Santiago – Part 2

Santiago is a massive city – about 40% of Chileans live inside its metro area. It would be easy to get lost in any of dozens of neighborhoods, but we mostly focused on the places we could walk to from our apartment. There were more than enough museums, markets, and palaces to keep us occupied just in the central areas of town.

As usual, the churches we stumbled across were mostly Catholic and always beautiful. The Virgin Mary is often the central focus, with shrines to other Virgins around the interior of the church. Unlike in Europe, where most saints are statues or paintings, here, the Marys are usually draped in sumptuous fabrics and laces.

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Churches around Santiago, La Vega Market

We made the little bit of extra effort to book a (free!) tour of the Palacio de la Moneda, Chile’s Presidential Palace. Upon arrival, we discovered we were the only ones signed up for English during that time slot, so our guide Carla gave us a private tour. The Palace originally served as a mint under the Spanish crown. In the mid-1800’s it started housing the Presidential residence and offices. It was here in 1973 that the democratically-elected Salvador Allende was overthrown (with help from the CIA) and the Pinochet regime installed. Military jets bombed the palace and destroyed much of the building. It has been rebuilt, but its gorgeous interiors were not restored to their previous glory. Currently it serves only as offices for the President and some of her ministers; Chilean Presidents are not given a government residence.

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Parque Uruguay and Costanera Center, inside Palacio de la Moneda

We saw the courtyards, which are planted with orange trees and native plants, and which also house two cannons that used to guard the coast from pirates. The cannons’ names are Furious and Lightning – because naturally cannons work better when they know they are loved. Inside, we had the chance to walk through the rooms used to greet dignitaries and sign bills/make speeches in front of the cameras. Chile used to officially be Catholic, so there is a chapel inside the palace. That has changed over the years, and now many religions worship there. And of course, at the entrances, the guards are snappily dressed and happy to take a moment to pose for pictures.

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Palacio de la Moneda, Presidential Guard, moonrise over the Andes

One of the most important museums in Santiago is the Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos. It commemorates the victims who were disappeared, tortured, murdered, and imprisoned during the Pinochet government as well as the dictatorship’s eventual downfall. Abuses began the day Pinochet came to power, and thousands suffered terrible fates during the following 17 years. Many remains are still being found and identified today. Ongoing resistance by the public and by church leaders eventually helped to bring about the regime’s dissolution. In 1988 a plebiscite vote about letting Pinochet begin another 8-year term. The resulting ‘no’ led the way for open elections in 1989. The TV ads but together by both sides are wonderfully ’80s. My new proposal: all parties in an election should have hilarious ads and musical numbers at their disposal. And of course, there is an added level of absurdity about voting to keep (or not) a dictatorial regime in place. It is one of the few awful eras in world history ended by a peaceful vote and happy campaign buttons.

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Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos, at the Natural History Museum

In a park next to the Museo de la Memoria is the Natural History Museum. We arrived about half an hour before closing. That gave us just enough time to walk through the exhibits, which are mostly about the different ecological zones of Chile. I finally got some help to explain the differences between all the alpaca-y animals – there are four species! Not all look as surprised to be a part of the museum as the one in the picture.

Our Airbnb rental had two decks, one facing east and the other west. No matter the time of day, we always had a place to sit out in the shade and admire the mountains or cityscape.  We didn’t have air conditioning, which was annoying for a few hours each day when the sun poured through our windows, but Santiago is often windy. One of our favorite things to do was to grab a glass of wine (or beer) and relax in the breeze to cool off. The hot days were more enjoyable knowing that soon we’ll be enjoying the Seattle winter-like temps in Punta Arenas

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Buenos Artes

Of all the places we’ve visited so far, Buenos Aires might have the most visible and vibrant arts scene. There are dozens of theatres, cultural centers, and art museums all across the city, and each features a constant rotation of performances and exhibits. Weekends bring craft fairs where local artisans can showcase their work and music and dancing (the ubiquitous tango) in some of the parks. We’ve seen a lot since we arrived, but, alas, I’m a little sad we didn’t get seats for the performance of El Principito at the symphony orchestra. For now I’ll have to settle for the Spanish-language version of the book we bought.

