Thursday, May 31, 2012


So I've been here about two months and most of my blogging has been about new experiences and adventures. I plan to continue this, so no worries about that. But if you do have something you'd like to know about specifically, please do speak up! :) I'm rather open to taking requests if there is something you're particularly curious about, and I'll do my best to chronicle about it and document what there is to be said about it.

Just comment here on the blog or otherwise get in contact with me, and we'll proceed from there.


When your friend is a chef...

When your friend is a chef you get cool perks like handmade French tarts at people's house parties. And amazing sauces, even if they're used for lame things like your leftover chicken nuggets. And quality barbequing on the biggest picnic day of the Finnish year.

But you also get amazing lunches. Maybe not for free, since that would be cheating your chef friend out of their livable income, but, well, seeing a friend do what they love and seeing them happy just to see you while at work, is good enough for me. And that's what I did, early last week. I went to see my chef friend French F, while he was cooking up a storm at work.

French F is a French chef. He's the only cook at a little bistro north of Helsinki, located in a cute little bourough off of one of the main tram lines. Getting there takes about 20-25 minutes, but boy oh boy is it worth it. Most of our friends are fortunate enough to get there for lunch every Friday. Since I get my lunches catered every Friday for free, courtesy of some design boss I have yet to meet in person but whom I now have ultimate respect for, unfortunately this is not something I partake in.

But be horrified not! For I did make it there eventually, and in good time, for what was in store for us (my sister was still in town at that moment) that day was...bbq ribs and a shrimp caesar salad. Yummers.

Crispy, crunchy...almost had me believing I was in California again. Oh how I miss salads...they're so hard to make here (because produce, although not being so exorbitant, I certainly not cheap). Taste of summer, you delight me! We even got to sit outside on the terrace because it was the first really nice day they'd had. Wonderful.

And lest we forget the main spotlight dish: the bbq ribs.

As per F's recommendation we ordered it, and he was not wrong (as I imagine chefs rarely are, espeically when it comes to their own food). The other entree of the day was a curry of some kind, but I have no idea what it was like (obviously it was not ordered).

Delicious slow cooked bbq ribs. Beef, as it happens. Tasty, with its own little salad.

No room for dessert (plus no time, since I had to skidaddle back to the office shortly after this), unfortunately, but I hear F makes a mean tarte tatin. Should be a regular thing on the menu shortly, or so I've heard.

So if any of you decide to come and visit me, and I actually have time on a weekday (since French F doesn't work on the weekends, like most Finns - he's French and interesting combination to say the least, but a sweet one nonetheless), I'll certainly have to take you here, so you can experience the glory that having a chef friend is.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Chinese food in Estonia

You may be asking what our last meal was in Tallinn, since our food adventures have seemed so grand up to this point. You ask a question that has a very strange answer. Despite the fact that we had so much amazing fancy food, or maybe because of it, the last day we were in Tallinn my sister requested that we eat at a Chinese restaurant we had spotted in town.

Perhaps a bit homesick for something familiar, or just bored from eating so much feast meat, either way I wasn’t going to deny my sister Chinese food. I was also a little bit curious as well, since I’ve basically been devoid of Asian food since leaving the States.

The restaurant in question is near the entrance to Old Town – one China Inn.

Unreasonably cheap (as my sister would say), it looked oddly mixed with ingredients like, “Indian cashews,” and “Vietnamese sausage,” but generally speaking the dishes were recognizable. So, hopes not particularly high but still interested, we crossed the threshold into the dragon and waited for our Chinese fortunes to be foretold.

We ordered three dishes to share. The first was beef with eggplant.

Swimming in gravy and molten-lava hot, but pretty tasty all around. The eggplant was pleasantly deep-fried without having any heavy batter, and though the beef was an odd variety somewhere between ground and sliced, the texture wasn’t terrible and it wasn’t overcooked.

The second dish was simple green beans with mushrooms.

Once again swimming in gravy, and the green beans were obviously frozen (as they all seem to be here, for some reason), but not terrible. Better tasting than the frozen green beans I had picked up from the Asian grocery store in Helsinki, and covered in delicious garlic. I was beginning to think that maybe the gravy was just some sort of play on local cuisine that we just hadn’t discovered while here.

And the final dish, noodles with chicken.

