Tuesday, September 15, 2009

TERVISEKS! Tallinn, Estonia

Terviseks (TEHR-vee-sex) means “Cheers!” in Estonian. And Tallinn, Estonia was our next stop on our Baltic cruise. I really didn't know anything about Estonia until recently. A friend of mine in Brussels has strong family ties there, which peaked my interest in this capital city. We set out in Tallinn, Estonia happy and intrigued by this new (to me!) land.Estonia has a back and forth history belonging first to Sweden and later to Russia (from 1710 – 1918). Independence was granted in 1940 but swiped back by the Soviet Union during WWII. Despite relative affluence during independence Estonia suffered the wrath of the Nazis and Communism from a repeat Russian rule. Only recently has Estonia ‘come of age’ with membership in the EU and a booming tourist industry.The day was predicted to be rainy but it could not have been a bluer sky embrace! Not sure where the meteorologist was looking. We were only docked til mid afternoon so we made a beeline off the ship and to the beautifully preserved Old Town – considered one of the best preserved medieval town centers in the world.
We strolled into the walled city under the Fat Margaret Tower and it was an immediate mish mash of old and beautiful. We saw the merchant’s home nicknamed “The Three Sisters" and directly across the street this green clunker that seemed in a time warp.Rick writes about the old town that “colorfully painted medieval houses share cobbled lanes with blocky, communist-style buildings…and everything is enlivened with Estonians thoroughly enjoying their freedom.” I agree. There did seem to be an extra spring in the Estonian step and a sense of a fiercely guarded culture. Even the architecture decor seemed upbeat and full of life! (that is except for the dreary Communist buildings outside the old town walls) We took in Pikk Street, the merchants’ main drag leading from the harbor into town, and then into the Main Town Square. The art deco style was a surprise to me. We hiked up from the "Lower Town" to the "Upper Town" climbing the old cobblestones. Up top we went into the Lutheran Dome Church as well as the Russian Cathedral. About a third of Tallinn's population is ethnic Russian so this Orthodox church is very authentic.By this time Connor was getting pretty antsy to get out of the stroller and to take in Tallinn on her own two feet. So we headed to the Patkuli and Kohtuotsa viewpoints to play and skip about.Woolen goods of every kind are the native tourist trap especially along the "Sweater Wall" where those who do the knitting do the selling too!Connor seemed extra cute on this stop. She sang her way through Tallinn in a LOUD, booming voice. The kind of melody that makes folks stop and turn around and smile. In fact some of our friends from the boat literally HEARD us coming in the mobs of tourists. In Tallinn we had fellow visitors stop and ask if they could take a photo of Connor. Guess she ranked right up there with the Russian cathedral as a "not to miss photo spot"We left the Old Town through the red tiled city gate and we really wanted to see the Estonian "Singing Grounds" where the "Singing Revolution" took place, but we were reluctant to figure out the bus system with the language and culture so foreign given our strict departure time. Kirk eyeballed the map and we decided to wing it and to walk the ~40 minutes to the grounds, giving Connor a good nap stroll and to get out of the tourist walls to see what life was really like.As our books write: The Soviet Union was good at wiping out cultures. The USSR intentionally moved people all around to destroy ethnicities and make their citizens simply Soviets. The Livonian culture died out in the 20th century. They tried to wipe out the little Estonian culture, too. They moved in Russians. They drafted Estonian boys, sent them to far corners, and gave them incentives to marry into other regions. But it was on these grounds in 1980s that one million Estonians gathered and sang. They ended up singing their way to independence. It is an incredible story. Click here to see the trailer of the movie about the Singing Revolution. It gives a good taste of what went on here. Simply amazing.I couldn't help but to chuckle at the irony that Connor was fast asleep in the SINGING grounds after singing her way through Tallinn. Guess she had to give her little voice a rest! Of course with one shoe on and one shoe off.Rick calls Tallinn “a rewarding detour for those who want to spice their Scandinavian travels with an ex-Soviet twist.” I must agree. Estonia was a horse of a different color from the other countries we visited. It seemed a happy place capitalizing on potential and energy. I can only imagine what it will be like when Connor is my age! Maybe she will return to sing there again one day!
Here are a few more images from "The Singing Revolution" - what a remarkable culture.And a few more lasting images from my camera...
Click here to see full album photos of our visit to Tallinn, Estonia

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