July 6 – the anniversary of the coronation of King Mindaugas in 1253, Lithuania’s first and only king.
It’s been a while since I posted anything, my excuse being that I’ve been too busy. I need a ghost writer to do the posting while I keep having fun.
(By the way, for some of you who may have just sort of stumbled into this blog and don’t have any idea who this author-dude is – I’m here filling in at the International Church of Vilnius while the pastor is on a U.S. break. And Liz is my wife-cook-laundress-navigator, and the one who really looks at things and says “wow!” I’m usually at least a couple steps behind. But I’m actually working a little bit – it isn’t all just goofing off!) (Right. . .)
A week ago (Sunday duties completed) we rented a car from Sixt and headed north to Latvia and Estonia. (Along with Lithuania the three are known as the Baltic countries. Don’t let anyone tell you they are the Balkans! That’s somewhere to the south: Bulgaria, Romania, etc. Dracula lives there, not here.)
It’s about 200 miles to Riga, which we skipped for the moment, and then another 200 or so to Tallinn. Perhaps a quarter of the distance is four-lane. Some of the two-lane highway in Latvia was getting some serious improvement, which meant some serious delays along the way. About 2 o’clock we finally had to have some lunch and we happened upon this delightful spot along the road – much-needed refreshment at a very nice old cafe which had a new roof perched over the old one.
Cold beet soup for Liz. It has become a favorite of hers. And a safer chicken kabob and salad for me. Liz enjoyed a nice local beer and I, the driver, had a diet Coke. (The inebriation limit in Lithuania is 0.04; in Latvia it’s 0.02; and in Estonia it’s 0.00.)
One of the younger diners at the cafe. Lots of kids in kerchiefs, knitted caps.
Nearby, as we stretched our legs, was a small farm with a few haystacks and a well bucket on a pole. And what looked to be a very solid former school, now a library and various offices.
Along the way – storks! (At least we think they’re storks!) We couldn’t tell if the pole had an extra feature to support the nest. Lots of hay was being cut and the birds were enjoying a good harvest of bugs, to be shared with the young ones.
And, speaking of the Baltic countries, we came upon the Baltic Sea, right along the west side of the road.
Liz, the Lake Michigan expert, had to test the waters – and found that, at least at a depth of six inches, it was warmer than back home.
She wondered why I was so chicken! (I’m the photographer – I don’t get involved.)
My very cute traveling companion.
And finally – Tallinn, capital of Estonia. We parked at a parking garage near the Viru Hotel, on the right, and walked with our suitcase and backpacks through the gates and to our hotel, the Vana Wiru.
But then we discovered that we could drive to the hotel, via an intricate back alley cobblestone route, and that the fee was much less. So we retrieved the car. (And actually, at the end of our stay, the very nice young lady at the desk said there was some sort of failure to enter the fee on our bill and so we could just forget about the fee. Worked out very well!)
And in the hotel lot we were rubbing fenders (not literally) with a Ferrari. (That’s the engine through the hatch window.) And the next day, a Bentley. Oh yes, we are definitely 1%!
Since our bargain hotel rate didn’t include breakfast, we had to find coffee somewhere else. The first morning was a bit of a stretch – the only thing that we found open at an early hour was a cafe at a shopping center. But the next two mornings found us at the Reval Cafe (Reval is an old name for Tallinn – so I have heard), with very good coffee and raisin pastry, and Liz even tried their “English breakfast” one morning – two fried eggs, bacon, salad, dry toast.
Tallinn is a wonder. Its mostly intact wall still encircles most of the old city. Here part of the wall, just close to the hotel, serves as a market for knitted woolens. I bought a stocking cap! (Don’t need it right now.) And the old wall still has 26 remaining red-roofed watch towers.
And, as you can see, it’s right on the water, on the Gulf of Finland, part of the Baltic. Helsinki is only about two and a half hours away by ferry. We considered taking the ferry, but are glad we spent more time right where we were.
Our first full day in Tallinn we did a lot of walking, even in a few light showers. At one corner of the city walls sits the tower called Paks Margareeta, where we started our walk. Nearby is a ‘broken arch” monument to those lost in the sinking of the “Estonia” ferry in 1994. 852 people died; only 137 survived.
The many beautiful homes and guild halls testify to the wealth of Tallinn in the days of the Hanseatic League, a German trading association that from about 1250 to 1750 stretched from London to Russia, including Scandinavia and the Baltics.
Looks like some of those old Hanseatic guys are still walking the cobblestones.
The Great Guild Hall on the left, and Town Hall and square on the right.
We hiked up to the upper town, Toompea, which used to be the more “Estonian” part of town, with the Germans and other merchants in the lower, wealthier town. Toompea is home to the parliament, and to a Russian Orthodox church – actually not old at all, built in 1900, when Russia still dominated Estonia and decided to put a Russian symbol right in the middle of the Estonian government center.
Good views of the lower city and the harbor, with many, many cruise ships stopping to call. Helmets and shoulder pads would have been a good idea at certain times of day – cruise ship tourists don’t really notice anybody else in their rush to see it all in a few hours. (Apologies to you cruise ship lovers!)
We walked to a green space – green and open because it was bombed to non-existence in 1944, either by the Germans or by the Russians – both deny responsibility. A walk below Toompea’s walls –
where we found this tribute to Boris Yeltsin. When Gorbachev was overthrown by a coup in 1991, it looked like the Soviet military would take over the Baltics once again, after a short-lived revolt. But then Yeltsin reversed the coup and, in some manner, cancelled the plans to re-invade. (The story is told in different ways in each of the Baltic countries. Certainly in Lithuania there was a serious confrontation and loss of life before the Soviets pulled back.)
We toasted Tallinn up on the city wall!
And on Catherine’s alley we had a very nice second-floor supper (glad it wasn’t third floor – note stairway!). Liz had salmon and I had pizza.
And that was just the first day! I’m exhausted!
I’ll go on with the story soon. But I’m ready for a break and I’m sure you are too!