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Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Latin American Art Museum, Fortabat Coleccion

We’ve visited several of the local art museums (especially those that have free or discounted admission days). The Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes might be our favorite, in part because it is free every day, and in part because it has a wide-ranging collection. Argentina has strong ties to Europe, and the Bellas Artes Museum has many works by European artists like Degas and Rodin. Of course, Argentinian artists like Antonio Berni also play a big part in their modern collections. A special exhibit gathering the works by Norberto Gomez, including current sculptures, reminded us a lot of video game art and old flash internet videos.

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Pieces from the Bellas Artes Museum

In San Telmo, the Museo de Arte Moderno is free on Tuesdays (guess which day we went). It is in a pretty inconspicuous brick building, but the supporting beams on their central staircase look like the track of a roller coaster. Even if it wasn’t the designer’s intention, it made me happy to discover it once we got inside. Temporary displays of pieces by Antonio Berni (perennially popular here), Picasso, and Hernan Soriano took up much of the museum. Soriano’s exhibit of reworked illustrations and maps are mind-bending; by finely cutting, layering, and painting over older images, he creates something entirely new. Sadly, no photos inside this museum, but thankfully the internet can help compensate.

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Works from MALBA and Bellas Artes – cut out map and paintings by Antonio Berni

MALBA, the Museo de Arte Latinoamericano, is the most Central and South America focused. As you might guess, it focuses on more local issues and peoples. We clearly missed some of the messages behind the works since our knowledge of past conflicts and corruptions is sketchy, but I can at least appreciate that those situations led to beautiful art.

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More from Bellas Artes. The cat makes the portrait in the top left.

The Fortabat Coleccion started as the personal collection of Argentina’s richest woman. It was interesting to me to go through what an individual found pretty or worthy of attention. I agreed with a lot of her taste – especially some of the mountainous Argentinian landscapes (more so because we are looking forward to seeing Tierra del Fuego in a couple weeks). There are now rotating exhibits as well, and those featured less  generically pretty but more current dioramas making some pointed political commentary about women in power in Argentina (at least that was what I took away) and the concepts of beauty that are so pervasive in many cultures. I don’t think I’ll ever have a personal collection that can afford Bruegels and Bernis (yup, here too) but it is nice to dream. I like the airplane-hangar-shaped building as well, which is newly built in Puerto Madero, one of BA’s newest, and richest, neighborhoods.

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Floralis Generica and a statue holding up part of a tree

Naturally, Buenos Aires itself also acts as a gallery. The 75-foot tall Floralis Generica sculpture is centered inside its own park. The petals are supposed to open and close each day like a real flower, but currently the mechanisms are a bit broken, so it wasn’t fully open during our visit.

San Telmo is a good neighborhood for mural-hunting, but there are monuments in parks all over the city. In another European callback, there are a fair number of statues of men looking important while on horses scattered around the city.

And if a person has any interest in Spanish-language literature, there are more bookstores here than any place I’ve ever been. In some areas of Recoleta, every third shop will be a bookstore. Even the sidewalk stands often have classic tomes for sale, not just pulp romances or thrillers. Today I walked past one selling copies of Horace and Tacitus next to the latest fashion magazines. I don’t know how much of it translates to more reading, but it makes me happy to find books almost everywhere.

Another reason to keep learning Spanish…

Lima, Peru

We spent a noisy, hectic, enjoyable week in Lima, Peru as a stopover to line up cheap airfares from Cancun, Mexico to Buenos Aires, Argentina. The weather reminded us of Seattle even though the landscape was almost the opposite. Arid brown and gray foothills lead up to the Andes, but each morning a light layer of Pacific fog rolled a few miles inland and enveloped Miraflores and the days usually had a cool, salt-smelling sea breeze near the water.

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The Pacific meets the Miraflores neighborhood, waterfront bridge, black-rocked shoreline (surfers further out)

A main attraction was the food, which seems to be revered all around Latin America. In Lima, the local speciality is seafood ceviche. We had several kinds, but our favorite contained seabass. The raw fish is cooked in lime juice; corn, hot! peppers, onions, and sometimes potatoes and plantain chips are added to the mix. Locals also use seafood in other creative ways, including chupe de camarones, a shrimp soup with corn, potatoes, and a fried egg on top. We bought some species of local trout at a supermarket, and it rivaled the salmon we miss so much.

