For our final day of the trip we decided to throw in one more country and go to Tallinn, the capital of Estonia. We’d heard it was a not-to-miss destination if you’re that close, but we were worried about the long ferry ride (about an hour and forty minutes). I don’t do so well on boats, and Finn had had some pretty rough motion sickness this trip. But we decided to go for it. You can tell from this shot of Finn right after we got off the boat that it didn’t go smoothly.
Thankfully, once we were off the boat we both recovered fairly quickly. After exiting the ferry, we were immediately at this place called Linnahall. We hadn’t read anything about it ahead of time, but it seemed like a very strange, very large, Soviet-era venue of some sort.
We later read that it was originally built for the 1980 Summer Olympics, and its first name was the V.I. Lenin Palace of Culture and Sport. It has obviously fallen into a bit of disrepair.
After that interesting little time warp, we walked into Old Town Tallinn, which is even more of a time warp. But a gorgeous and charming one.
After lunch, we walked to a medieval wall.
And then, just to totally switch gears, we went to a store that sold marzipan and had a marzipan gallery.
It was another instance of creepy/cool.
Next we went to what we thought was a hands-on science museum. It was … mostly. There were some great exhibits that we really enjoyed, but there were also a few that were clearly propaganda for the energy company that paid for the museum. It was pretty comical. Here are some photos from the parts we liked.
That was our last stop before heading back to the ferry for the ride home. We were all a little nervous about how bumpy it might be, but Finn managed a smile anyway.
As it turned out, the ride back was much smoother and a bit faster, and we all arrived back in Helsinki in good shape. We stopped at the market square (Kauppatori) for a dinner of delicious salmon and potatoes.
We walked back to our hotel but stopped to see this fountain …
… and for ice cream along the way.
The boys thought it was hysterical that a bird was on the top of this statue’s head.
Finally, we made it back to the hotel and got packed up to go home the next day. It was a pretty great last day in Europe!
We had been told by all of our Finnish and German hosts that we had to make sure to go to Suomenlinna, a sea fortress a ferry ride away from Helsinki. They said the kids would love it and that it is a great way to spend a day. They were right! Before we start though, here are a few more pictures of beautiful Helsinki; I took these on our walk to the ferry stop.
The ferry ride is only 15 minutes long …
but it was a little windy.
Here are a couple of pictures from the boat. It was a gorgeous day.
Once we got to the island, we went to the tourist information place and then started walking toward the Toy Museum as our first destination.
The Toy Museum was both cool and creepy. Let’s get the creepy out of the way first …
The stuff of nightmares, really. But there were some very cool displays, too. Moomins:
And a giant bear:
After our Toy Museum visit, we walked around and visited other parts of the island.
We stopped to see a Finnish submarine they had on display.
Then we moved along. Finn did the navigating.
We spent a while checking out this cannon.
And hiding out in all the little spaces we found.
It was starting to get pretty cold and a bit rainy but we soldiered on. The boys had made up a very elaborate game that they were invading the island.
We took some pictures on the rocks.
Finally I convinced them that we should go (because I was freezing). We walked back to the ferry stop and took the quick ride back to Helsinki. When we got there we walked over to the Russian Orthodox cathedral.
There was a small crowd of people and it turned out they were playing the bells for a special occasion, something that was, apparently, very rare. We really lucked out!
For dinner we took the city tram to a restaurant for traditional Finnish food. The boys and I had meatballs while Bruce had reindeer. We’re pretty sure Santa Claus will not be bringing Bruce anything this year.
This was our last day with the family before we headed to Helsinki for a few days. We had a quiet morning and I took a few more shots of our cottage surroundings.
Here’s our rental car and the outhouse!
Our outing on this day was the military museum. It was definitely a hit with the kids.
The highlight for me was seeing a real Enigma!
After the museum, we had lunch and went back at Arto and Tarja’s house. We met the two remaining Lumme siblings and watched a fun documentary on Finnish saunas. Finally, we were ready to hit the road, so we said our goodbyes to our wonderful hosts. It didn’t take long before Finn (and his Muumi) were asleep.
We successfully navigated our rental car return and found our hotel in Helsinki. We had dinner at a deli across the street and took baths before pulling the blackout curtains shut. We slept soundly until 8:30 the next morning, which was a miracle after many early mornings.
After a good night’s rest, we had a little breakfast in the cottage and Bruce took the boys in the row boat around the lake. First, here’s a picture of the little cottage.
