Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Tallinn. Day 2. Puppets, Museums, & a Tunnel.

Back at Toompea Hill on a picture perfect fall day.

One of the best things about traveling on your own is being able to get up at whatever time pleases you. For me, that's still relatively early. I was up and about a while before Bro even showed signs of waking up.

I left the breakfast making duties to him. Eggs, scrambled with sausage and cheese were the main course. While Bro cooked, I did the *important* tasks of checking on our laundry and my chanterelle mushrooms that were drying on the window sill.




We took our own sweet time and lingered over our meal. For Bro, eggs were not enough so he added granola, yogurt and fruit as well. The guy has a healthy appetite!

We didn't have an itinerary for the day other than to just explore the town. One place that I had wanted to visit yesterday but couldn't because it was closed was the NUKU Theatre which is a performance venue and museum that focuses on puppetry. Puppetry is a popular art form in the Baltics so I had it on my must-do list to try and fit in a performance. Lucky for us, the NUKU is located just down the street from the apartment. It hadn't opened up yet, still too early in the morning. We scanned the performance schedule posted outside the front entrance and the first performance was at 11a. Though the words were all in Estonian, we were pretty sure the performance was targeted at young children - the 3+ age notation was the clue. Nonetheless, I convinced Bro to come back at 11a to check it out. After all, I do fit into the *+* category. :-)

Even with all our dilly dallying in the apartment, the streets of Old Town were relatively empty by the time we hit them. It was another overcast day but I tell you, even gray skies can't take away from the color and charm of the streets and buildings.




People were making their way to work but most certainly there was no traffic jam to have to contend with. School had already started and we could hear the happy chatter of kids as we walked passed their school room windows.

We continued our walk along the quiet cobblestone streets - passing by some places that by now looked familiar to us. I have to admit, it was nice to be able to stroll without bumping into hordes of cruise ship tourists!

Just around 11a, we made it back to NUKU. We headed to the counter to buy our entry tickets. As I had expected, the one puppet performance of the day was for the kiddies. But, the good news is that the museum is for visitors of all ages so Bro bought us tickets and we headed inside.

The museum’s extensive puppet and marionette collection includes those created in-house as well as pieces from around the world. Here, you can see shadow puppets from Indonesia, bunraku puppets from Japan and exquisite old world European puppets. The museum is highly interactive – there are kiosks where you can create your own puppet profile and several of the marionettes are rigged so they can actually perform movements that you select.  At one point, I had lost track of Bro only to find him standing in front of one of the interactive kiosks and thoroughly enjoying making the puppet move about.  Still a boy at heart!



Bro at one of the interactive kiosks.

One of the kiosks had a camera.  We took a selfie :-)

I loved this quirky marionette.

Another marionette.

Four marionettes looking very Japanese.  These four were taller than me!

A ballerina so ugly she's adorable!

There was even a puppet that was a nest of a mama bird and her three babies.  How creative!

Stone steps led to an exhibit room in the basement where the more *ghoulish* puppets and marionettes were housed.  It was like descending into a haunted house on Halloween - it was dark, slightly damp and scary noises sounding out over loud speakers.




As fun as it was to walk through the museum, I was particularly fascinated watching the puppet makers at work in the workshops that are housed on the first floor.

A glass walkway connects sections of rooms on the second floor.  This really is a very lovely and fun museum!

The puppet workshop.

One of the artisans at work.

I'd love to see the play this charming character is in.!

Lining the walls of the stairs leading back down to the first floor were design drawings of puppets.

Cinderella and Prince Charming, perhaps?

Taking a bit of a rest.

On our way out of the museum, there was another interactive set up.  Bro got into the act with a soft bodied puppet.  A camera captured all his moves while he and I watch on the monitor.


After the museum, we continued our exploration of Old Town.  We didn't have any agenda in mind or even intention of following the map.  We did agree to not walk down the same street, if at all possible, so we would force ourselves to happen upon new places.  That's how we ended up outside the old city walls and  happened upon Freedom Square, a large open plaza.  What we didn't realize at the time was that there is an entire shopping mall located underneath the plaza!

Bordering the square on one end is St. John's Church (built 1862-67). 

Across the plaza, on a hilltop, stands Victory Column which commemorates the
Estonians who lost their lives in the Estonian War of Independence (1918–1920.)
The column stands 23.5 meters high and is make of 143 plates of glass.

Our wandering took us next to Kiek in de Kök which is one of the artillery towers that are part of the old walls.  Its odd name is a Low German nickname for towers, mainly those that formed parts of town fortifications.  It translates into English as "Peep into the Kitchen" because of the ability of tower occupants to see into kitchens of nearby houses. Due to the history of the Hanseatic League and the Teutonic Order, towers far outside modern Germany also bear this name, including this one in Tallinn as well as one in Gdańsk, Poland.  These days the tower operates as a museum,  photography exhibition hall and last but not least, the starting point for tours of the bastion tunnels.

The tower is 38 m high and has walls 4 m thick. Built 1475 - 1481, the tower played a key role in the Livonian War and still has nine of Ivan IV's cannonballs embedded in its walls to prove it.

