Bob and Eva's Adventures

We enjoy exploring the nooks and crannies of foreign countries.

Posts from the “Our Travels” Category

Helsinki – Finland at Its Best

Posted on February 14, 2018

The ferry ride over from Tallinn takes only a couple of hours so it is more like a commute than a journey, yet when we land we are now in Scandinavia, in some ways a world apart from Estonia. But this is not really a huge leap. The languages have a similar origin and both countries have suffered under Russian domination for all too long. Helsinki has a great mix of old and new when it comes to city development so I’ll be showing quite a bit of each as Eva, Suzi and I walk along the streets of the city center.

Helsinki tourist

The new main plaza of Helsinki, always full of energetic people rushing hither and yon.

We find our apartment easily because it is across from the wooden “teacup”, which actually is the Kamppi Chapel, a place of quietness.

Kamppi Chapel, Kamppi Center

Kamppi Chapel at the edge of the Kamppi Center.

Finland has an enormous lumber industry so wood is a fitting exterior material.

Downtown office buildings

All underneath the main plaza and surrounding office buildings is a gargantuan shopping complex with restaurants, grocery stores and just about everything else. Here in Helsinki one doesn’t have to spend a lot of time in the bracing outdoors.

Main train station from the Art Nouveau period

Train station ticket office

We enjoy walking the streets in the older part of town, mostly dating from the turn of the 20th century.

Stately brick building behind Suzi

Close up look at decorative details

Another fine corner building

And another

Pointy steeple

Another slim steeple

A manhole cover work of art

A manhole cover work of art

Vikings on the loose!

What a doorway!

Of course, it isn’t long before we are thinking of a place for lunch. Here’s a place, not with a lot of exterior charm but the sign calls us in.

A cafe with a bit of class

Here’s what the 200 year old building looked like after adding a third floor 100 years ago. It looks the same today.

The additional floor was for a concert hall – still in use.

The modest cafe primarily serves the concert goers, but also local office staff and wayward travelers who happen to pass by.

The set price meals are good local fare at modest cost. We return the next day, too.

We take a walk through embassy row, passing the well-fortified US embassy with numerous signs to not take photographs. The Russian embassy is relatively modest, protected by a more normal size fence and has no threatening signs. As much as the Russians are disliked, it’s the Americans who cower in fear.

Russian embassy

We walk over to the harbor area with the 18th century island fortress in the distance.

Island fortress beyond the pier.

The shore with exposed glacier-scoured granite.

Sea life of sorts

“Expectation – Maternal love is the strongest”, 2010.

We meet up with Suzi’s Finnish friend, Jarno, who gives us a guided walk among some contemporary buildings and into his childhood neighborhood.

Eva, Jarno and Suzi

Contemporary Art Museum

Contemporary Art Museum

Finlandia Talo Huset Hall, 1971

New apartments

Cat on a leash

A last chat with Jarno

We have now run out of time. Eva and Suzi board the train the following morning to the airport. They fly to Germany to spend a couple of weeks on Hallig Hooge, their fourth consecutive year there.

Train to the airport. One leaves every ten minutes for the 45-minute ride.

I leave the next day for San Francisco. First I take an afternoon train to a hotel one stop from the airport in order to catch an early flight to Amsterdam for my connecting flight to SFO. The train runs through immaculate landscape for many miles, then submerges into solid granite the final third of the way. I exit deep underground.

Underground train station in the suburbs

Pedestrian tunnel to the surface through solid rock

Outside the station, in a birch forest with little in sight but a couple of crossing roads.

It is nearly a half mile walk to the hotel, out in the countryside, so very nicely situated.

Near the hotel

Autumn is on the way.

Birches – this must be Finland.

Because there are no options for dining out, I take the lowest priced (though still high) option on the hotel restaurant menu, a pizza.

First rate pizza

The next morning I must have breakfast at 4:30 in order to catch the 5:00 shuttle bus to the airport. Hot breakfast is served later but I could still indulge in a first-rate German style breakfast any time after 4:00. It was quite enough, indeed.

Early morning cold breakfast.

And, oh yes, I had a great night’s sleep in a neat and orderly room. It couldn’t have been better.

A fine final impression after a few days in Finland.

