Archive for July, 2018

Part 3: Along the Baltic Sea – Berlin again.

Thursday, July 26th, 2018

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September 11, 2017. Poznań, Poland to Berlin, Germany.

We were returning back to Berlin to relax, catch up on things and spend some more time with Hayden and Andrea. 

On reaching Berlin we detoured to Templehof Airfield.

Up until 2008, when it ceased operating, Templehof was one of the main airports in Berlin.

It is now a vast playground for the Berliners, and is now known as Templehofer Feld.

It was a cold and windy afternoon when we arrived at Templehofer Feld but there were hundreds, if not a thousand people walking, riding, playing, kite flying or just hanging out.

Because of its vastness it was difficult to estimate just how many people were there.

Currently there is 386 hectares of open space available to the public.

The original terminal was constructed in 1927 and in the mid 1930s the Nazi government started a massive redevelopment.

As part of the Soviet blockade of Berlin in 1948, Templehof became the lifeline of Berlin. For 11 months vital supplies were airlifted into the isolated city. The Berlin Airlift is now regarded as one of the greatest feats of aviation history.

To keep West Berlin supplied, over 200,000 flights delivered 8,893 tons of necessities into the city.

September 12, 2017. Berlin, Germany.

Over the next few days we took off our tourist hats and just became Berliners.

We did have a walk around Volkspark Friedrichshain and Alexanderplatz but that was about it. I didn’t even take any photos for two days.

September 13, 2017. Berlin, Germany.

The highlight of the day was a haircut and visit to the Post Office, not to post anything but to get money. There are very few banks near Hayden and Andrea’s apartment.

 

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September 14, 2017. Berlin, Germany.

It had been raining on and off since we returned to Berlin so we were confined indoors for much of the time. We really didn’t care as this was our time for R&R.

I took a photo for the first time in days it was of the rain in Saarbrücker Straße from our apartment window.

 

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September 15, 2017. Berlin, Germany.

We were back to being tourists, but only for a few hours. 

After getting the Renault washed, and it needed it badly after the bug splattering of the last six weeks, we headed off to do some sightseeing.

Berliner Mayer East Side Gallery is a 1,316 meter long section of the Berlin Wall that has been preserved as a memorial to freedom.

The gallery contains 105 paintings of artists from all over the world. Sadly many have been damaged by vandalism and tagging. This is a shame as the gallery attracts over 3 million visitors a year.

Some sections have been removed and others partly demolished. 

There is still a major conflict regarding the gallery.

One of the most famous pieces is the Socialist Fraternal Kiss between Erich Honecker and Leonid Brezhnev, titled: My God, Help Me to Survive This Deadly Love.

On the other side of the gallery is part of the Wall Museum. This currently has on display a series of documentary style installations recounting experiences of victims from East Berlin.

September 16, 2017. Berlin, Germany.

It was the weekend, so after a late breakfast we went strolling around the area near Hayden and Andrea’s apartment.

This was not the tourist areas but the places that Berliners frequent on the weekend.

 

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September 17, 2017. Berlin, Germany.

The sun was out and so were the people. 

Our tourist outing for the day was a visit to the Reichstag or German Parliamentary building on the edge of Tiergarten Park and next to the Brandenburg Gate.

Hayden and Andrea had booked us passes to visit the dome. There is no entrance fee but you have to book in advance.

We did and so did many others – the place was packed.

There was a touch of irony in our visit, as next week the Germans go to the polls. 

A very important vote for both them and Europe. 

The Reichstag was originally built in 1884 and designed by architect Paul Wallot, after a competition.

It housed the German Parliament until 1933, when it was badly damaged by fire that swept through the original dome.

Hitler blamed the fire on the Communists and this was a catalyst for many reforms that gave him the power to rule Germany as a dictatorship.

After the war it fell into disuse as Germany was now divided between the east and the west.

When Germany was reunified in 1990 it was decided that the German Parliament should again sit in the Reichstag.

In 1993 again a competition was held, calling for new designs, and was won by the British architect Norman Foster. The building then underwent reconstruction between 1995 and 1999.

The new dome was a feature of the design.

Foster, under a brief from the German Parliament, built the new dome as a symbol of Germany’s unity and ‘Transparent Politics’ in contrast to the Nazis and the Soviets.

The large glass and steel dome has great views of the surrounding city and you can look into the space below.

The new dome covers the main debating chamber of the Bundestag and incorporates a number of high-tech features. A mirrored cone, in the centre of the dome, directs sunlight into the chamber, reducing carbon emissions by saving on power. While a sunshield tracks the sun and blocks out the direct sunlight and associated heat.

Norman Foster has been responsible for many ground breaking designs over the years.

Some that I recall and admire are the HSBC Building in Hong Kong, the ‘Gherkin’ in London and the world’s tallest bridge, the Millau Viaduct in France.

He was also involved, with the late Steve Jobs, in designing the new Apple Park, or ‘Spaceship’ in Cupertino, California. 

After the Bundestag we walked to the Soviet War Memorial in the Tiergarten. It was constructed just after war ended in 1945 and designed by Lew Kerbel. It is in remembrance of the 2,000 Russians who died fighting to ‘free’ Berlin.

These were our last days in Germany and Europe. 

It was the end of our Baltic adventure, we were now headed to a more familiar place – England. 

Part 2: Along the Baltic Sea – Lithuania and Poland.

Friday, July 20th, 2018

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August 31, 2017. Kuldīga, Latvia to Klaipeda, Lithuania.

I put on shorts for the first time in weeks and it was a good feeling. 

How long the better weather would last along the Baltic Sea, was questionable, but I wanted to make the most of what little summer we had left. 

On the way to Klaipeda in Lithuania we stopped in Liepāja for a coffee and then went to the beach. 

Another stretch of wind blown sand. 

There were more people in the water, as the temperature had climbed into the mid thirties. 

You can certainly see while people from this part of the world are attracted to the Adriatic. 

Wind turbines are a sure sign of wind and Liepāja is regarded as the windiest region in Latvia. There is a plan to construct a wind farm of 19 generators in the area.

We had come to Klaipēda, which is the gateway to the Curonian Spit. However the town offers more than just a stepping off point, with a relaxed, stylish lifestyle and many good bars and restaurants. 