Outside of seafood, the aji de gallina is a perfect lunch on a cooler day. Chicken is shredded (so finely it took me a while to realize it was actually in the dish) into a yellow pepper sauce and served with rice. Anticuchos, marinated beef hearts, are a surprisingly tasty appetizer. Alpaca makes the menu as well, and wasn’t as gamey as we were led to believe; in fact, it was quite tender. And of course, cuy an infamous Peruvian dish. It is more of a mountain-region fare, so in Lima it is served mainly in expensive, tourist-oriented restaurants. But we didn’t let that deter us and baked one at home. Equally adorable and delicious, it does take a lot of effort for a small meal.

To go with the food, Inca Kola is often the drink of choice. It tastes like bubble gum with an undertone of cream soda; it’s a good thing I wasn’t exposed to this as a child – I might actually drink soda. It is so popular that Peru is one of the few places in the world where Coca-Cola is outsold (though they have since bought the company that produces Inca Kola). If not that, the second national drink is the pisco sour. I usually don’t like cocktails, but this one goes well with the local cuisine. Artisanal beer is a growing industry; we tried some at Nuevo Mundo after we saw it advertised on their delivery van and then accidentally found their bar.

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Local drinks, alpaca and quinoa with cheese, chupe de camarones, market fruits.

Everyone we met asked if we were going to Machu Picchu. Sadly, that will have to be future adventure, but we still wanted to see some of the pre-Incan and Incan treasures that are the national heritage. The Museum of Archaeology, Anthropology, and History was our starting point. Their collection is the smaller of the two museums we visited, but it also covers colonization, the fight for independence, and the era of the republic.

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Pottery and gold carvings from the National Museum and the Larco Museum

The Larco Museum displayed the larger collection of Pre-Columbian artifacts (it was also the more expensive admission). The majority of both collections is pottery, which survives well and didn’t tempt conquistadors to melt it down and ship it out of the country. I don’t know what I was expecting, but it is fantastic. There is pottery with alpacas that look like corgi puppies, guys relaxing on their boat with a drink (yes, really), people with animals, animals that look like people, erotic scenes, human sacrifices, maize plants, and plenty of other creatures and human faces in various states of stylization. My personal favorite is the man lying on the top of a pot with the mouth of the vessel coming out of his back, like he was bothering the potter at work and got stuck in the clay.

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Pottery, a feather cloak, and a quipu at the Larco Museum

There are also fabrics, preserved by the dry climate; even cloaks and shirts made of tiny feathers have lasted. Colors look as though they were dyed yesterday and feature patterns that seem modern. Many pieces are from burials; the afterlife was just as important in this corner of the world as it was in ancient Egypt. Mummy bundles were a common way of interring bodies, the individual wrapped in layer upon layer of cloth and with items they would need after death.

A wonderful thing about the Larco is that they display the most interesting pieces in the museum proper, but you can also look at most of the rest of the collection as well; it is one of the very few museums in the world that let you wander around their storerooms. There are scores of floor-to-ceiling glass cases filled with objects. Each item is grouped by what it depicts. Two cases were entirely devoted to owls, others more to ducks, some to fish; full walls of pottery featured human faces, or polka dots.

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Mummy bundle, cups with large noses, and a set of gold adornments.

A 40-minute ride from Miraflores is the Basilica of San Francisco, a beautiful church in the Lima District. No pictures are permitted inside its monastery or museum, a tour of which also goes through the catacombs below (where 25,000 bodies are buried). But inside the church photography is allowed, and its design certainly welcomes artists. The church’s interior features gorgeous wooden altars along the sides that reach high enough to bend with the domes above. Many are dedicated to Mary and Latin American saints. The ceiling of the church is unique among those we’ve seen – stark red and white patterning that is reminiscent of the surrounding landscape and ancient pottery.

