Sunday, July 21, 2013

Scandinavia, Part 7: Mom & the Kids venture to Estonia

Normally the idea of traveling 
with the kids
to a foreign, non-English speaking country
with no cell phone
and two nights on a ship crossing the Baltic Sea
(with a lot of inebriated passengers speaking loud Russian/Estonian/Finnish? until 3am)
would possibly frighten me.
But we were feeling a little crazy-brave.
Hello, Estonia!
The kids thought the name of the entry point to medieval Tallinn, Fat Margaret's Tower, was hilarious.
There it is behind them.
Just outside Fat Margaret's Tower is a large broken arch monument, memorial to the 852 people who died when the same ferry passage we took across the Baltic sank in 1994. (I figured the kids might not need to know this little nugget of history, seeing as how we had to take the ship back to Stockholm.)
 The medieval city was well-preserved, but unfortunately the outskirts were rather boxy and unappealing thanks to 45 years of Soviet communist occupation (before that, Estonia had endured two centuries of Czarist rule). 
On this street, Pikk, the KGB set up headquarters at Pikk 59. "Creative interrogation methods" were used here on Tallinn's citizens, many of whom were sent off to Siberian gulags.
But the Estonian spirit could not be squelched.
And what a story!
To win their freedom from the USSR, Estonians gathered together here in Tallinn to lock arms and, like the Whos down in Who-ville, sing patriotic songs. On August 23, 1989--50 years to the day that Hitler and Stalin made a notorious pact--the Latvians, Lithuanians, and Estonians linked hands to form the "Baltic Chain" stretching 360 miles from Tallinn, Estonia to Vilnius, Lithuania.  Within six months, the first free elections took place in all three Baltic states. By the next year, Gorbachev was ousted (remember the controversial "house arrest" in St. Petersburg, history buffs?) and Estonia gained independence.
(Thank you, Rick Steves, for allowing me to virtually plagiarize a page out of your guidebook.)
 The Brotherhood of the Black Heads, a German guild, met here until Hitler called them back to the fatherland in the 1930s.
 On our way to the main square, which was bustling this day! A large cruise ship was in port.

 Lorelei loved shopping in Tallinn. Every half block we'd stumble into a shop of matryoshka dolls, her favorites! (She ended up deciding on a set that she could paint herself, just like the dala horse. That girl sure loves her art projects!)

 In case you wondered what was for dinner...

 This Russian Orthodox Cathedral created a lot of controversy. The Alexander Nevsky Cathedral was built in 1900 on the very spot where a legendary Estonian was buried. A statue of Martin Luther was also removed to make room as the Russians attempted to display their dominance over the Estonians.
 We went discreetly into the candlelit cathedral as an orthodox church service was taking place.
There is such beauty in the way they worship God, all huddled together with candles voicing prayers.
(We left the camera off out of respect.)
 Gryffy's favorite pose (with the sword he picked up in Denmark).
And speaking of Denmark, Tallinn (Estonia) is where the Danes were fighting a losing battle when, as legend goes, a white cross fell from the heavens into a pool of blood.  The vision inspired the Danes to their victory.
This is why the Danish flag is red with a white cross.
Estonia is at its most glorious from the lookouts above. 
Here we are at the Patkuli Viewpoint, quite popular on Pinterest.
 Charming, isn't it?
 This is another view from the Kohtuotsa Viewpoint.

 St. Olav's Tower, used by the KGB to block Finnish TV signals.
We peeked inside the church but one kid was too tired to climb all the steps to the tower.

 Here we are descending back into the town square.
We stopped for a great lunch along the way.

 Here's an example of what it's like to step inside the doors of this town.

