Thursday, August 26, 2010

One day in Tallinn

The second weekend after we arrived in Finland, we had the fortune to be invited by our cousins Valto, Seija and Hanni to go to Tallinn, Estonia on Valto's boat, Janni 2. We love spending time with these guys, so that was the main focus, but our main destination was the Old Town in Tallinn, a place whose buildings go back as far as the 1300's and whose history goes back much farther than that.

After a lunch with Valto at the large outdoor market by the harbor in Helsinki and drinks with him and Hanni at Kappeli, one of the oldest restaurants in Helsinki, we went home to find Seija.

Valto, Analeise, Bryan and Brooke
at a food stall at the harbor market:

Paella is a common dish served at food stalls.
Also, sausages, potatoes and fish
cooked in various ways are popular.

Kappeli is one of Helsinki's oldest restaurants. It's located in a grassy and well landscaped boulevard between two lovely and busy streets in the downtown area near the harbor. My understanding is that it's named Kappeli because of the nickname of an old man who long ago sold drinks and snacks on the spot where the restaurant now sits. His customers, mostly young university students, would call him pastor (pastori) for some reason. When the restaurant was formed (by him?), that nickname caused the owners to call the place chapel, or Kappeli.


and Valto enjoying drinks outside at "The Chapel"

Kate and Hanni

Bryan and the girls are being hypnotized
on the boulevard (refereed to as the Esplanade):

The first night of our trip was spent at Tall Klippan, a small, beautiful and rocky island only an hour away from the harbor in Espoo, Finland. Valto and crew took us there in style on Janni 2!

Kate and Seija, hamming it up:

Tall Klippan is owned by the marine club of which Valto is a member. They have built a sauna, a bathroom and an outdoor cooking place there. Other than that, the island's boulders and pine trees were left alone. The women have a different sauna time than the men, and when we arrived, the women's sauna time was almost over, but we made it just in time. It is very refreshing to get hot, hot and then jump in the sea. Being half Finnish, I felt as if 50% of me felt quite at home doing this and 50% of me felt that it was exotic. As I told my sister, that made me 100% happy.

Brooke, Bryan and I had a great time jumping off the back of the boat and swimming there. Analeise explored the island and had a quiet chance to read. This fuzzy photo is of a group of kayakers near the island. For them, perhaps it is completely normal to kayak there, but for me, it seemed very special to be kayaking in the Gulf of Finland.

Here are some photos from our stay at Tall Klippan:

The next day brought the rest of the trip to Tallinn. While Valto, Seija and Hanni are experienced boat people, the four of us do not have sturdy sea legs, so we felt sick after a while. Still, our trip was still very enjoyable. Our cousins are incredible hosts, feeding us delicious meals and making sure we had fun things to drink, so between that and the view of the vast sea, we had a good time. Brooke took the longest to feel ill, and she likes being out at sea and on the boat so much that she said "maybe I'll live on a boat when I'm older."

Approaching Tallinn, we saw church spires and tall buildings through a thick haze. We did not know it then, but the smoke from the numerous Russian forest fires had made its way to Tallinn and was cutting our visibility by about half. We made it to the harbor and docked, which allowed us to feel the heat. It was 38 degrees Celsius, or about 100 degrees Fahrenheit and very humid. Valto and crew got the boat ready for us to leave it, and we headed to the Old Town by taxi.

Our way into Old Town was on a street lined with flower shops, all with decadent displays of bouquets out on the sidewalk.

We crossed through twin gate towers dating back more than 700 years, and what was the first business we saw? Yep, a McDonalds. Years ago, that would have agitated me, but this time, I just laughed at the dichotomous feeling of being awed by seeing something so old and then seeing a very familiar, very modern place right away. I heard that after the free market took over, many Estonians felt that Old Town lost its charm. It is very touristy, but for me, it was still awe inspiring because of its beauty and age.

Tall walls surround Old Town, which was built on a steep hill. We headed toward an overlook at the top of Toompea Hill. On the way, we passed the Russian Orthodox cathedral and heard chanting from inside. We did not mean to intrude, and there was a gate blocking our way inside (this was not a touristy thing, it was a real service), but we were able to see a little bit of the service from the gate (women with their heads covered by scarves, priests in tall hats with gilded robes chanting...).

After that, we continued to walk up to Toompea Hill, and from there, we were able to get an expansive view of the red roofs and church steeples of Old Town. Here is a photo of us all together and of some of the views from Toompea Hill:

We ate in Old Town's main square, and while we enjoyed sitting and talking with Valto, Seija and Hanni, I'd recommend that you try a place that is less visited - ask a local or read a guide book. The service was extremely slow (it took 1.5-2 hours for us to get our food), and the food was mediocre and overpriced. An Estonian guy here in Tampere told me that is normal for the touristy restaurants.

After a hot night on the boat, most of us had amazingly refreshing showers at a sport center next to the harbor (the facility was built for the 1980 Olympic sailing competitions, held in Tallinn). Thinking that the water was going to be more rough than the day before (Seija was at her limit, and the Jarvi-Beamers had all felt sea sick), we tried to get tickets on one of the large ferries back to Helsinki. All of them were full, so after a little shopping, we bought sea sickness pills and a lot of non-carbonated water and headed back to the boat.

If you ever go to Estonia, it is known for beautiful knitting and nice linen things. Seija bought a linen sauna robe for her brother, and she says that they last for years and get softer and softer after each wash.

Our return passage surprised us, because the forecasts were wrong, and the seas were calmer than the previous day's. The sea sickness pills worked, Valto and Seija had prepared another delicious lunch, and we made it back to Espoo feeling fine.

It was time to say goodbye to everyone. Hanni and Valto worked to unpack Janni 2 while Seija drove us to the Helsinki train station for our 2 hour trip back to Tampere.

We were happy to have gone and happy to be going back to lower temperatures in Tampere. Also, Terhi, our exchange daughter from 2008-2009 was going to visit with her brother Samuli, the next day, and it was time to go home and prepare.

Brooke, Terhi, Analeise and Samuli,
before they left for Tampere's amusement park, Särkänniemi.

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