Klaipēda is the third largest city in Lithuania and situated on the confluence of the Kurškju and smaller Danēs rivers.

The most impressive part of the town is the Theatre Square and the Klaipēda Theatre. An attractive Neo-Classical building from 1857.

Surrounding the square are many bars and restaurants and the square itself is home to the local handicrafts stalls.

The square has seen some history.

On March 23, 1939, Adolf Hitler made a speech from the balcony of the Klaipēda Theatre. This followed Lithuania accepting the Nazi German ultimatum to surrender the region.

We had dinner in one of the many restaurants on the square and afterwards visited Nesé, the Irish Pub that was opposite. During dinner there were roars of delight and groans of displeasure coming from the pub and we wondered what football game was on.

It turned out to be a basketball game between Lithuania and Georgia.

Unfortunately for the locals, Georgia won by two points, in the dying moments. (Georgia 79 defeated Lithuania 77)

 

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September 1, 2017. Klaipēda, Lithuania.

The Curonian Spit is a 98 kilometre long sand dune thats stretches from Klaipēda in the north to the Russian state of Kaliningrad in the south. It varies in width from 400 metres to nearly 4 kilometres. 

It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site shared by Lithuania and Russia and has an interesting history. Baltic mythology suggest that the Curonian Spit was created by a giantess, named Neringa, who was playing on the seashore. Apparently she scooped up sand and brought it there to shelter the local fishermen from violent storms on the Baltic sea.

There is a ferry that leaves Klaipēda every 20 minutes and crosses the Curonian Lagoon to Neringa on the Curonian Spit – on the other side of the spit is the Baltic Sea. 

My faith in the weather improving was mistaken, as the morning was dark, overcast and cold. In defiance I stupidly put on my shorts.

Even that didn’t help.

 

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September 2, 2017. Klaipēda to Šiauliai, Lithuania.

The drive from Klaipēda to Šiauliai is about two hours, or 160 kilometres, depending on the roadworks. 

The main reason for our one night stay in Šiauliai was to visit the Hill of Crosses. This is a pilgrimage site, about 12 kilometres out of the town.

It is believed that the first crosses were placed on the former Jurgaičiai or Domantai Hill Fort after the 1831 Uprising. (Also known as the Polish-Russian War of 1830-31)

All sorts of religious icons, large and small, have been placed on the hill by Catholic pilgrims.

Over the years they have come and gone, as political entities flexed their muscles.

In the late 1800’s there were an estimated 9,000 items on the hill and in 1922, just 50.

In 1961 the Soviets destroyed 5,000 and in 1975 a further 1,200 more.

During the years of Soviet occupation, the Lithuanians used the hill to demonstrate their allegiances to their original culture and identity.

By 1990 there were 55,000 items placed there and it is estimated that there are well over 100,000 there today.

There was certainly a lot and I wasn’t about to start counting.

It’s also a popular place to visit for locals, especially wedding parties. Two groups turned up while we were there.

The city of Šiauliai was said to have been founded in 1236. It was named Saule, after the Battle of Saule, or Sun, fought in the same year. 

We found no sun in Šiauliai. 

In Šiauliai we were staying at the Hotel Turnê. This was another Soviet era pub with the mandatory USSR Green walls. 

After trolling through TripAdvisor I found what looked like good place to eat. Black Bar described itself as a gastropub and they had 12 draught beers on the menu. 

Things were looking great.

When I went to order one of the beers, I was told that they only had two available. 

The food was good. 

We had just finished our meal and the reality TV, that was in the background and mute, was turned off and the Eurobasket was turned on. It was live, loud and suddenly the pub was full. 

We didn’t stay to watch the game but later discovered that the locals had a good win against Israel. (Lithuania 88 defeated Israel 73)

They love their basketball in Lithuania.

 

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September 3, 2017. Šiauliai to Kaunas, Lithuania. 

Kaunas was first mentioned in history in 1361.

Over time It has been invaded or occupied by the Russians, Swedes, French and Germans. 

It is Lithuania’s second largest city with a population of over 300,000. Up until the Second World War there was a large Jewish population living in Kaunas. Under the Nazi occupation many were exterminated. 

We arrived in Kaunas mid afternoon and our accommodation, Hotel Hof, was just meters from the main walking street. 

It was a Sunday afternoon yet the place was buzzing, especially compared to Šiauliai, where we had been the night before. 

We found Green Cafe, a free trade, eco-sustainable coffee house. It was stylish and the coffee was good. 

In the afternoon we visited Vytautas the Great War Museum. 

The weather was still overcast with intermittent drizzle. What better place to go than a museum on a foul day. 

The museum was established in 1921 and in its current location since 1930.  

It was named after Vytautas the Great, a ruler of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Born in 1350 he is regarded by modern day Lithuanians as a national hero. Posthumously he was an important figure in the 19th century national rebirth.

This museum is part of a complex containing, the War Museum, which is by far the largest and the M. K. Čiurlionis National Art Museum, the Ethnography Museum and periodic exhibitions. 

They were designed by the eminent architects of the day, Vladimiras Dubeneckis, Karolis Reisonas, and Kazimieras Kriščiukaitis. 

The theme of the museum is war, conflict and weaponry. 

Something the Lithuanians know a lot about. 

It traces the history of Lithuania, from the Stone, Bronze and Middle Ages to the current day. 

The dioramas, in the early part of the exhibition, were a great way to see how fortifications developed over the millennia. 

Another fascinating display was the  Exhibition of the History of Weapons. It displayed swords, rifles and handguns from the 16th to the 20th Century. 

The Main Street in Kaunas was alive and the blare of the TV sets in the bars and pubs was deafening. 

Lithuanian sides were competing in both basketball and football, so there was no escaping the excitement. 

We did manage to find a local restaurant, off the main drag that was quiet. 

They didn’t have a TV. 

In fact it was so quiet, that apart from the two of us, there were only four others in the place, at various times during the night. 

The food was great but, as to be expected, there wasn’t much ambiance. 

 

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September 4, 2017. Kaunas, Lithuania.

Kaunas is the second largest city in Lithuania and is on the confluence of the Neris and Nemunas rivers. It is a cultural, economic and academic hub. It has been named ‘Little Paris’ due to its rich heritage and architecture.

