Monday, August 05, 2019

Beginning Our Rick Steves Tour in Tallinn Estonia

Monday, August 5, 2019 – Seaplane Harbor and the start of our Rick Steves’ Tour.

The breakfast buffet at our Kruetzwald hotel is another feast and I take the smallest servings possible of most everything. One Swedish Meatball, one dolmades, one slice of lox, one piece of fish cake. I love the healthy breakfast vegetables and take generous servings of zucchini, mushrooms, grilled tomatoes and Brussels sprouts. My resolve weakens and I finish with a thin crepe spread with raspberry jam.  We need to move from this hotel to the MyCity Hotel where our tour is staying and we must find laundry service.  After gathering up our week’s worth of dirty clothes, Art sets out to the laundry and returns shortly, telling me that he entered a basement laundry and handed a dour “Soviet era” woman our bag of dirty clothes, paid her 9 Euros and either he is to come back in 3 hours or at 3:00 P.M.

At noon we take an Uber to the MyCity Hotel and our room is ready. The four star hotel is in the heart of the Old Town and our room looks out over one of the upper city squares. It is spacious and for the first time in a week, a double bed is truly a double bed and not simply two twin beds pushed together. 

MyCity Hotel, Tallinn Estonia
Most museums are closed on Monday but the Lennusadam Seaplane Harbor is open. We take an Uber to the maritime museum and spend an interesting 3 hours. The museum is built in a renovated WWI seaplane hangar and is beautifully curated. There is a special exhibit; Sex and the Sea which curates sailors and their sweethearts love letters, every possible sexually transmitted disease and both the loneliness and glamor of a sailors life.

Lembit Submarine
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Lembit Submarine

Interior of the Lembit Submarine

Periscope up!

Marty navigating through the submarine

Submersibles as early as 1620?

Galley kitchen

The highlight for me is being able to enter and explore the Lembit submarine. Jules Verne’s novel; Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, has always been a favorite of mine and I am fascinated by the steam punk mechanism within the submarine.

At 5:00 P.M. we meet our Rick Steve’s travel group in the small conference room of our hotel. Our guide for the entire trip is Eszter and her assistant is Mirjam. We meet the other 23 members of our group and discuss the logistics for this evening as well as the schedule for tomorrow. There are two couples who have logged 6 and 8 Rick Steve’s tours as well as a lot of first timers. Each person introduces themselves and in a couple of sentences tells the group why they are on the tour. Eszter, our confident Hungarian guide in her forties lightens the formality by asking who in the tour is carrying the provided and “stylish” Rick Steve’s money belt? Half the group raises their hand and Eszter tells of two former unrelated guests on a tour. A much younger woman was talking to an older gentleman and is overheard saying “don’t show it to me or anyone. Put it in your pants and keep it in your pants!” I am writing this part after having had Eszter as our guide for eight marvelous days. She had a few quirky phrases that ultimately endeared her to all of us. Okey dokey and easy-peasy will now be part of my everyday vocabulary. Not only was she knowledgeable in everything historical but she was adept at herding and placating her 25 elderly “children.” Lovely Mirjam was her assistant guide from Switzerland. Mirjam spoke many languages and was learning the Rick Steves’ way of touring so that she could manage future tours on her own. One of her seemingly important tasks was to bring up rear and make sure that all of the tour ducklings kept to the flock. A few simple rules were stressed and each of us choose a buddy who was not our traveling partner. This simple and effective strategy assured that no one was left behind and we would have buddy checks throughout the day. Before signing up for the tour we all needed to sign an agreement that we were willing and able to roll our own luggage over cobblestones, climb stairs, keep pace with the group and be punctual. Eszter and Mirjam ran a tight ship and we packed a lot of good times, history and sight seeing into the eight days.

Tallinn Old City Square
At 6:30 P.M. our group meets outside our hotel for a brief city tour and to walk to our welcome dinner together.  Dinner is upstairs and the room is stuffy.  Art noted on his tour application that he is dairy intolerant and does not eat red meat. His meal is served first and although it looks tasty enough, his salad is without the sliced duck or dressing and his entrée is a skinless chicken breast instead of the rich and tender beef roast marinated in wine sauce that the group is served. He looks longingly at my salad plate with thin slices of duck and a glaze of dressing. Although I prefer not to eat red meat, the tender beef smothered in mushrooms is delicious and I pass a bite or two along to Art. After dinner Art asks Ester to take him of fthe dietary restriction list. 

It’s a short walk through the picturesque village back to our hotel and our group disperses to find their own after dinner entertainment or to simply return to the hotel.

A toast with a new Estonian friend
Making friends at a Tallinn bar

 I want to sit for an after dinner drink and Eszter has mentioned that the bar across the street is a good local choice. We enter into the local establishment with some trepidation. A simple rectangle bar fills the space and there are a few vacant stools at one corner. The local crowd is high spirited and well into their evening beers. A squat and weathered accordion player sits against the window his stubby fingers punching out polka tunes. We sit beside an attractive young couple, Christian and Louise. They are friendly, bright and very articulate although they tell us they have been drinking for much of the evening. Art asks the no frills bar tender for a cocktail list and he dourly points to his bottles behind the bar each with a Euro price per shot clearly labeled on the bottle. I order a shot of tequila and a shot of Grand Marnier to be poured into one glass. Art orders a local liquor that looks and tastes like cough syrup  and we toast with others at the bar. Art points out a giant of a man with mutton chop whiskers and a troll like face. He balances his beer adeptly as he sways to the music and is soon sitting beside Art, his arm thrown around him as if they are long time friends. 

