Tallinn may be the most beautiful city you’ve never heard of. The capital of Estonia, Tallinn is a small city in a small country with a turbulent history, particularly with respect to relations with Russia. On our walking tour of the city our guide noted that for Estonia, “NATO is everything”.
There are about 1.5 million citizens of Estonia, and about 435,000 people who live in Tallinn. Located on the Gulf of Finland on the Baltic Sea, Tallinn has close historic ties with Helsinki, Stockholm and St Petersburg.
The city proper dates back to the first half of the 13th century, but humans settlements are estimated go back 5,000 years. The first recorded claim for the land was made by Denmark in 1219 after a successful raid. After a couple of centuries of fighting between Scandinavian and Teutonic rulers, Tallinn became an important commercial hub because of its strategic location.
Tallinn is one of Europe’s best preserved medieval cities and is counted as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It has the largest number of star-ups in Europe, and is the birthplace of Skype. It houses the EU’s IT agency and is the home of NATO’s Cyber Defense Center of Excellence. It is also ranked as one of the world’s top 10 digital cities.
We went on a walking tour of the city with a local guide and took lots of photos in the process. A few are posted below.
Among the many mind boggling things to contemplate is the fact that the Russian aristocracy didn’t just have one enormous and opulently decorated and designed palace. They had several of them; each one elaborate and ornate. In fact Catherine actually put a halt to all the gold being used to decorate her palace that had begun by order of her predecessor, Empress Elizabeth.
Here, below, are some photos of Catherine’s Palace located in Pushkin, not far from St Petersburg. Please note that while some photos link to Evocative Photos for licensing, photos taken inside the palace may not be used for this purpose, so they are not linked. JFB
It would take years to see all there is to see in St Petersburg; actually it would take years just to see just the important stuff. So we picked our spots and saw all we could, including the winter and summer palaces. This post includes photos taken at the summer palace, located in Peterhof, about 40 minutes outside St Petersburg proper.
The physical scale of the place, along with the wealth on display, is almost beyond belief. The main palace has about 1,000 rooms—big rooms. The rooms we saw, and we saw quite a few, typically were decorated with gold inlays on the walls and ceilings. Classical paintings and sculpture abounded, including collections by Russian, German and French artists.
Outside the palace there were gardens, an elaborate set of cascading fountains and a smaller gold domed castle. And this was just the summer palace. There was a winter palace as well, in some ways even more over the top. Note that in the photo of the throne room below, there is no furniture in the room other than the throne. That’s because protocol demanded that supplicants either stand or kneel in the presence of the King.
A political scientist from Johns Hopkins who was on the trip with us (as a lecturer) made the point that while we refer to her as Catherine the Great, the serfs would be unlikely to do so. Their lot was arguably even worse than that of black slaves in the South of the United States. It’s something you can’t help thinking about when confronted by the staggering wealth on display in the palaces of the aristocracy.
Helsinki, with the highest urban standard of living in the world, is, not surprisingly, one of the most livable cities in the world. It is refreshingly clean; the architecture is magnificent; the city is very walkable and friendly to tourists. With its metropolitan area population of 1.25 million people it is the third largest municipality of the nordic countries after Stockholm and Oslo.
The city was the site of the negotiations that led to the signing of the Helsinki Accords by then President Jerry Ford. Initially thought to be a sop given to the Soviet bloc, the Helsinki Accords, with their emphasis on human rights, turned out to be a powerful weapon in the hands of Soviet reformers and dissidents.
Finland became a member of the European Union in 1995, and it is flirting with the idea of joining NATO in 2025.
Anyway, we went on a walking tour of the city, during which we wound up at the Rock Church, so called because it was built into solid rock by Timo and Tuomo Suomalainen—brothers and architects. By denomination it is a Lutheran Church in the Toolo neighborhood of Helsinki. It opened in 1969.
Below here are some photos from our walk around, including photos of the Rock Church. JFB
We are back from traveling through the nordic countries for a couple of weeks, with Stockholm being the first stop. Stockholm is an extraordinarily beautiful (and clean) city. As are the other nordic cities we visited, as it turns out.
It is a vibrant city, and with a population of just under 1 million people, it is the cultural, media, political and economic center of Sweden. Stockholm represents about 10% of the population of all of Sweden (about 10 million) but accounts for 1/3rd of Swedish GDP. At 10 million people, Sweden is the 90th most populous country in the world.