It was a Monday and everything was shut, especially the museums, so we decided to walk.

Our first stop was the Bank of Lithuania which was built in in 1928,  in a Neoclassical style, as a result of a competition held in 1924. A French company initially won the tender but the plans were deemed to be far too complex and expensive. The responsibility then passed into local hands and M. Songaila, the only Lithuanian professor of architecture at the time, was appointed.

He also happened to be the chairman of the jury judging the competition.

One of the main features of Kaunas is Laisvės Alėja. It is supposedly the longest pedestrian avenue in Eastern Europe, measuring 1.6 kilometres. 

Walking the entire length, there and back, gave us some exercise and an excellent opportunity to see the city.

At the start of 2017 Kaunas was chosen as one of the European Capitals of Culture and it’s easy to see why.

Stunning street murals are everywhere.

One that particularly attracted my attention was the giant wall painting entitled Wise Old Man. This 440 square metre artwork, on the side of an abandoned factory, was created by Gyva Grafika in 2013.

We then crossed over the Nemunas River to ride the Aleksotas Funicular Railway. Opened in 1935, it’s not the oldest funicular in Kaunas, that honour goes to the Žaliakalnis Funicular, built in 1931.

The weather turned balmy in the afternoon and we actually took our coats off.

That didn’t last as it was raining again that evening.

 

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September 5, 2017. Kaunas, Lithuania to Reszel, Poland, including Wolf’s Lair.

It was a long day of driving and sightseeing.

It’s approximately 280 kilometres from Kaunas, in Lithuania to Reszel, in Poland. The famous hideout for Hitler and his henchmen, Wolf’s Lair, was on the way.

We were also loosing an hour of daylight, as there was a time change moving from Lithuania to Poland.

Wolf’s Lair was Adolf Hitler’s first Eastern Front military headquarters. It was a high security site hidden deep in the Masurian woods. Hitler spent more than 800 days at Wolf’s Lair and it was there that the most famous assassination attempt was made on his life on July 20, 1944. 

The name ‘Wolf’ was one that Hitler gave to himself in the early 1930s.

The forrest complex is 6.5 square kilometres in area and at it height of use housed about 2,000 people.

Hitler departed from the complex on November 20, 1944 when the Red Army’s Baltic Offensive reached Angerburg, (now Węgorzewo) which was only 15 kilometres away.

Wolf’s lair was demolished by the Soviets on January 24 and 25, 1945. It is estimated that it took 8,000 kilograms of TNT to partially destroy the buildings.

What remains there now is a mass of reinforced steel and concrete that’s slowly disappearing back into the forest.

We arrived in Reszel late in the afternoon and had a quick walk around the castle. As we were actually staying in the Zamku Reszel, the hotel within the castle, we decided to do a more comprehensive tour the next day before we left for Gdansk.

 

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September 6, 2017. Reszel to Gdánsk, Poland.

The castle in Reszel, apart from being our accommodation, was the town’s main tourist attraction. Reszel is dominated by both the castle and the Peter and Paul Church, which is practically next door.

The castle was built by the Teutonic Order between 1350 and 1401, while the church was built in much the same time from 1360 to 1402.

Both are in red brick and built in the Gothic style.

Apart from climbing the castle tower, which gives you an excellent vista of the town, it’s the Reszel Tower Museum that’s within, that holds the most interest.

The main theme of the museum is Medieval torture.

There are 30 plus methods of inflicting pain in the torture tower and a further 25 methods were on display in the dungeon.

The Virgin of Nuremberg, or Iron Maiden was a standout.

Used in the 16th century to torture and extract confessions, this 2.2 meters high casket could accommodate a man standing. The victim was tied inside the Maiden and when the doors were shut spikes would penetrate the flesh. The spikes were strategically places so as to not damage the vital organs. 

They didn’t want the victim to die immediately – just suffer.

Once the doors were completely closed their screams couldn’t be heard from outside and concurrently the victim couldn’t see any light or hear anything from the inside.

Talking of torture.

Summer and autumn in Europe is wasp season. Whenever you eat outside these flying pests, with a nasty sting, want to sample your food and drink. Especially if what you are consuming is sweet.

They hover around the table and the more you try to wave them away the angrier they get.

We have found that the best strategy is to just ignore them and, like most pests, they give up and leave.

After our castle experience in the morning we started the drive to the Baltic coast and Gdansk. It was a good trip until we got to within 30 kilometres and then we struck roadworks – again. 

When we arrived in Gdansk it was raining – again. 

 

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September 7, 2017. Gdánsk, Poland.

Gdansk was first established as a Polish stronghold in the 980s and over the centuries has been ruled by the Prussians, Germans, Russians and Poles.

We were in Gdansk to try and get an understanding of this famous Polish port city. I first remember hearing about Gdansk in the early 80s. It was the home of Lech Wałęnsa and the Solidarity Movement – a movement credited by many, with the fall of the Soviet Union.

Solidarity was the first independent labor movement in the Soviet-bloc and spawned an anti-communist social movement that, at its peak, claimed 9.4 million members.

What set it apart was the fact that it was non violent.

The morning was spent dodging the rain and exploring this beautiful old town.

We were staying in another apartment but unfortunately couldn’t find a good supermarket. This meant that we couldn’t self-cater for breakfast as we normally do.

We had to eat out yet again.

In the afternoon we joined a free 2.5 hour Solidarity walking tour around Gdansk.

Kasia was our guide and she made it very clear, right from the start, that she expected a tip. 

So it was free in name only, which wasn’t an issue as it was worth every Złoty of the tip. 

The tour was designed to put the Solidarity movement in context. It traced the the Polish freedom movements growth from 1945, culminating in the Revolution of 1989.

The tour covered a lot more than Lech Wałęsa. 

We were taken around the city and shown how it had been restored after the Second World War. The restoration of Polish cities like Warsaw and Gdansk was a miracle, especially when you see what was left of the them after 1945.

Many parts of the city were rebuilt during the 1950s and 1960s. Any trace of German influence and tradition was suppressed and only Flemish/Dutch, Italian and French influences were revived.

Fittingly the tour finished at the European Solidarity Centre, near the Gdansk Shipyards. Opened in 2014 the museum and library is dedicated to the Polish Solidarity Movement and other opposition movements in Communist Eastern Europe.