Though tasty, this dish was only disappointing because it wasn’t what we were hoping it would be. My sister, absolute worshiper of dein mein (plainspeak: crunchy fried noodles with gravy and veggies), was hoping from the English description that this small restaurant would have such a specialty. The fact that this was not the coveted prize was not such a letdown, since it was still quite flavorful, but in the face of finding a favorite treat in a foreign land it would have been a welcome friendly face. Still, we nommed it all the same and it was fairly Chinese.

The verdict: not bad. Not great, by any stretch of the imagination, but passable. If I were living in Tallinn and needed to have my Chinese fix every now and then, I could see myself popping down to this place to get a little something here or there. It was good enough to bring the gravy-filled leftovers home with us on the ferry back to the Helsinki.

It brings up a question that I’m sure will come up as the months start to roll by in my time in Helsinki – will I be able to find nostalgic favorites that remind me of home? Or will I have to make do with what’s here and just enjoy what’s available? Either way, I’m sure I’ll find a solution that works.

Completing medieval dorkdom

So as you can probably tell from the progression of these entries, my enjoyment of all things medieval continued to ramp up as time went on. It started with small things – perfect preservation of the medieval city and sites, the accidental concert of period minstrels…but then it started to upscale much more heavily into more tangible things – the purchase of the minstrel CD, the collecting of castle artwork, the insistence of dinner at Olde Hansa, even arguably the slim-avoidance in purchasing the two-player game based on the Danse Macabre.

They all came to a head the last day we were there, and it all started when we were in an open air market, enjoying the sunshine and strolling through some vendor stalls.

We had seen these vendors the first time we came into the city from the ferry port and my sister, having actual navigation skills (versus my nonexistent ones), found our way back to them with no problems. Their wares ranged from wooden implements of all kinds (they seem very enamored with finely sanded wooden goods…really nice, actually), various souvenir goods of the touristy variety, wraps and scarves, and a hell of a lot of wool products.

Silly and amazing as these hats are, what they did was remind me of a similar alleyway of vendors we had seen near the entrance to Old Town. An alleyway that basically sold nothing but hooded woolen capes.

I had admired these capes before, noting to my sister that certain ones, with their elaborate metal clasps, could be taken straight out of Winterfell in Game of Thrones. It was this memory that dawned on me as I stared at these silly woolen hats, and I knew right then and there, that I wouldn’t go home without one of those capes. I knew I had to have one. Thus began, the quest for the perfect hooded woolen cape.

After having this realization, which I quickly exclaimed to my sister as being of vital importance, we finished strolling through the current vendors we were in the midst of, and scrambled back to the alleyway of capes. There I found the perfect cape. Now this is no mean feat, considering how short and relatively bird-legged I am, and I was extremely pleased to have found one that actually worked. We (my sister assisted) were searching and trying on capes for about an hour, half an hour of which was spent trying on kid’s cloaks because well, I’m just too small (snicker all you want but I buy kid’s clothing already…it’s cheaper and sometimes it just fits better).

So now I have my perfect hooded woolen cape. Armed with my medieval ministrel music I imagine nothing but glorious winter days where I can snuggle by the fire (which is hilarious, because my apartment is lack of fireplace, but that’s another story), reading an epic fantasy novel while listening to minstrels serenade me as I snuggle in my amazing woolen cape.

My arrival at complete medieval dorkdom, is complete.

Olde Hansa

One of the things I looked forward to the most was a restaurant called Olde Hansa. My friend Australian H had highly recommended it to my parents when they went, and the same went for me. The tour book also said it was a must-see, namely for the fact that it was a ridiculously medieval-themed restaurant that had such spectacular things as live minstrels, fully-costumed wait staff, generous portions of period-appropriate succulent food, and an accompanying gift shop where you could purchase any of the goods of your desire spotted in the restaurant. OMG how could I live with myself if I missed out on this opportunity?!?

My sister of course, had to be convinced to go. Cheese central was clearly what this place promised to be (though unfortunately not of the literal con queso variety), and I at the center of it, chittering and golf-clapping away, no doubt. She let me have my wish though, seeing as how we would only have a few opportunities for dinner there, plus the fact that I would most likely not shut up about it if we failed to go, so away we went on our second night there. I was delighted. She rolled her eyes.

I was enthralled with the place. It was all it promised to be and much more. I was not disappointed (as I seem not to be much, lately, which is awesome).

