Last full day in Estonia – just how I got to this position so quickly is beyond me, but that’s always the way when you are on holiday.
I think the best way to off this post would to wish you all a belated Happy International Museum Day. Yes, that is a thing and this year it was on May 18th. In Tallinn this meant that every museum we came across waived the entrance fee for a day. Just to be upfront about this, all the savings that we made today (which amounted to over 40€) happened by sheer fluke. I had no idea about any of this and really cannot believe my luck about any of this.
The day started out with us making the 3km walk from our hotel near the Old Town to Kadriorg Park. Our first destination of the day was the park’s namesake (Kadriorg Palace) but that doesn’t mean that we didn’t take out chance to look around before getting to the first museum of the day.
So this was the point where we learned about this day being International Museum Day and that museums across Tallinn were doing free entry for the day. We still had to visit the ticket office to get a sticker and check our bags, but apart from that we could pretty much stroll in.
As someone who has been feeling in a bit of a Russian history mood after finishing Anna Karenina I looked forward to the chance to stroll around this palace. It was built by Tsar Peter the Great for his wife Catherine (which explains the name) as a small Baroque style palace that would be used as a summer retreat.
As a building this has changed hands a few times (as has country of Estonia) and is now part of the The Art Museum of Estonia where it houses their foreign art collection. The fact that this was an art museum was of lesser concern to us since we were mainly there to have a nose around an imperial summer palace.
If you are to come to this palace there is one room in particular that will grab you and is referred to as the Baltic Pearl of the North. It functioned as a stateroom and, according to the information plaque, is the only room of this type in a Northern Europe to have been preserved as it was back then.
It’s a beautiful room. If it wasn’t for Helsinki’s Rock Church this would be the most impressive single room that I’d seen. Just the ornateness and the extreme whiteness of the fixtures keep you looking around and finding new things to focus on. For me, it was interesting to note that this was actually quite a small room for its function when you consider the larger residential palaces of royal families. I guess that’s down to this being a ‘summer home’.
Seeing how it was an Estonian May, the garden wasn’t exactly ready for tourist season. It’s a shame as I can imagine it being rather beautiful once everything is in bloom. Hey ho, at least these flowerbeds see the light of day, unlike the statues that this palace has in a storage room next to the toilets. That was weird.
Continuing the theme of Peter the Great: the next stop was a few buildings down the road. It’s the cottage of Peter the Great which he stayed in as the palace was being completed. The idea that a Tsar would stay I’m a small building like this rather than just retiring to one of his other palaces is a bit of an odd thought. I guess it just speaks for the pull of Tallinn.
The museum itself is rather small since the cottage itself was rather small. It made for a more intimate insight into how one of the richest men in the world lived back then. Seeing all these things has really made me realise that I really should try to learn more about European history. After all, knowing about the past can help you know the future.
Before I get too philosophical lets move onto the next museum: the Kumu Museum. Essentially this is the main art museum in Tallinn with a collection split across 3 floors. The main focus of the art in this museum is Art by Estonian artists, but there are pieces by others in here too… even if I hadn’t heard of any of these.
If you start from the top and work down you are pretty much going back in time; something that I would really recommend. The more modern section was focused on art by women and was curated around an Estonian artist of recent years Anu Põder. The work varied from bizarre images of blow-up dolls with parts of their bodies being crushed to a rather sad installation centred around a Polish artist and her cancer diagnosis.
The art of the remaining two floors really helped to fill in a number of gaps surrounding Estonian history and the psyche of the people. For the first thing I didn’t realise just how important music is to this country, I know that they hold a song festival and that this is a major event in the Estonian calendar, but having this out into the context of the rise of Estonian national identity in the early 1900s really helped to cement the importance. I know that Finland went through similar with Sibelius’s work ‘Finlandia’ being an example this.
Also, it was interesting to see a lot of the art that was being created during the Soviet occupation. I mean, it hasn’t even occurred to me that there would be hippies in the Soviet Union during the 1960s, I figured that the cultural wall was so airtight that things like the counter-culture of the USA would have struggled to make it through.
Another thing that this forced me to appreciate is just how hard the job of curating a gallery of Estonian art must be. As a language and as a culture the Estonian people have been around for ages, but as a nation it has only been 100 years. To try and work out if an artist is Estonian or an occupying population (German, Swedish, Russian etc) must be onerous at times. So, full credit where it is due there.
3 km and a sea buckthorn juice later from one of the many shopping centres in Tallinn, we were back in the Old Town for the final museum of the day at St Nicholas Church. This is another example of a building in Tallinn that has been repurposed into an art museum, but at least the work in the church stays on message.
Whilst the interior of the church itself is very beautiful, the thing that has stayed with me the most as I write at gone midnight (I really need to start these earlier, I blame the latest Trump scandal on CNN) was the depiction of the Danse Macabre. Essentially, this is a long painting depicting members high up in the social hierarchy (e.g. The Pope, an emperor and a king) being led by dancing skeletons. Essentially this a symbol of the plague and about how no one can escape death, no matter their status. I had to take my time to appreciate this one because it was so large and quite unusual. Regrettably the sister piece to this artwork was housed in a church in Lübeck, Germany that was bombed in World War Two.
The rest of the church/museum exhibited pieces from the church and, in what I believe is a temporary exhibition, silver work from one of the old guilds in Tallinn (or Reval as it was known back then).
After some final pieces of souvenir shopping it was time for an early dinner where we returned to Olde Hansa. It made for a nice way to bookmark the trip and allowed us to see inside this surprisingly good touristy medieval themed restaurant.
As a main course I went for the game sausages which is meant to be made from a mixture of wild boar, elk and (you guessed it) bear. I have no idea how much, if any, bear meat there was in these sausages, but they were absolutely gorgeous. As was the sauerkraut and turnips that it was served with. I know that my mum recoiled at the idea of eating bear meat, but I feel that if you are in a country with properly regulated hunting (as is the case with Estonia) then give it a go; else, maybe not.
For dessert it was a rose pudding with edible rose petals that was out of this world. Usually the tourist themed restaurants have something that lets them down such as the quality of food or service, but Olde Hansa really did knock it out of the park both times.
So yes, after a final walk around the Old Town it was packing in the hotel room and getting ready for the…oh wait there’s something else.
We bought a jar of boysenberry jam when we were in Helsinki and it only occurred to me as we were packing that I wouldn’t be able to bring this back because of the rules around liquids in carry on bags. I guess this is a downside of not paying to check in a bag. But hey midnight jam is midnight jam and I’ve reached another food list landmark!
Botanically boysenberry is a hybrid of a number of berries including European raspberry and blackberry. You get that from the taste. Usually I am not that much of a jam fan as I find the traditional strawberry and raspberry jams too sweet and blackcurrant jams as a bit too tart. This Finnish boysenberry jam is right on that sweet-spot between sweet and tart, therefore it is gorgeous and there is no way that I will be able to buy this in the UK.
So I’m needing to wind this down because it’s a travel day tomorrow. I’ve really enjoyed my time here in Estonia (and the day trip to Finland). It makes me sad that it is over and it is back to the daily grind. Seeing as how I have now seen Estonia and Lithuania one of the next countries on my list needs to be Latvia so I can complete the set. Maybe the same time next year as I have enjoyed being in Tallinn just before the tourist season hits.
So until then, goodbye Baltics. I’ll miss you.