We’re Singing in the Rain–in Tallinn and Helsinki

Tilting windmill at Open Air Museum in Tallinn

Earlier this week you received three photos of Tallinn’s Open Air Museum. You shouldn’t have. Joy forwarded them from her camera to Word Press’s media library for inclusion in today’s post. Somehow they went directly to all lawsonsontheloose.net subscribers. Isn’t modern technology the best? In those words all travelers know so well, “We apologize for any inconvenience.”

Father-daughter stroll in Tallinn woods.

Our timing may have been off but our intentions were noble. We wanted to share our refreshing day in the woods with you. Estonia is mostly rural, replete with forests and scarce population. To spend all one’s time in the city is to miss some of what’s best about this nation. Of course, the Open Air Museum is not really rural, situated on the outskirts of the capital (hence the name Museum, a protected glimpse of the past). Altogether these 178 acres hold 68 farmhouses, 12 farm-yards, church, school, tavern, windmills, storage sheds and more. The regular tourist season is over, so we had to peer through the small windows to see how Estonians lived in the 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries. The Museum even included a farmstead from the 1930s—the decade of my birth. I’ve reached the historical curiosity stage!

Tallinn’s Old City  Orthodox church

We’d been in Tallinn a few days when we spent the day in the Open Air Museum with daughter Candy and son-in-law Michael, who took a vacation week to join us here. (That’s not exactly a true statement. Thanks to the magic of modern technology, both of them spent several hours a day working over the telephone and internet. Still, we got to be with them while they worked and they got to play a little with us.)

It’s kind of crazy to go north in late September. Tallinn and Helsinki are near the same latitude as Anchorage, Alaska. The color of the leaves and the chill in the air announce autumn’s arrival. Our experience here offers additional proof that I missed my calling. I should have been a weather man. I can end a series of sunny days whenever I want. All I have to do is schedule an outdoor excursion a few days from now and voila! on that very day the rains will fall. Thus it happened on our one-day ferry ride to Helsinki.

Umbrellas don’t last in Helsinki wind

It rained. And blew. And destroyed two expensive umbrellas—turned them inside out and broke their ribbing. And I had paid a solid euro ($1.18) apiece for them. You’d think for that kind of money they’d have lasted more than just a few minutes before giving in to the forceful gusts.

We can’t complain, though. While we have been indulging ourselves our world back home exploded with grief. First Hurricane Harvey pounded America’s mid-Southern states. We had barely caught our breath when Irma devastated much of Florida and the American Southeast. Then what Maria did to Puerto Rico and other Caribbean islands beggars description. As if what the insurance companies like to call “acts of God” were not enough, along came a home-grown terrorist attack in Las Vegas to set a record for domestic slaughter.

What is most disheartening of all regarding Las Vegas’ tragedy is that even this heinous act won’t be enough to convince diehards that America needs protection from our insane addiction to guns for killing one another. My frustration and sense of helplessness in the face of such suffering, so much of it inflicted by humans, grows daily. While we are here comparing the violent histories of Estonia and Finland and Belgium with today’s news, we have to conclude that the human race may be getting bigger but we’re not getting smarter.

That’s the negative. The positive note in the news has been the reporting from all these hard-hit areas that many heroic individuals, first responders who defy the odds to get to the maimed and bereft and the government agencies working around the clock to provide relief. Compassion is not dead. Americans rise to the challenge of disaster relief; now if we can just get with the program of disaster prevention. We can’t prevent hurricanes; if we can’t prevent, we can at least dramatically reduce, homicides. Yes, I know the slogan: “Guns don’t kill; people do.” But they use guns to do so. (I’m from gun-toting country. My people are hunters. But they don’t hunt people! And they don’t stockpile military weapons of mass destruction.)

Candy couldn’t resist. Note the writing on the brick wall, “Save the camera honey, enjoy the view.”  IN ENGLISH!

Now back to the subject at hand.

Like Belgium, Estonia and Finland are relatively new countries. Finland celebrates its 100th anniversary this year and Estonia does the same in 2018. However, most of this past century both have been squeezed by communism and fascism and territory-grabbing by more powerful neighbors. Only after the collapse of the Soviet Union (1989-1991) have they been able to breathe free. Even now they cast a wary eye eastward. Both countries joined the European Union, belong to NATO, and in other ways lean toward the West, but cautiously.

Tallinn street

Through our walks and walking tours we soaked up the charm of Tallinn. UNESCO dubbed the Old Town a World Heritage Site in 1997, freezing it in time. We walked the original cobblestone streets (which feel a lot like Bruges’) and gazed at its famous churches and houses and towers and warehouses dating back to the Middle Ages.

Palace of Catherine I, built by her husband Peter the Great. Now a museum.
Piano Duo of Argo and Arko. They were practicing for an evening performance as we toured the Palace. We lingered and enjoyed the free concert.