The design is intended to suggest the hulls of a ship built at the Gdansk Shipyard.

Both the interior and exterior are made of steel which have oxidised to produce a rust effect.

There is a rooftop terrace with views of the Gdansk shipyards on one side and the a city-scape on the other.

The building is an impressive example of contemporary architecture.

Supposedly Lech Wałęsa has an office there.

We didn’t see him.

Kasia did share her views of the current state of Polish politics. She did take care to mention that she really shouldn’t discuss political issues. But…

One of the things that disturbed Kaisa most was the demonising of Lech Wałęsa by the current right-wing populist government in Poland.

Many fear that Poland is on the road from a liberal democracy to authoritarianism. There is a push within Polish politics to re write the history books regarding the Second World War and the rise of the Solidarity Movement. The Polish government is also turning its back on many of the liberal values and democratic principles that are a core part of the European Union, to which it belongs.

 

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September 8, 2017. Gdánsk, Poland.

We took a day trip by train to Gdynia, Polands largest port on the Baltic Sea.

We actually got off by mistake at Sopot, which is a seaside and spa town. We then hopped on the next train to Gdynia. 

The trains were running every fifteen minutes so we didn’t waste much time. 

I was very impressed with the tourist facilities provided by the city. The Observatory of Change in Gdynia was a viewing platform. This was free to visit and gave the tourist a great view of the city and port area.

There was also an InfoBox at the top of the tower that allowed people to discover more of the city. You could find out where the public parking and city bikes were located and see the trolley bus routes.

We then took the two minute ride on the Kamienna Góra Funicular to the top of the Kamienna Góra Hill, which is near the centre of the town. Again it was free and we got another good view. Unfortunately the weather was rather grey.

Gdynia is one of the youngest cities in Poland, only receiving its rights in 1926. Before that it was only a fishing village. 

Because of its young age the architectural style of the day was chosen for many of the buildings. This has led to it becoming the Modernist capital of Poland.

Even now, many of the contemporary buildings have adopted elements of Modernism.  

Modernist is the most important new architectural style of the 20th century. It turned its back on ornament and embraced minimalism.

Steel, glass and reinforced concrete are the most populate building materials in Modernist architecture.

There are a number of leisure craft on Passenger Ship Alley, some still sail, but most don’t. 

There was one ship that impressed me the Orb Błyskawica. This destroyer was built in England between 1935 and 1937 and certainly saw some action during the Second World War. 

It was involved in the evacuation of Dunkirk and the Normandy landing, as well as operating in the North Atlantic, the Pacific and Bay of Biscay. 

On returning to Gdansk we wandered down to the Motlawa River again and took a few snaps of The Crane.

Built in 1444 this Medieval ship’s loading crane used hemp rope and a system of blocks and two wooden turnstiles. The crane was powered by men walking inside the turnstiles to load cargo and erect masts onto the ships moored by the river’s edge.

On the last night we discovered a proper supermarket, just around the corner from our apartment. The one we found on our first night was very average. 

And much to my horror we also discovered a Craft Beer Pub, Labeerynt, also nearby. 

We had been looking in the wrong direction. 

At least we found it before we left. Imagine discovering it as we drove away. 

 

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September 9, 2017. Gdánsk to Poznań, via Toruń, Poland.

It was 299 kilometres to Poznań. Not a long drive but considering our luck with roadworks, we expected the worse.

We stopped for lunch at Toruń but once we got there, finding the Old Town wasn’t easy.

Both our satellite navigation systems (one in the car and the other in our travel phone) sent us to an obscure part of the city, certainly not the centre. We have discovered that the Tourist Information Office is usually in the centre of most towns and cities and near the main town square, if there is one.

This is definitely an area that Sat Navs can improve on. I must talk to Hayden about that.

This was definitely a town on the tourist map as the streets were bulging with tour groups. 

Toruń is a UNESCO World Heritage City, but more than that it is the City of Copernicus.

Copernicus monuments, street names, houses and souvenirs are everywhere.

Born in Toruń in 1473, Copernicus was a Renaissance Man, in every sense. He was a mathematician, astronomer, physician, governor, diplomat and economist.

His greatest claim to fame was in developing the Copernican Revolution, that put the sun at the centre of the universe (Solar System) not the earth.

The foundation charter for Toruń was signed in 1233 by Herman von Salza, the Grand Master of the Teutonic Order. It was managed by the Knights until 1454 when it became incorporated into the Polish Republic.

 

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September 10, 2017. Poznań, Poland.

Poznań is one of the ancient cities of Poland. 

It’s earliest remains can be traced back to the Stone Age. It was first written about in history as early as 966 and became a city in 1253.

On our first night we just wandered into the Old Town to find some dinner. This wasn’t as easy as we had imagined.

Everyone was drinking and there seemed to be very few people eating.

The next morning we walked down the length of Stary Browar. This is a huge mall and arts complex, just opposite our hotel. 

The architecture was strikingly industrial, with red brick and steel. Not surprising, as it was built on the site of the old Brewery Huggerów. 

The award Winning design of Stary Browar, or Old Brewery, has preserved much of the architecture and many elements of the original brewery. 

The first brewery was constructed on the site in 1844, by a brewer from Württemberg, Ambrosias Hugger.

The walk through the mall kept us out of the rain, at least until we reached the Póhwiejska, the walking street.

We spent the rest of the day wandering around Poznań.

Firstly to the Old Market Square, one of the most attractive in Europe. The main feature is the Renaissance Town Hall, designed by the Italian architect, Giovanni Baptista Quadro.

Like many Polish cities the buildings surrounding the square have been painstakingly reconstructed, after the destruction of World War Two. The building facades are painted in subtle shades of creams, greens and browns and many of them also have intricate decoration.

Then to the lavish Baroque masterpiece, the Parish Church of St Stanislas.

We took the King’s route, which is a tourist walking path, to the see the Cathedral Basilica of St Peter and Paul on Cathedral Island. Originally built in the 10th century but rebuilt after WW2, when it was badly damaged.

The cellar holds the relics of the first rulers of Poland from the 10th century.

Apart from old architecture there are some modern buildings in Poznań. One of the most striking is the  Poznań Gate Ichot. This is a history museum that is linked to the Old City by a suspended footbridge over the Cybina River.