The restaurant has expanded so much due to popularity that not only does it have a several story main restaurant building and terrace, plus additional building for its gift shop, it now also has a separate building for additional seating. This is where we ended up for dinner.

It was as guaranteed – dimly lit atmosphere, painted walls that told of times of yore, minstrels singing bawdy songs about…something (in a language that was clearly not English…the assumption is that it was in Estonian), even banners and shields of houses that may or may not have ever existed:

But the fun was just starting. The cloaked waitress (with really fabulous leathern slippers, available in the gift shop for a whopping 120euros) led us to our appropriately uncomfortable wooden table, and handed us remarkably well-done but almost-incomprehensible menus. Here is a great example of what one of the pages was like:

It says, “Drinks in the Banqueting hall for the Nobles
We call upon all our Powers
To mix Delectable Drinks that
Settle full Stomachs and
soothe the Soul
For the enjoyment of our
Blessed Guests”

Great stuff, don’t get me wrong. But when you’re trying to order your food and drink for the evening, sometimes this gets a little tiresome…especially when you’re trying to read this amazingly verbose old verbiage by candlelight (which is all the lighting they had, minus whatever natural light was seeping in through the doorways/windows…which wasn’t that much, considering how light it stays so late) and trying to determine where the menu items actually start.

We did actually decipher it though, eventually. And ordering we did do. Heartily so. First up, drinks for us noble ladies! Light cinnamon beer for me and sweet spiced (white) wine for my sister:

Delicious, unsurprisingly. Really was cinnamoned beer, though not particularly sweet. Really refreshing and quite light. The white wine was pretty sweet, spiced in a cold-mulled kind of way, but wonderful. It’s how I imagined it being in Game of Thrones. This only made me more excited for our mains:

I ordered the divine leg of pork with beer syrup:

Hilariously this actually meant pork knuckle, which I was not expecting. For whatever reason I expected a tenderloin, or some other roast, rather than a joint, which was foolish of me, if I had thought hard enough. If I were a noble lord back in the day, I would be eating delicious joints of meat, of course! Not some small morsels of bare substance. And henceforth I feasted. And it was good.

My sister ordered the grand leg of duck in saffron sauce, which was rather saffroned indeed:

I was impressed with the amount of spice they put on that thing. We calculated that they must go through hundreds of pounds of saffron a year – all from this one restaurant. They also have a cheesecake with saffron cream, but I’ll get to that a bit later.

Both entrees were succulent and delicious, as any noble feast should be. The sides were incredibly delicious as well – honeyed turnips, pickles, and some sort of grain that looked a lot like hominy but wasn’t.

And despite the fact that we were quite stuffed by the end of this veritable feast of meats, I was too curious about the desserts to turn them down. I mean, take a look at this dessert page and tell me that you wouldn’t have said yes as well:

“Rose pudding savoury – Velvet Delight of the Nobility.” Velvet delight of the nobility?!? I exclaimed with glee at my sister that it clearly needed to be ordered just for namesake alone! She disagreed with me, especially after hearing my stories of how every other rose dessert I’d ever had in my life had tasted disgusting (it’s true, they usually smell great but taste awful)…but how could you go wrong with something that claimed to be the “velvet delight of the nobility”? I just knew you couldn’t.

She opted instead for the apple and honey under a crisp coat with almond milk. We argued back and forth for a time, even asked our hooded waitress for a suggestion, but alas came to no conclusion because our waitress just remarked that we should order both (useless, in other words). So…we ordered both. Stuffed though we were, we ordered both. You’re only going to live once!

And boy, were they something.

My sister’s dessert was exactly as promised – hot, crispy, and it came with the most amazing carmelized almond milk this world has ever seen (even had little slivers of almonds in it). Incredible.

And the rose dessert.

Finally, a rose dessert that doesn’t taste like poo! Literally! It was smooth, incredibly fragrant, with just the right amount of sweetness and creaminess with a little bit of crunch. It was incredible. Apparently it’s a hell of a lot of mascarpone cheese mixed with something that really smells and tastes like the smell of roses…what exactly that is, I didn’t ask and I don’t want to know. After seeing the movie “Perfume” and reading the book, I’m more than happy not knowing the distilling process of any scent, thank you very much. But it was divine. And being fake nobility for the evening, it was indeed, my delight.

