Estonian Open Air Museum

What a week! I got to be involved with some of the office’s incredible projects. The highlight was serving on a panel to judge an English reading contest for 8th grade students in southern Estonia. 🙂 They were all so nervous, but did very well and really enjoyed the little prizes we had brought for them.

My adventure today was pretty wonderful. I had heard from some of the people I work with that the Estonian Open Air Museum is something worth seeing. So I figured to give it a shot. I took a bus and still had a long walk to get there, but it was so cool. I must have timed it on a special day because there was no admission fee and there was a unique group holding an exhibition. The Seto people are indigenous to south eastern Estonia. They have their own culture and language separate from the rest of Estonia. They came to share their food, dances, and songs with the people visiting the museum.

I was told to try some of the soup (I think. She said it in Estonian, so I’m not entirely sure…) by one of the Seto women wearing a beautiful traditional costume. It was delicious, warm, and surprisingly filling. I also sampled some sweet bread and sugared cranberries that they had out on a table for visitors.

Their joyful singing rang through the park. I walked around and toured the exhibits. Each section was divided into farms, so you could see what life looked like wayy back in the day for the Estonians. Little thatched barns dotted the park. Old wooden windmills were placed on hills near the Baltic coast. Children and their parents received rides in horse drawn carriages.

If anyone gets the opportunity to spend time in Tallinn, I’d highly recommend visiting the Estonian Open Air Museum. Just make sure you pick a non-rainy day and wear comfortable shoes – you’ll be spending lots of time outdoors 🙂

Mushroom picking

Random Estonian past time – picking mushrooms in the forest.

A trip to go picking mushrooms was planned for the people of my office, so of course I had to sign up! I prepared for this all week – had my outfit planned the second I heard of this great adventure. So Sunday morning I met the group and we caravanned across the Estonian countryside, being led by our guide, a famous (by Tallinn standards) chef and mushroom expert. As we drove along the highway, we could see some cars stopped on the side of the road. Looking into the woods, we found people with baskets, picking mushrooms! Our guide took us to a little gravel road off the highway. She gave us instructions as to what we’re supposed to pick (and stay away from) and then sent us off. I with my butter knife and paper bag (improvisation at its finest) set out to explore the forest in the comfort of a fairly large group. I harvested a couple mushrooms (they really are just sitting there all over the forest floor) but quickly got distracted by the blueberries and cranberries that also call this forest home. After a while, our fingers numbed and our bellies grumbled – indicating it was time to get out of mushroom (or blueberry) picking mode and head to lunch. We got to a park site with picnic tables. All were full, so we, of course, shared a table with a few vodka drinking Russians. Lunch was amazing because it was catered by our guide/chef, though we were so hungry anything would have tasted heavenly. But we had tomato and mozzarella sandwiches, hot tomato basil soup, and warm tea. As we pigged out American style, our guide checked our “baskets” to make sure what we had wouldn’t kill us. We then headed home all a little soggy; the “mushroom rain”, as the locals called it, had gotten the best of us.

View from St. Olaf’s tower

While wandering Tallinn’s old town, I got a little lost. The easy method of finding your way back home is to find a church with a tall tower. Once you find one, you’re set. I ended up at St. Olaf church and decided to climb the tower while I was there. The tower’s winding stone staircase eventually brings visitors to an aerial view of beautiful Tallinn.

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Ps. Tomorrow’s post will be about the art of Estonian mushroom picking.

Kadriorg Park and Palace

Swan Lake

I was brave today and took public transportation for the first time in Tallinn. I had been reading about the Kadriorg Park. It’s a bit too far away to walk to, but the tram that stops right outside of my apartment also stops by Kadriorg. So I decided to make the trip over there, and I’m very glad I did. The weather was agreeable today – not freezing cold and no rain. I walked around the beautiful gardens that make up the park. The park was filled with young families with children running around and babies being pushed around in strollers. This is definitely where most Tallinn families spend their weekends. I walked past a well manicured pond area, complete with island gazebo and swans floating peacefully along with water.

A little further walk through the park brings you to the star of the show – the Kadriorg Palace. As I’m sure you already know, Russia incorporated Estonia as part of its kingdom for many years. The Palace was built as a gift from Tsar Peter the Great for Empress Catherine back in the early 1700s. “Kadriorg” supposedly means “Catherine’s Valley” in Estonian. Obviously, it wouldn’t have been called that back in the day, but now that the Estonians have control over their own country, they can rename things in their own language. Sadly the Palace is closed for renovations until January 2013, so I was unable to go inside. The outdoor gardens, however, are enough to keep tourists and locals happy.

Up the hill from the Palace is Peter the Great’s house. He supposedly lived in the little house between 1714 and 1716. It’s an interesting little place, but not nearly as snazzy as the Palace.

On my walk back to the tram stop, I ended up stumbling upon the Office of the Estonian President. In a way, it’s their version of the White House. But it’s pink. And the only thing preventing you from opening the front door is 2 guards standing there. No fences. No elaborate gates. You can walk right up. So, naturally I did. The lack of security should comfort my family. If they don’t see a need to encase their President in barbed wire and secret service guys, then this country must be pretty safe as it is.

