September 1 Tallin, Estonia

I did not know anything about Tallinn, and very little about Estonia, before taking this cruise. I was very excited and interested in seeing St. Petersburg and the Nordic countries, and I didn’t give much thought to the port stop in Estonia. This turn out to be my favorite stop, other than St. Petersburg, and I would love to go back here someday!!!

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Looking down on Tallinn from the top of Toompea Hill. Tallinn still looks mostly like a town from the Middle Ages.

I am going to include some historical information again, as you all might not know much about Tallinn either.Tallinn is the capital and largest city of Estonia, and the oldest capital city in Northern Europe. It is situated on the northern coast of the country, on the shore of the Gulf of Finland, 80 kilometers (50 miles) south of Helsinki, east of Stockholm and west of St. Petersburg. The city was known as Reval from the 13th century until 1917, and again during the Nazi invasion of Estonia from 1941 to 1944.Tallinn’s Old Town is in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites

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Looking up to the top of the hill at Tallinn’s Old Town wall and one of the defense towers.

Our guide told us a story about the mythical Linda, the wife of Kalev and the mother of Kalevipoeg, who in an Estonian legend carried big rocks to pile up on her husband’s grave as she spent many years grieving for him. She piled up so many rocks that she formed the Toompea hill in Tallinn. However it was formed, it made a very good look out and defensive position for the town.

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Another section of the Tallinn wall and defensive towers

In 1050 the first fortress was built on Tallinn Toompea hill. As it was an important port for trade between Russia and Scandinavia, it became a target for the expansion of the Teutonic Knights and the Kingdom of Denmark during the period of the Northern Crusades, which began at the start of the 13th century. Christianity was forcibly imposed on the local population at this time as they were still pagans. I think this was the last section of Europe to be converted to Christianity. And right now, according to our guide, paganism is practised by about 30% of the population, and it is the fastest growing religion in the country of Estonia.

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A street in the Old town section of Tallinn. Most of the houses in the Old Town are still occupied by families, stores, restaurants, and one section is part of the Tallinn University.

Danish rule of Tallinn and Northern Estonia started in 1219. The Danes sold Reval along with their other land possessions in northern Estonia to the Teutonic Knights in 1346. Medieval Reval enjoyed a strategic position at the crossroads of trade between Western and Northern Europe and Russia. The city, with a population of 8,000, was very well fortified with city walls and 66 defensive towers.

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A doorway in a house in Old Town Tallinn

A weathervane in the figure of an old warrior called Old Thomas, was put on top of the spire of the Tallinn Town Hall in 1530 that became the symbol for the city. He is not as impressive as a double-headed eagle or a crown, but I think that he is still cute!

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Old Thomas Weathervane, symbol of the Town of Tallinn

In 1561 Reval became a dominion of Sweden. During the Great Northern War, plague struck Tallinn, and it was conquered by Russia along with Swedish Estonia. In February 1920, Tallinn became the capital of an independent Estonia. After World War II started, Estonia was annexed by the Soviet Union in 1940, and later occupied by Nazi Germany from 1941 to 1944. After the Nazi retreat in 1944, it was again annexed by the Soviet Union. In August 1991 an independent democratic Estonian state was re-established and Tallinn became the capital of the country once again.

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The government building in Tallinn

The city of Tallinn has never been razed and pillaged.  Although extensively bombed by Soviet forces during the later stages of World War II, much of the medieval Old Town was undamaged.

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Another street in Old Town in Tallinn

At 521 feet) high, the Gothic spire built for St. Olaf’s Church made it the tallest building in the world from 1549 to 1625.  After several fires and rebuilding, its height is now 403 feet. It is a Russian Orthodox church, established when the Russians controlled Tallinn. You could probably guess that from its appearance, after seeing the photos from St. Petersburg! Because it was a Sunday morning, a service was going on when we went inside of the church. So we did not take any photos of the inside.

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St. Olaf’s church in Tallinn, a middle ages skyscraper!

In addition to longtime functions as seaport and capital city, Tallinn has developed an information technology business sector. In December 2005, The New York Times characterized Tallinn  as “a sort of Silicon Valley on the Baltic Sea”. One of Tallinn’s sister cities is the Silicon Valley town of Los Gatos, California. Skype is one of the best-known of several Estonian start-ups originating from Tallinn, according to our guide. Yeah Tallinn! Thanks for Skype!.

