Thursday, July 26, 2012

Bored in the Baltics

William has fun at the airport!
The Tumbleweeds (that's us) are just back from our main summer vacation (as opposed to all the other, shorter vacations that we are taking!). This time we chose the Baltics because

a) Greg collects countries like I collect Pandaora, and he hadn't had a new one in awhile
b) it sounded quiet and relaxing, a good antidote to life in Paris
3 (this is an in joke) we could get there in under 3 hours by plane and William still flies for free

Taking a tram ride in Helsinki
We flew into Helsinki, and it was a great place to start. Clean, easy to get around in and very interesting, we soon wished our planned 2 day stopover could be more. Life there centres around Market Square, and our functional apart-hotel was a mere 5 minute walk away. They have beautiful art deco architecture (called Jungen in that part of the world) which was an unexpected treat for me to see, and many wonderful museums. Greg got to go to the Olympic stadium (another thing he 'collects') and I had a wonderful day in the design district: Marimekko, Iitalla, Fiskars, oh my! There was this awesome little park a stone's throw from our hotel that keeps sand toys on hand for all the kids to use freely...William was in heaven. We also really enjoyed the unusual 'stone church' which was blasted out of an escarpment and given a glass roof; a bit different from your average European cathedral. We wish we had time to see the Military Museum (to familiarize ourselves with their history, so different from ours) and to take a ferry over to one of islands to see their Viking Village, but alas it was time to move on.

William's first ball room!
We took a ferry known far and wide as a booze cruise over to Estonia. We supposed that liquor laws are stricter in Finland so folks head to lawless Estonia to get all hammered. I had very little wine in Helsinki as it was only sold in dedicated stores which were closed most of the weekend (but you could buy beer in the grocery stores. Simply not the same in my books!). So if not exactly hammered I certainly did enjoy a few glasses of wine with dinner! Greg had booked us an all you can eat buffet on the ferry AND William got to experience his first ball room. So the booze cruise was thumbs up in our books!

Not so much Tallin, at least for Greg. We walked to our hotel, a short distance from the port and it was very pretty. Tallin is like a picture book village from Medieval times, all pretty colors and stone walls and quaintness. We really liked that part, but so did loads of other people. And Greg hated all the shops and to be honest he was right, there were too many. We did do a walking tour of the town, and took in the occupation museum which was very well done. We took William on "Toomas" the tourist train which he loved. We also ate at an 'authentic' Medieval pub where everything cost one euro. I thought at that price it would be pretty bad, but it was better than pretty good! We ate soup and stuffed pastry things fresh from the stone oven, and drank beer from pottery mugs. They had the place done up all dark and Medievally, and the staff wore costumes. It was touristy but fun.

Next we rented a car to drive off into the wilds of Estonia. You should have seen the hunkajunk we got! Dented, scratched, hubcaps missing, the side view mirror casing dropped off one day. Our hotel told us that it is pretty typical for an Estonian rental. Yeeikes! At least we didn't worry much about it as what was one more scratch? No matter, the car worked so off we went.

On the boardwalk in Haapsalu
Now, choosing to go to Estonia on holiday you know you are not in for tourist central. Nor will there be loads of activities or much English spoken. This was partly why we wanted to go there, for something off the beaten path. But our next hotel ended up being waaaayyyyy off the path! Online it had looked plain but clean and said it was near the sea. These things were all true, but when we got there we realized the sea was a bird watching area so there went my vision of William puttering in the sand. There was no TV, no Internet which was OK but for 8 DAYS!!! What had I booked us? However, once I calmed down we got into the pace of life at Haeska Manor and sucuumbed to its charm. The birdwatching area turned out to be a great place to throw rocks in the water, and we read lots. The owners had their grand daughter staying with them, so she and William chased the chickens together. Perhaps because of the children, we were welcomed into the host family's life: we did laundry, ate together, got together for playdates. And the host was a really good cook so we ate like kings! We also took a daytrip to Latvia, to the interior and I even took a mudbath (I told Greg it was like what I imagine it would be inside one of William's diapers: warm, brown and smelly. But my skin was silky smooth after!). We spent a lot of time in the nearest town of Haapsalu where they had a surprising amount to do: a wonderful boardwalk by the sea, great playground (do you sense a playground theme in this missive? Tells you where we are at in our life!) and interesting ruined castle, archery and even an afternoon of bowling. All in all we enjoyed ourselves, and went home refreshed.

the Tumbleweeds

After the quietness of  our vacation we are relishing ife in Paris again, especially as it is our favorite season: les vacances! That means most of the Parisians have gone away for the summer and we have the city to ourselves. We love it like this. Soon enough will come the rentree but until then I will go enjoy a quiet glass of quiet wine on my quiet street. Ahhhhhhh.