A Sweet Intoxication

Trip Start Aug 04, 2011
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Trip End Aug 19, 2011


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Flag of Estonia  , Harjumaa,
Friday, August 12, 2011

Given that I have 4 days here in Tallinn and the town is relatively small, I decided to go ahead and relax this morning and not rush out to do anything. Besides, I have to get myself organized after already traveling for the last 10 days or so. Therefore, I didn't leave my room until around 10:00 at which time I went to the meeting place for the "City Sightseeing" tour which leaves from a point very close to my central hotel at around 10:30.  

I managed to find the meeting point even though the map is unclear and the streets are a bit confusing.  The bus was just pulling away from the curb, but I managed to flag the guy down before he got away into traffic. The cost was supposed to be 18 euros but I only had a 20 e note or a 10 and a few coins and the driver didn't have change so I ended up taking the tour for around 11 euros. It turns out that the people here are very friendly and it almost seems like they really don't like to deal with money, already on several occasions I have paid a few cents (or even more) below the actual listed price and incidentally, it is quite cheap here by European standards

I had decided to do a bus tour because the center is very small and I can walk all around inside of it but I was interested to know what is outside of the walls.  I was not disappointed at all as there is a world of modern and interesting stuff going on beyond the walled historic center.  In fact, before this trip I knew very little about Estonia and had never even heard of Tallinn!!

Beginning at the "Viru" gate, which is the main entrance to the historic center and also the beginning of the main, modern city just outside, we proceeded past the first high rise building and then directly through what appears to be a very modern area with extremely high tech, glass and interestingly designed buildings.  The architectural styles outside the gates are so vastly different from inside that you feel like you are in a different city altogether.  Under the Soviets, this area was mostly used for heavy industry but since Estonia gained her freedom in 1991, the area has developed in to a high-tech area with shopping centers and luxury hotels and represents some of the most innovative modern designs in the region. I was completely blown away by some of the designs, which rival even the designs in such places as Holland, which is renowned for architecture.

We then continued down what seemed to be a long road, flanked on both sides by lovely gardens, which I spent more time in after the tour.  Within these lovely wooded areas are the "Swan Lake," a small, man-made pond, filled with swans, happily swimming away, amazing manicured flowerbeds along with people walking their dogs and grannies tending to their grandchildren.  This year, Tallinn is the EU capital of culture and there are special events every day of the year and, in addition, there are lovely floral, cultural and historical displays set up almost everywhere you go.  After the tour, I spent at least an hour just wandering through the gardens and enjoying the interesting discoveries of which I will describe later in this blog.

As we passed the parks, we came across some lovely, old, traditional-styled homes and it was explained that these lovely wooden structures were very typical of Tallinn, before the new construction began, after the destruction of the communist system.  Tallinn has a very long 11,000-year history, which is evident at almost every turn, with mixes of the new and old side by side.  It makes an extremely unusual but delightful mixture that I found most interesting.

Then we came to the sight of the annual "Song Festival."  This is an event I had never heard of but has a long history and was even involved in helping Estonia gain its sovereignty from the Soviets through the "Singing Revolution," a series of protests which took place in this most lovely amphitheater over a 4-year period, which helped create a united national movement.  The Estonians gained their freedom in this way without any bloodshed and learning of this event made me quite emotional.  The amphitheater itself was designed in the 1960s and from the top of the hill one can see beautiful views of the harbor beyond the stage and also at the top, sits a statue of the famous conductor of the "Song Fest's" as he gazes hypnotically across the scenery.

The song festival is an annual event, which includes hordes of Estonians dressed in traditional costumes and singing and dancing to both traditional and other styles of music over a weeklong period. The fields overlooking the stage are of perfectly manicured lawns and have sweeping views of the harbor below.

Returning toward the city center, we followed a shoreline road also surrounded by lush greenery and finally arriving at the cruise ship terminals where I had arrived the day before.  In Soviet times, these where heavily guarded boarders but are now renovated to accommodate the vast number of tourists flooding into this picturesque town.

Of course, at the time of the revolutions, I was much younger and had less interest in politics than I do now, but I was very pleased to learn about this peaceful liberation. I am aware that both Latvia and Lithuania had much more losses, due to violence, during their struggle for independence.

Circling around the old center we came around the backside of the city and past the old castle and town battlements.  Again, we saw remnants of the peaceful revolution where giant boulders were placed across the main entrances to the old city, blocking the armies from entering, for long enough that finally, the Soviets just gave up and the town chancellor declared independence without a drop of blood being spilled!!  This particular story I found very touching and there is now the last boulder monumentalized and marked by a plaque. Towering above is a tower known as "Tall Herman" named for the original architect who designed the castle it protects.

Then, continuing around the walls, there is the old moat which has now become one of the most lovely gardens I have ever seen, known as "Tower Garden" because of the many medieval watch towers covered in high-peaked red roofs which form the backdrop for the forest-like parks. At this time, there are many, specially designed displays, for the "Year of culture" now being celebrated.

The tour then ended seemingly as quickly as it began. I was pleasantly overwhelmed by the great beauty of this small but adorable, historic city.

After the tour, I spent some time walking through some of the lovely gardens we saw along the way, taking in the scenery that is almost too gorgeous to take in!!  It was a very lovely, sunny day and many people, tourists and locals alike, were out enjoying this fantastic cultural gem.

The combination of gardens, history, architecture and the delightful, sunny day made it a sweet intoxication for all of my senses and I love Tallinn for the jewel that it is.  These people should be and are, very proud of their city, country and their freedom, which they gained through song and solidarity.  This should be an example for the entire world to see and I am glad I have taken the time to learn about this most peaceful, colorful and picturesque city
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