Sunday, December 2, 2018

Tallinn, Estonia

Tallinn, from the Upper Level of Old Town
Our visit to Tallinn, Estonia was a surprisingly positive experience.  Since Linda and I were having major pain issues with our legs we knew we would be unable to walk the ancient cobble stone walks through the Old Town part of the city.  We still were not going to be stopped from visiting and seeing what we could.  We took a shuttle to a place near the gates into the Old Town.  We planned to have Ray do all of the walking and picture taking while we sat at an outdoor cafe and watched people.  That way, we could still get a flavor of the city and later see pictures of what we missed.

When we got off the shuttle, we saw some young people with rickshaws ready to take people on tours through the old part of the city.  Linda and I looked at each other, then at Ray, and with little hesitation, decided to hop on a rickshaw and see the sites.  We agreed to meet in a few hours for an early dinner at the Troika Cafe.
George, our rickshaw driver and tour guide, was great.

George, our rickshaw driver, was perfect for Linda and me.  He took us everywhere and talked about the city.  He took us to the upper level where we were able to get pictures of the whole city and see the interesting roofs on so many buildings.  We saw Fat Margaret, which is a huge tower that was part of the ancient fortress protecting the city.  We squeezed down the narrowest street in Tallinn and stopped by a park with lovely floral displays. 

For the rest of this post, I am going to use pictures with captions to show what we saw.  Ray got some of the same pictures that we did, but he did not make it to the Upper Old Town.  How lucky we were that George drove Linda and me there.

Part of the ancient fortress that protected the city
Narrow windows for guards.

This 16th century limestone cannon tower is called Fat Margaret (Paks Margareeta).  Now, an Estonian maritime history museum occupies the inside.

The Broken Line Monument was erected in memory of 852 people who lost their lives on the Estonia Ferry which sank in 1994.  There were 137 people rescued, but the bodies of 757 were never found. 

These are some of the shops and signs we saw.

George took a picture of Linda and me and then we walked through a beautiful garden. 

There were vintage pictures posted in various places to show what the gardens looked like when first constructed.

The next collage has pictures of the Lucky Chimney Sweep.  He is a bronze figure with a shiny nose.  We were told that people rub his nose for good luck.  Later I learned that in the old days of Estonia, when people saw a chimney sweep they would try to rub his coat buttons for luck since the buttons were supposedly made of gold.  I did not get any good pictures of this bronze statue's coat buttons, but as you can see....his nose is quite shiny from so many rubs.  And, yes, we did rub his nose!

At the end of the day, Linda and I met Ray and had a tasty snack at the Troika Cafe.  It was fun to sit outside and enjoy the charm of the city.  The birds were quite comfortable in sitting on our table, waiting for us to finish so that they could eat whatever was left.  When we were ready to leave, our bill was inside a nesting doll.  

Ray's Moscow Mule, but not in a copper cup.


Nesting Doll with our bill inside.

This impatient bird is encouraging this customer to eat faster.

There is so much more to say about Tallinn, but this post is getting quite long, so I will stop.  We said good-bye to Tallinn, boarded the ship, and were able to relax on our deck as we watched the setting sun.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Gateway to Berlin

Brandenburg Gate, Berlin, Germany
Brandenburg Gate was built by the Prussian King Frederick William II between 1788-1791.  I am always amazed at how such huge structures were built so long ago and yet still stand majestically for us to admire.  There is quite a bit of history that goes with the Brandenburg Gate.  It was built as a protected point of entry to Berlin.  On the top is a statue called "Quadriga" which is the goddess of victory, driving a chariot being pulled by four horses.  When Napoleon Bonapart conquered the city he shipped  "Quadriga" to Paris.  Later, when the Prussians defeated Napoleon, they returned the statue to the top of Brandenburg Gate, and as a symbol of their military victory over France, an iron cross was added to the statue.

Quadriga Statue
The Brandenburg Gate was severely damaged during World War II.  Here is  picture of what it looked like shortly after the war.  This is why I am amazed at how it was able to stand after so many building and structures in Berlin were destroyed during the war.  I found this picture on line but could not find the source.

Not far from the Brandenburg Gate is the Reichstag Building.  It was built from 1892 to 1894 to house the Parliament.  "The building caught fire on 27 February 1933 in what was reported to be an arson attack by a Dutch communist, although many believe that it was orchestrated by the Nazis as a ‘false flag operation’, to enable Adolf Hitler to step up his state security operations and crack down on civil liberties." (Taken from the Interesting Facts about the Reichstag Building.)"

