Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Tallinn Visit -- Part 2: Christmas Market and Shops

I'd never visited a Christmas market before coming to Europe this Fall; but come December, they are everywhere.  Christmas markets are very festive and give a warm holiday atmosphere to this dark time of year in the North. The town hall square in Tallinn's old town is alive with people in stalls selling all kinds of items for Christmas giving as well as food and drinks to fill and warm you. As the sun sets -- very early this time of year -- the place becomes beautifully lit up.

A reindeer in a fenced area adds to the Christmas atmosphere.

Lots of fur hats, gloves, slippers, and vests for sale here.

This woman's beautiful coat intrigued me, as I recognized the fabric to be a woven pattern used in the national costume from one region of  Estonia. I asked her about it and learned that she had it custom made to be totally lined in sheep skin.  Very warm. She and her husband have a sheep farm where the products in her stall come from. Sten bought a sheep skin hat from her to keep him warm on his daily walks.

Hand knit sweaters, hats, scarves, and more filled the stalls.  One can easily become overwhelmed. We made a few purchases for Christmas gifts as we passed through the town hall square on our way to and from our hotel.  

This shop was not part of the market, but along the street near our hotel.  It sells the woven fabric used in the skirts of the national costumes.  Notice the map in the second photo.  It shows the regions of the country with a swatch of the fabric used in their costumes.  Colorful and tempting.

This shop's specialty is marzipan shaped into all sorts of things.  They even had a "Museum" downstairs with marzipan made into busts of famous people. Interesting.

I thought these simple brown paper bag gift bags decorated with natural seeds and plants were beautiful.

This shop filled with things forged by a black-smith -- hinges, doorhandles, knockers -- also had these two chain mail pieces.  

I'm not a big shopper in normal situations at home, but this shopping experience was fun and different.  I'll leave you with this young redhead inviting you into her shop to buy Baltic amber, amongst other things. Have fun.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Tallinn Visit -- Part 1: Old Town Views

My parents were Estonian by birth and ethnicity, and my mother, aunt, and maternal grandmother all lived many years in the old town section of Tallinn, the Estonian capital. As a child growing up in the home of my immigrant parents in North America, I occasionally received gifts (mostly children's books), photos, and letters from my grandmother and aunt who remained in Estonia. Though the books were beautifully-illustrated and I still cherish them, all the family photos we received were black and white. In my child's mind, Estonia was the place my family came from that was lived in shades of grey, black, and white.  Reinforcing that notion,  the talk amongst my parents and their friends often included the words "behind the Iron Curtain"  to refer to life in Estonia. I didn't understand what that meant exactly. All I knew was that we couldn't go there to visit our family, and our family couldn't visit us. Fortunately, times and situations change, and Estonia is a free and independent country again now. I can visit family there and they can visit me.

When I first visited Estonia as a free nation a few years ago, I was enchanted by the colorful, picturesque, beautiful old town. Now, I no longer see Tallinn as grey and bleak. Being there is like stepping back in time, but to a vibrant, color-filled past. How different the buildings there are from the massive cement buildings of the communist era. Since that first visit, I've longed for a few days to just walk those streets as freely and as long as I wish and for the chance to experience a little of what my now-gone family members experienced when they lived there. In the past month, Sten and I had three wonderful days fulfilling that dream. We   stayed in the old town and walked and  explored to our hearts' content. It was such a treat.  Our hotel, The Three Sisters, is just inside the city wall and dates back to 1362.  It's beautifully renovated for a comfortable stay, but keeps the old charm as well.

The towers along the city wall all have names.  The closest one to our hotel was called "Paks Margareeta" which is translated Fat Margaret.  It's the largest and most rotund of the towers, as you can imagine.

After we were settled in our room, we were served cups of the steaming hot traditional Estonian Christmas drink (spiced juices/wine with raisins and nuts).  Interestingly, the same or very similar drink is claimed as the traditional Norwegian Christmas drink and the traditional Swedish Christmas drink also. I guess it's "Nordic" in the broad sense.  We enjoyed it then and many other times where it's been served at Christmas in these Northern European countries.

The hotel lobby had a real wood fireplace.  Very cozy and warming.

Five minutes' walk down the cobblestone street was the "JĂľuluturg" or Christmas Market in the town hall square. Since daylight fades around 3:15 p.m. this time of year, we first saw it in the dark.  After we had our dinner, the stalls were closed for the night, so we didn't explore until the next day. I'll post about the market and shops in the next post.

The Estonian parliament (Riigikogu) and government buildings are on a hill called Toompea, some 30 meters higher than the rest of the old town. The parliament building (below) is in one wing of what used to be Toompea Castle.  It faces the Russian Orthodox Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. 

From Toompea, there are several places where one can get a beautiful overview of the rest of the old town looking towards the harbor on the Baltic Sea. We were there as the darkness came on and the lights came up in the town.

We went back the next day when the sun was shining and the sky was blue just to see it in different lighting. A scene from Disney, only real.

Some old town streets are made from flat bricks, but many are natural rounded stones. All are well worn from centuries of traffic -- foot, horse, cart, and now car.


So, there you have it: a little slice of Tallinn.  The lanterns  in the next two pictures are everywhere -- an icon of Tallinn's old town.  Aren't they beautiful?

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Centre

Our time here in Norway this school year is in large part possible because of the Centre for Advanced Study at the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters.  The exact translation from the Norwegian is "Center for Pure Research." Here's a link to their website, should you be interested: http://www.cas.uio.no. This is where Sten has an office this year, and where he meets with the team of annual research fellows he's a part of.  The building is on Drammensveien in Oslo, between the Russian and Brazilian embassies, and the windows on one side look over to Oslofjord.  Here are a few photos from the outside of the building.  

The building was converted from the private home of a prominent businessman in the previous century, and has offices for the scholars on the top and bottom floors.  The middle floor is beautifully appointed with artwork and furnishings to host social events and larger gatherings.  Here are some views of where Sten has his office space.

 On the hallway walls, photos of the research group members are posted.

And here are some of the spaces on the middle floor. The large portrait in the sitting room is of the original owner whose name I don't recall. I understand he made his fortune in dried, salted cod.

Mange takk til Sentret for Grunnforskning. 
Thank you to the Center for Advanced Studies.  We are most grateful for its generous support.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Fog is beautiful

Yesterday afternoon I took a walk down to the beach. It was rather foggy outside. The little snow we had earlier in the week had mostly melted, though the temperature was just low enough that the sidewalks were slippery with the still-not-dried-up melted snow on them.  While I was walking, the sun started to shine.  The weather conditions were perfect for seeing some beautiful views.  I hope you enjoy them as I did.