Saturday, June 21, 2014

Pastel Beauty

The next stop on our tour of Europe was Tallinn, Estonia.  Estonia is tucked against Russia on the Baltic Sea, one of three nations between Russia and the West that often felt the pressure of the bully that is Russia.  Unlike Lithuania and Latvia, it’s immediate western neighbors, Estonia has fared quite well since the fall of communism.  The Estonians left the USSR in 1991, joined the European Union, and never seem to have looked back.

The nation has just over a million people and 400,000 of them live in the capital, Tallinn.  During the Cold War, with the aid of antennas and ingenuity, they had access to Finland’s media and with a language that bears some similarity to Finnish, they therefore had some limited exposure  to the western world, access that seems to have paid off as they now enjoy a stable capitalist economy and parliamentary democracy housed in this lovely pink building that was once Toompea Castle, a 13th century stone fortress.

The city of Tallinn is built on the side of the hill overlooking the Baltic Sea harbor with over 1000 years of history still well-preserved in its streets.  From the buildings first constructed when the Danes conquered the land to the buildings made when the Hanseatic League took their turn ruling Estonia, there is beauty on every corner.

We started our walking tour of the city in a section of the Upper Town at the cobblestoned road in front of the Parliament building (and what nation wouldn’t benefit from a pink parliament building?).  There was an active Russian Orthodox Church across the road, one that started life as a Catholic Church, spent some time as a Lutheran house of worship and is now in the hands of the Russia Orthodox faith and called Alexander Nevsky Cathedral.  When we arrived, the bells were chiming and the Patriarch came out on steps strewn with flowers as the congregation prepared to celebrate a mass that seemed to be more than the regular service, though our tour guide was mystified as too which holiday it could be.

Later, we were permitted to quietly enter the church as the congregation was involved in the service.

The cobblestone streets were beautiful, as were the preserved buildings that lined them.

From the Upper Town, where the nobles once lived, we could view the walls and insides of the Lower Town, which once housed the merchant class.

We stepped down the steep cobblestone walks to the Lower Town where we saw buildings in both the Hanseatic and Scandanavian style, all painted lovely pastel shades of blue, green, salmon, yellow, and pink.  

Much of the narrow galley walkways and gates of the original Old Town are still preserved.

Our tour guide explained that while Estonians had struggled under Soviet rule, they’d had centuries of occupation in their history, occupations where they had learned to preserve Estonian ways despite German, Danish, and Swedish rulers of varying tolerance.  The brief independence and self-rule they enjoyed at the start of the 20th century seems to have prepared them well for life as a modern European state, one that appreciates and preserves its history.

I made more than 150 pictures in Tallinn.  There was beauty everywhere in this gem on the Baltic Sea. That's happy!

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