Wednesday, August 7
We booked flights on a Wednesday because they were cheaper. I was a bit displeased as I would have liked to be away slightly longer but on balance, we decided it was worth it.
We entered into complex arrangements with our neighbours in relation to feeding their hens and our cat. I always feel slightly upstaged by their ambitious holidays However, after the year when they climbed Kilimanjaro, I felt that they could hardly do better. “Where are you going this year?” I asked. “The Galapagos and Easter Island.”
I digress, our flight was at 9.25 in the morning which wasn’t too bad. We were a small bit late leaving home due to a fruitless search for the Brett Easton Ellis book herself was reading which was nowhere to be found. Then we missed the turn off for the long term car park – another 10 minutes gone; then the bus to the airport took ages to come. The upshot of it was 9.50 before we got to the airport and check-in was closed. I had a look at the hard-hearted Ryanair woman behind the desk and decided that resorting to tears would be utterly useless. In fairness, we’d probably not have made it to the gate in time at that stage. Alas and indeed alack. Mr. Waffle was heroic. Though grumpy when made to be late by his family now that the hour had actually come and our combined indifference to his punctuality concerns had made us miss the wretched flight, he was pretty zen and booked and paid for another flight that evening with unimpaired amiability (so much for economical Wednesday flights). I was filled with guilt. My friend in Helsinki sent me this and I could not but concede that it was apt:
Herself in correspondence with her friend told her about the missed flight and her friend said, “I didn’t know that happened to real people.” Fair. Although I am forced to point out that subsequently her friend’s father fell while refilling the car with petrol when they were on holidays in Norway and broke his hip. That doesn’t happen much to real people either, I can tell you. Friend was round yesterday and she says he is up and hobbling about and keen to spread a story that his injury was sustained climbing dramatic Norwegian mountains. After this exchange, the Princess’s phone died. I was pleased and quite surprised to see how well she managed without it for the next fortnight.
Our re-booked flight was for that evening so we took ourselves off to Malahide castle for a consolatory breakfast and the kids re-acquainted themselves with the playground where they had not been for several years. I bought a new anorak. It was actually surprisingly pleasant given the context.
Then we went home. Our cleaner had been hard at work on the house all morning and, cravenly, we hid in the car when we saw her leaving on her bike, too mortified to explain our idiocy to her. She already has a pretty low opinion of us already. We found that she had, as instructed, completely cleaned out the fridge. Alas.
We got in some food. We found Brett Easton Ellis misfiled with the school books and mid-afternoon we turned around and went back out to the airport allowing ample time to check in.
Of course, then, instead of arriving in Tallinn at lunch time, it was nearly 1 in the morning and we were all a bit tired and sorry for ourselves but we got there. It was some comfort that a taxi from the airport – for the five of us – only cost €13.40.
Thursday, 8 August
We woke up in Tallinn as planned. We stayed in a lovely Airbnb in the old city with the mandatory sauna – big feature in the Baltic, lads. The old town is very touristy and there weren’t really any shops other than ones selling souvenirs – amber, trolls, linen and knitwear are all big. And I imagine that, if you are from Tallinn you might not love the way that your old city centre has become essentially a tourist zone but we were tourists and we absolutely loved it. There were no cars in the city centre and it was small, clean (remarkably clean) and seemed very safe. We were able to let the children wander on their own which we all enjoyed.
My friend who lives in Helsinki and with whom we were to stay later in the holiday was actually in Tallinn with her family for a couple of days. They were familiar with the lie of the land and we met them for lunch which was very nice. Their accommodation featured a rat trap in the entrance hall with smelly corpses and, though my friend was stoic, I was quite glad that this was not a feature of our place as it might have tipped me over the edge.
We did mildly touristy things as we were in the city centre and it wasn’t very effortful.
Some of our number felt that the climb up to the Orthodox church wasn’t worth the effort but I liked it.
Definite highlight was having an afternoon snack of dumplings in a cafe in the square. Not your traditional afternoon snack but welcome all the same. Mr. Waffle has recreated them at home. Huge success.