Oh yes, Olde Hansa delivered as promised. More than promised, actually, because...we went again, the next day.

Now now, don’t get ahead of yourselves, it was only for dessert and a drink in the middle of the day, but we did indeed go again. I guess the charms of Olde Hansa finally worked themselves on my sister because she was the one who suggested we stop in once more before heading back to Helsinki after our long weekend. So stop in we did.

We got a berry schnapps and the saffron cheesecake to share (or as they called it, Kitchenmaster Rickard’s filling cake with saffron pudding):

Ridiculously delicious again, and incredibly filled with saffron. I can’t believe how much saffron this place uses just for everyday consumption. They must be the second largest consumer of saffron in the world, and all because they want to show that back in the day spices were only used by noblemen in fancy feasts, therefore to keep the theme alive, if you are a noble person eating a noble feast, your food should clearly have hella spices. Hella. Spices.

Anyway, Olde Hansa did it again and we left feeling satisfied and happy with our time. Even my sister went away smiling, having gathered fond memories of the place she once rebuffed as a cheesy dinner locale. Oh how happy I am to have shown her the glory of medieval dorkdom!

Olde Hansa

Paying to scare my own pants off

So many of you fortunately know me as my adrenaline junkie self, rather than the girl who is afraid of heights. I’ve worked hard to maintain this image, since it is one I would rather be and believe in, and thus the one I actively promote. My family, however, knows a different story.

Back in the summer of 2005, before my first experience studying abroad in the wonders of Burgos, Spain, our family took a vacation thru Morocco, Portugal and Spain. One of the places we stopped for several days was Barcelona. And one of the famous places we stopped at was Gaudi’s well-known unfinished cathedral, La Sagrada Familia. Those who are familiar with this cathedral may also know that visitors can pay to climb to its top, and though exceptionally well-carved and absolutely beautiful, it is terrifying high, with breathtaking views of the city, and plummeting sights of the entire way you’ve climbed up. For whatever reason Gaudi thought it was a great idea to show you, via the teensy staircase you were currently climbing up, all of the vertical space which you’d just climbed…via a hole through the center of the staircase you were climbing. Brilliant.

Unfortunately for people like me, this doesn’t sit well, and during that summer of 2005, I had my first of few panic attacks I’ve ever had. I freaked out at the top of La Sagrada Familia. Thus began my thoughts that maybe I was scared of heights.

As my friends from the New Zealand trip know, I decided to face this fear head on – by bungy jumping, canyon swinging, and otherwise jumping off of any and everything I could pay to jump off of relatively safely. Yes, highest canyon swing in the world, I will definitely pay to do you. And yes, Nevis high wire bungy jump, I will definitely pay to jump off your 134 meters/10 seconds of free falling glory.

So when my sister and I came to St Olav’s, a church that (at one time), used to be the tallest church in the world (until it wasn’t…hilariously unspecified), I didn’t balk. I’ve done scarier things than this. Pffff. (Btw it was so tall that lightning hit it and burned it down eight times throughout history…no joke. Look guys, if it keeps burning down, maybe it’s a sign it shouldn’t be built that way???...just a suggestion).

But as I climbed the little staircase through the tower up to the top, I kept remembering my experiences with La Sagrada Familia, not the exhilarating ones of New Zealand. Damnnnnit.

Luckily I (albeit sweaty palmed…more than I’d like to admit) made it to the top, sans panic attack. And the views were breathtaking. You could see the entirety of Tallinn Old Town from the top, all 360 degrees of it.

Thanks St Olav’s, for reminding me what it’s like to pay 2euros to scare my own pants off. I’d almost forgotten what being an adrenaline junkie with a little fear, is like.

Close to godliness in Tallinn

My sister and I were surprisingly efficient in seeing everything there was to see while we were in Tallinn those three days, so instead of giving a complete blow-by-blow account of everything we did, I’ve decided to just highlight the things I think everyone would be interested in. If you want to know more information, feel free to contact me and I’d be more than happy to indulge you with more.

Day 2 in Tallinn started out pretty relaxing – we took our time with free breakfast at the hotel and ended up meandering back into Old Town around noon, strolling along new paths and only generally checking the map to make sure we were going into parts of town we hadn’t yet seen.

