The old town
Got up very, very early, my bad, I woke up zero dark early with the net result that we spent an hour extra at Helsinki airport really, really early, G was justifiably annoyed. Still we got to Tallinn airport and as we had a few hours before our connecting flight to Moscow well, exploring the Old Town was on the cards. Handy hint there are lockers at the airport for luggage and the bus leaves from right outside to do a loop route through the city, oh and if you’ve a flight to catch you need to watch your time and know the stops. If you’ve ever watched some soviet era period piece films you may find the streets of the old town strangely familiar, or so says G. Apparently Tallinn was a stock location for Soviet art directors after a ‘European’ feel to their film, with Sovfilms Sherlock Holmes and The Three Musketeers being shot here. Back during the ‘good old days’ of the cold war the KGB also co-opted St Olaf’s spire for use as a radio transmitter, nowadays Tallinn hosts NATO’s cybersecurity research centre.
In some ways the visiting in the off season is great as you don’t have to rub shoulders with a billion other folk. You can get a feel for the place and go where you please without feeling like an ambulatory sardine. The Estonian museum in the old guild hall was open and I’d recommend it if you’re interested in the violent history of the place. After learning a little bit about the history of Estonia I’m thinking of a new Estonian tourism board slogan, “Come invade Estonia this summer, everybody else has”. If you’ve got the time then spiral around the lower old town before making your way up the hill to Toompea, the upper town, where the current national government sits, and where you can get some great views out over the lower town and across to the gulf of Finland beyond. Funny to think that we spend a few hours here then it’s back to Moscow with one day left on my Russian visa (that will take some explaining) and the start of the journey home.
Leaving Tampere and the good Doctor.* I headed back to Helsinki by train to meet up with an old chum from the Navy at Pullman’s bar which is located upstairs in the central station. Pullman’s is a nice place to catch up with an old friend, a comfortable old school decor and a small but decent selection of beers on tap (try the London Pride) make it very easy to while a way an hour or so in conversation. Then it was off down the freeway to Tammisaari where Rob (my friend) and Outi (his wife) have their place.
V.I.L is in da’ house
And just when you thought that Tampere couldn’t get more interesting it’s a flying visit to the Lenin Museum. ‘Visit’, said the invitation on their website, so I did.
The museum is located in the Tampere workers where (naturally) underground meetings of the RSDLP were held back in the day. Oh and it was also here, in 1906, that Lenin met Stalin for the first time. All wry comments aside this is definitely a museum worth visiting if you have the time and interest, there’s an enormous amount of material jammed into a very small museum and you get more of a feel for the man in his times. I’m left wondering after my visit whether in the dark watches of the night Lenin was as certain of eventual victory as he let on.
There’s a lot of churches in Tampere, and this Neo-gothic* survivor from the Russian Duchy is named after the Russian Tsar Alexander II, yep him of the Blood of the Martyrs in St Petersburg. The church park used to be a graveyard, there are still tombstones lying around, and (so the story goes) there’s also a mass grave from the Finnish civil war somewhere in the grounds. Unquiet history is never quite so far away as we like to pretend.
*Coincidentally Christ-church cathedral in my hometown of Newcastle is also done in that red-brick gothic revival style. 🙂
Yeah all right you’ve got me, this whole trip was just an excuse to visit Moominvalley. Well more precisely the Moominvalley museum in Tampere dedicated to the works of Tove Jannson. Like y’know Moomins! Oh alright, I’ll explain a little more, the Moomins and their friends are a cast of fantastical characters that populate the novels of the Finnish writer and illustrator Tove Jannson. Moomintrolls are distantly related to trolls, but prefer to live in houses rather than behind stoves or under bridges. The series charts the adventures of Moomintroll his family and friends (my favourite is Snufkin the chap sitting in the tree in the illustration below with his trademark and much beloved hat) as they deal with everything from floods to comets. If you have a young reader in the house with a taste for the fantastical then I recommend the Moomins series unreservedly. Continue reading
…and then it was a foggy morning in France, as we covered the last few kilometres to Paris.
From Madrid we took the Francisco de Goya service that runs overnight to Paris. Our last long journey for the trip and our second last day together. In the early afternoon out train pulled out of Charmantin and headed north across the rolling plains of the Meseta. As evening closed in we adjourned to the dining car, shades of the Orient Express to sit and watch and talk as the landscape of central Spain rolled by in the afternoon light. Paris in the morning…
Wandering around Madrid in July of 2012 you couldn’t help but notice what was going on, of course having been traveling we’d no idea of how violent things had gotten…
Then it’s a smooth fast ride on the rails all the way to Madrid, as you watch the climate and the landscape change, as the trip meter unwinds and the speedo clocks 300 kmph.
