Baltic Sea Cruise, Country #3: Tallinn, Estonia

Our second stop on our awesome cruise was Tallinn, Estonia!

Monday, 14 August 2017:

  • Arrival: 12:00pm (Clearance at 12:30pm)
  • Departure: 7:00pm (All Aboard at 6:30pm)
  • Port: Old City Harbour, pier # 25

Arriving in Tallinn, we first saw what is called Fat Margaret. Built in the 16th century, this stout tower was once used as part of the town’s defense. It was used to defend the harbor; but then became a place to store gunpowder and weapons; and finally, a prison. Currently, it houses something a bit more peaceful – the Estonian Maritime Museum.

If you look closely at the picture below, you can see us. The women (Jillian and I) are researching/writing things down while the men (Tony and Nick) are taking pictures, lol. Nick, of course, was taking this picture.

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Fat Margaret

Right after entering the main gate, we saw what is called The Three Sisters, which are the three buildings featured in the picture below. Built in the 14th century, these buildings were used as merchant houses. The previous owners included the guild elders and town councilors. Today, The Three Sisters are functioning hotels.

So we have The Three Sisters here and The Three Brothers in Riga. 🙂

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The Three Sisters

Here we are!img_3546-xl

On this lovely day, we then stopped by St. Olav’s Church (or St. Olaf’s Church – both referencing the same building). This was once a Christian church and was dedicated to King Olav II of Norway, who is also known as Saint Olaf. St. Olaf encouraged the spreading of Christianity and became the symbol of independence and pride in the Norwegian countries.

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St. Olav’s Church

At one point in history St. Olav’s was the tallest building in Tallinn. Unfortunately, the tower was hit by lightning about ten times! Ten times? Geez. Talk about dedication in rebuilding and reconstructing the tower!

St. Olav’s is now a Lutheran church. One thing we began to notice is the interior of Lutheran churches mainly consists of off-white/dull colors. But, unlike Orthodox churches, they at least have pews/benches!

Next, we saw the House of the Blackheads with the fancy-looking door below. Just like in Riga, Tallinn had a house dedicated to the former headquarters of the Brotherhood of Blackheads, which was an association of local unmarried merchants, ship owners, and foreigners.

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If you look at the picture below, you can see a little crane-like object toward the top of the building. This was a way for people to bring stock items to the top of the building for storage instead of carrying the items inside and up. I thought that was pretty cool.

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One thing I love about traveling around Europe is being able to hear different musicians play while walking around the town. Here is a video of a violinist playing beautifully  in a small square:

The Great Guild House came next. It was constructed in the 15th century and is considered typical medieval Tallinn architecture. This house was made for a guild of merchants and artisans.

For some reason when I think of medieval, I don’t see a yellow building. Instead, I see dark, stone-like buildings. The Middle Ages span from the 5th century to the 15th, so perhaps I always picture buildings from the earlier centuries. In any case, today the Great Guild House is being used as an Estonian History Museum, where both the history of Estonia and the story of the Great Guild are explored.

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Great Guild House

Following the Great Guild House, we saw the medieval Lutheran Church of the Holy Spirit or Church of the Holy Ghost. This church has Tallinn’s oldest clock right outside its walls. There are conflicting resources in whether this clock was made in the 15th or 17th century. Either way, it’s pretty neat that it’s still around. I didn’t look at it long enough, but I wonder if it is still functional. The time below seems pretty accurate to when we there.

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We then walked over to Town Hall Square, which serves as the center in the lower part of town. In the middle of the square is the Tallinn Town Hall, which is the oldest town hall in the Baltics.

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Tallinn Town Hall

Next came what is called Raeapteek, which is a very old pharmacy on the edge of Town Hall Square. One neat little fact is that this pharmacy opened up in the 15th century and continues to run today! The first record of this pharmacy shows that it was already on its third owner in 1422. That’s so crazy to think about…active from before 1422 to the present and it’s still functioning today!

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Rarapteek Pharmacy

As we continued our exploration in this neat old town, we went through what is called Catherine’s Passageway. On one side of the passage, we saw several artisan shops, which first opened in 1995.

We went inside a couple of them and many items, though a bit pricey, were beautiful and would add nicely to any home decor. When the artisans joined together in opening their shops, they were called the Katariina Guild. If you go on their site (http://www.katariinagild.eu/en/history-of/) the women who are part of the guild have a picture of them dressed up in time-period clothing. 🙂

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Catherine’s Passageway

On the side of the street, you can see the remains of some medieval tombs. There is a site near here that we missed: it shows the remains of St. Catherine’s Dominican Monastery for which the passageway was named after.

