Tallinn

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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.

The Viru gate barbican, well what's left of. This was just the start, Tallinn has a lot of towers, a lot...

The Viru gate barbican, well what’s left of. These two towers would have provided defensive fire for the main gate when it was under attack. Medieval gates such as these are interesting not just because they’re military works but also because the served to monitor and regulate people’s comings and going and as points at which taxes could be collected. This btw was just the start of Tallinn’s towery wonderfulness 🙂

Obligatory christmas tree, town square.

Obligatory christmas tree, Raekoja platz, that’s not the town hall spire over the back but in fact the spire of The Holy Spirit. We have our backs to the town hall, as you do.

The Raeapteek or Town Hall Pharmacy which is located opposite the Town Hall at number 11 and has been operating here since the 15th century. Check out the twining snakes (caduceus) on the door which is an ancient symbol of medicine.

Wandering around the backstreets in the early morning light.

Wandering around the backstreets in the early morning light.

Muurivahe, a narrow cobbled stone street behind the old city wall.

Muurivahe, a narrow cobbled stone street behind the old city wall.

Another medieval street with the spire of the Town hall behind, useful navigation marker really :)

Another medieval street with the spire of the Holy Spirit behind, useful navigation marker really.

The most renovated medieval bathroom I've ever been in, courtesy of the Estonian museum. :)

The most renovated medieval bathroom I’ve ever been in, courtesy of the Estonian museum.

Door of the Great Guild Hall, G about to knock with the enormous lion head door knocker.

Door of the Great Guild Hall, G about to knock using the enormous lion head door knocker.

Give me a little bit more of that gothic architecture, thanks.

Give me a little bit more of that gothic architecture, thanks.

Clock of the Church of the Holy Ghost in Tallinn. A Lutheran church with this glorious sundial of a clock hanging off the side of it, how'd they get away with that? :)

Clock of the Church of the Holy Ghost in Tallinn. A Lutheran church with this glorious sundial of a clock hanging off the side of it, how’d they get away with that?

More streets, this time slightly wider. But just about as deserted.

More streets, this time slightly wider. But just about as deserted.

And yet more picturesque streets with the sun starting to burn away the overcast.

And yet more picturesque streets with the sun starting to burn away the overcast.

St Nicholas' steeple from Rataskaev street.

St Nicholas’ steeple from Rataskaev street.

Walking up Pikk Jalg with Toompea (the upper town) on our right

Walking up Pikk Jalg with Toompea (the upper town) on our right

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The Alexander Nevsky cathedral in all it’s gaudy Russian revivalist finery. Needless to say not well liked by the locals given it’s role in the ‘Russification’ of the country under the old empire.

Inner wall and towers on the edge of Toompea hill That's the kiek in the kok (peek into the kitchen) tower to the right

Inner wall and towers on the edge of Toompea hill That’s the kiek in the kok (peek into the kitchen) tower to the right

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Looking back over the city wall, with Old St Nicholas' spire peeping above the wall.

Looking back over the city wall, with Old St Nicholas’ spire peeping above the wall.

Pikk (tall) Hermann, built by the knights of the Livonia order (as you asked). Tallest tower in Tallin. That's the Estonian flag up on top, a bit like the royal standard at Buckingham palace.

Pikk (tall) Hermann, built by the knights of the Livonia order (as you asked). Tallest tower in Tallin. To keep the sentries warm in winter the tower was built with a form of central heating. That’s the Estonian flag up on top, a bit like the royal standard at Buckingham palace as this is the capital precinct.

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Tallinn with St Olaf's church (KGB field radio det. No. 36) left of centre and the rooves of the city wall towers extending to the left. On the right we're looking across the port in the distance to the Gulf of Finland. Hey! I can see Rob's house from here. :)

Tallinn with St Olaf’s church (KGB field radio det. No. 36) left of centre and the rooves of the city wall towers extending to the left. On the right we’re looking across the port in the distance to the Gulf of Finland. Hey! I can see Rob’s house from here. 🙂

Winter roofs of Tallinn from Kohtsuatsa viewing platform

Winter roofs of Tallinn from Kohtsuatsa viewing platform

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South to Tammisaari

The stone men of Helsinki railway station

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.

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The Lenin museum

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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.

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V.I.L in a rare moment of relaxation, with that signature goatee growing back.

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Original letters from Lenin.

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And of course V.I.L in suitably heroic mode, oh and check out the guys behind him. 🙂

Alexander Church

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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. 🙂

Welcome to Moomin Valley

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Moomins!

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

Night train to Paris

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Travel by train is an education in the places in-between

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…

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Morning train to Madrid

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‘High Speed Trains are Cool!’, or three hours on RENFE’s AVE from Barcelona-Sants to Madrid. You wander into the station run your luggage through the detector and then straight onboard.

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…

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Museo Picasso

Las Meninas, after Velázquez

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.

Las Meninas (Diego Velázquez)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…

Casa Batlló

Galina and the dragon Visiting with the architect of the non-euclidean

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

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Dinner at La Maison Rose

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.