Treasures of Scandinavia & Russia

Tallinn, Estonia

Friday July 18, 2008

Background at a Glance

Estonian and Latvian history are inter-twined, but there also big differences between the neighbors – most notably among the people themselves. Estonians and Finns are both related to the Hungarian people. No other people in the region share this ancestry. Human relics date back 10,000 years, although little detail is known until the arrival of the Germanic Goths who ravaged Europe during the first century AD. By that time, Estonians had organized themselves into a clannish society, but they were no match for fierce warrior-neighbors, so they were forced to retreat northward. They settled in what is now Estonia. Some continued across the Gulf of Finland.

On October 21, 1976, Estonia’s organized nationalists wrote a letter to US Congress formally protesting Soviet rule. A decade later, in the revolutionary atmosphere of Russian glasnost and the velvet revolution in the Czech Republic, Estonia declared independence (August 20, 1991). Estonian independence and strong ties to its Finnish sister aided stability across the Gulf and admission to the European Union (EU) in 2004 was cause for celebration. Although many pacts were signed with the US and EU shortly after Estonia gained autonomy, one agreement overshadowed all others. On January 16, 1988 all three Baltic presidents signed the US – Baltic Charter, a military co-operation pact designed to bring NATO membership and Estonia joined the military league in 004. Estonia’s Prime Minister Andru Ansip, leader of the Reform Party has led his nation into prosperity.

From the Navigator

During the evening and night, the ms Rotterdam will continue her voyage through the traffic lanes towards Tallinn. We will pick up the pilot at 8:30 am, with the pilot boarding station being located approximately 10 miles before our dock. We expect to be docked at 10:00 am, at Berth 24 of the Passenger Pier

Our Visit

I awoke this morning around 4 am. Since I could not get back to sleep, I got dressed and went up to the Lido (deck 8) for some coffee and to await the sunrise. At approximately 4:45 he sun rose to a beautiful clear sky, with a few scattered “scuds” of clouds on the horizon. Since we are in the shipping lanes, numerous ships, varying in size from small coastal freighters to large ferries and cruise ships were in transit.

Today we will be sharing Estonia with two other cruise ships; the Balmoral and Costa Victoria. I know nothing about these ships, but the total number passengers on all three ships number 4,697. The Rotterdam will contribute less than one third of those potential visitors. During the season, the Baltic ports are inundated with cruise ships on a daily basis, contributing generously to the local economies, for sure. In addition to those two ships there were also two “Fred Olson Cruise Line” cruise ships. As expected all of the stops on our tour had wall to wall tours!

Our six hour tour, which will include lunch, was by coach accompanied by a young Estonian guide – Brita. During the sightseeing drive of the city, we paused for photos at the Song Festival Ground, and afterward. drove by St. Nicholas Church and Pirita Yachting Complex. According to a quote from the travel book the Lonely Planet; “Song is the soul of the Balts. And nowhere is this expressed more eloquently than in the national song festivals that unite Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians worldwide in a spellbinding performance of song. The crescendo is a choir of up to 30,000 voices singing its heart out to an audience of 100,000 or more while scores of folk dancers in traditional dress throw a bewitching kaleidoscope of patterns across the vast, open air stage.”

The walking tour began in the Upper Town with a stop in front of the Toompea Castle, the seat of the Estonian parliament. Side by side with the Toompea lies the medieval Lower Town. We also visited the Russian Orthodox Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, the largest domed cathedral in Tallinn and the Dome Church (13-18 centuries), the oldest church in Estonia. The architecture of these two churches had the cameras working overtime, as the background was a clear azure sky, punctuated by constantly changing fluffy white clouds completing the pictures. It has been along time since I have been privileged to witness such a sky.

We left this area walking along the short and narrow cobbled stone streets that lead to a panoramic viewpoint facing this medieval pearl. As we took in the beauty of the city and port, young Estonians subtly displayed simple items for sale to the hoards of tour groups. Leaving there we walked down to the town center into a large central square. Its landmarks include the 14th century Gothic Town Hall, the only one surviving g in the Nordic countries, the Holy Ghost Church, the magnificent St. Olaf’s (Olevistge) Church with its soaring spire and numerous authentic Hanseatic merchant houses. The beautiful weather brought out crowds of local people to mix with the tour groups. It was an exciting experience. At our two hour lunch at the famous medieval restaurant, Ol Hansa, where were served plate after plate of local fare topped off with a large mug of Honey Beer and a simply scrumptious “Rose Pudding”. There was no electric lighting in dining rooms, so we had to “discover” what were eating by the lights of a hundred or so candles.

After lunch my tired feet were given a much needed rest as Barbara spent the next hour shopping at various stalls that lined the old fortified walls. We were all thankful that our bus was waiting to transfer us back to our floating hotel.

After departure from Tallinn (5 PM), the ms Rotterdam followed a Traffic Separation Scheme to the east towards St. Petersburg. All were so thankful for our visit to this truly wonderful, warm, friendly Estonian City. Now if they just did not smoke so much!

Till next time – Tanan (Thank you) for listening, and Tanan and Head ooooooood Estonia

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