Dancing with a gentle giant
Polka anyone?

The gentle giant asks me to dance and I accept, the top of my head barely reaching mid way up his chest. The floor is tacky with beer and my feet stick to the dance floor as I step to the music. Pretty and young Louise, a lawyers apprentice from London also accepts a dance with the giant. Art sees that my glass is empty and asks if I want another but Louise pushes her almost full shot glass towards me telling me that when I ordered, she had told the bar tender to pour her the same. The mix of tequila and Grand Marnier is not to her liking and she orders a cider and I graciously accept her drink. Art orders another shot of cough syrup and the evening continues until our second drinks are downed. We have a big tour day tomorrow and enough sense not to order a third round. It's been a marvelous, spontaneous evening. 

Louise from London and Christian from Amsterdam
Tuesday, August 6th – Tallinn Old City, the KGB Hotel and Rick Owens Fashion

Couples from our group drift into the breakfast buffet an hour before our 9:00 A.M. The breakfast is another fine spread of lox and pickled herring, cold cuts and cheeses. Varieties of pastries and eggs, bacon and potatoes are also available. 

At exactly 9:00 A.M. our group meets in front of the hotel with our listening gadgets and we follow Eszter on a tour of the old town. Our route takes us along the ancient city wall and through the Old City center. 

Stalls along Tallinn's Old City wall
Tallinn Old City wall

The cruise ships haven’t arrived yet and we have the city much to ourselves but by the time we ascend to the upper part of Tallinn to the onion topped Basilica, the city is clogged with tour groups. The skyline view of cathedral spires and red tile city rooftops is picturesque and our local guides narrative is informative.

Bird's eye view of Tallinn's Old City
Roof top view of Tallinn's Old City

Looking down into the old city, Tallinn

Amber shop

Also in the upper part of Old Tallinn is the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral with it's beautiful onion domes.

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral
Interior of Alexander Nevsky Cathedral

We pop into an ancient apothecary. I love the signage but feel empathy for the dried toads and the parched bees. 
Our group listens attently to our guide
Old City Apothecary

Old City Tallinn Apothecary
Dried toads
Parched bees

Today's walking tour ends with a visit to the Vabamu Museum, an interactive museum documenting the accounts of the Estonia people during Soviet occupation. We spend 2 hours at this interesting and heartbreaking museum and when we leave, have a greater sense of what the Estonian people endured. 

Vabamu Occupation Museum
Art installation at museum

We grab a terrible sandwich to tide us over before meeting Eszter at 2:10 to go to the KGB museum in Hotel Viru. Visiting the KGB museum is an optional excursion but two of our group visited yesterday and recommended it so we decide to go. For us, it proves to be a wasted 18 Euros and 2 hours of our time. The tour is little more than photos along the wall of a hotel that was where foreigners stayed during Soviet times. The majority of the rooms were bugged and we see what's left of the spy control room within the hotel. The best part of the tour was our severe blond female guide who radiated the charm and warmth one might expect from a KGB agent. When the tour ends we escape from the Viru hotel and continue to the Kuma Art Museum.

KGB Museum at Hotel Viru
Remains of the spy equipment at Hotel Viru

View of modern Tallinn from behind the Hotel Viru sign

Wonderful harbor view of new Tallinn

The Kumu Art Museum is far from the city center and we catch an Uber. We see the Rick Owens and Tommy Cash exhibit. Although Art is familiar with Rick Owens’ fashion designs, I am not. It is an interesting if not attractive concept of models wearing people and the fashion pieces are human sculptures. Tommy Cash is an Estonian Rapper and photographer and choreographs the music and video performances. 

Kumu Art Museum
Can you hear me?

Rick Owens Fashion
Rick Owens Fashion

Art calls for an Uber but the wait time is nearly 20 minutes and because a taxi is already waiting at the exit of the museum, for 10 Euros, we take it to the Rotterman Quarter.  We expect to find some interesting boutiques but what we find is little more than an outdoor mall with a few restaurants and bars. It begins to sprinkle and then rains hard and we make our way back to our hotel darting between buildings and finding cover under eves and trees. We arrive back at the hotel somewhat soggy, change into dry clothes and walk the short block to the Pegasus Restaurant. 

Dinner at the Pegasus Restaurant
Window table overlooking a rainy Tallinn

We have 7:00 P.M. reservations and our third floor window side table looks over the street below. The cocktail I order is vodka, and a chili liquor and sweet chili mixer. It’s delicious with a sweet spicy kick and when Art takes a sip, he orders one of his own. We share a hummus; duck pate and fish pate appetizer and order baked eggplant and roasted chicken with fennel for our main course. The meal is delicious and even with two drinks each very affordable by California standards.

An after dinner walk in light rain
Tallinn Old City in the rain

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