger; built by the Germans, used by the Russians, but now the only seaplane (photo on left) here was built by the British.  On the right is a ship that was built in 1943 in Duluth, MN for the U.S. Coast Guard and given to Estonia in 1997. She’s been a buoy tender, ice breaker (notice the dents), research vessel, training ship, patrol and rescue ship. The old girl’s really gotten around.


Kumu Art Museum:

Another day trip was to the Kumu Art Museum. We got a good feel for what art was like in the various stages of Estonian history. Artists were comparatively free to explore under the Czar; but art of the 20’s and 30’s was filled with foreboding; During WWII there was almost nothing but interior scenes, with a couple of landscapes of devastation. After that, it was all Soviet Realism all the time, except for work that was hidden away. There were a few lapses in surveillance under Breznev, and things loosened up under Gorbachev, but in general artists didn’t get to fully rejoin the world until Estonia regained its independence in 1991. Who knows what the future holds now? Nothing to do but play while you can.  Some of our favorites:

Kumu one

Johann Köler, Lorelei Cursed by the Monks – 1889. Lorelei was a nymph who sang by the Rhine River, luring sailors to their doom. The monks are trying to consecrate the rock to stop her singing, but Lorelei is rescued by other nymphs and the Rhine itself.

Left to right (click on photos for larger image).  1.  Lydia von Ruckteshell, Portrait of a Lady – 1886.   2.  Jaan Vahtra, Self Portrait – 1923.  3.  Elmar Kits and Evald Okas, Estonian Red Army Soldiers with Lenin and Stalin – 1952.   4. Leili Muuga, In a Cafe (The Doubters) – 1956.

Kalamaja Neighborhood:

A walk around the Kalamaja neighborhood – built in the 1920’s for fishermen and their families, it had fallen on hard times until it was discovered by artists after the Soviet Union collapsed. It’s in the process of gentrification now – most of it looks pretty nice, but Clay still likes the grungy parts.  Maggie likes the old wooden houses that have been renovated.

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KGB Museum:

The former prison cells of the KGB interrogation center have been opened up as a museum. The actual interrogation rooms have been turned into apartments. The building is nice on the outside, but who would want to live there, knowing the history? So depressing to be inside the cells. Stepping inside I could not bear to shut the door in the closet or the isolation cell where they kept political prisoners. What must have it been like to be there? So sorry that the people of Tallinn and Estonia had to suffer through this period. Whenever I see older people on the street here, I feel such compassion for them, but also respect to see that they survived.

On the left is a closet that they put you in when you first arrive for a couple of days.  There is no room to sit down – you just stand there.  The one on the right you could possibly sit down, but it was the isolation chamber which was used for punishing the political prisoners.

Tall Ships Festival

How lucky can you get.  We arrived in Tallinn just in time! There were sailing ships of various kinds, music, acrobats, and of course food. Fun for the whole family.  Summer fun for the family in July!  Below is a slide show of the activities we saw!

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One of my personal favorites is the concert we attended at the festival.  It was a Polish sea shanty group that sings in Polish, English, Ukrainian, and one language that I (we) didn’t understand. Sitting in the audience in Tallinn, Estonia I couldn’t help but feel part of an world with no boundaries.

 

 

 

Tallinn, Estonia

The Estonian People

Sometimes, dealing with the Estonians is not easy. At first we had a hard time understanding why so many people seem to be so unhappy. They seem prosperous, the weather is nice in the summer time – sure, it gets dicey in the winter, but no worse than Norway or Sweden, and those people are pretty happy, by and large. We think the answer is in Estonia’s difficult history, and how that’s affected the different generations. Older people remember the years of war and Russian domination: from 1939 to 1944, the free nation of Estonia was invaded by the Russians, then the Germans, then the Russians again. During the brief period of Nazi rule, more than a thousand Jews, Gypsies and gays were sent to the death camps. When the Russians invaded again, they stayed for 50 years, doing their best to make Estonia a part of the Soviet Union, indistinguishable from any other part.

It was difficult for the Estonians to hold on to hope. In the years following WWII, many of them thought that the United States and Western Europe would come to their aid. There was a rumor that deliverance would come in the form of white ships that would appear on the shores. The Americans would drive out the Soviets and restore the prewar republic. The people lost a measure of that hope when the Soviet army brutally put down the Hungarian uprising of 1956, and the Prague Spring in 1968, and the West didn’t intervene. Still, they had something left. There was still a small number of the “Forest Brothers,” the civilian resistance during the war years, who remained active – not as active as they had been during the war, but still out there. Communities kept up the Estonian tradition of group singing, although they were often forced to sing in praise of the leaders of the USSR. In general, the country was a shadow of its former self. People can’t be productive, creative and energetic when stepping out of line carries the risk of KGB surveillance, deportation, prison or firing squads.