I did not expect this at all but the food in Tallinn is excellent. Really good and cheap too. It was a Hanseatic league town (in the course of our visit, I frequently wished I had paid a bit more attention to a podcast on the Hanseatic league which I listened to earlier this year) and a cross-roads for trade and spices and even in Soviet times it was very popular for food with Russians and eastern Europeans. Who knew?
After dinner we sat up on our rooftop terrace and admired the view. Pretty good all round.
Friday, August 9
I gave herself my phone to investigate possible breakfast locations. Her own phone had broken and I was surprised and pleased by how well she managed for the next fortnight without a phone; although she was forced to read every book we’d brought with us and even finish “Catch 22” which she has been reading for months with no apparent enjoyment.
She came good and we went to a lovely place leaving her brothers behind in bed. The lure of a good cinnamon bun was insufficient to tempt them out. Their mistake. While herself went off for a wander in the market and her brothers stayed in bed, Mr. Waffle and I went on a tour of Reval (did you know that Tallinn was always Reval and only changed its name to Tallinn 100 years ago? There’s a whole world out there). The tour was pretty good – a bit gimmicky but interesting all the same. I wish I had prodded the boys out of bed as there was tons of audience participation which, Michael at least, would have loved.
After lunch at home we went to a hotel which apparently does a very good tour involving KGB spying equipment. I say apparently as we had failed to book and there were no tours we could get on until the following day when, alas, we were leaving. We went for a restorative cup of tea in a nice cafe which herself had unearthed in her internet researches and then decided to go to the museum of occupation instead. It was a half hour trek away under the merciless Estonian sun and we arrived red faced and exhausted. The museum was interesting enough in its own way. A lot of interactive stuff, including a mock up of a soviet era flat where you could look in all the cupboards and a VR headset which allowed you to furnish your flat from a relatively limited range of options.
Then back home to play board games with Michael who had brought several and was determined to get value for his efforts.
We went out for dinner in a lovely Italian restaurant by the city walls recommended by our friends. There was an Italian waiter and it was a relief to both of us to speak in Italian. He said his Estonian was only middling. I sympathise.
Saturday, August 10
We said goodbye to Tallinn with some regret. We would not at all have minded another couple of days there. As we were leaving I saw that the former KGB interrogation cells – now a museum – were across the road from our Airbnb. Possibly for the best to have missed that.
We took the ferry across to Helsinki. The ferry ride was pleasant and only took about 3 hours. The ferry was enormous and very similar to the ferry we used to get to France; the fact that the latter was a Baltic ferry before being purchased by Irish Ferries may explain that. Aside from the explosion of the open jar of jam which one of us had packed in our bags in Tallinn, the journey was uneventful.
We presented ourselves at Helsinki railway station to pick up our hired car. We weren’t in any rush but we should have been. We turned up at 4.29 and the woman behind the desk said, “We close at 4. We gave you until 4.30, if you hadn’t turned up we were going to lock up.” The Finns, telling it like it is. In fairness, we were very pleased to get into our car and herself opined for the first but not the last time on the holiday that the Finns had been unfairly maligned as being on the surly side.
We got a sat nav after our immensely positive experience with last year’s built in sat nav which Mr. Waffle absolutely loved and we had christened Sybil because, you know, it was good at prophecy, it sounded a bit like a Sybil and we’re notiony. The new sat nav was not good particularly on the way out of Helsinki. “Maybe we should christen it, to make it feel better, what might we call it?” “Unsybil,” said herself from the back.
We got safely to our island Airbnb south of Turku which itself is in the South of Finland. This part of Finland is very island rich. We have friends who live on the Åland islands which we thought were nearby and thought we might visit them. Spoiler alert, we did not, it’s a five hour ferry ride and ferries are irregular.
The house was across a small rural road from a lake but access was not easy as all access to the lake was via neighbours’ gardens and they didn’t seem to take to tourists tripping through.
The house was lovely with most of the bedrooms downstairs and a big room upstairs so that it felt like living in a tree house.
More soon. Hold on to your hats etc.