We started our visit in the tower itself.  We started on the ground floor where there was an exhibition of photographs sponsored by the Embassy of Japan.  The exhibition displayed the work of nine individual photographers and one photographers’ group all from the Tohoku region of northeastern Japan.  There were some really old photos and some new - all focused on the nature and people of the region.  Fascinating to look at but I wasn't here for Japanese history, I was here for Estonian history so I quickly moved on.

The tower is six stories high and each floor houses a different exhibit.  From the ground floor, a series of narrow stone steps wind up the inner perimeter of the tower.  The steps were very narrow and uneven; I gripped on firmly to the handrail, paying careful attention to walking up (and then later on, down) the stairs!

On the first floor was a miniature model of what Tallin looked like when the bastion walls were in full use. Subsequent floors displayed military memorabilia. Not really my cup of tea so I breezed through the displays.

The exhibits were all of military items dating back to medieval times.

I liked this floor layout of Old Town, with its walls and towers.

On the top floor is a small cafe.  It was empty. 


Three things about the cafe caught my attention.  The first was that there were more of the Japanese Tohoku photographs hanging on the walls.

The second was this most unusual ball like object which, after several minutes of trying to figure what it was, I came to conclusion that it was a clock. 


The third thing was the wonderful views of Old Tallinn that could be seen out of several of the tower windows.  It was an overcast day but the views were still lovely.



Back down to the lobby and out the front door. We took a seat on a bench to wait for the tour of the bastion tunnels to begin. Soon the clouds gave way to sun. Bro and I chatted to pass the time and before we knew it, we had to head back inside.

Inside the museum, the guard waved us to pass through the large metal doors. On the other side were several rows of chairs and there were already a few people waiting. Shortly after we took our seats, a young man introduced himself as our guide and gave a brief description of what we would be doing in the coming hour. First though was a brief video on the history of Tallinn and the bastion to set the context for all that we were about to see.

Before we headed in, we were offered blankets to wrap around our shoulders as it would be chilly in the tunnels. Everyone seemed dressed appropriately so no one took him up on his offer.

We passed through another set of large metal doors and began our walk down to the tunnels.



Standing at the intersection of two tunnels, we headed down one path. The other was blocked by some odd looking, bullet shaped contraption.


The entire tunnel had been divided into sections for demonstration purposes. Each section was furnished and decorated to depict the various groups and purposes that the tunnel served over the course of its several hundred year history.



We began with the most recent which was occupation by homeless folks who lived here in the 1990's. They were only evicted when the city decided to clean the place up and convert it to a tourist attraction. The next section represented the tunnels when punk rockers called the tunnels home.


There was a section focused on tunnel life during Soviet occupation. It was the Soviets who added touches of modern conveniences of the day like electricity and communications technologies. Of course, the Germans also used the tunnels during World War II.

The way the various sections of the tunnels were finished to look like what they would have been at each specific time in history was very well done and our guide spoke perfect English; I really enjoyed this tour.  Unfortunately, the dim lighting in the tunnels made it very difficult to take photos so most came out blurry.







It took about 40 minutes or so for us to make it to the length of the tunnel that's open for tourists. After that, we backtracked to the intersection where the contraption was and waited for our guide to catch up with us. As he wrapped up his presentation to us, he pressed a button on the stone wall. There was a loud whooshing sound - the curved glass side of the contraption lifted up in sections. Turned out the contraption was a tram!


Our guide instructed us to take seats which we all did.


Another whooshing sound and the glass windows came back down and as they did, they brought down small flat panel TVs with them. So cool! Next thing you know, the tram started moving - very slowly and uphill. Simultaneously, a video started to play.



Unlike the intro video which focused on Tallin's history, this one focused on Tallin's and Estonia's future. A lot of propaganda if you ask me. At the same time that the video ended, our ride came to a stop. I have to admit, riding up on the tram was a much more enjoyable way to make it back to the lobby than climbing rung upon metal rung of stair!

Back outside, we continued to stroll about town.  The clouds had departed and we were now enjoying some bright sunny skies.  It was a picture perfect autumn day!  What a great day to be strolling about the cobblestone streets of Old Tallinn!

I don't know why but there were far fewer tourists roaming about town today than yesterday. Perhaps a cruise ship left. We made it back up to Toompea Hill to catch views of the rooftops in the sun.

Not hard getting him to laugh. Love seeing him enjoying himself.

Pretty view that is so much more wonderful when the sun is shining.

After that, we took a short break for lunch. Even though we were stone's throw from the apartment, we only had enough food for one more meal so we decided to make that dinner. We settled on a cosy little restaurant just up the street (Pikk Jalg)  from the apartment. By now, we had probably walked by this place at least a handful of times.

Bro's always in charge of navigation, even if we're walking :-)

It was already mid afternoon so we just needed something to tie us over to dinner. We settled on appetizers as the entree portions are large here. Bro ordered sausages with potatoes and sauerkraut....
 

and I had a crepe filled with sautéed wild mushrooms and goat cheese.


I have to say, both dishes were tasty and very satisfying. Neither of us left a morsel on the plate!  It was good that we had filled our bellies.  We still had a full afternoon ahead of us and since this was going to be our last day in Tallinn, we were going to make the most of it!