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Our next stop was the Town Wall. It’s possible to climb to the top of the wall and get an overlook the city. All of these stone walls in Tallinn were used as protection for their people. As the years went by the wall continued to be built up, strengthening the town’s defenses. Personally, I like the red terracotta cone-shaped roofs. 🙂

Being on top wasn’t as high as other places we’ve climbed up, but it still had a pretty cool view. img_0744_pano-x3

Near the wall is Viru Gate, which serves as the entrance to Old Town from the outside near the new city. The picture below is looking from inside Old Town out toward the city, where you can see some more modern buildings.

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Viru Gate

At this point in our exploring, we became rather hungry, so it was time to try out a restaurant called Restoran Vanaema Juures (Grandma’s Place). Let’s just say that grandma really knew how to cook her food!

One of the special treats in the Baltic Sea is the eating of “black bread” and oh my gosh was it good! There was some sort of seasoning on the crust that was delicious. Combine that with its soft inside…my mouth is watering. 😛

Nick had elk, which is a very popular meat in this region, and a couple of local drinks (a hard cider and a rhubarb lemonade/soda); I had fish. We split the desserts with our friends. Nick and Jillian split the rhubarb dessert while Tony and I had the Kama Chocolate cake – yum, yum! The chocolate cake was sooo good!!

Along with the amazing food, our waitress was extremely friendly and helpful. The whole place kind of felt like what a grandma’s place should feel like – warm and cozy with good food and company.

After we had our fill, we made our way to the Danish King’s Garden. During the 13th-14th centuries, Estonia was under the control of Denmark; hence, why the Danish King had his own gardens in Estonia.

According to legend, during a battle in the 13th century the Danish flag fell from the sky into this garden and turned the battle around in the Danish’s favor.

But, this garden is not only famous because of the flag from the heavens legend, but also of its creepier history:

At night, the gate of the gardens was closed to separate the lower town from the Toompea Hill. It was said that the gate was also closed to stop the ghosts from reaching the top of the hill where the aristocrats had lived.

One of part of the garden, the Short Leg Gate Towers, is known as the most haunted place in Tallinn. There have been several sightings of a famous executed black monk here, along with other scary figures.

The Maiden Tower is also in this area. It was a prison for prostitutes and is more famously known for its legend involving a deal made between a prostitute and the devil. It’s said that after trading in her soul for beauty, the woman had to lure as many men as possible to the tower. However, it was declared that she was a witch and was executed.

Lastly, people have heard a male voice singing in the towers, but there never seems to be a body attached to the voice.

Spooky!! Luckily, we didn’t see or hear anything out of the ordinary on this day, lol.

Passing through the gate, the Orthodox Alexander Nevsky Cathedral can easily be seen. It was built between 1894 and 1900, when Estonia was part of the Russian Empire.

Many Estonians did not like this church as they felt it symbolized oppression, so it was scheduled to be demolished in the 20th century. However, this never happened since there wasn’t enough funding to support the demolition. Since Estonia’s independence from the Soviet Union the cathedral has been restored. The church has eleven church bells, one of which is the biggest one in Tallinn.

*Fun Fact* 

Just like Latvia gained its independence in 1991, so did Estonia.

We continued on our journey, eventually reaching the top of Toompea Hill. This hill is the central part of Tallinn and offers a beautiful overlook of the city.

At this point in our visit, we wanted to make a trip out to an open air museum that was outside of the city a bit. Unfortunately, we were running a bit short on time and were worried we may not make it back in time to catch the boat. Since getting stuck in Tallinn and getting a last minute flight to our next stop (Russia) wasn’t something we wanted to deal with, we decided to wander back through the town a bit more. We walked through a small picturesque park called Tower’s Square on our way back.

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As we wandered a bit more in the city, we paused for a moment on the historical Harju St. It’s said that this street potentially dates back to the Early Medieval Age. Tallinn was bombed several times during WWII by both the Germans and the Russians and it resulted in major structural damage. Along Harju St., there is a memorial to remember those troubling times.

What Harju St. looked like after the bombings:img_0885-xl

Harju St. today:img_0887_pano-x3

One of the famous features of this street is that in the winter months, the whole street is turned into an outdoor ice skating rink. How cool is that?