Reichstag Building (Parliament Building)
Close to the Reichstag is a memorial for 96 members of the Reichstag (Parliament) who died at the hands of the Nazis.  I found this to be so powerful that I took numerous pictures of it.  I will spare you with just three.  It is made of 96 cast iron plates.  Each plate has the name of one person, birth year and year of death.  It also has place of death, most of them being concentration camps. The memorial is designed so that more plates can be added if any other names are discovered. It scares me that this could happen to our government, but Ray insists that the makeup of our government is different and prevents a nationalist type take over.  He is the history expert, and it makes me feel a bit better, but there is still a darkness has seeped within me.  

This man died in the Sonnenburg concentration camp in 1944.


When we were visiting Berlin it was the week that Senator John McCain had died.  We felt a great sense of pride as we passed the United States Embassy and noticed that the flag was flying at half mast.

U.S. Embassy is flying the flag at half mast in honor of Senator John McCain.
One more picture before I stop!  This is the Hotel Adlon.  It was not destroyed like so much was in the Berlin Battle. In 1945 it was destroyed by a fire that was started in the wine cellar by a bunch of Red Army soldiers.  Later it was reconstructed to look like the original building.  This hotel has been in a lot of movies and mentioned in a lot of books.  Many stars of the 1930s would stay there.  In modern times most people will recognize it as the hotel where Michael Jackson dangled his infant son off the balcony.  Dr. Who fans might recognize it when the TARDIS landed in the hotel dining room in the episode, "Let's Kill Hitler."

Hotel Adlon
There is so much history in Berlin, and like so many places, we could have stayed there for days to  see all of the historical and cultural sights.  We visited a few other places there, but for now, I will end this post because I still have a lot of places to write about.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018


Berlin Cathedral
After a relaxing day at sea, we docked in Rostock, Germany where we took a train to Berlin.   I had been looking forward to visiting Berlin to see Checkpoint Charlie and the Berlin Wall.  The trek to the train was a lot longer than anticipated, especially for Linda and me who still had pain issues in our legs.  Fortunately, the two and a half train ride was smooth and the seats were comfortable.

Checkpoint Charlie was quite the tourist stop.  It was so different from pictures I had seen in old movies or documentaries.  You can see a McDonald's and a KFC in the pictures I took.

This is from the Allied side (West) of Checkpoint Charlie.  This was one of three crossing points from East and West Berlin.
But even though it was touristy, the feeling of what went on here from 1961-1989.  Many people lost their lives trying to escape.  The huge picture of the American soldier Sargent Jeff Harper, was one of the last to guard the checkpoint.  Looking at his picture, I found that the tourist shops and fast food places faded into a mist as I imagined what it would have been like to have been on the other side of the wall.  When I stepped to the eastern side of the wall I could feel a whole different energy.  There was a sadness and despair. And then, I jolted back to reality by someone bumping into me as they were taking a picture.

This is the back of the Checkpoint Charlie building.   The original building is in a nearby museum.

I doubt anyone could misinterpret this sign.  Only diplomats and those approved of crossing into East Berlin were allowed past this sign.

That feeling happened a number of times.  To be standing in the exact location where such major history occurred overwhelmed me. I welcomed the loud tourists, and some of the tacky tourist shops.  I welcomed the laughing and watching others who seemed unaware of the history of this place.  All of this showed me how resilient we humans are.  We can still remember the history, we can still learn from it; but we can also live our dreams, and hope to make the world a better place.

Here are some other pictures I took near Checkpoint Charlie.

It is difficult to read the banner.  It says, "By defending the liberty and unity of Ukraine we defend the liberty and unity of the countries of Europe.  Vladimir Putin: Abandon your geopolitical ambitions and set the whole of Ukraine free."
Sargent Jeff Harper, one of the last guards at Checkpoint Charlie.
 The length of the Berlin Wall was 96.3 miles and the height is 11.8 inches.  It was made of barbed wire and concrete.  It was built to keep the East Berlin people from going into West Berlin.  West Berlin became an island city in the middle of East Germany.  The city depended on people in the Western World to send supplies.

There are a few places where the Berlin Wall still stands.  They have had to enclose the wall because so many people were chipping away to take a piece of it as a souvenir.

This is a marker showing path of the Berlin Wall.

Ray was kind enough to let me take his picture straddling the Berlin Wall.