 We had a long trek back to the port, and those two awesome kids had been walking on their little legs all day long. We took a break to watch some archers on a grassy knoll, then sat for a while on this little dove rock.
 Back to our ship, Victoria I, which took us on an overnight to Stockholm.
The kids loved cruising (and they had a kids club on board to entertain them--the women in charge were quite smitten with little Gryffy, and kept rigging the games so that he'd win all the candy, and did a special art tattoo on Lorelei's arm).
I have to say, we were the only Americans on the ship, and the staff seemed to really like us :)
 Good-bye Estonia!
And good-bye, Scandinavia!
This Scandinavian Adventure through Denmark, Norway, Sweden & Estonia was hands down the best vacation of our lives! I'm so glad we got to share it as a family and create memories that will last forever. 
For more of our Scandinavian Adventures, click HERE and scroll down through a smorgasbord sampling of countries and cultures.
Hej! Ha! Tere! Good-bye, Scandinavia!

Friday, July 19, 2013

Scandinavia, Part 6: Stockholm, Sweden

 The reason we took our first all-family European vacation was because of this city of dreams, Stockholm. Mark had been asked to deliver a talk there at a conference. For big cities, Stockholm, with all its parks and medieval wonders and smattering of bridges and islands--along with a tremendously vibrant history--was a charmer.
And we got in the day after the royal wedding. Who doesn't love a royal wedding?
The bridge connecting past parliament onto the island of Gamla Stan, location of the royal palace.

 We arrived with just enough time to get the best spot for the changing of the guard.
It was a sight to behold, and I'd venture to say it was more entertaining than the one at Buckingham Palace. The Swedes really did it up.
 In front of the Palace before the changing of the guard.
 Palace courtyard.

After the Protestant Reformation, church services were no longer held in Latin. Since there were so many merchants here in Stockholm, each community needed its own church, in its own language.
Iron Boy, a statue honoring orphans who used to move cargo on ships. Swedish grandmas knit the little guy caps in the cold winters.
Stortorget Square in Gamla Stan, the heart of Stockholm. The Stockholm Bloodbath took place here in 1520. The Danes rounded up Swedish aristocracy, priests, and merchants in a power grab, and beheaded 80 of them in this very spot. The 80 white squares in the red building behind the kids represent each of the lives lost on that macabre day.

Stockholm's Cathedral, dating from the 13th century.
St. George and the Dragon, which represents the fight against evil (and, for the Swedes, overcoming the Danes).
15th century Priests Lane

Our viking in front of a real Viking-Age Rune Stone (guarded by a cannon barrel).
Steeple of the German Church, the first German Lutheran Church in the world (Sweden formally adopted Lutheranism even before Northern Germany).

Lorelei adored watching this talented artist paint Dala horses. Daddy ordered Lulu a wooden one to paint at home.
One of our favorite places (and the most touristed spot in Sweden) was the Skansen Open-Air Folk Museum.

Can you spot the peacock we were chasing?
I adored this mama bear and cubs. I can totally relate to how she feels about her babies.

At Skansen, the north end of the museum represents northern Sweden, the south end southern Sweden, etc., and the architecture follows.

We stayed in a hotel right off this busy pedestrian drag, which leads directly into the medieval city.
Lorelei just loves her little brother to death. :) "He's so fluffy!" (Despicable Me reference.)

The archipelago of Stockholm is breathtaking, with little homes tucked all around for miles and miles. Despite the beautiful simplicity, it's a very posh place to live.

The Vasa Museum was a wonder to behold.
The ship, top heavy with so many cannons, sank on its maiden voyage.

And the nearby Nordic Museum was gorgeous from the outside, but we never made it in.
I had to snap a shot of this--hands down world's best hostel.
That's right, it's an airplane you actually sleep in, right at the Stockholm airport.
I had to steal this photo from the Internet, but while the kids and I took a little side trip adventure (more about that in the next post), Mark had the honor of eating dinner in this very room, the venue of the Nobel Prize Banquet.
Pretty dang cool.  
As far as cities go, Stockholm is the queen of Scandinavia. Equal parts water, park, and city, we loved this vibrant capital.
Our Scandinavian adventures are not quite done. I was feeling rather independent and, on a whim, decided to brave the Baltics with the kids. More on that soon...