Patarei Prison

Aaron and I had one full day in Tallinn, Estonia.  Gert set up a private tour of the Patarei Prison that closed in 2005.  He told us it would be different and nothing like we had experienced!  Once again, he was right!

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I don’t even know where to begin with what I saw and the stories I heard from our “tour guide”.  I will give it a shot and hope to portray a glimpse into my experience that afternoon.

Gert set up a 2pm appointment at the Prison.  We arrived at the prison and I was a little confused because there was not a public parking lot for tourists.  We just waited along one of the abandoned snow covered roads outside the prison walls.  I was assuming this prison would be like a tourist attraction in the States.  You pay a fee, get a guided tour with a head set amongst other visitors or just walk around reading little bits of information posted along the “route”.  This was NOT the case.  This is not a prison that is open to the public. One has to set up a private tour and right now the prison is for sale in hopes that an affluent investor will come along and create something urban for the waterfront property.  The government does not want to put money into keeping it an historical site. After seeing the prison, I am saddened the Estonian government will not preserve the Soviet-era structure.

Our tour guide (Aaron and I cannot remember his name) was an interesting Estonian who lived on the premises.  He spoke english with a heavy Estonian accent.  I had a hard time understanding him throughout the tour. He makes Indian Teepees for a living and his workshop is within the prison walls.  I found it creepy and when I asked if there were any weird ghost stories he encountered, he did not give me a straight response and he would not answer my question!  Haha!  We all laughed over this, but we all knew he had a mind full of interesting stories!

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We started the tour entering through an old iron green gate.  Our tour guide had his ring of keys that he pulled out and proceeded to unlock the gate.  We entered a courtyard of sorts.  He pointed to the smaller of three trees in front of us and said, “Just behind that tree was were a prisoner was hung every morning!  The guards didn’t care who it was, they just wanted to hang someone every morning.”  Welcome to the tour!  Ha!  Eerie!!!

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We stood there for a moment in silence as Aaron and I were trying to process what he just said to us!  Really?!  Estonia became independent from the Soviets in 1991, so the thought that this prison was used so recently was troubling.  This prison was heavily occupied during the Soviet reign.  It housed many prisoners who were politically outspoken against the Soviet Regime.

We proceeded to the outdoor exercise rooms.  When a prisoner was in good standing, he or she (yes, there were female inmates) could have fresh air.  This meant sharing a six foot by 8 foot stone room with maybe 10 other inmates and their exercise was walking in a circle.  I have seen Hollywood movies depict this exact activity.  There was no roof to the room, just barbed wire so no one would try to escape from top.  This seemed impossible because there was a large walkway that the guards patrolled on the rooftops of these exercise rooms.  There was a long stretch of the rooms on either side of the guards walkway.  I think our tour guide said there were 10 open air exercise rooms that were used.

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Our guide then had us enter the prison as if we were being admitted.  He took us to each room that was used for different purposes.  For example, there was a room where prisoners removed all belongings, a room to sign the papers understanding the rights of the prisoner, a holding room until a cell could be found, a room where pictures and measurements were taken, etc.  One interesting thing about the prisoners signing the admittance papers was that if a prisoner refused to agree with the reasons for his/her imprisonment, they would be taken to the next room where small lockers were located. These lockers were like an American High School locker but a little deeper and shorter. So, maybe 20 inches deep and only 5 foot high.  The prisoner would be left in this locker until he would consent to signing the papers.  This was very painful because the prisoner could not sit down or stand up.  It is like doing wall sits for minutes, hours, sometimes days!

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It was incredible to me that papers, empty beverage cups, sheets, pillows, etc. are all still throughout this prison.  Nothing has been cleaned up and not much has been looted.  It was as if the prison shut down in the night and everyone disappeared.  In fact, some of the prison cells were still in tact, with pictures hung on walls, sheets on beds, etc.  It was a strange feeling to be in that prison!