And some boating shots.
It was a chilly but beautiful morning. I enjoyed some quiet time with my Kindle while they were out.
The plan for the day was to explore Tampere with Arto and Tarja’s son Toni as our guide. We started at Pyynikki Tower, which is touted to have the best donuts in Finland. Of course we had to try them! The quick disappearance of everyone’s donut, and Ezra’s face in this picture confirm the rumors. These are seriously good donuts.
Of course, next we climbed up the tower. Here are some shots of the views.
After coming back down from the tower, we split up the group and we walked with Toni over to an area with historic houses.
The boys played the ” coolest thing” contest while we waited for the rest of the group.
It turned out that the rest of the group had gotten a little lost, so we took a quick tour of the historic area without them. It was a very cute street — here are some of the sights.
Once we met up with everyone else, we went to the Moomin Museum, where I immediately started to take pictures and got in trouble. Oops!
This one they let me take.
After the museum we had lunch and then went to a different area of the city to meet Arto and Tarja’s other son, Tero. We had coffee and dessert and the kids took a horse and buggy ride with Arto.
We walked around the city for a while, seeing different sights. Here are some photos.
It was just starting to rain as we left Tampere. We stopped for groceries on the way home and had dinner at the cottage. We enjoyed another sauna and had a quiet night, still marveling at the view.
We started off our second full day in Finland with some berry-picking in the forest. We’d heard that the wild berries were phenomenal so we were very excited to have this outing. Our journey to the forest was about a three minute walk through Arto and Tarja’s neighborhood.
Here are some pictures from our foraging expedition.
We collected lots of tiny blueberries and strawberries.
While the berries didn’t knock our socks off, the beauty of the area and the novelty of berry-picking in the forest made for a great experience.
Bruce and I got out for a quick bike ride around Riihimäki.
And then we joined up with everyone else to head to Hämeenlinna. We picked up some lunch and had a picnic by a lake.
After lunch, the lucky ducks in the pond got a whole bunch of bread thrown to them.
From there we went to an elevated area where we had the chance to spend some time looking at this view.
Arto snapped a family picture for us.
Here’s one of all of us.
We did a lot of stair-climbing that day. First, down the stairs.
We hung out with the bear statue.
Then back up those stairs, and up some more stairs into the tower.
And back down.
After a quick coffee break, we moved on to the castle, which was really too extensive for me to photograph well but here are a few shots.
After that we went back to Arto and Tarja’s lake cottage, which would be our home for the next two nights. Bruce and Finn spent a while enjoying the sauna and the lake.
I had my first sauna, too, and Ezra also partook, but Finn and Bruce were the real diehards. After a while, we enjoyed a wonderful barbecue by the lake.
Our plan for our first full day in Finland was to explore Riihimäki, so after a good night’s sleep and breakfast at Arto and Tarja’s, we all set off on foot for two main (and adjacent) attractions: the hunting museum and the glass museum. I cannot stress enough how park-like it was. So much land! Here are a couple of shots from outside the hunting museum.
For a non-hunter, the inside was a little much …
… but the kids seemed to like it.
Here they are doing some sort of dance.
They also liked the shooting simulator, and got pretty good at it thanks to Arto’s help.
When we were done at the hunting museum, Arto and Tarja took the boys to a nearby playground which allowed Bruce and me to thoroughly enjoy the glass museum. The displays — both of Finnish glass through the ages and how it was made — were impressive.
After a quick break, we walked over to another area of town that has become an artists’ colony and there were some guys blowing glass in one of the studios. We got to watch for quite a while.
From there we walked back to the house …
… and after lunch at a surprisingly satisfying mall buffet we went to Anne’s studio to see some of her art. Here’s Tarja checking out a work-in-progress.
She also makes jewelry.
We ended up buying one of Anne’s paintings and it’s now proudly displayed in our living room.
After the studio visit, we went with Kari and Anne to a strawberry farm. There were bunnies.
After picking up a huge box of strawberries …
… we went back to Kari and Anne’s house for berries, ice cream and champagne in their lovely backyard.
With our California drought in full swing, it was even more of a pleasure to sit in such a lush and peaceful garden.
The kids enjoyed the peas, too. Shelling them as much as eating them, I think.
And Howard the Beaver, Ezra’s hunting museum souvenir, got to have a snack, too.
After a while it started to rain, so we went inside. The boys didn’t mind at all, especially since Kari offered up his computer for them.