Back in the Old Town we discovered the Nikon Polish Press Photography competition, which was at the rear of the Parish Church of St Stanislaus.

That night we went back into the Old Town and again found very few people eating.

Poznań is a draw card for tourists, especially from Germany and Britain.

It could be the lower prices and excellent shopping or the fact that there are so many places to get a drink.

Part 1: Along the Baltic Sea – Estonia and Latvia.

Wednesday, July 18th, 2018

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August 20, 2017. Tallinn, Estonia.

We were back in Tallinn to start our trip along the Baltic Sea. Being our second time in the Estonian capital we decided to stay on the other side of the old town. 

This time at a hotel, the Park Inn by Radisson, rather than an apartment.

Little did we know that there was a new office building being constructed, right next door. 

And buildings sites work on Sundays in Tallinn. 

After getting up earlier than we had planned, we walked to Kadriorg Park to ‘smell the roses’. 

We discovered that nature also works on a Sunday as the bees and butterflies were hard at it.

Estonian flags were everywhere and we wondered why there were so many. They were on buildings, cars and some people were even carrying them. 

Then we discovered that it was the Day of Restoration of Independence. This was the day in 1991 that the Estonian Supreme Soviet in association with the Estonian Congress proclaimed Estonian independence from the Soviet Union.

As a result of the festivities there were no museums open so we just had to walk around.

We did visit Kumu, the Art Museum of Estonia, but that was just for coffee.

The museum is housed in a very impressive, contemporary building on the edge of Kadriorg Park.

Like so many public buildings the architect, Pekka Vapaavuori, was the winner of a competition in 1994.

It was constructed between 2003 and 2006 and is built into the limestone slopes on the side of the park.

Again built on the edge of the centuries old Kadriorg Park is the Kadriorg Art Museum. In total contrast to the glass and steel of the Kumu Museum, this one is housed in the grand baroque palace, that was built for Peter the Great in 1718.

Designed by the Italian architect Niccolo Michetti it’s a fine example of Tsarist extravagance. 

Unfortunately we didn’t get to go inside either as they were also shut.

 

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August 21, 2017. Tallinn to Pärnu, Estonia. 

It was meant to be 1.5 hours from Tallinn to Pärnu but due to roadworks and more rain it took a little longer. 

The receptionists at the Hotel Carolina told Thea, when she enquired about the rain, that it had been a ‘light summer’

When we walked into Pärnu there was a removals’ van taking away the umbrellas from one cafe. Then we saw workers removing the summer veranda from another. 

I’m afraid we have missed summer completely in this part of Europe. 

Pärnu Beach is regarded as the best beach in Estonia, so we walked down to have a look. 

There was no one bathing at this section of the beach but a number of people were wandering around on the sand. 

I think they were looking for summer. 

 

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August 22, 2017. Pärnu, Estonia.

This was adventure day. 

Thea had booked a day trip that involved a walk in a peat bog, lunch and a canoe ride on the Halliste River. 

We didn’t know much more than that.

It turned out to be a great experience and a chance to “enjoy the nature” as the locals say.

The entire excursion was set in Soomaa National Park, with the walk on the Ingasi nature trail.

Soomaa means ’The Land of Mires’. Over time these mires developed into bogs.

The trail was a combination of boardwalks, soil trails and a bog walk that required special ‘bog shoes’ that were provided.

At the end there is an 8 metre high observation tower that allows you to overlook the bog and the forests beyond.

Lunch was provided and certainly part of the experience. 

It was traditional Estonian fair, that consisted of potato porridge, homemade barley bread and desert (Kama) that was made from curd cheese.

After lunch it was time for part two of our nature adventure, canoeing on the Halliste River.

There was a lot of serious instructions on how to go about canoeing, especially the possibility of ending up in the river.

I decided that my camera and equipment would be better off remaining behind.

It was probably a wise decision as the bottom of our canoe did start to fill up with water. This was a combination of bad paddling, on my behalf, and rain that that started when we were about half way through the trip.

The Halliste River is one of four rivers that separates the mires within the national park.

The other rivers are the Navesti, Raudna and Lemmjögi.

The Soomaa National Park was created in 1993 and is 359 square kilometres in size. It is situated in what’s called Transitional Estonia and has been created to protect the raised bogs, grasslands, flood plains and rivers.

 

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August 23, 2017. Pärnu, Estonia to Cēsis, Latvia.

An elevator. 

It’s only when you don’t have one that you appreciate them. 

I thought this as we descended the five levels to the ground floor as we were leaving the Hotel Carolina in Pärnu. 

Most of our hotels or apartments are booked through bookings.com and we always have standard requests such as free off-street parking, WiFi and non-smoking. 

On the Eastern European stage of our trip, most of our accommodation has been in old cities and therefore old buildings. 

Carting our bags up has become a pain, literally, so we now include a lift as standard request. 

It doesn’t always work out that we get one, but when we do it’s much appreciated. 

Before leaving Pärnu for Cēsis we made good use of the hotel’s free parking and left the Captur there and wandered around the town. 

Pärnu is the fourth largest city in Estonia and situated on the coast of Pärnu Bay. The Pärnu River flows through the city and into the Gulf of Riga.

Perona, which was very close by, was founded in 1251 but was destroyed and replaced by the current town in 1265.

On our walk we discovered Villa Ammende, which was built in 1904. This mansion house is a fine example of the Art Nouveau style. It is now a luxury hotel that serves the resort area of Pärnu.

Another architectural discovery was the Church of the Saint Martyr Catharina.

Built in the baroque style, 1765-1768, by the architect Peter Yegorov and named after Catherine the Great.

Our apartment in Cēsis was a bit of a walk from the centre of town. But it was raining, again, so we found a restaurant close to home. 

2 Locals had good food and service at a reasonable price but they only take cash. 

This we discovered at the end of the meal. 

I am very uncomfortable with cash only places, as they are probably cheating the system in one way or another. 

I complained that there was nothing on the menu to alert me to their policy and was told that there was a sign on the front door. 

It was back to front and almost invisible. 

In Finland, Estonia, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, credit cards are the norm and you always get a receipt, whether you ask for it or not. 

I can only assume that fraud, corruption and tax avoidance are still prevalent in this part of the former Soviet Union. 

