Friday, September 15, 2017

a fairy tale ending

Fairy tales begin with hardship. This one is no exception.
Welcome to old town Tallinn, for the past 20 years a UNESCO world heritage site. 
Another country where I don't speak a word of the language. Just as I'd learned to say Thank you in Finnish, which is related to Estonian, I discover a whole new set of mysterious words. Miks ka mitte!

Not a lot of people learn Estonian unless they're from here, though there is a marvelous children's book center, to preserve the books in their native language.
I'm staying on Ruutli, the knight's street, next door to this private entrance.
This is basically the view from my window, out onto cobblestone streets. (One thing they never tell you in fairy tales: cobblestones hurt! My feet are aching after walking miles each day.)
 Even in the pouring rain, it's picturesque.

Tallinn has a great cafe culture and bar scene. Scandinavians and Baltics are introverted cultures. Multiple restaurants I've been to had piles of woolen blankets, available to wrap yourself in. Indoors, in September. 
This is August, my new favorite cafe.
Upstairs is unexpectedly chic.
I arrived early in the morning, so I dropped my bags at the hotel, had pancakes at August, and then headed off on the free walking tour, to learn Estonian history from Chris.

Although this monument looks like a cross, or a German reich symbol, it is in fact a monument erected on freedom square to celebrate Estonian's second independence.  There's an E above what looks like a gun but which turns out to be an arm holding a sword...talk about an appropriate symbol for a country that's spent so much of its history fighting off invaders.
Estonia first declared its independence in 1918, taking advantage of the Russian revolution. Next year is the centenary. But this monument symbolizes the end of the German and Soviet occupations, in 1991, the reindependence. This is the longest period of freedom and prosperity in Estonian history.
Two sides of the entrance gate and fortification. Reminds me of Quebec City, although Tallinn is centuries older.
Sometimes the architectural styles collide, to pleasing effect. The historic center of the town was wood, until that area was firebombed by the Soviets in the early 40s. Chris said the Finns saved Tallinn from worse destruction by flying suicide missions in old Russian planes. The more you know about Baltic history, the more remarkable it is that Finland retained its independence.
Not all the buildings look like Disneyland. There's a lot of restoration in progress.
These huge towers include Russian cannonballs in the thick walls. Some of the fortifications are 10 feet thick! One-third of the tower is underground. You can tour the catacombs. I think I'll skip that, in favor of the apothecary museum.
From the top of the upper town, you get a sense of the new town beyond the walls. Only a handful of buildings were granted an exemption and are allowed to be taller than St. Oleg's church spire.
This Russian Orthodox church on the hilltop says "we are still here." In fact roughly a third of Estonians are of Russian descent.
St. Mary's was the site of a 13th century massacre, during the cruisades. Fairy tales are often bloody and vengeful.
 This reminded me of the Alamo. It has a kind of goofy face.
Despite all the churches, Estonia is the least-religious country in the world. (No wonder I feel at home!) Chris described it as a combination of having religion forced on them as part of the crusades and later Soviet influence. The churches and art in them are well preserved as architectural and cultural relics.
I'm going to hate leaving Tallinn tomorrow for Riga. But I know I'll find an excuse to return. Special thanks to Liz and Bill, who first came here on a Baltic cruise 15 years ago, sparking my interest in Estonia. Tallinn, while touristy when the cruise ships dock, is still considerably less fake than Prague. And the people who live here are friendly and caring, as if they have weathered the storm. I asked the librarian at the Children's Literature Center how Estonian had survived as a language, during centuries of occupation. "We're a stubborn people," she said.

Right now, Estonia is holding the rotating presidency of the European Union. It was supposed to be next year, during the centenary, but then Brexit happened, advancing Estonia one spot. So perhaps there is one good thing that's happened because of Brexit.
Personally I would fly to Estonia just to eat this bread again, with local cider prepared in a method similar to champagne. I promised Oleg I'd return for dessert.

Next time, I'll spend more than 72 hours. Anyone have any connections with Estonian software companies?