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Larco Museum’s storerooms, Basilica of San Francisco, Nuevo Mundo Draft Bar

If you do not like insane traffic, Lima may not be for you. We caught a local bus outside the airport and spent over 90 minutes making our way to Miraflores. We arrived at rush hour, so traffic was at its peak, but that stops exactly zero people from driving as though they are participating in a vehicular game of chicken. Our driver wedged the bus between lanes, in spaces meant for motorbikes, and in front of mobs of other cars to make stops. Approximately 60 near-collisions later, we jumped off in our neighborhood. Honestly, it was one of the better free entertainment experiences we’ve had. The taxi back to the airport was the same way, though his habits leaned toward running red lights.

Overall, though, Lima is a city of millions and feels like it. Stores are open til all hours of the night, the city center is crowded around the clock. Poverty and wealth are shockingly close to each other – shantytowns rise up hillsides visible from new condominiums built for the rich. Food, art, work, and neighborhoods all blend and mix together. It is overwhelming and engrossing all at once.

Sights in Europe

This rambling features a bunch of ‘favorite’ European sights that is entirely based on today’s mood (and then basically pulling a name out of a hat if we couldn’t decide) and our current state of melting in ~85+ degree heat and 90% humidity. Anything that reminds us of a cold day probably got moved up subconsciously. And of course, our experiences were colored because some places were under renovation while others were too crowded to make our experience feel worth the admission cost.

Best Art Museum: National Art Museum of Catalunya (MNAC) in Barcelona. This was the only museum we visited multiple times because Saturday afternoons are free. 🙂 The palatial building has art-filled wings and frescoed domes. It dominates a hillside above Venetian-styled towers, waterfalls and fountains. MNAC’s collection is incredible – 13th century altarpieces (with mayhem-causing demons or saints boiling away in pots), Art Deco stained glass and advertising posters, sketches of the Spanish Civil War’s destruction, works by El Greco, Rubens, Goya…

Favorite Mode of Transit: Seaplane from Split to Dubrovnik. Head to Split’s picturesque harbor, sip on drinks waterside, board to find there are only 3 passengers, enjoy gorgeous mountain and island views all the way down the coast. A 45-minute jaunt and the chance the shoreline slip by is much preferable to a 4+ hour bus ride featuring two bonus border crossings.

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MNAC, Croatian peninsula, view from Dubrovnik’s walls.

Best City for Drinking Outside: Budapest. This city takes summer drinking to a new level. Mix cheap beer, lots of public space, great transit and voila! Some parks have stands selling alcohol, but it is more common to bring your own. Time of day doesn’t particularly matter, though nights are better, especially if you come across live music or a soccer match screening. Fisherman’s Bastion and the pedestrian-only Liberty Bridge provide some great views and enough drinking space for everyone.

Most Impressive City Walls: Dubrovnik. Game of Thrones is filmed there for a reason. Several cities we visited had walls in the past, but Dubrovnik’s are complete and you can walk all the way around them, exploring towers and the intimidating Lovrijeniac Fortress across a small bay. The blue Adriatic and the tightly packed Old Town fill the views.

Happiest Palace: Pena Palace in Sintra, Portugal. Move over, Neuschwanstein. Not only is the Pena Palace more brightly colored, it was actually lived in. The interior is just as cheerful as the outside with fountains and tiles. The grounds are pretty as well, with rambling trails, live black swans, and carefully planned views.

Favorite Old Town: Tallinn. Small, surrounded by towers, full of church spires, pastel colored buildings, and a pretty hill to climb. Yes, restaurants and souvenir poods dominate. We ignored those and focused on the cuteness, small parks, and quieter streets. Note: we avoided the high season, weekends, and cruise tour groups.

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Pena Palace, library at Mafra, Trinity College Library.

Library Nearest My Vision of Heaven: Trinity College Library, Dublin. One of about three places that looked like their Instagram images, no photoshopping required. Thousands of books, richly colored wood, gorgeous bindings. Large crowds detracted a bit. It isn’t a very wide room since the sides are cordoned off, but at least we could stay as long as we wanted to try to soak it in. The library at Portugal’s Palace of Mafra gets an honorable mention because it is equally beautiful, with far fewer visitors. The downside there is not being able to walk as far into it to get a sense of the scale. But the huge cross-shaped hall is gorgeous marblework worthy of a such an impressive royal residence.