We were glad to have the Ohanessians with us. They do a better job  negotiating the mysteries of other languages than we do. We’ve been adrift before but we could usually find enough similarities between German, say, or French or Spanish and English that we could guess the meaning with modest success. Estonian, however, is not an Indo-European language. Its cousins are Finnish and Hungarian. Its grammar is complex (14 noun cases says Wikipedia; our guide said 16) and its pronunciations are incomprehensible, at least to this half-deaf speaker of English. Some examples:

Maantee, as in our address (13 Paldiski manatee), is road. Bread=lieb, ticket=pilet, church=kirik, pen=pliiatsi, weather=ilm, butter=või. For example, Google Translate renders the sentence, “Let’s go to town,” as “Läheme linnale.” You see the problem. Fortunately, English is once again the “go to” language, so we were comfortably able to ask for and receive directions. The Estonians have a reputation for being rather stand-offish, but their brusqueness quickly dissolves when helping a stranger. Of course, it helps to look pitiful. I’ve mastered the art.

One of Tallinn’s claims to fame, perhaps the one we heard most about, is that Skype was born here. In fact, Tallinn’s often called Europe’s Silicon Valley, one of the top 10 digital cities in the world. Indeed, it’s one of the few places we’ve been where we haven’t grumbled about our internet connectivity.

Olde Hansa restaurant. While walking along a Bruges canal I met two English ladies on holiday. They insisted we dine here. We did as instructed and feasted on elk, bear, and beef steaks and boar sausage.

Just one meal to report. I can’t improve on Olde Hansa’s web site spiel: “The medieval restaurant Olde Hansa is the home of a rich merchant, whose guests enjoy delicious, authentic Hansa-era meals and drinks, true period music and always friendly service. All of the dishes on the menu, including many wild game delicacies, are cooked using 15th century recipes and methods.” We feasted on bear, elk and wild boar and, once our eyes adjusted to the candlelit semi-darkness, loved the ambience.

This young university graduate skillfully guided our city walking tour.

Our beautiful walking tour guide, whose name sounded to me like Mabel as pronounced by an Aussie, a Tallinn native, loves her town and infected us with her enthusiasm as she described the town square, the ancient wall and towers, and the charms and history and quirks of Estonians.

On a gray, rainy day it’s easy to understand Estonians’ love of color. This is the Old Town Square.

A constant challenge here is the question of identity. Who is a genuine Estonian? Since the land has been occupied by Russians, Germans, Frenchmen, Danes and Swedes (have I left any out?), and since the occupiers left a remnant behind when they withdrew, the estimate is that no more than two-thirds of the people are Estonian; the rest have their roots in these earlier occupying countries. Who then can vote? Who really belongs? Once again we also learned the power of language to divide: Estonian speakers and Russian speakers hold each other in mutual distrust. Still, they have been able so far to stick together as one nation.

Coming into the Helsinki harbor
Crossing to Helsinki in the big ferry. Passengers travel in surprising luxury.








The highlight of our day in Helsinki was our visit to Temppeliaukio Church (Rock Church), the city’s primary tourist destination, in the heart of the city.

The church in the rock

It’s simply stunning, a place of worship that itself is an invitation to worship. The rock was excavated and then walls extended to form a stone circle domed with copper held aloft by reinforced concrete beams. The acoustics, as you can imagine with all hard surfaces, make it an ideal venue for concerts. We just wanted to sit quietly and, as we have done so often in these adventures, give thanks. In spite of all we humans do to destroy it and one another, it’s still a wonderful world we live in.


Our Olde Hansa server, dressed in his medieval finest.
An interesting face on a Helsinki tram
Open the book and you have a lamp.The Finns are very proud of their modern furnishing designs
…and are having.

9 thoughts on “We’re Singing in the Rain–in Tallinn and Helsinki”

      1. And I’m so happy you discovered us, Karen. I’ll look forward to hearing from you some more. I hope you are doing well. Please convey our greetings to our mutual Central Christian friends.

  1. Nothing cute for me to say. Today I’m just wishing I was walking those same paths. How beautiful!

    (Don’t get comfortable. My snark will come back!)

  2. So cool you are visiting my homeland. I love all the photos. Once again, I am living vicariously through you. My mom taught me to sing Jesus Loves Me In Finnish when I was about 3 and my relatives would pay me to sing it, I think, because I was really shy.

    Jeesus mua rakastaa.
    Raamattu sen ilmoittaa
    Lapsi olen heikko, vaan
    Jeesus holhoo armollaan,
    Mua Jeesus rakastaa.
    Mua Jeesus rakastaa,
    Mua Jeesus rakastaa,
    Niin sana opettaa

    The old man reminds me of my grandfather through the eyes and cheekbones. Have a wonderful time. Hi to all.

    Joan Terrill

    1. Joan, you more than all our other readers can appreciate our bafflement with the language. Thanks for writing out “Jesus Loves Me” for us. Next time we’re together I’ll have to ask you to sing it for us. I won’t pay you, though.

  3. In our grief following the devastation of Hurricanes and of mass murders carried out with assault rifles, we found much joy in “Father-daughter stroll in Tallinn woods,” expensive umbrellas opening WIDE in the Helsinki wind, and the reverence inspired by the stunning Rock Church. We are grateful that you “preach the word” against the insane proliferation of NRA-approved weapons of mass destruction in America.

  4. Once again such an interesting and fun filled post! How wonderful that you could listen to the piano practice in the Palace. We used to be lucky enough to hear music …. Organ music in the cathedrals in Oxford. Oh, and choirs also. We are in Mesa for a week ….. missing the old days. On a sad note … Earl Kruger died Tuesday/Wednesday in the night. What a wonderful and kind man …… he will be missed.

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