Side note. You’d think a country as big as Australia would ‘get’ high speed rail, but nope…
Anyway, once we get to Madrid, it’s the Metro again to my cousin Duncan’s place where we’re staying for the next couple of days. He promises flamenco…
Oh, I almost forgot. If you’re visiting Parc Guell, check out Gaudi’s house
The dragon park of Antoni Gaudi
And after Dali we came upon the Museo Picasso in the La Ribera district. Walking through the narrow mediaeval streets of the old town. Five baroque houses, built on the bones of roman villa’s and linked together into a single exhibition space. My favourite? Well you may have guessed from the above, his series of meditations (58 in all) on Las Meninas by Velasquez.
How often do you get to see the same scene through the very different eyes of two master painters, let alone from two totally different schools? As to why Picasso engaged upon this series so late in his career, no one really knows.
One day, maybe, they’ll exhibit these two differing works together, until then you’ll have to satisfy yourself with musing upon Picasso’s black and white works in the Museo Picasso…
And a building such as this. Monet’s water lilies, a carnival expressed in the masked balconies, the confetti effect, the roof like a Harlequin’s hat, Saint George striking down the dragon, the sword, the skulls. What lies within…
” Those who look for the Laws of Nature as a support for their new works collaborate with the creator.” Antonio Gaudi
Undulating waves of curving stone, the twisted ironwork balconies of Josep Maria Jujol lying like tangled masses of kelp caught in rock pools, this is surely Gaudi’s homage to the sea, in his last secular work before embarking on the Sagrada Familia.
Dragons and Hesperide
Matthew Galina Barcelona
We ended our travel day a stones throw from our hotel on a quiet leafy backstreet in Barcelona, sampling the local beer, sangria and tapas under the stars. Funny to think that we’d started our day in Marseille 🙂
And to the south again…
Architecture in the Style of Brutal… Continue reading
Eze, the Village in the Sky
Our last morning in Nice we picked up the hire car for the next leg of our trip to Marseilles then promptly headed the opposite way east to the village of Eze.
A visit to Monaco
Well according to the CIA fact-book (yes I know) Monaco has the world’s lowest poverty rate, and the highest number of millionaires and billionaires per capita in the world. And at just 17 km away from Nice, which for you Novocastrian readers is the distance from Newcastle CBD to the airport, definitely worth a visit.
Versailles by Night
The last evening of our last night in Paris and we were on the RER train again for our second and evening visit to Versailles. Continue reading
Rainstorms and Water Gardens – Giverny and Monet
Though we’d bought tickets online for Giverny we debated the value of a whole day spent on a visit, but in the end the decision was yes. And it turned out to be one of the best days of our trip.
Visiting The Trianon and Petite Trianon
There’s a saying that Louis XIV built Versailles for his court, Marly for his friends and the Grande Trianon for his family.
Kicking Back on the Grand Canal
The garden of Versailles is laid out along monumental lines, so after admiring the garden’s titanic perspectives from the steps of the Chateux we decided to take the electric train down to the other end of the garden.
In the Halls of the Sun King
A bright friday dawned as we departed Paris for Versailles on the RER to experience the great palace of Versailles.
Dali came to Montmartre to see the windmills and stayed to work on his Don Quixote engravings, he even ended up being crowned the emperor of Montmartre…typical Dali.
Paris is also a city of dark labyrinths
Down the circular stairwell you wind, past the marks and signs left by the surveyor’s of this realm, and deep into limestone strata that lies beneath Paris.
Truth be told, we’d meant to visit the Montmartre cemetery on our first day, but walked right over the top of it without realising. So this morning we decided we’d visit with some of the more permanent residents of Paris. As it turned out the day ended up as our parisian ‘day of the dead’.
After a day of Rodin’s artistry and the imperial grandeur of Les Invalide’s we made our way back to our place in Montmartre then freshened up a bit and headed up the north side of the hill for dinner at the La Maison Rose on Rue Cortot.
I can’t say that I was wowed by the food, reputedly it’s standard has dropped, but it’s still worth a visit and a simple meal for the history (painted by Utrillo while legend has it that Picasso had a room) or simply to enjoy a quiet picturesque location, away from the touristy bustle of the Place du Tertre.
Handy hint if you’re visiting, there are tables across the road and on a summer afternoon they may be a better bet to avoid one of you facing the westering sun. The place is on the Montmartre bus route and (I think) the mini train as well.