Estonia

I went to Estonia on Monday. Why? Just because. Actually that’s a lie. I went to Estonia because one of my ministers said I should. And because I thought it would be cool to go to Estonia. I took the ferry from Helsinki which left at 7.30am. Because I didn’t understand how it worked and was getting a headache, I ended up splurging partway through and getting a cabin so I could nap. Basically when they say you have a “seat” they mean that you can sit in any of the restaurants or pubs or next to the slot machines. I wasn’t digging that vibe. So I got a cabin and slept. I woke up in Estonia. Not literally, I was still in my cabin.

I got lost for a while, as I am apparently prone to do, but then I accidentally wandered upon a place I’d been looking for, City Bikes. I had planned to do a bike tour of Tallinn and this became an even better idea when my blisters started acting up. But all the brochures had said I had to book an hour in advance, so I was surprised when I walked in at 10.30 and they said I could go on the 11am tour. This is also a tour that is either half price or free with the Tallinn Card. I got it half price. I’m not sure why it wasn’t free, but that’s cool.

For the tour, they give you a bike, a reflective vest, a helmet, and a bottle of water. I think the full price was 16 euros for a 2.5 hour tour. There were a total of 4 of us, 2 Americans and 2 Canadians. We Americans, counter to stereotype were traveling alone and going the road less traveled. The Canadians were on a cruise and were annoyingly cruiselike. Our tour guide was 17 year old Daniel. Speaking perfect English, as well as Estonian, Russian, and German, he was incredibly funny and very grown up, while still very young. (As a leader he kept swerving while he rode, in part cause we were going so slow and in part because he was bored.)

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Right before we left. Wearing my snazzy reflective vest. Sadly I am not wearing my mirror on my sunglasses 🙁

Most of the tourists are in Old Town Tallinn, where the City Bike offices are located. That is because, as the name implies, this section of the town is old. Like über old. The town hall is the oldest town hall in Europe dating from, I think 1347. But, on a bike, you can travel further and see more. Plus who wants to bike in tourist filled cobblestone streets? So we started out looking at some of the sights of Old Town, but quickly progressed.

This is Fat Margaret. There are many ideas about how the name came about, but what is known is that this was originally the city’s only defense. The walls are 4 meters thick, but you can see they are scarred with cannon fire. Originally the water came up almost to the base of the tower.

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This is Daniel, the fabulous tour guide. He wore his helmet crocked, but other than that, he was a great leader. I tended to ride with him because I was the fastest rider. (Seriously, who goes for a bike tour in wedge heels?)

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Once we left Old Town, we headed out to Kadriorg Gardens. These are gorgeous, Russian inspired gardens with gravel walkways running through them. There is a little doghouse like building to the right of the island in this picture. That is where the swans sleep.

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This is Kadriorg Palace. Now an Art Museum, it was built as a Palace for Catherine, wife of Peter the Great. It is super pretty and pink and girly.

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From here (in front of the palace) you can see the ocean, and a statue we saw close up later.

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The flowers from Catherine’s garden.

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A walkway/arbor. Shady and cool, I decided all sidewalks should be covered with grapevines. It’s really the only way to go.

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What is this second pretty pink building you ask? Why, the home of the president of Estonia. And you can tell he’s at home because the flag is up. And while there are only two guards and no fences, apparently there are more guards inside. He was also educated in the US. As were the previous two US presidents. Daniel also told us more about Estonian politics, but I’m guessing you don’t care.

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We were there for the changing of the guards. When there are only 2 active guards, 2 reserve guards and 1 supervisor, it’s much less of a spectacle than in, say, London…

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The back of the Song Festival grounds, riding down to the beach. (Taken while riding…) See here for the front of the song festival grounds.

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Part of the war memorial for German soldiers who died in WWII in Estonia. They were buried here and then relocated later.

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The building on the left is now a spa but was the place where the Olympic Sailing was based when the Olympics were in Russia in 1980. The US and many other countries boycotted though, so no one really cares. Except for the spa part.

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A memorial to something sports related. Like some dude who was famous and died. OH. He was an Aeronaut. His parachute worked, but he didn’t deploy it, so he landed in the ocean and drowned. He was French.

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Skyline of Tallinn. Ferries and cruise ships in front of Old Tallinn.

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When Alaska was sold to the US from the Russians, the Russians went to the US to pick up the money. They sent two ships. One of the ships sunk, killing over 150 sailors. Why did it sink? Because someone left a door open. So all the money was lost, but they made this statue to commemorate it. This is the statue you can see from the front of Kadriorg Palace.

After this we went back to the City Bike Office and Daniel gave us water (because we’d all brought some for the ride) and recommendations for lunch. Overall, I would HIGHLY recommend this option for touring Tallinn. Even if my butt hurt the next day…

Searching for Music

I had one specific shopping mission for this trip. I wanted to buy a Rajaton album in Finland. Rajaton is a Finnish a capella group and their albums are a) hard to find in the US and b) expensive in the US. So that was one of my goals.

But that was apparently too simple for me. Yesterday I went to Tallinn, Estonia. And I decided it would be cool to have a Arvo Pärt cd from Estonia. Pärt is an Estonian classical composer with a very cool style. I actually got Simon hooked on him last year. But I digress. In order to have a Pärt cd, I needed to find a cd shop. The easiest way to do that was to find the little shopping cart symbol on the map and go there. It turns out the symbol I headed to was a GIANT shopping mall. But luckily they had exactly one cd store. And that store had a plethora of Arvo Pärt cds to choose from. But that cd wasn’t enough. I also decided to buy a cd of the Estonian Song Festival. This is a festival held every four years and can have up to 30,000 singers.

This is the stage that can hold 30,000 people (include the concrete up to the grass). There is, in fact, a giant blue tarp over one section. I don't know why.

During the Festival there would be benches for people to sit on here. The walkway runs parallel to the stage.

Actually my minister and his partner were here at the beginning of the month to see the Young Person’s Song Festival which is held in alternate 2 years. I think it’s the same thing, except with young people. Our 17 year old bike tour guide said he’d performed in an orchestra for one or the other festival six times in his life. I was suitably impressed.

Sometimes other things happen there too. “The biggest concerts were Michael Jackson and Rod Stewart.” – Daniel, the tour guide. Apparently Rod Stewart has lots of Estonian fans.

But I digress again. If you want to know more about the song festivals, you should probably go to Wikipedia. Cause I really don’t know that much.

Anyways. I bought that cd. And I came back to Helsinki and it was late, so I couldn’t listen to either.

Today I started on my Rajaton mission. After failing to find a record store in not one, but two malls, I headed to what my guidebook called a record shop like in High Fidelity. I asked the clerk/owner? about Rajaton, he said they didn’t have any. But then I felt said inside. So I said, “Do you have anything like that, but maybe more local?” And he lit up. He said, “Let me think about it.” And I browsed. Then he called me over. He found not one, not two, but about 8 records he thought would be of interest to me. “We will just pick them out and then you can listen and find your favorites.” And that’s what I did. Only I listened to only 4. But I bought 3.

A women’s a capella original popish album, a women’s Rajaton-ish type album, and a men’s a capella folk album with the most hilarious liner notes ever.

“For a while I didn’t like Rajaton, so I don’t keep them in the store anymore,” the guy said. Suits me. I got WAY more out of that than I expected.

BUT THEN I went to the department store that he thought would have Rajaton and I got 4 albums for 6.90 euros each. WAY less than they would have cost in the US.

So basically the gist of this story is that now I have a LOT of cds I’m carting around with me. I’m probably lucky I got to Malmô after the shops closed today otherwise I’d have a lot of Real Group albums too…