Sweden today is decidedly not the Sweden of the 1970s it was back when Bernie Sanders was a member of the socialist Liberty Union Party of Vermont. In the Freedom Index produced by CATO and the Fraser Institute, Sweden is tied with the U.S. at #17. To put this in context, New Zealand ranks #1, Switzerland #2, Hong Kong #3 Australia #4 and Canada #5. Toward the bottom is Russia, #119, and Venezuela at #160, just edges out Syria for last place at #161.
The country’s population is largely homogenous, as are the rest of the Nordic countries, which may account for much of the nation’s sense of solidarity. But that might be changing as Sweden has recently had a good deal of trouble assimilating significant immigration from the middle east.
During the winter months, Sweden only gets about 6 hours of sunlight a day. During the summer the Swedes are out in force to celebrate the warm and relatively sunny weather—they only get about 70 sunny days in a year. We were very lucky—we had terrific weather for most of the time we were there.
Here (below) are some photos from our visit there.
What better way to spend the Fourth of July than to go to a baseball game? So we went to see the Washington Nationals play a home game against the Miami Marlins. The Nets beat the Marlins 5 – 2. Root for the home team.
Duck, North Carolina— We took a short trip to Duck, North Carolina, and stayed at the Sanderling Resort and Spa. The resort was simply fabulous. As was the whole area.
The town of Duck only has about 500 people living in it all year round, but in thew summer it gets quite crowded, kind of like LBI used to be about 25 years ago. All in all, they have some very good restaurants, fabulous beaches, and a whole array of shops, museums and tourist type stuff. It’s well worth paying a visit, and for more than a few days.
Virginia Beach is the most populous city in the state of Virginia. Located on the southeastern coast of the Commonwealth, it has a population of about 450,000. We recently spent a few days there as part of a larger trip of exploration of the South East.
Although relatively large, Virginia Beach tends to be rather suburban in character. It is also a huge vacation destination spot that gets visitors from all over. The beach itself is very commercialized, like Seaside in New Jersey. The boardwalk, ringed with hotels, is paved with separate paths for pedestrians and cyclists who charge along with all the caution of New York City cab drivers.
There are lots of restaurants and bars, as you would expect, but there appeared to be a paucity of high-end gourmet type establishments. We were there (coincidentally) for most of the annual Sand Soccer tournament. This tournament has a match between established teams in a temporary beach stadium. Other matches—they go on for two days—are between teams of similar age participants who form teams ahead of time and register for the tournament.
The participants play on the beach—hence the Sand Soccer name—and the temporary playing fields stretch for many blocks accompanied by food and beverage stands.
All and all an interesting place, but like Seaside it’s a bit on the tacky side.
Well, we are back from a long Memorial Day weekend in New Orleans with friends. The Big Easy is an interesting town, especially if you are in the mood for food and music, and lots of it. There are bars and restaurants everywhere and there are jazz bands playing everywhere. This doesn’t leave out pop or any other type of music.
But it’s jazz and blues that dominate the city’s musical history. And it is a colorful history. Titular control of New Orleans, the Big Easy, went back and forth between Spain and France in the 17th and 18th centuries before Thomas Jefferson bought it in 1803. The Louisiana Purchase included a lot more than New Orleans. All told it was a vast amount of territory that amounted to 828,000 square miles. Soon after purchasing it, Jefferson commissioned the Lewis and Clark expedition to exploration the land he had purchased for the United States.
To this day New Orleans proudly displays its French roots. Over the years it kept and developed its unique brand of French culture, while still assimilating into the broader culture of the U.S. There probably is a lesson there.
While we were in town we visited the New Orleans Jazz Museum, went to some historic above ground cemeteries, went for a ride on the Mississippi River on a paddle wheel boat, toured the French Quarter and (of course) went to some fine restaurants.
Some photos from our trip are included below. You can click on the photos to see bigger, high resolution versions.
A busy summer for traveling lies just ahead. We recently got back from D.C. (not really travel–it’s around the corner) where we attended the commencement ceremony at Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service, where our niece Keelin O’Loughlin graduated. Congrats to Keelin (and parents Steve and Ellen O’Loughlin).
Soon we will be on the road again, first to New Orleans over Memorial Day Weekend; then later in June we are off to Virginia Beach and then Duck, North Carolina before returning to Reston via Charlottesville VA. After a brief rest we make our way in July to Stockholm, Sweden where we begin a couple of weeks touring Helsinki, Copenhagen, St. Petersburg, Tallin Eastonia and Schwerin Germany before ending the trip in Amsterdam.
I will be bringing my Nikon Z7 Mirrorless camera on these jaunts. I expect to give it a full workout by taking a lot of photos and posting some of them here. Stay tuned.