Winging it toward Amsterdam as the sun rises over glacier-formed lakes and flattened earth.

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Tallinn – Fabulous Capital of Estonia

Posted on February 8, 2018

What a pleasant surprise we have when we arrive in Tallinn, after a few hours’ bus ride from Riga where we have spent the past week. Across the street from the bus terminal we catch a tram to the end of the line at the base of the imposing Toompea hilltop where we will be spending the next five days. After climbing the 157 Patkuli stairs to the top, we have a sweeping view of the old town and harbor in the distance.

Tallinn, city view from Toompea Castle

Tallinn – first evening

Inside the old castle walls is almost a village unto itself, as it once legally was, with its own administration and even cathedral. Thus it was known in German as Domberg, or Cathedral Hill, or in Estonian, Toompea. Our huge, modern apartment (110 qm) has meter thick walls of solid limestone. We feel a bit like royalty here, secure behind the ramparts.

Security wall

Generous bedroom No. 1

Bathroom with shower behind and full sauna to the right, with heated stone floors throughout.

Although there are several restaurants here on the castle grounds, we decide to take the Patkuli stairs down toward the railroad station, where we surely can find a good local spot for dinner.

Looking down from the top

Only 157 steps to the bottom

Ah, ha, here we are!

Lõks restaurant

Oops, we just passed our eatery, Lõks.

Lots of genuine atmosphere in here all right.

Let’s read about this place. It may be good.

Delicious, indeed.

From our apartment, the easy way into town is via the long sloping cobbled street that takes us by the Russian Orthodox church and Parliament building.

Russian Orthodox church Tellinn

Russian Orthodox church – not necessarily loved by the locals.

Parliament building

Finally we see the curious Apple Command symbol , used in Scandinavia for “Heads Up, something interesting this way”.

Fancy bench, worth sitting on and enjoying.

A first glimpse of the old town.

Crowded with tourists and cafes

What a fine Art Nouveau facade!

Standard young person, cigarette, cell phone and socks.

Standard middle-aged man

We consider the cost of excess weight on our health, especially when we pass this gravestone cutting business, with Eva’s first and middle names chiseled in, and almost her birth date, too, which is 03/11/1940.

Gravestone all too close for comfort.

Old cobbled way

The main plaza

We do a bit of shopping in an underground store carrying local goods.

We walk around the old town exploring many nooks and crannies.

Here are many stalls located along the ramparts.

What a gem.

On guard

Tiny but ever so fancy door

Such a great town to explore

A good place to rest weary feet and have a drag.

Now it’s time for lunch and Suzi knows just the right place, because she’s been in Tallinn before.

A pancake pub, of course.

Quite a hangout for young and old.

Yum, yum.

Now we are walking over to a former workers neighborhood on the edge of the old town.

Wooden houses

Autumn is in the air.

Colorful door

We stop for coffee in the suburbs.

Today we’re going to explore the moat around the fortress, then a former industrial area.

Eva reads a plaque thanking Russian Premier Boris Yeltsin for giving Estonia its independence in 1990.

A place to rest and find peace of mind.

A section of the old moat, modern buildings behind.

After quite some wandering we end up in an industrial zone ready for a good lunch.

Is this a good place to look for a lunch spot?

This fellow has already had a few good meals.

Maybe here

Yes indeed. Tasty it is.

This place is being gentrified. Just look at all the wall art.

Now we need to get down to the harbor to check on ferries to Helsinki, our next destination. First, we all need haircuts. Here’s a shop right here, near the boats. We are all pleased with our cuts.

While Suzi gets a trim, enterprising pigeon scarfs up the cooties.

Harbors aren’t what they used to be. Instead of being havens for derelicts, debris and dangers, many port cities are reclaiming junky buildings and repurposing them for modern use. Such is the case here in Tallinn.

Renovation underway near the port

An appreciated quietness of design

Modern scales the old

Imaginative

Shops and lofts

Colorful apartments across the way

We stop for a final pastry.

This is what afternoons are for.

Now the time is drawing nigh. Tomorrow we set sail for the 2 1/2 hour ferry crossing to Helsinki.

We’ll take one of these.