Bruce and Kari compared notes on technology for a bit …
… and we fielded questions about Bob and his family since he visited them many years ago.
The day ended with another delicious dinner at Arto and Tarja’s and a second boys’ sauna. A great day!
We said our goodbyes to Germany and our wonderful hosts on Monday morning and headed to the airport for our first of two flights to get to Finland. The boys don’t seem to mind the travel days so much — here’s how they experience the various airports. Hannover:
The flights were uneventful, we managed to retrieve our rental car pretty easily at the Helsinki airport, and soon we were on our way to Arto and Tarja’s house in Riihimäki. They welcomed us warmly and we visited with them for a while and then had an early dinner at their house. After dinner they took us on a little tour of the town, and we went to an observation tower to get a look from high up. The amount of trees is staggering!
After some time there, we drove to Kari and Anne’s house to meet them and we had a nice visit at their house. (I don’t have any pictures from this visit, unfortunately.) When we got back to Arto and Tarja’s house, the boys had their first sauna — a little slice of Finnish heaven for the Moision boys! (I don’t have any pictures of that either but that’s probably a good thing!)
Here’s a slideshow of the photos I did manage to get on this day.
On our last day in Germany, we decided to take the train to Hannover and walk around for a bit. It was a little rainy and lots of things were closed because it was Sunday, but it was still nice to see the town.
Our main destination was the Rathaus (town hall), which was pretty impressive.
It’s not easy to capture its grandeur of the inside, but here are a couple of shots.
They had a great display of the city at different times in history. Here’s an overall photo.
And closeups of each one, showing its growth, destruction and eventual regrowth.
The building has an observation platform in the dome, so we decided to try it. We didn’t realize what a crazy Willy Wonka like elevator we’d have to take to get there. Here’s a photo from the Wikipedia page that shows its path.
I was kind of freaked out — it’s a tiny, crowded compartment going at an odd angle — but I managed to get a couple of photos. Here’s the elevator shaft.
And here’s one of the viewing window in the floor.
I was not crazy about this part of our adventure at all. There was also a spiral staircase to contend with.
However, the payoff was the view. Even on a dreary day, it was spectacular.
After we made our way back down the staircase and the crazy lift, we left the Rathaus and went to Aegidienkirche, a bombed out church that was not rebuilt, but rather kept as a memorial. It was quite striking.
Before taking the train back to Nienburg, we stopped for lunch at an Irish pub which had decent food and a very kind English-speaking waitress.
Later, we had a quiet dinner with Jokke and Merja (Turkish takeout — delicious!) and spent the rest of the evening packing up for our flight to Finland the next day.
Here’s a slideshow of all of my photos from this day.
We packed our last Saturday in Germany full of activities, starting with a walk to the local market to pick up some creamy “rapshonig” honey we’d fallen in love with during our breakfasts with Jokke and Merja. Here’s a photo of one length of the vendors at the market.
After the market, we gathered up all the troops and headed out for a tourist day. Our first stop was the Paschenburg where we enjoyed views like this one.
And a little village of gnomes tucked away.
Our next stop was Burg Schaumburg with its many interesting old buildings, towers to climb, and great views.
There was also a former jail.
And a dining room which looked like a former hunting lodge. The boys liked the swords and armor.
After exploring for a while we were ready for lunch. Here’s a shot of our motley crew.
And one Jokke took of Bruce and me.
We ordered schnitzel for the kids, and they initially looked a bit skeptical. However, they soon discovered that it was delicious and cleaned their plates.
Our next step was Steinhude — a little village popular with tourists — where we walked around for a while.
I think the boys’ highlight here was the ice cream (and sprinkles!).
Next we drove to the area where Jokke works and had a look around. Everyone took a minute to check out their “little” free library.
We’d promised the boys we’d go back to Heyeglassee, and they’d been pretty patient all day. Finally, we managed to fulfill our promise and a good time was had by all.
We finally talked the kids out of the water and headed back to Jokke and Merja’s for dinner — sausage, salad, bread, veggies, and lots of wine.
Ezra spent most of the evening attempting to get a spark from the flint he found at the lake and the steel Jokke gave him.
I have plenty more photos from this busy day; here’s a slideshow.
