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Tag Archive: Europe

9/17 On to Tallinn, Estonia

Rather than fly, we took the Viking ferry from Helsinki to Tallinn, about a 2.5-hour ride across the Baltic Sea. The ride was good and the ferry provides lots of entertainment in bars, night club – not so much on Monday morning with a ship full of old people!  One ferry worker told us the ship is rocking on weekends when it’s full of younger people heading to Tallinn for a cheap weekend. The drinking starts BEFORE they even board the ship.  On our sailing, coffee was the drink of choice for most people.

The highlight of the ship for many was obviously the duty-free shop full of wine and alcohol.  Given the prices in Helsinki, we understood the attraction.  All we bought was a bag of licorice and pepper candy that Juhis and Noora turned us on to in Finland.

Finish people seem to love black licorice and sell it in all sorts of forms. We saw at least 25 different types in the hypermarket. This one is licorice and pepper mixed.

The Old Town part of Tallinn is beautiful, full of stone walls, old buildings, churches, cobblestones everywhere on the street and the sidewalks. We needed to kill some time before we could get into our AirBnb so we opted for lunch and picked the Texas Honky Tonk for some Mexican food. Surprise!  The Mexican food was the best we’ve had outside of the U.S. by far and better than a lot we’ve had IN the U.S.  Turns out the Estonian owner visited Austin, loved Mexican food and opened this restaurant. We ate there twice!  We also ate at Vaike with great service and better food.  It’s a partner restaurant to Rataskaevu 16   that  was recommended by several friends and TripAdvisor! We didn’t plan ahead so couldn’t get a last minute reservation at Rataskaevu 16 but could get into Vaike – around the corner and serving the same menu.


Yes …Mexican food!

Window into Broccoli pizza

Who would ever name a restaurant “Broccoli”??

One thing we’ve noticed in both Estonia and Latvia – smiling must not come naturally to almost anyone, including people in the service industry.  Being grumpy or dour is the modus operandi in coffee shops, bars, restaurants, shops. The service people who smile definitely stand out!

One note – For those who wonder how we can travel at “such a pace”, we are NOT traveling at the Tour group pace! We spent at least 4 nights in Bergen, Stockholm, Tallinn, Riga, and, soon, Warsaw.  Our typical day is:

  • Sleep until we wake up unless we have a train, bus or plane to catch and have to set the alarm
  • Eat breakfast and drink coffee
  • Sightsee – try to walk at least 10,000 steps and that’s not hard!
  • Around 4 PM, come back to the apartment and rest, nap, read, work on blog, pictures, etc.
  • Find dinner about 7 PM or eat in the apartment if we ate lunch out
  • Go to bed whenever
Tallinn Town Hall in city center

The sun came out one day! This is the town hall in the city center.

City Hall at night in the rain

The city hall looked good at night, too, even in the rain.

Orthodox church in Tallinn

Russian Orthodox church in Tallinn

Most of Estonia is either Lutheran or Orthodox. There’s one Roman Catholic Church in Tallinn (population of about 500,000) and it’s the Cathedral, about the size of a small parish church in the U.S. There’s also one Ukrainian Orthodox Church and we visited that, too. Pope Francis is visiting the Baltic countries at the end of the month, including Tallinn on Sept. 25. Posters hang everywhere and the Ukrainians are hoping he will make a visit to their church when he’s in town. The schedule seems to be in flux.

Saint Catherine's walk in Tallinn

St. Catherine’s walk with lots of shops along the way.

City Gate

The biggest city gate still standing in Tallinn. We had to walk through it to get from the ferry port to our AirBnb.

Tallinn city gate at night with lights

Tallinn city gate at night

The flower stands were open until late at night.

City view over the roofs

View of the city from one of the overlooks. Rain started falling shortly after this to drive us to a coffee shop to escape!