Riga, Latvia – Art Nouveau Architecture at its Finest

Posted on January 28, 2018

As we walk along the north side of the City Canal, we are amazed by the abundance of dazzling buildings from the 1890 – 1910 era. It must have been a time of major optimism and economic strength as well as urban growth. Let’s take a look at some of the jewels we enjoy as we stroll the busy streets, iPhone cameras in hand.

Riga Art Nouveau

Art Nouveau in its glory, Sept. 2017

Lots of buildings are right now being restored, some wrapped in green mesh to keep delicate orientation from falling on tourists (and others) walking below.

Magnificent mansion nearly restored

But wait a minute; first we have to settle into our new apartment, the one with a good view of street life, not the dungeon we just left, the one with vaulted brick ceilings but with no windows, as interesting as it was.

Room for a grand piano and concert guests, and large bedroom No. 1

Bright kitchen and well-lit bedroom No. 2 beyond.

View from the kitchen onto a lively street with sidewalk renovation

View from the bedroom, sidewalks and street being renewed

The street one block behind us is lined with elegant buildings, as we will see. It is also the location of our nearest bakery, grocery store and budget restaurant.

Former KGB Russian spy headquarters

Another fine corner building

Classy, this one

Oops, a traditional wooden building

Exotic entry

Fancy facade

Detail

Look at those corner balconies.

What a facade!

Pretty in pink

Golden

Brick

Blue

Looking left, looking right

Another something to look at

Who, me?

Freedom at last!

Look who’s rowing.

Pitch your recyclables through the hoops.

Classy, colorful church

It’s getting time to wrap this post up. We’ll start by buying a few recycled clothes by the pound. A good deal indeed.

Used clothes by the kilo

A tasty pizza for me

Delicious trout for Eva

Within five months of the first movie ever shown (Paris, 1895) Riga was showing movies, too.

Perfect seats at the opera

Now it’s time to take the trolly to the regional bus station in front of the covered market. Flixbus will whisk us off in style to Tallinn, capital of Estonia, a few hours away.

Riga – Capital of Latvia

Posted on January 22, 2018

Riga really charms us. A vibrant city of over 600,000 people, it holds a good 1/3 of the nation’s people. Long ago, Latvia was settled by pagan proto-Baltic people speaking an early indo-European language. But in the 12th century German traders of the Hanseatic League settled in, developing Riga as an important port, bringing with them Christianity. For the next 700 years or so Germans and Rome had their way with these long suffering folk. Then Russia had its turn of suppression, not to ignore Sweden which pushed out Catholicism, leaving the people mostly Protestant. Russians make up about 25% of today’s populace, the majority non-citizens (stateless) and grudgingly tolerated.

By the end of Soviet occupation in 1991, Riga and the country were a run down mess. But the last 25 years of freedom have brought remarkable renewal to the country and Riga, including membership in the EU and NATO, and the recent use of the Euro currency. We are amazed.

Riga Plaza

We so much enjoy walking the streets of the Old Town and have decided to stay couple of nights in a veritable dungeon, underground and without a single window. It’s quite an experience, indeed.

Eva enters our windowless haunt.

We have a look around.

Suzi’s bedroom

We hit the narrow streets and join other tourists.

Enterprising musicians earn a few coins.

We love the narrow cobbled streets.

Riga cathedral

Riga cathedral

One evening we attend an organ concert.

Cat on a hot roof

A place to stroll

A place to sit

Waiting for vendors to set up their booths, perhaps.

Narrow way

Cat defending its turf.

With a larger bowl, his income might improve.

One evening we attend a ballet performance at the opera house.

Rimsky-Korsakov – Scheherazade ballet

Riga opera house

After the performance

Riga by night

Narrow sidewalk cafes

By the harbor is located the train station, the bus station, and the incredible food market which has a history. During WWI when Germany controlled Riga, the bad guys built five hangers at some distance from the city for dirigibles to be used during the war. After Germany was expelled and Latvia declared independence, the superstructures were moved to Riga to cover the previously uncovered market. Here’s a look around.

The massive indoor market

Inside the indoor market

Pastries always catch our eye.

Unwashed produce, right common here.