The Soviets were also bent on a policy of Russification, a sort of reverse irredentism. They relocated tens of thousands of Russian citizens into Estonia to make it more ethnically Russian, and so harder to split away again. Today about 30% of the people  identify themselves as Russian or Russian/Estonian.

All of this started to change in the late 80’s, with the general thawing of Perestroika and Glasnost. It came about in one of the remarkable stories of that time: the Singing Revolution, where a campaign of non-violent action culminated in hundreds of thousands of Estonians – a third of the population – gathering  together in the Song Festival Grounds near Tallinn to sing traditional folk songs, Estonian popular music, and especially “Mu isamaa on minu arm” (“Land of My Fathers, Land That I Love”) – the anthem of the resistance movement, banned by the Soviets. Bit by bit,  the non-violent independence movement took over even the Estonian Communist Party. In the face of this opposition, the Soviet government did not have the will to impose itself any more. Estonia was granted independence in 1991, and became a  full member of NATO and the European Union in 2004.

Understandably, there is a real dichotomy in the population. Older people are still feeling the after effects of the years of Nazi and Soviet domination. People born after 1991 are doing their best to be European. Without a personal experience of those dark days, they know only what they read in the history books and what the older generations tell them. They’re not ignorant of their special predicament, of being balanced on the brink between Western Democracy and Russian domination – but it isn’t part of their being, the way it is for their parents and grandparents.

Maggie and I have gotten along well with all sorts of people here, but we have noticed that some people, especially older people, can be pushy. If you’re in the market, standing in front of the tomatoes (as I was), some old lady is likely to try to shove you aside so she can get hers. That happens on the street or the bus, too. At first this was irritating, but now that we’ve learned a little more, we can see how all those years of scarcity may have affected people’s personalities in ways that don’t change easily with the times. We look at the care and worries that old face has borne, and our attitude is immediately changed. We have no idea how we would have responded in similar circumstances, but we would have been hard pressed to respond as well as the Estonians did.

The Estonian People

Various subjects – all about Tallinn

Here are some random observations we’ve had in our first week in Estonia.

Information, Please…

There isn’t the same level of customer service here that there is in the U.S. That’s not just our observation. In the essay, “100 ways to know that you are from Estonia,” Number 22 is, “You are used to customer servants looking at you as if they wanted to give you a good slap.” Maggie and I haven’t really seen that. We’ve found a couple of examples, all older people: an old guy who worked in the tourist office told us that there were no ferries leaving from Tallinn to St. Petersburg – we found out on our own that the ferry goes from Tallinn to Helsinki, then St. Petersburg and back to Tallinn, but that apparently was too much trouble for him to explain. The woman at the information desk in the Peter the Great house had an answer for everything: NO. There was no map of the museum, no free lockers and no, she wouldn’t give us change for a €5.

Other than that, everybody has been friendly, welcoming and able to deal with our utter inability to speak Estonian. We’ve had several conversations with waiters, baristas, and vendors on the street. For the most part, even if their English is limited or non-existent, they smile and at least try to communicate. We talked about the very informative waitress in an earlier post. There was a young man in the ferry terminal who asked if there was anything we wanted to know. I looked at the enormous hickey on his neck and wanted to ask if it wasn’t wonderful to be young and good-looking, but just said no, we were OK.

Transportation

First of all – do not even think about having a car here!  Getting around old town is primarily best on foot except for the delivery trucks and cabs, and a few adventuresome souls.  The bus/tram system is easy to use and cheap.  It costs 6 euros for a 5 day pass which you only  have to “tap on” once.  Getting to Tallinn from Helsinki on the Viking Ferry was only 37 euros each.  Just booked our bus from Tallinn to our next stop (Riga, Latvia), and it was only €9.80 (about $11) each.  Be warned that it will be slightly more for you “younguns,” because Clay and I get the pensioner’s price.  That trusty old map is getting lots of use.

There is even a “driverless” minibus that just started this year.  Neither Clay nor I have felt a need to check it out.  Regardless, Estonia is miles ahead of most large US cities with mass transportation.

Transportation

 Food and restaurants

The quality of the restaurants we have tried in Tallinn have been outstanding.  We have been very pleased with our trips to local places.  Below are some of our favorite meals…..so far.  Will be adding more since we have another week here in Tallinn.  Also, it is cheaper to eat out here than in Austin, so no complaints from us.