City street

Old town city street in Tallinn along the walls

So far, we’ve with stayed in AirBnbs or with friends.  When we pick an Airbnb, we always find an entire apartment so we can eat breakfast and one other meal in AND make coffee AND do our laundry.  Prices vary, of course, from about $90 U.S. dollars per night in Stockholm to about $35 U.S. per night in Riga.  We’ve had great places so far and have seen all sorts of little showers built into renovated bathrooms, washing machines in all languages (This trip has had all English language machines.), walked up flights of steps to apartments, used elevators to get up to the 3rd floor, etc. We’ve picked up keys in lock boxes, met the owners to get keys, used key pads to get in the buildings and apartments, etc.  The one in Tallinn had the most interesting entrance. The 4 floors of apartments shared a building entrance with a strip club – Gentleman’s Club.

We had a great AirBnb in Old Town of Tallinn. The only quirky thing was we shared an entrance to a “Gentleman’s Club” .

A day trip to Pisa – the tower still leans

It was a Pisa sort of day and only 25 minutes from Lucca by the regional train.  After walking to the Lucca train station, we needed to buy a ticket.  Thank heavens, these ticket machines will actually print out a ticket!  A whole bunch of us got on the train we thought we needed and a nice female train driver came to tell us that they had to switch the train to a different track and we have to get off while they do it.  She kept apologizing but it was no big deal and shortly the train switched tracks and showed up again!

Lots of small villages dot the train tracks along with patches of tomatoes and beehives. Towers and big houses, old and new, could be seen in the distance. After arriving in Pisa and NOT buying a return ticket when there were no lines (more later), we walked to the Piazza de Miracoli following Google Maps and the Lonely Planet printed directions.  We would have lost a bet because no signs were posted at the train station or at a big plaza giving any indication which of many streets we should choose to walk down.  The first pedestrian sign pointing to the Tower wasn’t until we crossed the Arno River.

pisa tower sign

This is the first directional sign we saw and we were pretty close to the Tower.

Our route took us across the river and past the U. of Pisa Law School and more churches than we could count.  We stopped in one church for the obligatory visit. (No idea which church it was.)  We knew the Leaning Tower was close when the number of tourists increased dramatically as well as the number of gift shops and restaurants.

pisa Arno river

River Arno in Pisa

tower in the distance

A street scene as we got closer to Piazza di Miracoli and the Leaning Tower

The Duomo, Tower, and Baptistry are beautiful especially in the sun.  They all were bright white and, miraculously, only the Duomo still has some scaffolding on it.  Mark decided we should check out the W/C.   It cost .80 E  and the line for the Women’s room was really long – Surprise! –  but Mark just whipped in and out of the Men’s.  Lots of tour groups and individual tourists, like us, so I can’t imagine what it’s like in the summer.

Pisa Duomo

Pisa Duomo.

leaning tower and duomo

The Leaning Tower of Pisa and the Duomo.

Pisa Baptistry

The Baptistry described as a big cupcake.

Pisa leaning tower

Leaning Tower of Pisa. We didn’t do any of the pics holding up the tower.

susan with tower

Susan in front of the Duomo and Leaning Tower

We took pictures and picked up a walking map of Pisa from Tourist Information before we wandered our way through the city and the Piazzas. We didn’t visit the insides of any buildings nor climb the tower.

pisa big fancy building

This building was in one of the piazzas on the walk back to the train station.

The next challenge was getting a ticket to go back to Lucca.  All of the ticket machines in the Pisa station will only issue paperless tickets so even many of the Italians had to get out of the machine line and go use the ticket office line.  Of course, the non-Italians were all out of luck!  We queued up in the LONG ticket line, starting out with 4 ticket sellers; reduced to 3 when one of them served a guy and hung his “Closed” sign.  The line actually went pretty fast but Mark and I just commented “Full employment”.  We think Lucca machines sell tickets because the ticket counter closes at 8:05 PM.

Pisa summary – Ok for one visit but not someplace I’d go back to.  Pisa is a pretty busy city and didn’t impress us enough to want to return for another visit.