 

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August 24, 2017. Cēsis, Latvia.

It rained all night and was still coming down in the morning. It was also cool, with the temperature hovering around 11°C. 

With our lantern in hand we took off to explore the Cēsis Castle complex. 

The lantern was so we could climb to top of the Western Tower, without being in complete darkness. 

It wasn’t really necessary but it was a nice Medieval touch. 

Cēsis Castle was built in the 13th century and the ruins are regarded as some of the most impressive in the Baltic states. It was once the most important castle of the Livonian Order. The Livonia Order was formed in 1237 and were a autonomous branch of the Teutonic Order.

During the Soviet occupation (1940 – 1990) Latvia, like the rest of the USSR, erected statues of Vladimir Ilich Lenin. One such statue was unveiled in Cēlcis in 1959. This particular statue was created by one of Latvia’s most talented 20th century sculptors, Kärlis Jansons (1896 to 1986). As a result, in the 1990 break-up of the Soviet Union, the statue was not destroyed but just dismantled.

It now lies in a wooden crate in the castle grounds.

Since 1949 the Cēsis History Museum has been situated in the New Castle of the Cēsis Castle estate. The Museum covers the history of Cēsis and the Latvian people.

A very interesting exhibit was the wax reconstruction of a woman, aged in her mid 20s, who was found after the siege of 1577 by Ivan the Terrible.

After visiting the castle we went for a walk in the Gauja National Park and Sarkanãs Cliffs. The Gauja National Park is the largest national park in Latvia with an area of over 917 square kilometres.

Everyone was there for the water, which must have had some healing powers, and not the walk. 

The options for dinner were limited. After finding the main hotel was full, with tour groups, we discovered a local Latvian restaurant. 

A much better option. 

We ordered our meals but they were served to another table. Then they tried to get us to accept what the other table had ordered. We refused and then had to wait so that they could prepare what we had ordered in the first place.

The meal was worth the wait.

 

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August 25, 2017. Cēsis to Rīga, Latvia.

On the way to Rīga we visited Sigulda Castle. Built in 1207, this was yet another the castle of the Livonian Order.

The Sigulda Castle Complex was under renovation as was the entire town. Road works and reconstruction was everywhere.

In Rīga we were staying in the Bearsleys Downtown Apartments. Getting to our apartment was a complex task. It did have a lift but we also had to negotiate stairs, a walk, more stairs and a second lift before we reached our rooms.

It certainly wasn’t that bad, as just opposite our apartment was Bierhaus, a gastro brewery. 

How unfortunate. 

All the staff at Bierhaus were ‘hipsters’ who had a great command of English and a wonderful sense of humour.

The brewer is an American architect, turned brewmaster, Gordon Van Houten. After abandoning architecture, fifteen years ago, Gordon studied brewing in Germany then brewed beer in both the States and now in Latvia.

His wife is Latvian, hence the connection.

 

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August 26, 2017. Rīga, Latvia.

After breakfast in the apartment, which was a rare pleasure, we went looking for a coffee. 

Miit Coffee was recommended by Triposo and right opposite our apartment. 

This area is fantastic.  

Great beer and coffee, just over the road.

We were in Rīga for five nights so we will be visiting both places more than once. 

The day was spent discovering the city of Rīga.

It was about a 25 minute walk from our apartment, which was in ‘Downtown’ to the Old City.

Rīga Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage site and has a history going back to 1201. 

It was set up by Albert of Bremen as a port city and a base to convert the local Livonians to Christianity, which he did by 1206.

Rīga has a diverse population, due to its rich history, which has been influenced by the many nationalities who have called it home over the centuries.

The Old Town is very compact and easy to get around.

Rīga is the capital of Latvia and has a population of over 700,000 inhabitants. One in three Latvians live in the city and its surrounds.

During the Soviet occupation Rīga was a popular destination with the Russian tourists and many Russians were living there as well. A lot of work was done to restore the Old City and make it more attractive. 

In 1989 only 36.5% of the population in Rīga were Latvians.

Having eaten at a Brewpub one night, it seemed only fair that we go to a gastro wine bar, that was just around the corner, the next. 

It was a Saturday night and they were shut. 

It was a great area for beer and coffee but not for restaurants. 

We did find an Armenian restaurant that was close by and ok. 

The food was fine but the service a little gruff – all part of the great Socialist experiment that spread the Russian’s lack of humour from the Baltic States through Armenia, Georgia and Central Asia. 

 

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August 27, 2017. Rīga, Latvia. 

We drove 25 kilometres west from Rīga to Jūrmala. This is a resort town with a population of about 57,000, making it the the fifth largest city in Latvia.

There is a toll of €2 to get into the town. 

I think all the money goes into hanging baskets – they were everywhere. 

Jūrmala has a 33 kilometre stretch of sandy beach which is long, flat and very, very shallow. You would have to almost walk to Sweden before the water got over your head. 

When Latvia was part of the Soviet Union, Jūrmala was a popular holiday resort for the high ranking Soviet officials.

Leonid Brezhnev and Nikita Kruschchev graced their shores.

Not a pretty sight I am sure.

After an ice cream and a coffee on the beach we drove, west to the Kemeri National Park.  There we had a choice of two walks – the floodplain forest or forest trail which are both on the Vēršupīte River.

They were only about 1.2 kilometres in total, so we decided to do both.

The Vēršupīte River is fed from sulphur springs, which is obvious to the nose and a boom for the many therapeutic health resorts in the area.

There were wheel chairs everywhere.

 

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August 28, 2017. Rīga, Latvia.

Today we went in search of the Art Nouveau district, which wasn’t far from our apartment. 

There are about 800, so called, Art Nouveau buildings within Rīga. 

This architectural style comes from the early years of the 20th century. And unlike other, older styles, many of these buildings were designed by Latvian architects. 

Art Nouveau in Europe was popular between 1890 and 1910 and inspired by natural forms, particularly plants and flowers.

In Latvia it’s known as Jugendstil.

Art Deco replaced Art Nouveau in 1910 and I think that there are many buildings that have been attributed to the wrong era, as I didn’t see that many authentic Art Nouveau buildings on our city walks.

Because of the decorative nature of Art Nouveau, there is a lot of surface sculpture and floral moulding on the building facades. 

