As soon as we turned the calendar to December, signs of the Christmas season began to emerge around Tartu. First the two biggest department stores changed their window displays and decked out the building facades with Christmas lights and large bows. Soon lights of all types began to appear on the streets. Then as I hurried home in the evenings across the Raekoja Plats in the steadily cold temperatures below freezing, I noticed men working on platform lifts high above the square putting long strings of lights up. A couple of days later a large tree appeared in the middle of the square. So it went with new additions seen on a daily basis. Everything is in place now and the Christmas festivities have begun! And it is very cold!! Even the locals are remarking how cold it is. I won’t even mention what the two Floridians think!! Today it was 10o Farenheit ( around -11o C). If you have noticed, I have added a weather widget on the blog in the right hand panel. This widget is a sign among others that my very computer savvy daughter Liisi has arrived from Washington DC to spend Christmas with us. Liisi took a two-week vacation to spend Christmas with us here in Tartu. It is so nice to have her here.
When we went to pick Liisi up at the Tallinn Airport, high winds were forecast for Tallinn and frigid temperatures due to an air mass from Siberia that has reached us. I should not be surprised by all this cold, after all the latitude is the same as Anchorage, Alaska. After we checked in at the apartment that we had rented near Oleviste Church (the highest church spire in Tallinn that you see in all the photos), it was a little before 3:00 PM (15:00) and the sun was still slightly up. The sun is setting now around 3:20 PM. (Sunrise is around 8:57 AM).
We decided to hurry up Pikk Jalg (transl: Long Leg) up to the top of the Toompea Hill where there are two nice viewing platforms to the lower part of the Old Hansa City. With the wind chill factored in, Brrrrrr…. I still got some nice images of the snow-covered city with Oleviste in the distance. Thank goodness for my down-filled ski jacket and my ski pants!! While taking pictures, we met a nice student from Thailand up there with an Estonian student escorting him. They were also taking pictures. In our conversation with them, it turned out the Thai student was finishing up a semester at the University of Helsinki and had wanted to see Tallinn before flying back to his home country. They both seemed to be intrigued that we were from Florida and were managing with the weather here in the wintertime. My mindset is to look upon this as an adventure…. As we walked back down the hill, we took a short side trip down Lühike Jalg (Short Leg) that brings you through a small gateway with a large heavy wooden door onto steps that lead eventually down to the bottom of the hill. The steps are surrounded on both sides by some nice picture galleries and craft stores. One favorite store has some pretty wall hangings. I usually stop in just to look and to enjoy the designs. I have been tempted to splurge and to buy something, but really have no place to hang up any new wall hangings.
Down in the City Hall Square in Tallinn is the annual Christmas Fair with little boutiques set up throughout the square selling knitted crafts, fur hats, and Christmas items as little Santas and Christmas fairies. New York Times a couple of years ago had an article on this winter event in Tallinn. Quite a few boutiques were selling Glögg (heated mulled red wine). The whole square is decorated with Christmas lights and a tree in the middle. To add to the medieval theme of Tallinn, large wooden-wheeled carts were present with girls dressed in woolen capes and medieval-looking garb selling roasted chestnuts and heated cinnamon covered almonds. There is also a stage set up where singers and folk dancers perform daily during the holiday season. Surprisingly we were not the only ones to brave the cold. There were quite a lot of people that Friday evening, as well as Sunday when I went back to do some Christmas shopping. People come to Tallinn from all over Europe and from Russia for this fair.
On Saturday we spent the whole day at the new Maritime Museum at the Seaport Harbor. I would highly recommend this Museum for anybody planning a visit to Tallinn. The restaurant at the Museum where we had lunch was surprisingly good. I had never been to this museum earlier. This part of the city is one that used to be quite run-down. I was told in the recent years Tallinn’s yuppies are buying the properties and restoring them. It is turning into quite a nice area. On Sunday we spent time with an Estonian friend who used to live in the same city as Juri in Connecticut, but now for several years makes Tallinn her home. She lives near the Old Town near the Occupation Museum that we also visited. By 5 PM the three of us were on the express bus that brought us back to Tartu. Lots of blowing snow was seen on the roadway the whole trip back. It will continue to be cold all the way to Christmas.
This past week in Tartu all the city decorations are up. It is very festive. We went to Vanemuise theater on two different evenings. The first evening we saw Midnight Express which had a lot of popular American jazz pieces. It was well done and there was a nice selection of different types of jazz. Afterwards we went to our TÜ’s Hematology-Oncology Christmas party at a restaurant Vilde and Wilde that is not far from Vanemuise. We had a fun and interesting group at our table. It turned out that we were the last group to leave the party at 2 AM in the morning! The second evening we went to see the English comedy Calendar Girls. We still had some shopping to do yesterday. There were crowds at the malls with craft tables set up in the center of the mall surrounding the large skating rink area. Later we had dinner with an Estonian friend that we had not seen for close to 20 years. We first met him when he was doing his postdoc in linguistics at the University of Pennsylvania. He and his wife are now both professors of the Finno-Ugric languages here at TÜ and also hold positions at the University in Turu, Finland. Karl’s two older boys are finishing up their studies; one in medicine and the older son is completing his Ph.D. in biophysics. Their daughter whom we had not met earlier is in 6th grade. Today we headed to the Art Museum to see paintings of winter scenes by a well-known Estonian artist Endel Kõks. For Christmas, each day one of the City Hall windows are decorated with a new scene from the winter paintings at the Museum. The front of the building with its windows is planned as a large advent calendar. Along with the new window scenes, poems with winter themes are read at the square each night. An older relative who remembers the Soviet times very well, indicated that in those days, anything dealing with Christmas was forbidden. The religious event was not to be celebrated in any manner. Thank goodness it is quite a different story in the present day.
Tomorrow is Christmas Eve. Some drive to relatives’ homes on one of the islands; others into the countryside to the little farms scattered all over Estonia. Many stay in the cities. It depends upon whereever it is most convenient for having the whole family together. We shall be attending church service at 17:00 in a nice older church up the road from us. One evening I did a little family history surfing on the internet and found that my grandmother was married in this same church that we like the best and have been attending. Later after church service, extended families get together for a Christmas dinner. Christmas dinners are usually a pork roast or alternatively, a duck or goose roast, and oven potatoes, Christmas sausage, sauerkraut, pickled pumpkin, and a lingonberry sauce. Then families gather around the Christmas tree. If the trees are still fresh, real candles are lit. Christmas songs are sang, and gifts exchanged. So it will be with us, except that we are adding a touch of the modern day: We hope to connect with my older daughter’s family on the West Coast in the U.S., either via Skype or FaceTime and exchange some of our gifts via the internet.
TO ALL HAVE A VERY MERRY CHRISTMAS AND THE BEST FOR THE NEW YEAR!!