Noilly Prattle: July 2014

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

A bit of this—and some of that . . .

     Yesterday was a day of eclectic activities. Having pretty much exhausted the exploration of the Vanalinn (Old Town)--(I'm picking up a few Estonian words here and there)—we ventured out of town by local bus. Our destination was the ruins of an old convent of the Bridgettine sisters in Pirita, about 5 kilometers outside the Tallinn Vanalinn along the Gulf of Finland known as the Pirita Convent.

Vanalinn (Tallinn's Old Town)
       We sleuthed out how to find and board the bus and where and how to pay the fare (to the bus driver) and got on board for a rather sticky and hot but thankfully short bus ride to Pirita. The bus wasn't air-conditioned and you couldn't open the windows. The bus route followed the shore line and we could see the outlines of Tallinn's Vanalinn, especially it's standout church steeples and several cruise ships tied up in the port.

my first impression of Pirita Convent
cemetery at Pirita Convent
       We got off the bus at, appropriately enough, the Pirita bus stop. The Pirita Convent was just a couple minutes walk from the bus stop. The convent is also known as St. Bridget's Convent for the founder of the Bridgettine Sisters order. The convent dates from the early 15th Century. It is a bit unusual in that it housed both nuns (60 sisters) and monks (25 brothers) although the two were kept strictly apart, their housing areas divided by the formidable more or less Olympic size swimming pool church.

triangular facade 35m. high
interior walls (side and rear) and floor area
       According to the convent's website: “The inhabitants of the two convents were allowed to talk to each other and to guests in special rooms only, so that the principle of enclosure would be observed. These rooms, the so-called parlours, were partitioned, and there were little windows in the walls – it was not possible to see through these windows, but to exchange certain necessary information and objects.”

foundation of living areas and church
       Today, Pirita Convent is interesting mostly as a ruin (and for it's titillating—to me anyway--”parlours”). Love in the convent perhaps? But I digress. The convent was destroyed in 1575, after only 150 years of operation during the course of the Livonian War by the Russians. The sturdy walls of the church made of limestone completely enclose the floor of the church (now only dirt) and the gable of the front facade, a dramatic triangle, rises to 35 meters. Parts of the living quarters have been excavated on the north side of the church showing only the shape of the foundations.


by the sea (Gulf of Finland)
      We were hot and thirsty after climbing around the ruins for an hour or so and went off in search of a cool drink (euphemism for a beer). We wandered along the Pirata River towards the Gulf of Finland and stumbled on a beach but no beer joints. Lots of flesh though.


African motif painted on the walls and ceiling of
the African Kitchen restaurant
African masks on the wall
       After ogling the flesh (me anyway) we returned to Vanalinn by non air-conditioned bus, but at least this one had a small window opened a crack. We finally got our beers near the Viru Gate and then headed for a very interesting restaurant known as the African Kitchen for dinner. The roughly plastered walls and ceiling of one room are brightly painted in an orange and yellow African motif and another, more subdued is decorated with African masks and scattered with pillows of imitation animal skins. The menu uses various ingredients, peanuts are popular in sauces. They also have a very good couscous dish that complements the other dishes very effectively. Best dinner we had in a Tallinn restaurant so far. Highly recommended next time you're in Tallinn.

colorful menu and chocolate covered rum-soaked balls
with peanut and sesame seeds inside

       We were treated to a rather breathtaking sight on the way home from the African Kitchen—some rather unusually clad young ladies. . . 

Monday, July 28, 2014


The historical sites, museums,
architectural wonders, 
gourmet and not-so-gourmet eateries, 
charming old cobblestone streets 
and quaint neighborhoods are all well and good. 

But one of the most enjoyable 
and educational things to do when traveling 
is people watching.

Here, in no particular order, 
is a modest sampling.

card players in Shanghai

7-year old rock star on Shanghai TV

aircraft cabin

"bird lady" of Tallinn -
feeds the seagulls and pigeons,
and smiles a lot

lovely young woman and flowers

middle aged tourists

"gotta get a shot of this..."

Hey there big fella!

it's show time folks

"Don't ask me,  I just work here."


"Get's a little hot in here
on a day like this."

"Hurry up, it's my turn."

no comment

"They went that-a-way."

concert goers 1

concert goers 2

the "Brindisi" from Verdi's La traviata

no comment
R U talking to me?