If not properly maintained, this has a habit of coming lose, so a number of buildings were covered in protective netting. 

Rīga Central Market is the largest in Europe and part of the city’s UNESCO World Heritage Listing. 

It was constructed from 1924 to 1930 using old German Zeppelin hangars, as a basis for the design. The architectural style incorporates both Neoclassicism and Art Deco.

It measures 72,300 square metres with over 3,000 traders.

Traders have been operating on the banks of the Duagava River since 1571, so the area is no stranger to commerce.

 

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August 29, 2017. Rīga, Latvia.

About 300 metres from our apartment was Gastranome, a gourmet food store, delicatessen, café, patisserie and butcher. 

Yes, on one side of this huge store was a purveyor of fine meat.

In large refrigerated cabinets were, what looked like, quality cuts of dry-aged beef.  

On the other side was everything else.

And upstairs was an upmarket seafood restaurant. 

While we were in an apartment we decided to eat in one night and availed ourselves of the wide selection that Gastranome had to offer.

The selection was huge and the quality top class.

As our apartment didn’t really have any condiments or ingredients to look after ourselves and cook, we decided to go for the pre-prepared take-away options.

Our last day in Rīga was spent just wandering around and revisiting some of our favourite sites. Especially those that had been difficult to capture, when the weather was foul and the light poor.

I was particularly taken by the Central Market and felt that I really hadn’t done justice to the place.

That, and the Dome Cathedral, definitely needed re-visiting. 

We also discovered a monument to George Armitstead, who was the Mayor of Rīga from 1901 to 1912. 

Born in 1847 to a British merchant family he became the fourth Mayor of Rīga. George was responsible for the cites rapid transformation from a regional town to a major city.

He was involved in the development of many of Rīga’s current building,s including 13 schools, 3 hospitals, the National Museum and the Zoo.

Many of these developments would have been during the Art Nouveau style, as his time in office was during that short period in architectural history.

At one point he was asked to become Mayor of St Petersburg by Emperor II of Russia – he refused.

On our final night we returned to the Brewpub across the road and again we weren’t disappointed.

The beer, was still, good and the food innovative, fresh and well presented.

It wasn’t nearly as busy as the first night we visited, so we got chatting to one of the owners.

He was one of four that have set out to create a real Gastro Brewery in Rīga.

Three of the owners are Latvian while, as I have mentioned, the brewer is an American guy, married to a Latvian woman, who needed to return home.

Originally an architect he decided to turn his hand to brewing. Latvia is better off for his change in occupation, as his beer is the best we have had in the Baltic States.

The current name of their restaurant is Bierhaus, which is very German. Which isn’t surprising as this is the origin of the original restaurant.

They are now trying to tun it into a contemporary Brewpub, under the name of ‘Alķīmiķis’ but are realising that time, and money, are involved.

I think they will succeed, as their ideas are sound and their product is exceptional.

Most of the local breweries are very traditional and a quality craft brewer will give the market a shake up.

I just hope that they can turn beer into gold.

Miit Coffee, which were next door, are also innovators. They have developed a confectionary, that looks like chocolate, but is made from coffee. Each segment in a bar has the equivalent hit of a double shot espresso.

 

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August 30, 2017. Rīga to Kuldīga, Latvia.

It was about two hours to Kuldīga, west of Rīga. We extended the drive by going to the coast, which is further north, and stopped in Ventspils. 

This is a Blue Flag Beach. Blue Flag is certification by the Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE). It is only designated to those beaches, marinas or tourist boating that meets its very high standards.

The temperature had finally decided to rise above 17°C and managed to get to 25°C by the time we reached Kuldīga. 

In the afternoon we wandered around the town. One of the features is the Kuldīga Bridge which was built of brick in 1874 and runs across the Venta River. The Alekšupīte River runs through the centre of town while the Venta Rapids are the widest waterfall in Europe, measuring 164 metres. 

Kuldīga is an ancient town, with interesting architecture and a history dating back to 1242.

Being much warmer that night we ate at the hotel – outside.

Part 2: Finland – Savonlinna, Imatro and Porvoo.

Friday, July 6th, 2018

August 13, 2017. Helsinki to Savonlinna, Finland.

Savonlinna is 350 kilometres north east of Helsinki and is surrounded by lakes. Not surprisingly it’s in an area known as the Finish Lakeland. 

Finland is a country of forests, 70% of the country is covered by them, islands and lakes. We had certainly seen the trees on our trip to Lapland and some of the islands in Helsinki.

Now it was the lakes. 

There are over 168,000 lakes that are larger than 500 square metres and 179,000 islands.

Most of the Finish landscape is a result of the last Ice Age. The glaciers were thicker and lasted longer in this region, compared to the rest of Europe, leaving the landscape flat with few mountains.

As we left Helsinki we detoured to visit the Kallio Lutheran Church. We had seen it while touring around the city and were interested to get a closer look.

It was completed in 1912 and designed by Lars Sonck in the National Romanticism style with Art Nouveau influences. The grey granite structure is 65 metres high, and dominates the flat Helsinki landscape.

The Estonian coastline can be seen from the tower.

While we were in our long pants, jackets and jumpers, the local tourists were in T-shirts and shorts. 

I think they are living in a false sense of summer. 

 

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August 14, 2017. Savonlinna, Finland.

We were running out of clean clothes and the hotel didn’t have a laundry service.

Therefore our first job was to find a laundrette.

This took us to parts of Savonlinna that tourists wouldn’t normally go. There we found a commercial laundry and they had one small machine, so we left our clothes to be washed and went off sight seeing.

Olavinlinna Castle is the primary tourist drawcard in the Savonlinna area, apart form all the lakes.

And it was also only 200 metres from our hotel.

Olavinlinna Castle was started in 1475 by Eric Axelsson Tory (1415-1481) and renovated by the Finnish State between 1872 and 1877. 

The castle has been a constant battleground, as Finland has been under the control of both the Swedes and the Russians, for centuries.

In 1912, Aino Ackté, a world renowned Finnish opera singer started the Savonlinna Opera Festival in Olavinlinna Castle. She gave more performances in 1913, 1914, 1916 and 1930, after Finland’s independence. 

The festival was restarted in 1967 and has just celebrated its fiftieth year. It is now held annually, within the castle walls and had just finished. A temporary stage and seating allows the performances to continue, despite the weather.