Along one of these paths we ended up finding the Niguliste Church, which is a church that has been converted to a museum to house a lot of precious religious artwork. It still functions as a church as well, but many of the artworks within are from the 1300’s or so, giving it a bit more fame and fortune than others around it.

It is also the home of the famous painting, the “Danse Macabre” (aka “Dance of Death”), by Berndt Notke, which portrays skeletal figures dancing to music and cajoling members from each social class to  join them – unsurprisingly the humans look less than enthusiastic. My sister thought I had made up the name of this painting until we saw it in person and she realized that I wasn’t kidding…I explained that I would have come up with something much more ridiculous, like “Yikes McDeath Dance,” or something of the sort, but that’s another story.

There was a board game to buy in the gift shop, related to this painting, and I was this close to buying it, but seeing as how I already have a hard enough time convincing people to play normal board games with me, not including further embellishments such as medieval background music, I decided not to push my luck with period-specific games. Plus it was a two-player game…chances were slim there would be anyone nearby (i.e. in Finland), that would be as enthusiastic as me about this game. Oh well, I’ll take what I can get.

Anyway, once again our timing was perfect, and as soon as we paid the entrance fee, a small concert started. Unfortunately it wasn’t another bout of period minstrels, but it was a dang fine professional choir. We’re talking Gregorian-chant style choir, not typical gospel choir. It was beautiful and impressive. We sat through the entire thing and to be honest it was one of the most peaceful times I’ve had in a long time. As far as I could tell there was no album to buy, so no music was purchased, but had there been a CD available I would have considered adding it to further fuel my epic music collection (board game or no).

Another well-known church we visited the same day is the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. Lovingly referred to as, “the obscenely over-iced cake at a funeral feast” in the guide book, it was a cathedral built with the expressed purpose of reminding the Estonians that they were under the heel of the Russians. Sure was showy enough – not sure I’ve seen a cathedral more decked out and elaborate than this one. Every surface inside and out was decorated in some way – painted, covered in jewels, curlicues, had some sort of statue…anything to keep it from being plain. There is beauty in moderation…and these people had never heard of it. I’m just gonna go with something something tsarist times/see our power on this one.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Dinner at Grandma’s Place

As we neared the end of our first day in Tallinn (btw all of that design and art wandering happened over the several days we were in Tallinn, so don’t think that we squished that all into one day :) ), our hearts were light with the potential of this darling medieval city, and set we out for dinner at Vanaema Juures, or Grandma’s Place, in Estonian.

As per the guide book’s recommendation, I had made reservations beforehand, and boy was that lucky. We came to the cozy little cellar restaurant promptly at our reservation time, and low and behold, our one table for two was the only empty seat in the house! I guess when the woman on the phone said, “Yes, I have one table left for you,” she meant it literally. O_O

Described as having some of the best Estonian food in Tallinn, we eagerly awaited to be courted by unknown flavors and exotic meats. Once again, not disappointed.

For starters, we had mushroom salad and clear salmon soup:

The mushroom salad was interesting, though I mean that in the nicest possibly way. Mixed with some sort of cream (as unidentifiable, since I don’t think, like the Russians, they are all about sour cream there), there were bits of onion to give it crunch, and it was covered in some sort of brown spice. It looked a lot like chili powder, but it had none of the zip. More like an allspice without the nuttiness.

The clear salmon soup, on the other hand, was exactly the sort of thing you’d want on a dreary day when you’re feeling down in the dumps. Warm, fulfilling, but not heavy. Fantastic amount of dill as well. I noticed that Finnish and Estonian food loves dill, something I’m a big fan of.

While we were at it, we decided to go Estonian-or-bust. We ordered the Estonian wines off the menu – in this case their house white and wine made from currants. Both were incredibly sweet (basically to the point of juice), and had very alcoholic vapors. Needless to say, they were sipped lightly throughout the meal.

The mains were fantastic. Since we were still on our exotic meats kick, my sister professed her undying admiration for elk meat, and promptly ordered the elk roast off of the menu:

Unfortunately it was not exactly as she remembered, and I think it was a bit overcooked and dry, but I don’t think she was disappointed either way. Each entrée came with a wealth of veggies – sautéed mushrooms, beets, carrots, pan fried potatoes, cauliflower, and an assortment of others.