These bricks show the path of the Berlin Wall throughout the city,

This is an enclosed part of the Berlin Wall.

Parts of the Berlin Wall that show graffiti.

On our trip back to the ship we passed this building.  The message seems to be right in step with the Berlin Wall.  A wall is used to keep people out, but also traps people within the barriers.  When the Berlin Wall was torn down, there was a lot of adjustment, but this symbol of repression was like a catalyst in working together to make a strong Germany.  I hope we an learn from this history.  The sign on the building speaks for me.  Walls can only suppress people for a certain length of time. Immigrants need to be welcomed into our country, but it needs to be done in a lawful manner.

There was so much to see in Berlin, I will write another post.  It will focus on the Brandenberg Gate, and yes, there is a lot of history I will try to squeeze in.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Akershus Fortress, Oslo, Norway

Akershus Fortree from the Deck of the Cruse Ship
 Our departure from Oslo was going to be late, which gave Ray and me some time to explore Akerhaus Fortress.  We could easily walk there because our ship docked right beside the fortress.  There is no entry fee to visit the fortress, but we did pay about five dollars to visit the Resistance Museum which was one of the buildings inside the fortress.  The museum closed at 4:00, which gave us time to see most of the exhibits, but we could have spent a lot more time there.  There were other buildings in the fortress that we will have to visit our next time we are in Oslo.

The Akerhaus Fortress has a 700 year old history.  It was built as protection from a Swedish earl who attacked it in 1363.  The attack was unsuccessful, and Akerhaus Fortress became a stronghold in Oslo.  I lost count on how many times the castle has been besieged, but in those many times, it was never conquered by a foreign country.  It did did surrender without combat to Nazi Germany and was under Nazi control from 1940-1945.  The Germans used it as a military headquarters, prison and and also a place of execution.  There were many who resisted and at the end of the war, a memorial was built to honor them and later this amazing Norwegian Resistance Museum was built.  I am glad we chose this museum to visit.  It was sad, in many parts, but that sadness made me realize the importance of resistance, and how difficult it can be.

This is the memorial for those in the resistance.

I am going to show you a picture of the part of Akerhaus that we saw.  The one with the toilet paper was the most difficult for me to grasp.  The human spirit in such dire times and such horrible conditions was a large part of the success the end of the war.

This is the toilet paper that was the diary of Petter Moen.  He would prick letters in the toilet and stuff the sheets of toilet paper in a ventilating shaft.  I found this heart wrenching as I pictured the difficulty he must have had punching holes to form letters, to form words.  He did not know if this diary would ever be found, and yet he documented what life was like as a prisoner of the Gestapo.  He never lived to know that his story is now part of our history.

Toilet Paper Diary

               Here is a closer view of the toilet paper.  The letters and words are easier to see.

These are rifles with bayonets that the Nazi's used while occupying Norway.   There is a letter stuck onto one bayonet that we think the resisters put there as protest for what the letter says.  There was a sign that said the rifles were put together in the shape of a swastika, but neither one of us could see the shape.

                                            Here is the note.  I translated it the best I could.

Translation:  (I did translate a lot of this on my own, but I do thank, Google Translate to make my words make sense.)

The Reich's government asks the Royal Norwegian government to immediately take the following measures.
     1.)  Call on the government to the people and the Wehrmacht to refrain from any resistance against the German troops in the occupation of the country.
     2.)  Order to the Norwegian Wehrmacht to (?? This is where the bayonet goes through the letter.)  with the incoming troops and to make the necessary arrangements for loyal cooperation to German commanders.  The Norwegian troops are left in possession of their weapons as far as their behavior allows.
           As a sign of the willingness to cooperate, the white flags of the parliament are to be shown next to the national flag on the military installations to approaching German troops.

We did not have time to visit the former living quarters of one of the Royal family (Princess Margaret of Denmark lived there in 1363 when she married Haakon the Sixth.).  There was also a church that we did not get to visit.  This is why I hope we make it back to Oslo.  There was so much in this one fortress that we would like to see.

This is one of the gates in the fortress.

This walk through a small tunnel took us to another part of the fortress.

This is a small tower and a cannon.
I don't know if these are the original cannons, but they looked cool and had pock marks on them from what I think are battle scars.

Damage from bullets or shrapnel.

This is damage from bullets or shrapnel.
His Majesty the King's Guard is responsible for guarding the fortress.
It was night time when our ship sailed to our next destination.  Akershus Fortress was a beautiful sight.  It seemed to glow in the night.

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