At this point in our trip, it was time to head back to the Vision of the Seas ship.

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Here is a little buddy we had waiting for us in our room on board:

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As a bonus, in case you are ever questioning – should I eat that cake? Here is your answer:

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We found this town more charming and quaint compared to Riga and really enjoyed our day.

Back on the ship, we caught the live show, had dinner, and again prepared for the next day’s adventure.

Thank you for reading and keep your eyes peeled for our next stop where we visited St. Petersburg, Russia!!

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Click here for more pictures of Tallinn, Estonia!

Thank you for reading! Until next time!

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Orta San Guilio – Lago d’Orta

This post has been in the queue for a bit – our friends were visiting (YAY!), so we haven’t the chance to finish it.

Friday, 2 June 2017:

One of our “recent” day trips consisted of going to a nearby lake named Lago d’Orta (Lake Orta). This lake is northeast of where we live, and is a fairly quick ride over.

It was previously named Lago di San Giulio after the 4th century patron saint of the region, Saint Julius, up until the 16th century.  Continue reading “Orta San Guilio – Lago d’Orta”

Venezia (Venice) and Verona

We recently went on a quick trip to Venezia (Venice) and Verona. It was a very pleasant experience and one that we fully enjoyed.

Before sharing the things we did and saw, I would like to recognize what a great job Venice’s law enforcement did recently. The day before we left for Venice (30 March 2017) was a terror scare. We learned that a few men had threatened to destroy the Rialto Bridge, which is the most popular bridge in Venice, because of the pride they felt after the London attack. Luckily, the police were able to intercede prior to anything happening, but I did question the intelligence of us going. However, as Nick said, this is probably the best time to go due to higher security that would be in place. We went along with our plans and everything turned out just fine.  Continue reading “Venezia (Venice) and Verona”

Paris, France

After we finished up with Amsterdam, Nick and I headed off to Paris. We landed pretty late into the night and stayed at a nice Intercontinental hotel. However, after determining that there wasn’t a pool (sorry Nick!), we decided to head off to bed in order to visit the Eiffel Tower early the next day!

Wednesday, 28 December 2016:

Before seeing the iconic tower, we of course had to get some pastries! We stopped by a place called La Petite Marquise. Let me tell you, they were simply amazing and pretty hopping! Each time we passed this pastry shop, there were people lining up even outside the door to get some fresh French pastries for breakfast. Continue reading “Paris, France”

Monaco, Nice, and Cervinia!

This post will be a bit of a compilation of places we visited on the weekend of 8-11 December. On 8 December, the Italy observed the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. In other words, Nick had a long weekend, so we decided to go the French Riviera (or Côte d’Azur) for a couple of days.

Thursday, 8 December 2016:

After a couple of hours driving, we entered France!

Continue reading “Monaco, Nice, and Cervinia!”

Barcelona, Spain!

As some of you know, we spent a long weekend in Barcelona, Spain from 28-Oct to 31-Oct. Let me start off by saying, we had such an amazing time. The food, the language, and the sites were all beautiful and special to experience. I was able to practice my Spanish and I absolutely loved it!

This was out first real trip outside of Italy, and it makes us so excited to further our experiences as time goes by.

Continue reading “Barcelona, Spain!”

Pisa, Italy

Friday, 25 March, 2016:

For Easter weekend, we decided to drive down to Pisa and Florence.

After much discussion, we also decided to try out AirBnB with a shared apartment. In case you aren’t sure what that means, here’s a little description: we rented a room and a private bathroom in an apartment where the hosts would be there. When first hearing this, it might sound a bit odd to be sharing an apartment with complete strangers. However, this young couple had very good reviews on the AirBnB website, and we decided to take a leap of faith and know that we have each other, regardless.

Continue reading “Pisa, Italy”

Genova (Genoa), Italy

Saturday, 19 March 2016:

We decided, spur of the moment, to take a train ride to Genova for the day on Saturday. The train ride was inexpensive and pretty comfortable (for a 2-hour ride).

Our first stop was to get these lovelies. Yum, yum, yum. Can you guess which one I had? Cioccolato? Si!

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While walking towards the Italian Riveria (coastal region with a subtropical climate), we saw this beautiful archway that leads to a garden/park.

