Livrustkammaren, The Baltic Queen and Tallinn, Estonia

Sorry for the long absence. Things have been busy on this side of the Atlantic.

Wednesday Jason and I headed back into the Gamla Stan. We ate lunch at the chokladkoppen – a little place in the old city that specializes in chocolate (but we didn’t get that, we got sandwiches). Then we wandered a bit and I am happy to report that the kids are quick studies when it comes to developing an appreciation for old doors and old door hardware. At one point we walked by a building from 1454. We told them that when the building was built people in Europe didn’t even know North America existed. They couldn’t really grasp it. Anyway, we were wandering to find this old gothic triangle with a really funky and eroding statue. It is a place I happened upon once and really love but I have waled the entire Gamla Stan and not found it. I could have sworn it was in Stockholm but maybe it is actually in Barcelona… After wandering for a bit we watched the changing of the guards at the royal palace. The kids loved it, especially a demonstration of the drum rolls and bugle calls that have traditionally been used by Swedish fighters. The demonstration provided a great opportunity to talk about what tones and rhythms (and instruments) have been used for in human history and how recent communication technology has profoundly changed the way people relay information. Then we went to the Livrustkammaren. It was a great museum – just the right size for kids with 6 regular exhibit halls 2 great palace themed playrooms, and a small but exquisite collection of coaches. The first exhibit hall displays the clothing worn by 3 or 4 different Swedish Kings at the time of their untimely deaths (2 assassinations and 2 in battle). As we read the display descriptions Jie-jie said, “There are a lot of sad stories in this room. Do you think they have any Princesses clothes?’ Other exhibits did have 200 – 400 year old wedding gowns worn by Swedish royalty, equally old clothes and toys of some of the former Royal children, etc. I think that museum is definitely worth a trip – particularly with younger kids.

Thursday afternoon we packed our bags and headed to the ferry terminal. There we boarded Tallink’s Baltic Queen for the overnight cruise from Stockholm to Tallinn, Estonia. Having never taken any kind of cruise on large ships for longer than a few hours and having never been to Estonia I had no idea what to expect. What a riot! Our cabin was just like a second class train cabin (2 up, 2 down bunks) with a window in between. In addition, however, we did have a porthole and a bathroom. Upon boarding there was a mariachi band playing and greeting us in Spanish because right now it’s Carnivale Latino on the Tallink line. We dropped of our bags and headed over to dinner – a giant buffet of eastern and northern European food with a spattering of “Flavors of Cuba” – ball park nachos, mango flan, black beans and rice, pulled pork. After dinner we located the bar adjacent to the kids playroom. We watched through the glass wall and drank bad mojitos while the kids tore around their indoor jungle gym. We decided to go for broke and let it be a very late night for them (and us) so we went to watch a salsa band in the grand theater. The place was so wonderfully tacky – a sequined blue curtain with neon blue peacocks on either side of the stage. On stage was the band, direct from Cuba. After the band finished, adults were invited to join a game of limbo for prices (wine and chocoalte). Jason and Erik competed, Katarina and I will compete on the return trip. Then we watched the floor show. The costumes were over the top and somewhat offensively designed to look “primitive” or jungle-like but, all the same, it was a blast!

This morning we arrived in Tallinn and checked into the delightfully tacky Tallink Spa and Conference Hotel, which is decidedly not 4 stars whatever the website says. Our room is quite large, with a double bed and 2 fold outs. There are red neon lights, a painting of what looks like a woman’s derriere above the bed, and everything is slightly off and over-wrought (mirrors in bathroom are too high, lots of odd empty spaces, mismatched and overly gregarious detailing and prints, etc. The substantial spa area is set up to have a kind of Roman bath feel with lots of nude neo-classical statues around. To put it succinctly, the space consists of odd neon shapes and modern lines mixed with neo-classical accents and the whole space is populated by Swedish and Russian tourists. I love it!

We walked for a bit in Tallinn’s old town which we have been told is one of the largest and most complete medieval towns in existence. It was cool but the weather was junky so we didn’t last long before we stopped in a Russian restaurant for lunch. After an afternoon of swimming we met a friend for dinner at Olde Hansa, a “medieval” restaurant where the staff are in costume and 3 musicians play the old songs on a fife, a lute and a tambourine. The food was good and it was different meal featuring wild game (elk, bear) and other interesting things – cinnamon beer, juniper cheese, turnips, barley and garlic. All the same, it was a bit overdone (for example when the server referred to the tip as a “squirrel skins”) and I felt it was only slightly more genuine than medieval times. But all the same, I loved it!

So, as you can tell, I am having a great time on this short trip to Tallinn, Estonia.

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