Another bargain here are the buffet lunches.  We just happened to walk by a local restaurant, and noticed the buffet lunch sign, and could not believe the price of €4.75 (all you can eat, too).  In we went to investigate, and it was great food at moderate prices.  Clay had the salmon, which is always good here in the Baltic region, and I had a vegetarian dish (stuffed eggplant) which was delicious.  Lunch for less than €10.00!

buffet lunches

Grocery store prices are very low compared to U.S. prices.  However, compared to Sweden, Norway, and Finland, it is much cheaper in Tallinn.  Nice to have a few weeks in the Baltic region to compensate for our spending on our first stops.  I have included a few photos from our local farmer’s market for comparison.  Take that, Whole Foods!

eggsberries

The prices for the berries are in Euros/kilogram, so dividing by two gives you the price in dollars per pound.

Various subjects – all about Tallinn

Estonia

Hell to heavenWe arrived by ferry from Helsinki five days ago in what will be a two-week visit to Tallinn.  Tallinn is Estonia’s capital and located right on the Baltic Sea. We didn’t know a lot about Tallinn, but the few people that had visited here before were raving about this city.  They get a hearty amen from us.  Our first observations about the city:

Tallinn’s Old Town is one of the most beautifully preserved old cities in the world.  The cobblestone streets make Maggie happy that she brought some good walking shoes.  Its Gothic Town Hall was built in the 13 century, and the very building we are staying in was built in 1343.

Photo of Old town

The cost of everything here is so much cheaper than Finland, Norway, & Sweden, that we were almost giddy with delight.  After paying up to $12.00 for a pint of beer (typical was $10.00) in Norway, our first day here we sat down at a neighborhood patio bar, and paid $3.00 for a pint of local beer.  Now that we have settled in we realize that most beers are actually in the $4.00/pint range for a pint. Take that Norway!  (We loved Norway –  everything but the prices, that is.)

Being a people watcher, I have observed with my own eyes that the people, while polite are simply not as happy as people we have observed in other cities. A recently published report shows Estonia ranks in the middle grade of happiness: ahead of Belarus, but way behind Western Europe. (Countries are ranked according to six criteria: GDP per capita, social support, life expectancy, freedom to make life choices, generosity, and freedom from corruption.) There was a display in a local history museum that partly attributed Estonian unhappiness to the winter weather here – but Finland, Norway, Sweden and Denmark have winters that are just as bad or worse, and they are habitually counted among as the happiest countries on Earth.

The museum itself gave us some clues to Estonian unhappiness: in the past, Estonia has been a part of Sweden, Russia and Germany; whenever they go to war with each other, Estonia has been trapped in the middle. Estonia has only been an independent country for the twenty years between the two world wars and the thirty years since the collapse of the USSR. Russia continues to be a looming presence in Estonian life. During the Cold War, the USSR tried to “Russify” Estonia and the other Baltic countries by relocating Russians here to thin out the local ethnic unity. Even today, the ruins of Soviet building projects and nuclear plants are scattered around the country. A waitress had some time to talk about her country and unwittingly gave us another clue: she is among the 30% of Estonians who are from Russia. She said she didn’t feel either completely Russian or Estonian. Her political leanings were definitely pro-Putin, putting her at odds with the official stance of her adopted country, which leapt on EU membership like a drowning man on a life raft. When you combine the Russian presence with ongoing Russian interference in Baltic politics, and the fact that Russia doesn’t rank highly on the happiness scale, you get a clear picture of the source of Baltic unhappiness.

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Protest in Tallinn, Across from the Russian Embassy

This has been an eye opening experience for us, and we are looking forward to more days here to discover Tallinn.  More photos and descriptions of life here on the way!

Estonia

Backward Through the Fog

Maggie and I thought we were starting to get a handle on Finnish history, at least the 19th and 20th centuries. We had it down that Finland was part of Sweden until 1808, then it was ceded to Russia. We thought we were ready for the next level. We didn’t know what we were getting into. The 18th century and before saw one murky scene after another, punctuated by broken alliances and treacherous dealings, as various kings and dukes tried to work out Finland’s place between the much more powerful kingdoms of Sweden, Denmark and Russia. From time to time some clarity would emerge, such as when Gustav Vasa, king of Sweden, solved his kingdom’s financial difficulties by nationalizing the assets of the Catholic church and declaring Sweden (which included Finland at the time) to be a Lutheran country.  That all fell apart when the king died and his sons took over, starting a long series of internal and external wars, made worse by periods of unbearable cold, causing famines that devastated the Finnish population.

A visit to Turku Castle helped to make sense of all this, but there’s a lot more to learn. The castle itself is well laid out, with exhibits on the history of the castle itself, life in the castle, and how all that relates to Finnish history. There are directional signs to  point the way throughout, and guides in period costumes to unravel things when the signage isn’t enough. All in all, it’s a productive visit, with things to do and learn at many levels. I think the fact that we came out feeling a little more enlightened and a little more confused shows that Maggie and I made an honest effort to comprehend the ins and outs of life in the old days of Finland.

 

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Backward Through the Fog