Our last day in Berlin started with a quick breakfast at a little bakery/cafe we’d spotted just down the street from the hotel. We were looking forward to some coffee and pastries before heading out for more sightseeing. However, the cafe in and of itself was quite an experience due to the comically rude clerk, who was angry and exasperated that we had the audacity to purchase items in her cafe. Her audible sighs and complete disregard for our food (she put one plate down on the counter so hard the pretzel flew off of it) were the worst rudeness we encountered the whole trip.
We finally escaped the cafe and set out for our first real destination, the Berlin Wall Memorial. Our guidebook rated it as a must-see, and we were certainly glad we went. Across from the visitors center, there is a long stretch of the wall and various informational signs in the surrounding land.
This monument called “Window of Remembrance” honors those who were killed trying to escape.
Once we made our way over to the visitors center, we climbed up several flights of stairs to see the recreation of what the wall actually looked like.
We read that the guard tower shown here actually came from a different area of the wall, and that it was purchased on eBay (!) in order to recreate the scene.
When we were done at the memorial, we decided to take the train and went to the nearest station, which was another of the “ghost stations.”
Our next destination was the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, which was badly damaged in 1943. The ground floor is now a memorial.
There is a new church right next to the old one; the new church doesn’t look much like a church from the outside.
However, it was quite striking on the inside.
On our walk around this part of Western Berlin, we came upon a row of these, which reminded us why all the hotels had been booked.
These were in front of the posh Waldor Astoria.
The last thing we had on our agenda before leaving Berlin was to try the currywurst. We’d walked by a little stand the day before, so we went back to it.
It’s a little sweet and a little spicy and was a big hit with all of us. Even though Finn’s face in this photo seems to indicate the opposite, he loved it!
On the way back to the hotel to get our bags we bought some more of the delicious raspberries at a corner market.
And I took a picture of the outside of our hotel for posterity’s sake.
Unfortunately, we set the raspberries down to grab the bags and forgot to pick them up again. We were extremely sad, but we drowned our sorrows in some gummy candy and screen time at the train station.
On the way back, the German countryside whizzed by since we were on the super fast train.
And we had no problems making it back “home” to Jokke and Merja’s. That evening Jokke gave us a forging demonstration. The boys had great fun dressing up in all of the safety gear.
They got to pound on some hot metal and learn about how the process works.
I’m just glad Finn’s hair didn’t catch on fire.
Here’s a video of Jokke at work.
It was a busy and great day! All of my photos from that day are here:
For our only full day in Berlin, we decided against taking a group tour in favor of doing a self-guided tour following Rick Steves’ audio guide. We loaded up four iPhones with the free app, and after breakfast at a cafe near our hotel, we took the train to Berlin Hauptbahnhof to begin our tour. Here are the boys in front of the big station.
The first stop was Reichstag, the Parliament building.
While we were walking there, a group of four or five girls walked up to us and in good but broken English told us they were on a scavenger hunt for their school and they were supposed to trade their apple for something slightly more valuable. They were very sweet and shy, so we searched Bruce’s backpack for something and came up with an umbrella. They were delighted, and the one who had done the talking said, “You are a very nice family.” I am still kicking myself that I didn’t get a picture of them.
From the Reichstag you can see the Chancellery, which is apparently nicknamed the “washing machine.”
To one side of the Reichstag is a memorial to politicians who opposed Hitler. It’s a row of slate slabs, each one memorializing one member of Parliament.
Unfortunately, they’ve also erected a less than majestic building right next to it, which diminishes the look of the memorial a bit.
As we continued, we saw a memorial to Berlin Wall victims …
… as well as the marking of the wall itself, which is done with this double row of bricks in the street.
Next we made our way over to the Brandenburg Gate.
There are lots of interesting buildings in this area, including the US Embassy.
And the hotel where Michael Jackson dangled his baby off a balcony. (Who knew!)
There’s also a Frank Gehry-designed DZ Bank Building here, which our audio guide insisted we visit, but it was closed for an event. We assumed it was another casualty of Fashion Week.
Our next stop was the Holocaust memorial. We didn’t go in the information center because the line was long and we figured the subject matter was a little too heavy for the boys. But we spent some time at the memorial itself, which is a collection of concrete pillars shaped like graves. They are varying heights and seem to go on forever.
I found it very moving, with a similar feel as the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in DC.
One of the places we found very interesting was the Brandenburger Tor train station which was one of the Cold War “ghost stations.” These stations were closed for almost three decades and then reopened when the Berlin Wall came down. This one has the original tile and signs, and felt quite different than other stations we were in.