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This hill is called La Scalinata delle tre Caravelle (The Steps of the three Caravels, which are sailing ships). This flower garden shows the anchors and ships from Christopher Columbus’ fleet. Silly us, as we walked up, we kept track of the number of steps. We counted 106 steps to the top. We did eventually make it the Mediterranean Sea and walked this nice promenade where one can take a passeggiata (stroll).

It was so peaceful here that we could easily spend hours, wasting the day away, just watching the sea. A little geography: Nick and I were talking about the difference between a sea and an ocean, and we could kind of guess, but couldn’t really figure it out. In case you aren’t sure either, a sea is a smaller body of water and usually located where the land and ocean meet.

We decided to head back into the city after some time walking along the riviera. We quickly learned that Genova is a very hilly city. I’m not exactly sure how many paved hills we went up and down, but boy were my legs getting tired!

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*Fun Fact* 

  1. Did you know that Genova is filled with small cobblestone alleys? Walking up and down these alleys, you could probably fit three people across. Any more than that would be nearly impossible. 

 

 

 

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2. Along with these alleys (that I would definitely never walk by myself or want to live in), there are some buildings with extremely tiny doors (that are part of extremely GIANT doors). See where I marked in red? We someone practically climb out of this door. If you’re not careful, you can take out your head, an elbow, or even an ankle.

 

 

We refueled by grabbing some focaccia bread (which is a specialty of Genova) and gazed upon the Genoa Cathedral, which you can tell by the picture below is very tall! After we ate, we visited inside the church, which was breathtaking. You would think after seeing a few different magnificent churches that maybe we would become a little less impressed. However, that is not the case at all. Each church we have been to so far has its own unique beauty that it’s an adventure each time.

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Continuing on our journey, we made it to the fountain that I have been wanting to see ever since finding it in one our travel books, the Piazza De Ferrari Fountain. It is placed in the center of the city. Again, a peaceful place to relax and hear the soothing sounds of the water.

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On this fountain a message has been carved: “tenace affetto di ligure superando il destino alla sua citta donava” The direct translation is: “determined Ligurian (the region that Genova in in) affection which surpasses the fate of his donated town”. I kind of understand the gist of the message, but there’s something more there that I need to figure out!

 

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And here is the happy couple! 🙂 It was getting a bit warm that day!

Being in Italy, we, of course, had to grab some gelato. We read about this particular gelateria called Purfumo di Rosa. Here, they have homemade gelato. So delicious! My favorite, hands down, is fondente. Think of fudge in ice cream form and that is what fondente is like.

*Fun Fact* Did you know that Genova is also known for making gelato with actual flowers? Nick got the flavor and I tried it. There is no other way to describe the flavor except as it tastes exactly how a rose smells (if that makes any sense).

Afterward, we went back to the sea side to go up this 360 panoramic outdoor elevator that overlooks Genoa and part of the Mediterranean Sea. It’s called Il Bigo. If you look at the picture below, the Il Bigo is circled in red.

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The picture above has a couple more angles of Il Bigo. It was pretty cool. It did not revolve like advertised, but at least we were able to move around a bit in the elevator at the top.

We also saw this biosphere that is more or less like a sphere-shaped greenhouse.

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Lastly, we went to have some delicious Genovese pesto because like focaccia, Genova is also know for its pesto.

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No other words except – wow! So yummy!

We went home exhausted and I slept well into Sunday. Not much happened on Sunday. We went to a couple of open markets and relaxed more than anything else.

Well, family and friends, until next time! 🙂

Click here for more Genova pictures!

Avigliana, Lakes, & Sacra di San Michele

So this week has been a little crazy, our air shipment has finally arrived. However, when you have your clothing in boxes for over a month and a half, guess what they smell like? That’s right, cardboard! You have probably guessed what’s been keeping me entertained this week – laundry.

Doing laundry without a dryer is a very interesting process. It’s a good thing that we have several closets that we can hang clothing, otherwise washing would be an even longer process. However, that doesn’t mean that it’s going fast by any means. I can’t even begin to tell you how many loads of laundry I’ve done so and I’m not even done yet! Oh well! Here is what we did last weekend. 🙂

Saturday, 12 March 2016:

Nick found a couple of beautiful spots to visit and enjoy on this beautiful day. We first drove around Avigliana in northern Turin, which holds the ruins of the Avigliana Castle. After being taken over twice and rebuilt in the 17th century, this castle was never to be rebuilt again. Now it lies in ruins in this small town and makes for an interesting attraction.

