Ok, so the Wandering Family has officially returned from a bout of wandering, and we are happy to report that all went well. As previously reported, we were required for immigration purposes to take a trip across the border last week. Since Estonia is the cheapest train ticket in and out from Moscow, that's where we decided to go. Specifically, to the capital city, Tallinn.
We actually had a pretty good time, all things considered. It's a 15 hour train ride each way, but fortunately both of those were done at night so we could sleep during the travelling. We shared our coupe on the way there with a couple of Russians (which gave us some interesting language and culture practice), but on the way back we were lucky to have a coupe to ourselves. We actually left here about suppertime and arrived in the morning. Our return was on a similar schedule, so that left us with a day to wander around the old city and basically just kill time until our train left. And Tallinn, a city built way back in the 13th century and not ever really destroyed in a war since then, is a great city for just touristy-type wandering. See for yourself:
There's a mixture of Orthodox and Protestant influences in the town. This, obviously, is one of the Orthodox churches from the more recent Soviet period, but really a beautiful building.
It was admittedly a little chilly (below zero the whole day), so we bundled up as we walked, but it was worth it for nice views from the old fortified hill like this one. One of the church towers in the background was actually the tallest building in the world when it was built 700-odd years ago.
Of course, we had to give Estonian food a try. Actually, this was the cheapest restaurant in walking distance - you could buy pelmeni by the kilo. We both shared a hearty lunch for about $8 or so.
One food we didn't get (as it was way out of our price range) were these delicious-looking candied nuts being sold by street vendors dressed like medieval monks. I have a thing against taking free samples when I know there's no chance I'll buy things, but B doesn't have the same hangup and reports that her sample was quite tasty.
So, after an adventure to find a grocery store to see if you could buy some Western products we headed home, through the lovely wintry Russian countryside. It's a long story about the store, but the short version is that you shouldn't trust an Estonian when they say that something is "just a 10-minute walk" down the road unless you have an hour or two to kill and a real desire to do some aerobic walking for several miles. We did find some tortilla shells, though!
So, now we're back in the friendly confines of home. While most of you were enjoying your turkey, we had a bunch of friends over for nachos and birthday cupcakes. Yes, Steven turned 1 today. Oh, and yes, we are planning a "real Thanksgiving" complete with turkey and all, but that's going to be on Saturday with a bunch of our Russian friends who don't know much about the holiday. We'll have to report next time on their introduction.
Since it was his birthday, Steven got the honor of his very own cupcake. It started out well, as he wasn't sure if it was food or a toy.
Soon he realized that it could be both and proceeded to smear it all over himself as much as possible. I do think that some managed to get down his gullet, and he seemed to be pleased.
OK, so again, I don't have time to do the What Is It thing, but I should report on the results of the last one. The mysterious structure near the riverbank is in fact a launching point for downhill skiers. Skiing is hugely popular in Russia, both downhill and cross-country, and we often see cross-country skiers go by our window in our little park. Since the folks in that particular town don't have any nearby hills, they decided to build a ramp that, added to the slope leading down to the riverbank, makes for a decent mini-hill to ski down. Of course, when it's cold enough, the river is frozen solid and they can just ski right out onto it. Karen (or, to be more specific, Vince) gets the point as a ski jump is actually quite a close guess.
Speaking of skiing (OK, so this is sledding, but it's kinda similar), here's a nice video B took of a recent sledding trip of Steven's. I like how he's so bundled up (thanks to Andrey and Iulia for the snowsuit!) he can barely even wiggle. Makes him look a bit like a yellow-shouldered version of the blueberry girl in Willy Wonka.