Most Interesting Non-Art Museum: Village Museum, Bucharest. Outside in a city park, the Village Museum let us tour the Romanian countryside without leaving Bucharest. Dozens of old buildings – homes, churches, barns, windmills have been preserved, and turned into a living history museum. Lots of love has gone into furnishing the homes and keeping the carved gates and painted details. It was fun even in a storm (we sheltered in a wine press). The wide variety of structures showcased the different traditional styles from around Romania.

Sports Team with the Most Rabid Fans: Hadjuk Soccer Club from Split. Our hosts warned us that if we were ever harassed in a bar or on the street to just say “Volimo Hajduk” (“We love Hajduk!” – we never had to, everyone was really kind). Graffiti with the name Hajduk and their red-and-white checker colors was EVERYWHERE – sidewalks, buses, underpasses, huge murals on buildings. They have their own branded chocolate, liquor, snacks. Every kid must own at least one jersey. Even in Dubrovnik, Hajduk reigned.

Coincidental Event We Didn’t Plan to See But Enjoyed the Most: Red Bull Air Race, Budapest. Ok, so the weather was terrible, practices were cancelled, events cut short, and we didn’t get to see them fly under the bridge (a thing they convince the planes to do!). And it was still an incredible display of reflexes and flying planes stupidly close to water and between buildings in the center of a city with thousands of people cheering on either side of the river.

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Village Museum, Red Bull Air Race, tombs at Cemiterio dos Prazeres, La Sagrada Familia.

Creepiest Cemetery: Cemiterio dos Prazeres, LisbonGhosts clearly come out at night. Above ground tomb, with doors of broken glass, let the lace curtains covering the coffins flutter in the wind. Few people, but cats in surprising places watching you.

Church Putting All Others to Shame: La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona. La Sagrada Familia is otherwordly. It stands alone, strikingly different from any other church we saw.  Inside, the white stone canvas swirls with rainbows of colored light streaming through the stained glass. Statuary covers the exterior, the side portraying the Crucifixion is in violent relief, the opposite showing Creation is decadent with natural scenery. It is expensive, the priciest building we entered, but worth it – even with the thousand other people. While waiting to enter you can even watch the ongoing construction, and dream about what it will look like when finished.

Favorite Museum Artwork: Discovering the Body of King Louis II by Bertalan SzekelyIt’s a weird choice, but in person it is impressive and some parts are so realistic that it took me a while to convince myself the canvas was flat.

Most Heartwrenching Memorial: Auschwitz I and Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland. The preserved concentration, forced labor, and death camp complex is a sobering memorial to human suffering and powerful warning about the evils humans will commit. Crowds detract a bit initially, but it was easy to begin to ignore them and turn inward to try to understand the horrors that happened there. Auschwitz I was on a too-human scale, its brick buildings reminded me of college dorms. But of course, inside are the exhibits of human hair, items confiscated from the victims. It’s awful. My stomach churned for hours remembering that people tortured, murdered, starved so many. Auschwitz-Birkenau’s vastness magnifies the horrors of Auschwitz I. Everyone should visit to confront the world’s failure to stop the Holocaust and the ongoing need to keep it from recurring.

Historical Artifact We Should Have Learned about In School but Didn’t: Romania’s Steel Crown. King Carol I asked for a crown of steel made from cannons captured by soldiers fighting for Romania’s independence. He wanted to remember their sacrifice.

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Fortress at Omis, Romania’s royal crown, book fountain, gas canisters at Auschwitz.

Cheapest Deal: Castles during Croatia’s off season.  They often charge at least a small admission fee. But in April, some days no one will be at the ticket booth and the castles will still be open (can’t blame them for wanting to hike up if no tourists seem to be in town). 🙂 Happened at Omis and on Hvar.

Cutest Public Artwork: Book Fountain in Budapest. Water makes it look like the book’s pages are turning. It’s cute. The end.

Prettiest Hiking: Plitvice Lakes, CroatiaWe visited during the off-season and avoided the worst crowds, and it was peaceful and pretty. Boardwalks weave around the waterfalls and under the trees; it’s a perfect way to spend at least an afternoon.