I opted for the boar instead, deciding to go with a Game of Thrones theme that night:

My dish was delicious, and fortunately rather succulent. King Robert may have been bested, but I was not! Every morsel was consumed with fervor and delight.

Continuing with the Estonian theme of the night we opted for the traditional dessert on the menu: kama.

As you can see from the description (a dish prepared from a mixture of rye, oat, barley, and pea meal by mixing it with sour milk), there was a lot of high hopes about the taste of this dessert. I mean how could a mixture of a lot of grain meals and sour milk NOT be delicious, am I right?!? After some gentle urging, my sister gave in and decided that, “When in Estonia…yeah okay, whatever.”

It was surprisingly good.

It tasted like chopped up Grape Nuts cereal (or think of any sort of bland grain cereal equivalent), mixed with really watery yogurt, with a dollop of something sweet mixed in…in this case it looked a lot like jam but tasted kind of like really unsweetened honey. Not bad, actually, not bad at all. My sister and I talked over the merits of having a dessert like this and decided that really, it was probably good for digestion. It reminded me a lot of mämmi, the Finnish Easter dessert made of fermented rye flour…same idea I guess, though a much prettier result.

At the end of it, dinner at Grandma’s Place was just as delicious as it should have been. We were stuffed and had a fun time waddling back to the hotel for a good night’s rest. Good thing too, because the second day in Tallinn was just as packed as the first day…

For the love of design and art

Tallinn, surprisingly enough, is one of those cities that doesn’t balk at exposing and promoting its local artists. It actually seems to have an extreme support structure for artists of all kinds and heavily emphasizes design and individual creativity. Because of this, handicrafts, painters, artisans of all kinds were being promoted wherever we went. All of the art you could buy was made locally and in most cases you could see the artist’s studio/exactly how it was made right where you were buying it.

Museum of Applied Art and Design

For one, their Museum of Applied Art and Design is right in the center of Old Town. I was particularly interested in seeing this museum since it seemed so different than the others – first, it was modern, and not focused on history (though they did have a surprisingly in-depth set of exhibits devoted to previous decades’ worth of student works, and you could see the design progression through the ages), but also because you never know what you’re going to see from design students across the world. And I was right:

This one had a focus on textiles and technology as their ground-floor display. Woolen pillows laced with ubiquitous wiring that allowed for interesting sensory reactions – they played music, glowed, told stories, or sometimes changed colors or patterns when exposed to heat or black light.

Silly, I know, but really cool from a design perspective. You never know how this will be used later to sell you a product you never knew you really needed to have in your life.

Other exhibits focused on the written word, such as this display of crooked tables, each table neatly laid out with different printed material, all student-created.

Needless to say I design-nerded it out for a couple of hours. There’s just so much to see and do when it comes to design, especially interactive design, and I love it all. I’ll not bore you with all the details of everything I saw, but I thought it appropriate to at least highlight this museum and its offerings.

(Hilariously this wire apron was one of my favorite pieces…you can take that to mean whatever you want).

Katariina Käik

Though I spectacularly failed to take pictures of the actual artists’ dens, Katariina Käik (translates to “Catherine’s Passage” for it is on the way to St. Catherine’s, a Dominican monastery) is actually an alleyway reserved for artisans of certain skill sets – namely millinery (that’s hat-making, in plainspeak), silversmithing, bookbinding, glaziers, and other skill sets of the olden ages. They even have trade sigils still outside their workshops, indicating what talent lies within. It is here you can see the artists while they do their work, in the exact methods passed down through generation to generation (though naturally most of them go to school for this now).

Needless to say, I thought it was awesome. Here is a picture of the passageway of the actual Catherine’s Passage, after you’ve left the artisan studios:

Dominican Monastery Basement

One of the most amazing artist studios that we encountered was surprisingly, or maybe unsurprisingly, in the basement of a monastery. Having been previously owned and taken care of by the priests of the Order of St. Catherine’s of Alessandria, it was preserved in 2001 by being turned into an artist’s studio.

Being one of the oldest buildings in Tallinn, it makes sense that a place of silent devotion would be turned into an artist’s den, and once inside, it only made more sense.

Despite being told that there would be several artists within, there was only one man when we entered. He spoke almost no English, but what we did ascertain from him, after a broken conversation, was that he worked there, and after learning his name, almost all of the artwork was his. He was a prolific painter. An incredible set of different styles and themes. Most of them focused on the monastery itself, naturally, but there were also other things.