Lots of fish, some salted, some smoked, some fresh

After a couple of days in the old town we cross the City Canal and enter a new world, pretty much built up at the turn of the 20th century. Here we find the largest collection of Art Nouveau buildings in the whole of Europe, some 750 in total. Fascinating.

A flower market with numerous stalls

Zounds! A huge Eastern Orthodox church

We walk about a kilometer to where we are to meet our Airbnb hostess, who will give us a key to our apartment. She is late and we are hungry so Suzi texts where we can be found.

Cooling our heals waiting for our apartment key to be delivered.

We order a nice lunch.

Because this side of Riga is so splendid with Art Nouveau buildings we’ll take a good look around in the next post, after lunch.

Bye for now.

Lithuania – Open for Business

Posted on December 15, 2017

If you can figure it out. Open hours for businesses are posted on or near the front door. There’s a lot of variety in how business hours are revealed. The way it’s done is often clever and with humor. Let’s take a close look at some of the ways these folks do it and have some fun along the way. It’s helpful to be familiar with 24 hour time and Roman numerals, and be deft with symbols.

A clothing store


Here we find the days of the week. Can you remember them?

Ah, English.

A bike shop

Room? A bit open ended, no?

Open daily

Vegetarian bistro

Sunglasses shop http://www.glasseson.lt

Discount convenience grocery store

Meat market

Coffee house

Restaurant

Watch shop

Library or bookstore

Optical shop with spectacle emblem

Coffee house

Muffin shop, open daily.

Cosmetics and perfume.

Beauty parlor

Open daily noon till 8:00.

Old German beer garden

Locked up on Sunday.

Restaurant on a boat.

Let’s now chill out and sail away to Riga, capital of Latvia, one country north of Lithuania, or only a few hours travel by bus.

Manhole Covers of Lithuania

Posted on December 1, 2017

When I walk around in old European towns I spend quite a bit of time looking down because where I step may offer up surprises. Now I don’t mean negotiating misplaced sidewalk pavers or open trenches without barriers, such things that Americans are not accustomed to. I mean decorative things worth looking at, such as manhole covers and the like. Really? Let’s take a look at a few I happened to photograph. By-the-way, all those letters happen to mean one thing or another. A few are decipherable, some are codes, some are in Cyrillic from Soviet-era days. As we go along, I’ll interpret some of them.

Municipal Telephone Network – Russian

Municipal Telephone Network – Russian

VK

MTT

1998

Viatop PAM- D400 Made in Germany

K – sewer, GOST Soviet state standard 1968

T – telephone, GOST Soviet state standard 1968

NCRSO Lithuania to German standard D400

Dujos – natural gas, Lithuania

A S

Meets German std. D400, GJS 500 cast iron

Municipal Telephone Network, Russian

Kaunas Water, Meets German std. D400

Ginmika Cast Iron Products – Vilnius

Kaunas water

3M – Municipal Telephone Network, Russian

Cast-iron sewer ware – Kanalguss, German

K – Sewer water

VS – water supply 1968

Doorway grill – catchment for cigarette butts

Telephone?

Kaunas water

K – water 1989 Russian

Rainwater sewer – Vilnius

Wastewater – Nuotekos, Vilnius

People’s Commissariat for Communications – Russian

Somebody left this on the sidewalk.

We’ve looked down enough; it’s time to go shopping. Are the stores open? See the next post for details.

Lithuania Has Many Coffee Houses

Posted on November 27, 2017

Maybe there’s not a coffee house on every corner, but nonetheless there are plenty to choose from in the big cities. And they are very popular. Some of the names and signs are eye catching. English is popular in these places. Let’s look at a few.

You certainly know what this one is all about.

Good coffee for a buck

After a hurricane coffee, I bet these guys are fired up.

Let’s take away some coffee.

Lucky gal gets a huge yogurt.

Any chance this means coffee?

A safe harbor for a good morning start.

What could top Coffee King?

Is their coffee freshly brewed, or from a coffee pod?

Vero could use a facelift and better access.

Inside, Vysnia looks pretty nice.

A good hot coffee will surely take their chill away.

This is Old World Lithuania. A pipe and coffee are OK.

Our favorite hang-out.

Now here’s a creative name.

After all, this is what having a coffee is all about.

This wraps up the coffee scene. Next post will show where excess fluids go. No guessing!

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