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Music at dusk, exuberance at dawn

Tallinn, Estonia and the Baltic Sea

    The sun is doing it's best to impress here in the land of the almost midnight sun. The bombs and missiles of the ongoing global imbroglio are, thankfully, only a very distant echo from a fourth day of cloudless skies, comfortable temperatures and carefree travelers and inhabitants of Tallinn. While bombs and missiles rain down on unhappier climes, the sun embraces and kisses with nary a drop of rain in the sky. It's a little overwhelmingly dreamlike. This is the way the world ought to be even though I know it is a frame of mind. But perception is everything after all. It is what you think it is and how you see it.

recital hall in the Old Town Hall
       We attended the first musical evening of our summer travels. It was a small recital in the Old Town Hall consisting of a tenor, soprano and piano. It was billed as an opera concert but the first half of the program was of various songs by different composers, many of whom we hadn't heard of. We were beginning to get a little bored by break time. After the break, though, the tenor began with “Una furtiva lagrima” from Donizetti's L'elisir d'amore and he was spot on terrific; one of the sweetest tenors I've heard in some time. That broke the ice of boredom and the rest of the recital was most enjoyable. The soprano, a Polish lady, was very good in most of her repertoire but not great in “Caro nome” from Verdi's Rigoletto. That is a very difficult aria that requires coloratura sweetness and purity in the high notes and a virginal naïveté in the expression. The soprano wasn't a coloratura and lacked the virginal naïveté that the best artists, even if they are neither, bring to the role. Other than that, though, her singing was most enjoyable. We stopped off at a charming cafe in a blind alley for coffee and cake after the concert.

tenor and soprano duet
       I mentioned in a previous post that the raging hormone set parties all night beneath our windows. Now, you could be a crotchety old fart at having your sleep disturbed by these “inconsiderate hooligans”, or, you could be moved by the seemingly never-ending energy of these appallingly young merrymakers and remember, with a touch of nostalgia, your own salad days and, suddenly, you are young again. There is a practical point to this little homily.

       I was awakened at dawn by what sounded like a “chorus of angels” singing loudly and lustily. My “angels”, of course, were a large group of young men freshly departed from the nightclub across the street when, I assume, it closed. They obviously were not yet partied out and still had plenty of energy to spare. They were singing some song that sounded like something out of Viking mythology. The beauty of it was that it sounded good. The young men obviously all knew the song and harmonized beautifully. An occasional solo voice would rise up, sometimes high above the chorus and sometimes underscoring it in the bass tones. It was a song of health, pure exuberance, the joy of existence and the biological and emotional yearning for sex.

       Far from being irritated I had a feeling of the rightness and beauty that life, at times, can be. I felt joy and happiness myself and I fully expected to hear a maidens' chorus yearning in response to that of the young males, happily bonded and singing their paean to the joy of existence.

       It was a moment to savor, a sense of the sunset of life connected to its dawn. Thank you, gentlemen, for the honor. 

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Land of the “midnight sun” and all night partying

guide map of Tallinn, Old Town
    Tallinn is the capital city of a small Baltic country called Estonia. The Old Town, compact and charming, is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is just beginning to be “discovered” as a tourist destination and so remains relatively unspoiled and, in many cases, not yet fully repaired.

Viru Gate on the left,
Mickey D's on the right
      Estonia, as an inhabited area, goes back to the ending of the last ice age some 10,000 years ago, give or take a few. The people were once a part of the Viking culture of the Scandinavian region and anchored the eastern end of the Hanseatic trade and defense league around the 16th Century. Until the collapse of the Soviet Union Estonia was an SSR (Soviet Socialist Republic) and a Warsaw Pact nation. It is now under the political influence, a NATO member, and economic philosophy of the West as is well shown by the proximity of a McDonald's restaurant to one of the Medieval wall gates. Progress?

our apartment bldg.
on the right
the casino -at night the square
is alive with the raging hormone set
      Summer days seem endless. Dawn was at 3:42 am, sunrise at 4:47 am, sunset will be at 10:06 pm and dusk at 11:10 pm. That makes for a 17 hour and 19 minute day. The daytime hours belong to senior and family tourism; the night time, right below my window, belongs to the raging hormone and endless energy set. There is a casino in view of my apartment window and a couple of night clubs just up the street. Under our 5th floor windows is a square with park benches, where the young drink, play loud music and carouse while taking a break from clubbing from dusk to well beyond dawn thus making summer days a 24-hour affair.

      Did I mention that I love it?

      The Old Town is quite small and easily walkable, even for people like me who are recovering from femur fracture surgery. And so we travel about “mirando, mirando, sin aliento”, to quote an old Sonoran Indian sage. And, of course, my trusty little Panasonic Lumix is always with me—mirando for the great shot. 

Old Town Square getting "discovered"

Old Town Hall

beer break - just the thing for a walkabout

fixer upper? - needs a little work

these young people hand out flyers
dance show for tourist diners
on Old Town Square

wouldn't you give this lovely girl a flower?

sidewalk cafe - on the right wall
you can see old tombstones
an old tombstone on the wall

preserved part of the old town wall
Viru Gate - part of the old town wall

lovely "bird lady of Tallinn"

feeding seagulls and pigeons in the park

Old Town Hall tipped in gold by the setting sun