Welcome back, reader.
Our (relatively speaking) adventure begins again.
We are now in Tallinn, Estonia, having arrived yesterday by ferry from Helsinki, Finland, having arrived there two days earlier by overnight plane from Hong Kong. Hong Kong was 28 degrees, sticky and disturbingly efficient. Helsinki was 4 degrees, and efficient. Tallinn was not very efficient but was quite medieval.
But I am getting a bit ahead.
HK was a great start to the trip, fascinating to wander around and with a couple of iconic places to visit.
We caught the Peak Tram up to Victoria Peak; we caught the Star Ferry across to Kowloon. We went out to Stanley and Repulse bay. We saw the nightly Symphony of Light from Golden Bauhinia Square, but that’s actually more iconic in the promotion than in the event itself.
Generally though, we just wandered around the Island, marveling at the way so many people live and work so well together in such a small space.
Being a Sunday it was interesting to see many groups of Filipino maids sitting around in town. Without any real room of their own (many maid’s rooms are barely big enough for
an adult to lie down) they come downtown to meet their friends, sitting on blankets or sheets of cardboard or on the ground. They play cards or listen to music or talk or sleep, but mainly just get away from their employers for a day.
Perhaps they don’t take full advantage of happy hour. We walked into the bar of our hotel for one drink and walked upstairs a few hours later after 4 pints of beer, 2 gin and tonics and a couple of glasses of wine. It’s not that we intended to stay; the buy one – get one free policy just makes it so hard not to!
All too soon though we were back on the superefficient MTR and the superefficient Airport Express and the interminable overnight flight to Helsinki.
Helsinki was bitterly cold when we arrived just after 6 in the morning. A quick re-arrangement of the luggage – taking most of our clothes out of the bags and putting them on – solved the problem and before long we were exploring the city.
We stayed in Katajanokka, an area just out of the city, in a converted prison. The jail was
coincidentally built in the same style as that in Port Arthur. The district was a fascinating area near a ferry port with many warehouses converted to residences, and new apartment blocks all built in the same style.
Helsinki’s public transport is very efficient. We caught tram number 3 that took us and a drunk past many of the famous sites. Yes, I know you don’t know of a single famous site in Helsinki; you’ll just have to take our word for it. Suffice it to say there is a cathedral (very beautiful outside, not much inside), some other churches, a Sibelius monument and that’s about it.
The jewel in the crown of Helsinki though is Suomenlinna, an island fortress dating back to the 1700’s and a UNESCO site (for its military architecture or something). It sits just offshore in Helsinki’s harbour. We braved the cold and caught the ferry out and walked the 2 kilometres or so past numerous fortifications out to the “King’s Gate”, so called because the King of Sweden once landed there when Sweden controlled Finland. You wouldn’t blame him if he couldn’t be bothered, but I guess Sweden is pretty cold too.
utter cold and desolation around the gun emplacements seemed completely apt. Clumps of unmelted snow still lay in the sheltered areas. It was a worthwhile few hours but we were soon ready to get back away from the wind and cold.
It was also bewildering coping with the daylight. There is just too much of it, and it isn’t even summer! The sun rises around 5 and sets after 10. It’s funny how the body clock can be so opposed to intoxication during daylight hours.
We then caught the ferry to Tallinn. Tram and bus to the ferry port, coffee while we watched all the other passengers drink pints of beer at 9am, 2 hours smooth sailing (with a beer or two to ease the tension) then cobblestones aplenty as we walked up into Tallinn old town.
Tallinn’s old town is tremendously historic, well-preserved and, as a result, very tourist-centric. It is a great place to wander around.
We did wander, then we went out for dinner, and I lost a crown from one of my teeth. Some people will remember my stories of Boris, the Russian dentist – perhaps the tooth was just following him
back to the fatherland. Anyway, I should still be able to digest enough food to keep me obese for the next few months.
The views from the higher ground in Tallinn old town – the cathedral, the castle - are fascinating. The recent history of Estonia’s (and the other Baltic states'
fight to be free of the soviets is utterly amazing.
We took a free guided tour hosted by Carol - a nice girl who was far too young to think very much about any opinions other than her own. Her stories and comments about religion (and there are heaps of churches in old Tallinn, although Estonia is apparently the most atheist county in Europe) would make a bishop shudder. But the thing that showed through most was her obvious pride in the achievement of her country in obtaining a bloodless escape from soviet rule. And she would have been too young to have experienced it first hand.
Three fascinating and different countries – a great start to our next holiday. Please stay with us for more updates.
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