A day in Tallinn, Estonia with a private guide

Tuesday, April 30, 2019
Tallinn, Harju County, Estonia
---[Flat Stanley Reports]  ------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Hi Boys and Girls!   Flat Stanley coming to you from the country of Estonia.   We are visiting their largest city, which is their capital city, called Tallinn.  Unfortunately, Mrs. Rickly forgot to take her camera bag to many of the places we visited, and I ride in that bag.   So you will see some pictures of the area, but not me.  Sorry!
Oh, one more note. We were advised by the crew here on our cruise ship, the Viking Sky, that the satellite Internet service might not work while we are near or in-port in St. Petersburg, Russia, which is our next stop.  But do not worry.  We will keep writing to you.  We might not be able to post our travel blog entries as quick as we have been.
See you later! ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------'
Since we had a private tour that was to start at 8am today, we tried the room service (included in the fare) for a 7am breakfast.  We then went down to the “A” deck (as low as guests are allowed) where the short gangway was set up and were one of the first couples off the ship.   We weren’t real clear where we were to meet our guide and kept walking passed the tour buses, past a set of souvenir stands just coming to life, and through what we thought might be an immigration checkpoint.  No one challenged us at the checkpoint and we found ourselves on the outside of the cruise docks looking for anyone that could be a guide.  As we passed a parking lot, we saw a gentleman exit a van holding a piece of paper that we surmised might be a name sign.  We turned around about the time he saw us and we were happy to finally meet our Tallinn guide, Andres.
Larry had done some homework on the Internet and have a list of 7-8 places that other photographers had recommended seeing.  All of these places were in the old part of Tallinn.  Andres asked if we were interested in the more-contemporary parts of the city and we deferred to his judgement.  So he first took us to the Presidential residence.  We were surprised that no fences or guard posts surrounded the ground.  He said that Estonians believed their leaders should be accessible.   The only authoritative figures were the two guards flanking the entrance.  Otherwise, we strolled around the building and were a bit surprised to see 3 bee hives on the lawn at the back side of the parking lot opposite to the entrance to the Presidential residence.  Andres said the current president did spend a little time keeping the bees which was one way they felt helped to stay connected to the people. 
Behind the Presidential residence is Kadriorg Palace built by Peter the Great as a place dedicated to his beloved wife, Catherine.  According to Andres, neither lived there.  He said that during the Soviet occupation, the building was allowed to decay.  But the Estonians felt is was still an important part of their heritage and have subsequently restored it to its former attractive and colorful exterior.  It’s now an art museum.
Andres took us to a public park with a large “band shell” that was being renovated while we were there (thus the construction equipment in the pictures. )  He said that during the Soviet occupation, Estonians protested in a peaceful way by holding public singing festivals.  That heritage continues and culminates in an annual event where something like 33,000 singers (and accompanying musicians) gather along with 150,000+ in the audience standing on the lawn to hold a national singing event.  Even though Estonia has a national anthem, in a 1947 song festival, an old poem, “Mu Isamaa On Minu Arm” (My Country Is My Love), was set to music. Estonians defied Soviet authorities and performed the song during subsequent festivals, and it soon became something of an unofficial national anthem.  Andres showed us a video of a recent festival where it was performed and said it will still bring tears to the eyes of most Estonians.
From there we visited another moment to the end of the Soviet occupation, the Estonian Victims of Communism Memorial.  This massive pair of black steel walls has over 22,000 names inscribed on its interior-facing walls.  Those names are of the people that perished during the deportation actions (mostly to Siberia) of Estonians by the Soviets.   The outside of the wall facing the city has two unique sections.  One section has 3-D printed bees attached to the surface.  Even though Andres said that Estonians tend to value their personal space, as a nation, they believe in the unity and “coming home” represented by the bees.  Further toward the sea, a section of the wall has “bullet holes” in it and the names of Estonian soldiers who died during their efforts to be free are inscribed on the walls.  When you look through a bullet hole, you an see the face of one of the soldiers listed.
Walking a little way from this Victims of Communism Memorial is another monument erected by the Soviets.  This memorial is dominated by a concrete obelisk.  This memorial is part of the Maarjamae War Memorial complex created by the USSR as a memorial in memory of the Russians who died in 1918 and also those killed trying fend off the Nazis in 1941.  We asked Andres why this structure hadn’t been removed.  He said that it has caused some issues but he thought most Estonians accepted it as part of their history and preservation of that history was important to most of the citizens.
One of the last “modern” stops that Andres took us to was a sea plane hanger on the waterfront in the former warehouse or industrial district west of the cruise ship docks.  Andres said he worked here for four years so he was recognized by a number of the current employees.  The building is a marvel created (or renovated..not quite sure of that point) by the company who built the Sydney Australia Opera House.  The roof is a series of connected domes built from a thin layer of concrete that does hold up under winter snow loads.  In its original operation, sea planes would land on the harbor, taxi up to the tarmac, have a wheeled carriage attached, and pushed into the large hanger.  We didn’t get a feel for how many planes could be stored but it had to be a lot.  In its current form, it’s now a museum cleverly done to look like an ocean scene.  A full-size British-built submarine is housed in it once used by the Estonian Navy along with the remains of an old cargo sailing ship.  Andres said that no “side door’ existed on this ship and livestock, farm products, and other cargo had to be loaded through the top.  So, the ship would be pulled over to its side to load the livestock and other goods, and then allowed to return to its normal buoyancy.  With a single sail, he said if the wind wasn’t blowing, the cargo wasn’t getting delivered.
At this point, we had a little over two hours left before we had to head back to the ship.   Andres parked in a small lot outside the old down section and we started what was going to be a challenging walk on cobblestone streets and up and down many stairs through the older section of the city.
We’ll let the pictures do the talking for this part.  What stood out was the many old churches and cathedrals.  However, Andres said that Estonians are generally not that religious but did support a variety of old beliefs in spirits.  Looking at the number of religious buildings around the old town section made you think that something changed.
We made it back to the ship with about 5 minutes to spare before the gangway was retracted at 1:30pm.  We definitely saw more than we would have on a Viking tour but we paid the price with tired feet and knees.  Rox started some laundry while Larry started backing up and selecting pictures for the blog, but both of us succumbed to an afternoon nap to give our feet and legs a rest.  We availed ourselves of “steak and chocolate” night at the pool size grill and went to a Beatles tribute show in the Star Theatre which was fairly well done.  We thought we got our money’s worth today with a private tour.  Tomorrow is Russia and 3 days with another private tour operation.  Let’s hope the walking pace will be a bit slower or we might spend the rest of the trip recovering.
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2020-10-26