About 60,000 people come to Savonlinna for the festival. That’s a lot more people than we ever saw in the town.

In a weird twist of culture, the festival season ends in August with a boxing match.

When the town is surrounded by lakes you don’t use a Hop-on Hop-off bus, you take a boat. 

We took an hour long cruise around the islands in the MS Leva.

This gave us yet another opportunity to view the Olavinlinna Castle, this time from the water.

One of the strangest sights we encountered was on our way into Savonlinna. There was a rather large bridge under construction and instead of metal scaffolding supporting the works, it was all timber.

I guess when 70% of your country is covered in trees, you need to use them.

 

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August 15, 2017. Savonlinna, Finland. 

After breakfast we set off to visit the wooden Lutheran church in Kerimäki, which is about 23 kilometres from Savonlinna.

Kerimäki is the world’s largest wooden church.

Designed by Anders Fredrik Granstedt and built between 1844 and 1847, it can hold up to 5,000 people. It measures 45 meters in length, 42 meters wide and 37 metres high. 

The reason that it’s so big is that Frederik Neovius, who held office at the time, believed that the church should be able to hold half the townsfolk of Kerimäki at any one time. 

When winter comes in Finland you don’t want the faithful standing out in the cold.

The rest of the day we negotiated the narrow stretches of land, between the lakes, and just drove around.

We had no particular plan other than look for some good photo opportunities.

We found these at Lake Puruvesi and Lake Enonvesi.

The constant threat of rain has produced some spectacular clouds as they constantly moved across the sky.

Fortunately the rain had held off for the last couple of days, which was good considering that most of our activities were outdoors.

In the evening we walked back into harbour area for dinner. We discovered that the best place was the Bistro Ŵaahto. 

They only had two draught beers but the food was excellent. 

On the way back to the hotel we walked past Olavinlinna Castle, yet again, and took more photos. 

I think I have take more photos of this Medieval castle than anything else on our travels. 

 

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August 16, 2017. Savonlinna to Imatra, Finland.

The Imatrankoski or Imatra Rapids were formed around 5,700 years ago, during the stone Age.

Water from the higher Saimaa lake penetrated the Salpausselkä Ridge, causing the river to flow into the lower Lake Ladoga, gouging out the ravine where the rapids run.

The rapids were so spectacular that they put Finland on the tourist map.

Since the 1700s’ people have come from around the world to visit the Imatra Rapids.

In 1903 a stone hotel, the Valtionhotelli, was built overlooking the rapids. This was after several smaller wooden ones burnt down.

Now the tourists and the dignitaries had somewhere grand to stay.

The Russian Empress, Catherine the Great, visited in 1772 and Dom Pedro II, Emperor of Brazil, in 1876.

Fourteen trains per day brought people to Imatra from St Petersburg to see the wonder of the rapids. 

In the 1920s’ tourism declined, as a result of the depression. So, in 1929, they dammed the rapids and built a hydro electricity plant. 

Now there’s nothing left except a dam wall, dry river bed, power lines and ‘graffiti’ carved into the rocks by famous visitors. 

As a compromise the dam gates are opened daily in the summer months and also on Christmas and New Year’s Day. Presently they are closed completely due to renovation work on the Imatra Hydroelectricity plant.

 

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August 17, 2017. Imatra, Finland.

Even though this was the high season Imatra was very quiet. 

The rain held off again so we decided to go on another forrest walk. This time to Lammassaari Park on Mulikionselka Lake. 

We only walked 4.5 kilometres but it took us two hours. 

Again the track was clearly marked, this time with white dots on the trees, not yellow. 

There weren’t the information boards along the way but small numbered posts with QR Codes. 

Much more high-tech, but useless unless you’re on-line. 

The walk was great. It wandered around a small peninsula, meandering along a mixture of coastal and forest tracks. 

There were many campfire spots with firewood and even axes and a bow saw, if you felt like a bit of exercise. 

One of the fireplaces was in a small cabin. Probably used in winter or when it rained, which is very often. 

We had a coffee at a lakeside restaurant and Thea got chatting to the owner. 

Apparently he is only open for four months of the year. The rest of the time he travels. 

To somewhere warmer, would be my guess. 

 

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August 18, 2017. Imatra to Porvoo, Finland.

We woke again to the sound of Eurovision style music coming from the town square.

Our hotel was the Centre Hotel Imatra and it certainly was right in the heart of the town. 

The drive from Imatra to Porvoo is about 230 kilometres, that’s if you take the longer route, as we did.

Just over the road from our hotel in Porvoo was the Porvoo Cathedral and Bell Tower. The first church to be built on the site was wooden and like most wooden structures of that time it burnt down. It was replaced by a stone sided church around 1410-1420.

Since then the church has been destroyed by fire again many times. In 1508, by the Danes, 1571, 1590, 1708 by the Russians and in 2006 by Kalle Holm, a Black Metal musician.

Porvoo has the oldest Town Hall in Finland, being completed in 1764. It sits proudly in the town square and now houses the Porvoo Museum.

Porvoo is one of the six Medieval towns of Finland with its first historical mention being in the 14th century. The original city was believed to have been founded in 1346.

It’s only 50 kilometres east of Helsinki, so day-trippers come there by the busload. 

The Old Town is famous for its Medieval wooden houses, especially the Shore Houses that run along the Porvoo River.

Porvoo is currently under consideration for a UNESCO World Heritage listing and I can understand why.

We have had two great ‘beef’ meals on our travels. The first was in Malbun, Lichtenstein, in 2012 with Hayden, the other one was in Porvoo, Finland. 

Ravintola Meat District is in Old Porvoo, about five minutes walk from our hotel and just near the river. 

Dry aged beef hangs in a large refrigerator in one part of the restaurant – proof that they knew something about their meat. 

The Meat District pride themselves on sustainability, with a focus on ecological meats and organic ingredients.

August 19, 2017. Porvoo, Finland to Tallinn, Estonia.

Today we had to get the ferry from Helsinki back to Tallinn in Estonia. 

So it was more sitting around. 

It started to rain as we arrived back in Helsinki and the sky was dark. Much as it had been when we arrived 13 days ago, and has been for most of our time in Finland.