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Ship made out of amber in a shop window in Old Town

We went into this shop in the Old Town to get a closer look at some of the beautiful amber things on display. We also needed to find a bathroom before getting back on the bus to Rakvere. This turned out to be one of the most interesting bathroom stops of the cruise! First, we went down a set of very old circular stone stairs to the basement.

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Circular stone stairway leading to the basement in a shop in Old Town in Tallinn

The basement was dark, but big enough not to feel too claustrophobic!

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End of the circular stairway

The bathrooms were located through an old stone archway into another section of the basement. I guess this is the only way to retrofit bathrooms into such an old building!

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Jeff is standing next to the entrance to the bathrooms in the basement of a shop in Tallinn Old Town

After we had toured the Old Town in Tallinn, we got back on the bus and headed out through the Estonian countryside to the old castle in Rakvere.

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Jeff standing in front of the castle on the hill in Rakvere, Estonia

The earliest signs of human settlement in Rakvere date back to the 3rd century AD. Probably to protect that early settlement, a wooden stronghold was built on the present Vallimagi hill in Rakvere.

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Another view of the Rakvere castle. It is under consideration to also become an UNESCO World Heritage Site.

When the Danes took over the town in 1220, they started to erect buildings from stone on the hill. A settlement called Tarvanpea was first mentioned here in 1226.

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Looking down into the courtyard from the castle walls in Rakvere

The battle of Wesenberg between the Danish and German knights and the Russians occurred nearby on February 18, 1268.

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A section of the castle wall in Rakvere

When the Danish king sold Estonia  in 1346, a large castle was built on top of the previous smaller stone stronghold.

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A section of the remaining second floor of the castle in Rakvere

The building became a Franciscan monastery in 1508.

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Jeff and Ann dressed up as medieval knights in Rakvere castle. Or maybe this is what the monks wore? Our guide was not very clear about this; he just told us to put them on before entering castle.

During the livonian War from 1558–1581, Rakvere was under Russian rule and was heavily damaged. Sweden captured the town in 1581.

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Another section of the inner courtyard in Rakvere castle. That wooden structure in the center is a medieval “port-a-potty”!

It was passed to Poland in 1602.

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Jeff tries out a sword inside the chapel section of the Rakvere castle. For some reason, they had displays of medieval weapons inside the chapel. Maybe I am the only one who thought that this was a weird juxtaposition?

During the Great Northern War, Rakvere was burned down in 1703.

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Ann standing in the center of a large chessboard set up in one of the Rakvere castle’s inner courtyards

.In 1721, Rakvere passed to the Russians, where it remained until Estonia’s independence in 1918 following World War I.

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Geese inside the Rakvere castle

When we were being told about the history of the town of Rakvere, I couldn’t help but think of the scene in the beginning of that Mel Brooks Robin Hood movie. You know the one where the villagers were complaining that every time someone makes a Robin Hood movie they burn their village down? Rakvere’s history reminded me of that scene. No wonder they kept building their stone castle fortress larger and larger!

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Another view of the chapel in Rakvere castle

Before our lunch in the castle, two of the costumed enactors in the castle came out with vodka for tasting. They also requested volunteers to sample more vodka. Needless to say, I did not volunteer, or sample the vodka. I was going to complain that they were as bad as the Russians, but maybe not. Vodka is one of their main exports from this area, so I guess they are sending it to the Russians. However, the pickles that they gave us to taste along with the vodka were excellent!

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Costumed actresses holding vodka samples for tasting

Lunch was terrific! This was the best lunch on the entire cruise, in my opinion! Good, Estonian country food; fish pastries, cabbage salad, barley porridge with pork, and pork stew, with apple cake for dessert. People were actually getting up from the tables to see if there was anything left in the serving dishes on other tables, so I know that I was not the only one who really enjoyed the food! Jeff tried one of the local beers with his lunch, and said that it was also very good.

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Ann sitting at the lunch table at Rakvere castle

Rakvere is also known now for its statue of an aurochs (bull), which was made by the Estonian sculptor Tauno Kangro. It is the largest animal statue in the Baltic countries! It is situated on the edge of Vallimagi hill and was erected for the town’s 700th birthday. Along with the granite block it sits on, the statue is seven meters long, four meters high and weighs about seven tons.The statue is made out of bronze. The names of the companies and private people who financed it are engraved in the granite block.

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Ann standing next to the large aurochs statue in Rakvere

I had a great time in Rakvere, and would love to go back and visit here again!

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