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The Avigliana Castle is towards the back of the picture. The watch tower is poking through. It’s interesting how a village was simply built around it and now it’s just an unused building of sorts.

We made the mistake of walking down a path that we thought led up to the castle, but was stopped by a local and we were told there is no entrance to the castle. We were actually walking up his private property, which we had no idea about…oops! He was kind though, and it turned out fine.

Our next stop on this beautiful day was…

.Il Lago Piccolo (The Small Lake)IMG_4948-XL

We packed a lunch beforehand and ate near this little lake. Once we were done, we decided to walk on a little nature trail. When we started our walk, we both heard something. I stopped, and Nick wanted to continue. I asked Nick, ‘what is that sound?’ Just like a scene from the movie, we both looked up to see…

…a swarm of bees!! There was a tree that was filled (when I say filled, I mean filled!) of bees! At least a hundred of them buzzing about.

I panicked, and jetted out of there as soon as I could without looking too ridiculous (it’s a public place after all!). Now, some of you may know I have a bee phobia. Pretty bad too. Nick has actually had a couple of talks with me about running away from bees and being near a road… 🙂 . Obviously, I wouldn’t intentionally run into the road, but I can see why he would need to say that. Anyway…back to Italy!

We walked on this pretty, albeit a bit muddy, path for a bit and decided to turn around. Nick grabbed the video above at this time while I watched from a distance. I was surprised of how many people were just walking underneath this tree oblivious to the swarm of bees above. However, they probably didn’t even care because in reality the bees were having a grand old time getting all that pollen out of those little flowers. Next we went off to…

Il Lago Grande (The Big Lake)

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 It lives up to its name pretty well. On this lake, the enormous Alps can easily be spotted and are amazing to look at. Whenever I look at them, I become a little intimated. I keep thinking how small I am compared to the gigantic mountains.

When we want to go kayaking, this is the lake that we will definitely use. The water is peaceful and so very blue. You will hear some crazy Italian ducks quacking about, but they stay pretty close to the edge of the water. They’re probably waiting for someone to throw some bread over. Since they were hanging around near a restaurant, I bet they get delicious bread, at least compared to what the U.S. ducks get ;). We could have walked longer, the sun felt so nice, but we had one more stop to go before calling it a day. Do you see the little red circle at the top of the hill in the picture below? That’s where we headed to next – Sacra di San Michele.

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Sacra di San Michele

The drive up to this church was just like driving up a mountain in a national park – curvy, steep, and extremely narrow. I question if the road is actually two lanes but everyone squeezed two cars through. At least the views off the side were beautiful. When we finally reached the top, we were both a little confused. Yes, we were closer to this beautiful 1000 year old church, but somehow it still seemed farther away than what we thought it would be.

We quickly figured out that we had to climb up a hill to reach the church. After this climb, we came to realize that our workout wasn’t done! Inside this beautiful and big church, there were many, many stairs to climb. At one point it was kind of laughable because our legs were actually becoming tried!

 

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Here are some of those stairs we had to climb!

Beautiful inside and out!

Here we are at the top of Sacra di San Michele with the Alps behind us – those mountains are everywhere 😉

Sunday, 13 March 2016:

Sunday was more of an organizing type of day during the morning. Then, we Skyped with some friends, which is always nice :). A few girlfriends and I have a little book club that we started last year. What could be better than friends, reading, and having discussions about books? This time we read The Time Traveler’s Wife and had a very interesting discussion.

Afterward, we had to update our cell phone plans and Nick searched the city for a store open on Sunday to do it.

*Fun Fact* Did you know that when you want change your phone plan or update information, you need to present your passport (at least us foreigners do)? Some places ask for a specific ID card that we are in the process of getting here, but some places specifically ask for your passports.

As we walked around a little (since it wasn’t too cold of a night) we noticed music and lights coming from a certain direction. We learned that there’s a place where food trucks and other food vendors come together in one area and sell all kinds of yummies. It reminded of the Food Trucks at the SoWa Markets in South Boston.

The second picture above is actually a food truck for dogs! It’s so nice that the dogs can eat here too if they want (and well, if their owner wants them to) 🙂 . If you look at the fourth picture, there is a food vendor inside an egg-shaped contraption, crazy. It really shouldn’t amaze me that there’s a place like this here, but it kind of does.

We ended up buying these little grilled (but really fried) cheese sandwiches made with fresh mozzarella. Whatever they were, they tasted delicious!

Until next time!

Click here for more pictures from this weekend