Essential Estonia

When we first saw Tallin, Estonia listed on our itinerary for last summer’s Baltic Sea Princess Cruise, I thought “Hey, isn’t Estonia that fake country that was in “The Princess Diaries!?” (actually, that was Genovia). Having never even heard of it, we really didn’t know what to expect until we approached the docks, spying the ancient towers of the town of the capital city of Tallin in the distance. Once inside the walled city

we were instantly transported back in time, surrounded by great stone churches including St. Olav’s Church– and yes, we did climb all the way to the top of the tower!

Climbing that narrow stone stairways was most definitely not for the faint of heart…but well worth the trip- what a view from the top!!)

360 degrees of spectacular sights greeted us

from the docks to the city center (thankfully there was a grill at the very top, so no chance of toppling out!)

We strolled through the walled city

taking in all the sights, including the chunky tower know affectionately as Fat Margaret – can you see where she gets her name?and the bustling Town Hall Square filled with shops and tourists alike.

The stunningly colorful architecture gives you the illusion of being on some medieval movie set,

I think Shrek and donkey may have gotten lost …

Although the official languages are Estonian and Russian, most of the vendors and townspeople spoke English, so it was quite easy to navigate our way around through the city, shop the local artisans

and dine in the famous Olde Hansa. 

Our lunch at Olde Hansa was one of the highlights of the day, sitting in the brilliant sunshine, enjoying the local cuisine. Although we passed on the Wild Boar and Rabbit Roast, we did enjoy a platter of oven-baked cheeses and herb beer. We tried to buy these amazing mugs at the restaurant shop, but they were not for sale!

If anyone knows a potter who could replicate these, let me know- they were fantastic!! What we did purchase was this hand-wrought, iron and copper candle lantern that now hangs proudly in our kitchen.

The salesclerk literally took it down from the wall and wrapped it up, screws and all, for us to take home. Try explaining that bundle to airport security.  So another great stop on our Baltic Sea tour, Estonia definitely being one of the highlights of our trip. And that’s no bull!!

Have a wonderful Wednesday… Susan

Finding Finland

On this week’s editon of Wanderlust Wednesday, we are headed for Helsinki, Finland! I have to admit that, prior to our Baltic Sea Princess Cruise, I had no inkling of the beauty of these capital cities. This the the downtown market square where locals sell lovely hand-crafted items along the waterfront.

Helsinki, Finland is a port city founded in 1550, that became the capital in 1812. It is resplendant in ancient architecture,

museums and spectacular churches. We happened upon this photo shoot at the steps of the cathedral. Does the bride’s dress not appear as if it could float away on one of those clouds!? So pretty!

We disembarked from the cruise ship, and headed into town (well, at least that’s where we thought we were headed.) We ended up taking the long way around, finally making our way to the market square, thanks to a lovely local lady…but we did see some nice boats, so there was that! 

Once Coach and I actually found the dock area, we then took the ferry to Suomenlinna Fort  one of the main attractions of Helsinki. Now Coach, being a history teacher, really does appreciate a good fort. But I do have to say, this one was quite extraordinary. The architecture and the views were nothing short of spectacular. Built in the 18th century, the military fort is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is home to approx. 900 Finns who live and work there. The fort is (naturally) surrounded by water, and has spectacular 360 degrees of views of the inner harbor area.

This sentinel holds watch over the incoming ships.

Taking the ferry back to the mainland, we strolled through the streets and marveled at the gardens, (I always wonder what the views are for a pigeon perched on the head of a statesman?)

the statues and fountains in the city center.

Apparently it is a yearly tradition to add soap bubbles to this fountain (a protest to the suggestive pose). The sea lions find this quite amusing : )

Saying goodbye to beautiful Helsinki!  

On to our next port… Happy sailing! Susan

Where’d she go this week? I dunno, Alaska!!

Old corny joke. I know. But it kept running through my head as I was writing this blog post. It’s Wanderlust Wednesday, and this week we are off to the great state of Alaska! America’s 49th state.

The Last Frontier. Home of  Mt. McKinley – @ 20,320 feet (6,194 m) above sea level  – the highest point in the USA. Although Alaska is the largest state in square miles, it is 48th in population. Alaska borders Canada to the East and the Pacific Ocean and Arctic Sea, but no other US states. And contrary to popular belief, you cannot see Russia from your back porch.

A few years back, we had the amazing opportunity to cruise with Princess through the fjords and glacial passages of Alaska.

Forget what you’ve seen in travel brochures and read in glossy magazines. There is no way to accurately portray the immense beauty, the pristine countryside, the majestic mountains of this great state unless you have seen them with your own eyes.

Whether we were river rafting next to a glacier

soaring to new heights (no I was not on that plane, have a hard enough time getting on a 747!!)

panning for gold

and that’s what we got (certainly not enough for the new bracelet I had in mind!)

mushing with the dogs (It was summer, so no snow- but it still was fun!)

sailing away  at sunset

…we were never out of sight of some of the most breathtaking scenery in the world. 

As our ship made its way into the Fjords, the spectacular glaciers came into full focus.

Mountains peaks of turquoise blue, black and white ice,

with melting sections “calving” into the water with deafening crashes.

The Mendenhall Glacier 

Our Inside Passage cruise from Whittier to Vancouver, British Columbia took us to Juneau, the state capitol,

Skagway … part of the setting for Jack London‘s book The Call of the Wild.

and Ketchikan known for it’s Alaskan Native Culture and Salmon Fishing. 

Each stop along the way was rich with scenic vistas

and local customs and history, including the Totem Bight State Historical Park

Mt. McKinley again! Apparently people travel from all over the world to view and climb the majestic Mt. McKinley. We were told that some folks visit for years and never actually see it, due to constant cloud cover. Every time we walked outdoors, someone said, “Hey, look at that, it’s Mt. McKinely again!” The highest mountain in North America, Mt. McKinley has been the goal of aspiring high altitude climbers since it was first climbed in 1913. Its reputation as a highly coveted summit derives from its location near the Arctic Circle and the Pacific Ocean giving it some of the most ferocious weather in the world. Because of its weather and ease of access, some climbers use McKinley as a training ground for climbing the 8,000 meter peaks of the Himalaya, including Everest.

And with that I will sign off, as my dogs are tired (uggh, another bad joke) . Happy Mushing! Susan

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