Unfortunately I have no pictures of this as well, but I abstained more out of respect than anything else. The one thing that occurred to me while we were leaving, purchases in hand, was…how do you get an incredibly sweet gig like this? But then again, he definitely leaves an impression, so maybe it’s not that hard to imagine.

(His studio is down the lighted doorway…pretty sweet, right?).

Museum of Estonian Architecture

Similar to how I nerded out at the design museum, it was my sister’s turn to nerd out at the architecture museum. It’s only natural that we take turns on this kind of thing, so away we went.

While the ground floor mainly focused on models of buildings (either that were already built, had been previously destroyed, or were examples in current ongoing design contests), the rest of the museum was a mish mash of interesting things. The basement level was about all of the different cinema buildings in Tallinn – only cinemas though:

The second floor was actually an art gallery, filled with various pieces by art and design students. I wasn’t sure how it correlated exactly but I enjoyed several of the pieces anyway.

And the top floor was about the rise in school house building in the 1930’s. When Estonia won its independence the first time it decided that it should educate its youngest generations as best as possible, and set about building more schools per capita than any other county I’ve seen. They basically had a school house for every small town, village, or community that existed. This meant that class sizes were small, and education was very personal. They also held design contests for building design – an extremely smart idea, really, since it introduced new design and creativity, and brought local flavor to each of the school houses. Each even has their own educational garden.

But enough about that – mostly I just wanted to highlight all of the different art and design opportunities there are in Tallinn. So much local artisan flavor! And this plays straight into something that becomes relevant to my medieval nerdiness later…so stay tuned…

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

We be minstreling

After lunch, newly renewed with energy, we continued our stroll of the little medieval city (if you can believe it, it’s actually smaller in size than Helsinki, which is only a mile across as it is, so, you can guess how large the Old Town of Tallinn actually is). As such we came upon a church with a strange clock on the outside:

And decided to go in. I mean, why not? Any of you who know me well enough know that I love going into churches and cathedrals…really any place of worship (despite being completely void of faith myself) and without much persuasion, my sister agreed to go in as well.

Turns out we timed it perfectly – as we were leisurely walking down the slim aisleways looking at this and that old painting and pew, up started some odd-sounding music. Wait, said my relatively-untrained ear…that sounds like some minstrels warming up if I not be mistaken!

 And mistaken I was not. For in the front of the church, getting ready to play a little concert, completely dressed in period garb, was a small troupe of performers. Medieval minstrels. I was thrilled. My sister rolled her eyes, but welcomed the chance to sit down and hear some music, whatever it may be, despite my excited chitter and golf clapping next to her.

They were amazingly good musicians. Very well-versed in their craft and the lead female singer had an excellent voice. Included in their set of reproduction period instruments was a lute, the predecessor to the violin (called the vielle, I believe), and a very odd instrument that looked like an opened rectangular box with a crank on the outside that had spinning wheels inside which rubbed against catgut strings to make them vibrate – called the hurdy-gurdy. Yes, the hurdy-gurdy. I snickered. Here is a not-great picture of them playing (the pew seats were very low and I am quite short):

Anyway, I was so into the music and could imagine all the many ways in which I could use music of this sort that I ended up buying their CD at the church gift stand (best 13euros spent…I won’t exactly say “ever”…but it’s pretty close). If you are wondering to yourself what possible ways I could use this kind of music, clearly you do not know me well. I will give you some examples: while reading epic novels (such as Game of Thrones (which I unfortunately finished several weeks ago…so I will now have to painfully wait several years until George R. R. Martin gets his stuff together again and gives birth to his next book), Lord of the Rings (again)…basically anything of the fantasy genre), while playing amazing board games or card games of the epic sort (such as D&D, Dominion, Risk, Settlers of Catan), or, to be perfectly honest, and this is how the CD has been used so far – just to get ready for bed and listen to something calming and awesome. Yes, that nerdcore.

This was just the beginning of my nerdiness when it comes to medieval greatness. You have no idea.

My sister agreed by the end of the concert as we were leaving that it was indeed a worthy expenditure of the 2euros we spent as admission into the church, which we learned afterward was the Church of the Holy Ghost. Thanks for the awesome concert, spirit of Jesus. :)