Saturday, June 21, 2014

June 16-21 2014 - Helsinki and Tallinn - I ate all of the Frusen Glädjé!

Geese crossing the road during our bike excursion
Our Helsinki friends Ron and Olga
After saying goodbye to 13 friends and family members who had traveled to Helsinki to visit with us, we had a couple of days to explore the town by foot, go shopping for new Nordic-style outfits (everything is brightly colored audacity), and explore the brewpubs of Helsinki. Panimoravintola Bruuveri - located in the modern Kamppi mall - tries really hard to look like a classic Finnish venue with old-looking wooden walls and a basement feel (although it's on the second floor of a modern mall). We tried the Plevna Dry Stout and Smokehouse Porter. Both were very tasty, and after a bit, the taste of smoke drifted from one to the other and I couldn't tell them apart. The Finns have really mastered the smoked porter (along with smoked fish, cheese, and pretty much anything else that will fit into a smoker).

Australian pop heartthrob Cody Simpson
(blonde guy in black hat and shades)
teenage fan club mob at the Helsinki airport
Danya and Olga waiting for the ferry to take off


The next day we took a bike ride around the coast of Helsinki (Seurasaarenselka Sound). It kept threatening to rain during our week here (there were even some reports of snow), so when there was a dry moment, we rented bikes and split for the islands! A few scattered drops attempted to dissuade us, but we knew better than to fall for those old tricks! The ride was a lovely mix of urban cityscape, car-free paved island roads, and off-road rails. Then we treated ourselves to Bryggeri Helsinki and their amazingly refreshing Hefeweizen. I don't know if it's just because of the bike ride, but that beer quenched a serious thirst and deep primal need. The Bryggeri Stout went great with their vegetarian stuffed cabbage. So it turns out there are great vegetarian options in Helsinki!

Tallinn is so photogenic

There's some Disney in Tallinn
and a lot of Tallinn in Disney.













After a few days in Germany, Kostya's girlfriend Danya rejoined us for our final leg: ferry across the Baltic Sea to Tallinn Estonia. The cruise was a short two hours - enough time to have a drink, write a few postcards, and sip emails from the intermittent internet connection as we left Finland and connected with Estonia. The vessel had a ton of amenities: cafeteria, air hockey, casino, and bars loaded with drunk Finns and Russians.

An exhibit on fishing in
Tallinn's Maritime Museum

Stepping into Tallinn's town square














Estonia, occupied sequentially by the Danish, Hanseatic League, Swedes, Russians, Germans, and Russians again, finally gained its independence with the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. The country and its savvy people pride themselves on their tech savvy (having programmed Skype) and ubiquitous wifi. The old town in Estonia's capital of Tallinn is well-preserved, much like Prague, yet has more of a feel of authenticity with pop-up shops, 'free' donation-based walking tours, and vegetarian hotspots. The cobblestone streets, red roofs, and various museums blend effortlessly into the modern architecture outside the old city wall.

Locomotion - old and new

Architecture - old and new









One thing is curious about Tallinn, though. When checking in to the hotel, they wouldn't give Danya a key to the room because "keys are for adults only" (she is 22). The next night at dinner, she was given a children's menu (it worked out well - the best food was on that menu!). And the following day, Olga was offered a "family ticket" when bringing Danya to The Museum of Occupations. A most fascinating people! Other than this peculiar predilection, the Kalev Spa Hotel & Waterpark was wonderful - I've never stayed at a hotel that has a full indoor waterpark downstairs. Numerous pools, slides, hot tubs, and saunas were there to greet weary travelers after a tiring day of city walking tours, underground bastion tours, and beer tasting.



Cold sobering moment during the Bastion tunnel tour

View of the city during the walking tour










Though a little hokey at times, the underground Bastion tunnel tour did a great job of immersing us in the various occupations and wars Estonia was dragged into. At one point, during a brief film on the Soviets bombing Tallinn during WWII, a little boy on the tour repeatedly asked why the city was being blown up. When the film showed Nazis surveying the damage, he asked if they were the bad guys who bombed the city. No, not those bad guys, the other bad guys. Sometimes you're so popular that all the bad guys want you. He asked "why didn't they think it was a bad idea to blow up the town." That's a question for the ages.

Tunnels: repaired on left,
recently discovered on right
Flower market leading in through the city wall

Tallinn has its share of great breweries too. Hansa Brewery Ōlleklubi in the old town has a sweet sippable live (unfiltered, unpasteurized) honey beer on tap and tangy maroonish live "dark beer" in bottle. By the waterfront in an old salt warehouse, Kochi Aidad serves up their very tasty Ronk stout in generous 0.5L glasses. Three cheers for local brewing in Estonia and everywhere! Terviseks Terviseks Terviseks! Check out Olga's blog for more history and culture of Helsinki and Tallinn!

"Dark Beer" and scallops at Hansa Brewery Ōlleklubi
"Ronk Stout" at Kochi Aidad
A giant wooden krug in the background


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