Where to See Books & Manuscripts Up Close: Chester Beatty Library, DublinThe large libraries are beautiful in their own right, but only display a handful of books – they are all still on shelves. This museum focuses on individual books and has hundreds on display, all the way back to papyrus from ancient Egypt and fragments from the earliest copies of several books of the Bible.

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Plitvice Lakes, Chester Beatty Library, Suomenlinna Island.

Favorite Fortress for Exploring: Suomenlinna, HelsinkiA small series of islands in the Gulf of Finland have the preserved remains of a massive fort that guarded Helsinki’s harbor. The tunnels running through many ramparts and rocky waterfronts are open for exploring.

Stress-inducing Thing that was Fun Afterward: Driving in Romania. Driving laws in Romania appear to be suggestions. Roads are shared with speeding semis, horse-drawn carts, bicycles, cars pulling over for no reason. Everyone honks for everything. But the countryside is pretty, especially in the Transylvanian mountains.

City Walking that Doesn’t Suck: Barcelona’s Wide Boulevards. Outside the Gothic Quarter’s  tangled mess, sidewalks are huge, open, flat. The city is easy to navigate because just about every street is at a right angle.

Here are some other things grouped by city that I didn’t want to come up with individual paragraphs for:

Lisbon has a castle downtown! The ruined Carmo Monastery! The less ruined Jeronimos Monastery. Next door to the Pena Palace is the clamberable ruins of the Moorish Castle.

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Carving at Jeronimos Monastery, Carmo Monastery, Solin’s ruined amphitheater.

Barcelona’s Montjuic Castle has dark and checkered history, but beautiful views. Nearby, the Olympic Grounds are a great picnic/frisbee spot.

The damp of Diocletian’s palace basement in Split still shows how good Romans were at construction. Ruins at Solin add to that argument. Klis Fortress is also pretty but they clearly know people are coming due to GoT filming – the price keeps going up.

The shore path on the Babin Kuk side of Dubrovnik was more relaxing than ones nearer the Old Town. Ferrying out to Lokrum Island also avoided about 95% of the crowd and was a nice place to spend an afternoon being stalked by peacocks.

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Lokrum Island, Palace of the Parliament, Peles Castle.

Bucharest has a beautiful Orthodox church every few blocks. Towering over everything, the Palace of the Parliament is a primer in government waste. Two hours away in the mountains, Peles Castle proves that a country doesn’t have to have a royal family for very long before all the trappings show up.

In Dublin, the National Archaeology Museum and St. Patrick’s Cathedral  were my other favorites. And the whole city recalls lots of great literature 🙂 . Across the country, really just a few hours drive, are the Cliffs of Moher. Brave the wind and don’t get too close to the edge.

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Cliffs of Moher, inside St. Patrick’s, Dohany Street Synagogue.

Budapest is impressive all around. The quirky Pinball Museum is great for 5 hours until your wrists give out but the massive Szechenyi Thermal Baths can relieve all those arm cramps. A more sombre visit, the Dohany Street Synagogue is a reminder of how the Holocaust changed Hungary.

In addition to the Uprising Museum, the entire city of Warsaw is a WWII memorial. Walking anywhere you come upon plaques and statues commemorating events or people, letting you map out the destruction in your own neighborhood. In the suburbs, the Wilanow Palace serves as a reminder of the pre-WWII era.

Krakow crams a lot into a small space, which explains why it’s packed with tourists. The Franciscan Basilica is incredible. The park encircling the Old Town, the riverfront walk, or Kazimierz (the traditionally Jewish area) gets away from some of the horde. Further out, the now-parklike Plaszow Concentration Camp is Auschwitz’s lesser-known cousin that makes a thoughtful accompaniment to Oskar Schindler’s Factory.

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Wilanow, Krakow’s Franciscan Church, Lennusadam, Kadriorg Palace.

Tallinn’s St. Olaf church tower is a great way to view the Old Town and reveal a fear of heights. Tucked away in Kadriorg park is the impressive KUMU National Art Museum and the cute Kadriorg Palace (also housing art). The Lennusadam Seaplane Harbor has full sized boats and a submarine to explore

Again, these are the places that stuck out the most. Just about everything we saw was worth our time in some way or another. For every place we saw, there are more we heard about but didn’t get to. I suppose yet another reason to head back at some future point….