After lunch at an Italian place we’d ducked into when it started to rain, we continued with the audio tour. The skies had cleared and it was beautiful (although still windy and chilly). Among other things, we saw Humboldt University …
… St. Hedwig’s Church …
… and near the library a memorial to the Nazi book burning. Here are the boys looking at the empty book shelves through the glass.
One of the last things we got to on the audio tour was the statue Mother with Her Dead Son.
According to our guide, it “marks the tombs of Germany’s unknown soldier and an unknown concentration camp victim.” The building it’s in has an open ceiling which allows for all kinds of weather and casts this circle of light around the room, moving with the light of the sun. It was crowded, and therefore impossible to get a picture without other tourists but here’s the best I could do.
I also tried to get the boys in the circle of light. They sort of cooperated.
We ended our tour at the German History Museum. We were losing the boys to exhaustion (and maybe a little boredom) but they initially liked this museum.
This room had a great exhibit with photographs of the room at different periods of time. It was a hit with all of us.
They also had a great exhibit on the Berlin Wall and the time period just before and after it came down. This part was very interesting to Bruce and me, but the boys were done. So, we decided to take a boat tour on the River Spree in the late afternoon, which wasn’t great but it was easier than walking around the city! Here are a couple of photos from the boat.
On the walk back to the train station we found these little trampolines.
And then we took the train back to our hotel neighborhood, had dinner at an Indian restaurant called Kabir (very good!) and bought some fresh fruit for dessert. We were all blown away by how good the raspberries were.
Back at the hotel, we ate our fruit and watched Storage Wars dubbed in German before collapsing in a good night’s sleep.
We’d made arrangements for a side trip to Berlin and this was the day. Train tickets had been purchased and we were finally able to book a hotel for two nights, not an easy feat considering it was (unbeknownst to us) Fashion Week in Berlin and things were pretty booked up. Our morning started with another Lagerspets breakfast — this time Ezra used Nutella to secure his chocolate to his roll. He was pretty pleased with himself.
After breakfast, Jokke took us over to the local train station and helped us make sure we got on the right train.
We made it safely to our first stop, Hannover, but then things got a little wonky. We still don’t know what exactly happened (because, of course, all of the announcements were in German) but we ended up being delayed about an hour and a half and there was tons of confusion about which train was actually ours. When we finally got onto a train, we were told by the ticket checker that we’d need to get off at another station and switch trains. So we started to do that but when we got off the train, another passenger (who’d been in Hannover with us) told us we didn’t need to switch and we should stay on the train. So, back on the train! The whole ordeal was stressing out poor Finn, but finally a light snack and some screen time calmed his nerves.
Ezra wasn’t worried at all and barely looked up from his game. This was a recurring theme throughout the trip.
We finally made it to Berlin …
… and found our way to our hotel. Unfortunately our room wasn’t ready, so we just dropped off our luggage and headed for a late lunch. We ended up at a place called Cafe Literaturhaus, where the tasty food and the waiter’s extreme friendliness made up for the slow service. After lunch we got ice cream cones at a not-so-friendly shop and then checked into the hotel and had a little rest.
Once we felt somewhat refreshed, we took the train back to the city center to have a look around. Here are a few shots from that first mini tour.
We had hotdogs and crepes from a street vendor for dinner.
Then we went back to the train station to take our short hop back to the hotel, where we collapsed!
Tuesday the 7th started out with a quiet breakfast and some laundry at Jokke and Merja’s. The boys took a moment to show us one of their favorite Minecraft videos. They could watch these videos for hours.
Jokke, Bruce and I took a walk into town to check out Jokke’s favorite secondhand store and visit a drugstore so I could buy a contact lens case, which I’d forgotten to pack.
After the second load of laundry was hung out to dry, we jumped in the car and headed to a lake called Heyeglassee. No surprise, Finn was the first one in the cold water.
Ezra and Bruce were more skeptical.
Eventually Ezra was all the way in, too.
And so were Bruce and Jokke.
After everyone was dried off, we headed to Kloster Luccum, a former monastery dating back centuries.
We stopped for a coffee and snack at their very modern looking cafe.
And then went on a walk around the grounds. It was wonderful … except for the biting horse flies!
On our way back out to the car we noticed a not-so-little free library. Tons of books! We saw two more in other areas of Germany that looked exactly the same.
On the way home the skies opened up and it poured. So much for leaving the laundry out to dry while we were gone — good thing they have a dryer!