 

Boring, I know

Sorry my blog is getting boring. I don’t have any pictures for you. I have been busy working and haven’t had much time for fun things. One evening I went to an outdoor concert for Tallinn’s students in Vabaduse (Freedom) square with Vitali and his friend Alex. It was fun, but there were lots of people and lots of weird music 🙂 . Other than that I’ve been perfecting the long walk to work. Doing lots of work. Meeting with important people. I really wish I could tell all about what I’ve been doing with work, but you’ll just have to Skype me for some of that. Oh, I did finally get a phone, if anyone is wondering. That’ll make my life a little easier. But that’s about it for an update. I should have more interesting things to report on after this weekend!

Sunny Tallinn

I’m getting more into the swing of things here in Tallinn. Yesterday I wandered around town, mainly exploring the Old Town. Today was my first day at work. It was a bit of a whirlwind, but I can tell I’m going to have an amazing experience there. They’ve already planned to take me on a few visits with locals around the country!! Everyone treated me so nicely and like I was a real employee, not just a lowly intern. I even was invited to sign up to go mushroom picking on Sunday with the office! I’m not the hugest fan of mushrooms, but I’m sure it’ll be a fun experience anyway!

I’ll leave you with some of the photos I took while walking through Old Town

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Stockholm like a local. Almost.

Sweden.

So here’s the story:

While working at the Governor’s office this summer, I met a guy from Sweden who was also working as an intern. Fast forward 4 months, and I am in Stockholm visiting my friend Nils. I took a short plane ride form Tallinn into the Arlanda (Stockholm) airport, caught the Arlanda express train into the city, and then rode the metro to get to Nils’s apartment. He then took me on a tour of his beautiful city. Parks, castles, and islands all work together to make Stockholm a city with a truly unique atmosphere. It was clear that poverty was extremely rare there. The public transportation system was utilized by all citizens, not just the ones who can’t afford a car (everyone there can afford one). It was quick and efficient. And clean. Like the whole city. The extent of the trash I saw in Stockholm was maybe one cigarette butt. After wandering around for a bit, with me taking lots of photos (hey, I’ll admit I’m a tourist), we stopped by a grocery store where Nils picked up some typical Swedish foods for me to try for dinner.

Nils in the silly maze of a grocery store

In his fancy kitchen, Nils prepared Swedish meatballs, mashed potatoes, and a few funny fishy things. The meatballs and potatoes were of course delicious. The fishy things were… different. 🙂 Later that evening we went to join some of Nils’s friends at a bar that was pretty close by. That was where I learned that the stereotype of Swedes as tall, blonde, and beautiful was absolutely accurate. All of his friends were soo handsome and well dressed, and they all could fluently speak English (luckily for me). Then we headed to a place called Sturecompagniet. It’s supposedly Stockholm’s biggest club, and I don’t doubt it. We had to wait a little while before being allowed in, but it was so beautiful when we got in. This place had multiple dance floors, but the star was the main floor. It was topped with a 3 floor high victorian-design atrium. You can look this place up on Google and you’ll see how cool it is. Those Swedes sure know how to do clubs. Anyway, after a while, Nils and I called it a night and headed to bed back at his apartment.

Stockholm is not lacking castles.

Friday was full of adventures as well. Some carpenters knocked on the door bright and early. They were there to build a balcony for his apartment, along with the other apartments in his building. Nils had to go to class that morning, and I took that time to get glamorous (aka shower). We met near his university so I could catch up with him and a few friends for lunch. We went to an interesting place. They specialized in Italian food, kebabs, and pasta salads. Hmmm… Haha but Nils picked out a pasta salad for me which ended up being really good. It had all sorts of things in it. Full of goodness. Nils had to go back to class after that but left me with directions for getting to the famous Vasa Museum. I took a bus to get there. Yep, little country girl Abbey took a city bus. But it’s Stockholm. I’m sure it’s not like taking a MARTA bus in Atlanta.. No poverty, remember?

Anyway, so I got to the Vasa Museum and it was crazy. It’s a giant boat built for the king’s royal fleet back in the 1600s. The reason why it was so cool (and pretty lame) was that it sunk on its very first voyage. It didn’t even get to leave Stockholm harbor before sinking. It was way too modern for its time and the guys didn’t build it properly. Oops. So the boat sat in the harbor for around 350 years. It ended up sinking down into the mud and was pretty much forgotten about. Someone decided that it would be a good idea to dig the thing up in the 1960, so the Swedish king opened his checkbook and had it restored. Now this giant boat is sitting in a museum, almost completely (95%) in tact. I went on a guided tour in English while in the museum. Our guide looked like a pirate 🙂 but he was so enthusiastic, so it was a great experience. I made my way back to Nils’s apartment again (didn’t even get lost once) and we went to the grocery store again. Nils was hosting a dinner party that evening for me and some of his best friends, so we had to get some food. Luckily everyone was bringing a dish to share, so we didn’t have to go crazy with the food. I made quesadillas because they’re oh so easy, and the store had tortillas, so I figured why not. Nils got the ingredients for a super fancy salad.  His friends, all wearing super stylish outfits because that’s just what they do, came around 8, and we all had a wonderful time. This group of friends was different than the ones from the previous evening, but they were equally nice and welcoming.

Nils and me at the Stockholm harbor

The next morning I got ready to leave. Nils made us a couple of cups of coffee (Swedes drink a ton of coffee) and we chatted in his kitchen before time ran out and I had to tackle the transportation game once again.

I’m so grateful I had the opportunity to visit, and my guide was pretty wonderful as well. Sweden is such a beautiful place, just like its people.