Tallinn

Tallinn is high up on the list of places I could see living after traveling gets old. Each place we’ve gone this month just makes the list of reasons why longer. (Full disclosure: it has gotten noticeably colder since we arrived and I’m not yet sure I could last through a winter. I’m pretty glad we’ve had a sauna as the weather has changed.) My favorite spots in the city are Kadriorg Park and the paths along the waterfront.

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Kadriorg Palace: all business and with its hair down.

Kadriorg Park has a prettily colored summer palace with the same name. It was built for Catherine I of Russia, but is now an art museum. We were lucky enough to be here for the end-of-the-season Light Walks. For a single night, thousands of candles line the park paths, spotlights and stages go up on the buildings and gazebos, and a large portion of the city comes to hang out, listen to music, and see the night-ending fireworks.

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Favorites from KUMU

The Estonian Art Museum, KUMU, is in a far corner of the Park. We went on an almost free day and spent a few hours. I was happy to find a temporary exhibition of 19th century dresses – and a War and Peace miniseries has been airing on TV – so I’ve gotten my fill of period clothes/drama. Intimidatingly cinched waistlines aside, it would be fun to have one in my wardrobe just because. There were some really interesting artworks trying to deal with the decades of Communism and pretty landscapes that explain why hiking is a popular activity. Perhaps the oddest thing was a room full of dozens of sculpture heads and busts – a little creepy for sure, especially the random one on the wall that was a seagull.  (There was also a similar set of baby head sculptures outside – I might have nightmares from it.)

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Main square, ghost monks, Baltic Way memorial

The Old Town leans heavily towards touristy and governmenty, and is full of souvenir shops, restaurants, and embassies. Its town walls and towers are mostly preserved so it feels cozy. Many buildings are pastel colors and there are churches every few blocks. I’m sure we’ve seen each Old Town street multiple times. It is fun to visit, but I’m glad we stayed outside of it where meals are cheaper and there are fewer crowds. Tourist groups can be nice if you are in them, but less so if you are trying to get down a narrow, cobbled street through a hundred people going the other direction.

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St. John’s and the Memorial to the War of Independence

Churches in Tallinn run the full spectrum of Christian decor. Several are Russian Orthodox, full of beautiful artwork covering every surface, and what feels like acres of gold. Others, Roman Catholic and Lutheran, tend more toward Nordic austerity.

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Museum of the Occupations: prison doors, Soviet statues by the toilets, spy equipment

Just outside the Old Town is the Museum of Occupations. Estonia spent an unfortunate amount of the 20th century under Russian and German control without self-determination. Especially thought-provoking were video interviews on the end of World War II. Some Estonians had been forced into the Red Army (Russia overran and occupied Estonia from 1940-1), but were OK with fighting against the Nazi invasion. But as the war turned and it became clear that Russia wanted to re-occupy Estonia, others joined German army units or otherwise fought to try to keep Estonia free of outside rule. Sadly, numbers were not on their side. It struck me what a Catch-22 deciding which side to fight for must have been. There was no way to know which side would win, or support your claims to independence, or how you might suffer if you chose wrong.

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2016 Marathon, getting ready for winter, Old Town towers.

We were also in town for the Tallinn Marathon. Thousands of runners show up for a weekend of races, making us feel bad for our pointed lack of exercise. The race route is definitely scenic – immediately to the left of the picture is the Baltic. Companies and individuals set up cheer squads along the route playing upbeat music – one we walked by had a live band that was really good. Other people had already stopped (not runners, just walkers like us) for an impromptu concert.

Tallinn is really a city that feels like a small town. We can walk everywhere and feel safe doing so, even late at night. On nice days, the parks are full of families enjoying the sun. But like any other city, there is a huge selection of choices for food, art events, shopping malls (Rahva Raamat bookstore has a good selection of English-language titles!). At the very least, I can’t wait to come back to Estonia. Maybe even during winter just to experience the short days and potential for northern lights…

Lennusadam

One of Tallinn’s big attractions is the Lennusadam Seaplane Harbor, an interactive museum right on the waterfront. Our ticket got us into the Seaplane Harbor and a related museum downtown. The smaller Maritime Museum was first, in a city wall tower named, of all things, Fat Margaret.

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Sea-inspired art, ye old diving suit, ye olde mappe

Much of the Maritime’s permanent exhibit is rather dry, in part because much isn’t in English and we speak approximately no Estonian (we’ve gotten progressively worse about language learning, though we are trying to correct that for the next five+ months in the Americas). Still, I enjoyed the old (errory) maps and navigation equipment.  Thankfully, we were rescued by the temporary exhibit on Viking life with English-language notes. Interestingly, there were dozens of coins from Arabic countries and jewelry that looked like it might have come from H&M (some styles don’t change). The focus on coins emphasized that Vikings were mainly traders rather than plunders… unless perhaps they plundered an ancient currency exchange. Many weapons, discovered in graves, were bent or intentionally wrecked as a sacrifice or offering and to prevent grave robbers from using them. My favorite part of the museum was a tower-top cafe serving cheap wine with a pretty view of the port and the Old Town’s church towers.

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On target for the Harbor, Suur Toll icebreaker

It takes a short walk to get to the Seaplane Harbor from Old Town, and convenient yellow and black targets show the way. Lennusadam is definitely the more vibrant – and newer – museum. The immense three-domed building was originally meant as a construction hangar for seaplanes. Now it is full of interactive exhibits like mini boats to pilot, seaplanes to fly, navy outfits to dress up in.

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WWII era gun, Estonia’s first armored car, inside the Lembit sub

There are also ice boats, World War II guns, a replica seaplane, and an entire submarine. The Lembit sub was launched in 1936 and is now restored to a near-original interior; it was my favorite part. It only took me a couple of minutes after climbing through the hatch to become nearly seasick, even on solid ground.

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Lembit’s bathroom and missile tubes, mildly creepy murals

Entry into the Lembit is via a narrow porthole on the top of the ship, trying not to hit my head while going down a stepladder. The interior doors are tiny, with high thresholds in case of flooding. The first room was the missile tube room, which doubled as a bedroom for sailors (maybe preferable to sleeping in the engine room?). Piping, valves, controls are everywhere, and are attached at random to my untrained eye. The walls curve with the shape of the vessel and below our feet were storage lockers. It was hard to decide what was up because there were no surfaces that followed conventional 90 degree angles. I am pretty short and I was almost too tall to move comfortably. Another inch or so and I would have gotten a few head bumps. It was dizzying. I imagine it must be what being on the International Space Station feels like, though without such a good view. I definitely confirmed that I didn’t miss my calling to work on a sub.

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The Lembit’s entire kitchen, on board the boats outside, bent Viking swords

Outside, larger boats are also open to the public. Smaller border patrol boats are dry-docked, but two vessels are afloat. The Suur Tõll icebreaker, built in 1914, is much more comfortable than the Lembit sub. Quarters were cramped, but at least no one had to sleep in the engine room. Though they did have to shovel tons of coal each day to keep six boilers going… so maybe not a fair trade. The best part of its history was a takeover by a group of Finns during World War I. To steal the ship, they pretended to be a construction crew and simply walked on board, past Russian guards. After the Suur Toll was out at sea, they broke into the weapons store and quietly took over.

And now to completely change the subject:

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Brilliant pink kasukas salat, fruit wine, Lay’s local flavors

Estonia has much happier food than I expected. We knew we’d been in for a lot of fish. We have salmon and trout a lot, though I don’t have any photos because by the time I think to take one the meal is over. Herring is another mainstay, and shows up in many places. I’d had kasukas years ago when a coworker brought some into work, but the local version comes with surprise herring (in addition to beets, potatoes, pickles, onions, sour cream, and hardboiled eggs). It sounds like it shouldn’t be good, but I really like it; to me it tastes like candy, and the vibrant color certainly helps that illusion. Estonian grape wine doesn’t really exist, but local berry wines hold their own. Lingonberry wine is better in a reduction sauce than in a wine glass, but blackcurrant wine is as sweet and desserty as any riesling.