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I don’t think I can share some of the stories our guide told us concerning what took place in the cells.  Awful and terrible stuff!  Some cells housed 16-20 prisoners in a room that was fit for 10.  The influence of the Soviet occupation of Estonia was evident in some of the stories that were shared.

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I forgot to mention that there was no electricity, which meant darkness.  Rooms that did not have natural light were pitch black and our guide had a tiny lamp he would shine so we would not trip over anything and we could make our way through the prison.  At one point our guide walked ahead of Aaron, Gert and I and he started slamming the prison doors like the one pictured above.  All three of us jumped and I let out a scream!  It was so loud!!! Our guide was demonstrating what the prisoners would hear and how they would know someone was coming or going.  My heart was beating a little faster after that!

We also were shown the visitation rooms.  One room was what we all see in the movies, with the see thru divider separating the prisoner from the visitor.  Also, there was a tiny room where visitors got to enter and sit with the prisoner for very short periods of time.

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The worst was the walk to the shower rooms.  Our guide told us that each week if a prisoner had behaved properly he would have the privilege of taking a shower.  The guards would line the prisoners up and proceed in a straight line down a floor to the shower room.  Usually, a guard would randomly grab one of the prisoners from the line and hold him back.  The rest would proceed to the showers and the one prisoner was taken to the execution room.  The prisoner would be presented before a panel of 3 or 4, i.e. warden.  This prisoner would not know what was happening.  He would be taken into another room where he was asked to stay and a gun was placed in an officers hand, who would then have to shot the prisoner.  This room was painted red.  We were told it could not be cleaned up properly so the government painted over with red paint after the prison closed.  The other prisoners never knew what was happening.  They just thought that if you were called to shower you might have a chance of leaving and being released.  The prisoners that were executed, obviously, never returned to their cells so other prisoners thought it was a good thing.  So there was always excitement on the days the prisoners were told they could shower.  Horrific!

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In the above picture, the stairs on the left are the stairs the prisoners would come down to shower.  The open door is where the guard and the “chosen” prisoner entered for questioning and execution!  So morbid!

As we were leaving the prison, our guide told us some stories of a few of his friends that had been imprisoned for political reasons under Soviet rule.  We then asked him if he had ever been a prisoner and, again, he would not answer the question!  Gert thought he was teasing us, but Aaron and I think he was saying more without saying anything!  This prison trip was so interesting for us!!!  I was so intrigued by the history of the prison and the stories that were shared.  I felt like I became part of that history just by walking those hallways and those floors.  I am sure in years to come it will no longer be a prison, but perhaps a shopping mall.  I find it such a shame that it will not be preserved for history’s sake.  I do a lot of reading about the Holocaust and WWII, so now I want to read more about this part of Europe that was effected by WWII and its’ Soviet occupation!

Olde Hansa

Our first night in Estonia, Gert took us to an intriguing Medieval Restaurant, Old Hansa.  I felt like I was walking on to a movie set, “Lord of the Rings” to be exact and we were going to be confronted by a handsome Aragorn hiding in the corner of the darkened pub!

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The Old Hansa Restaurant was established to honor the Hanseatic League, which was created to protect economic interests and diplomatic privileges in the cities and countries and along the trade routes the merchants visited along the coast of Northern Europe back in the 13th to 17th centuries.

“Olde Hansa is the home of a rich merchant. His house is built in a manner to increase the enjoyment of the happy moments in the life of a Hanseatic merchant. Not just for eating delicious food and savoring good drink, but also for the enjoyment of good music and the warmth of hearth and home during the Hanseatic times.” (Info given to us on location.)

Aaron and I were taken aback when we walked through the restaurant.  It was so cool! Our pictures do not capture the ambiance of old dark wood, huge tapestries in red tones hung throughout the establishment, candles lit everywhere, old wooden utensils, workers dressed in period clothing and a cluster of women singing and playing old instruments!

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It was a very dark space that was only lit by candles.  Of course, the kitchen areas had lights but the main dining rooms were lit by candles!  Gert told us this was a one of a kind experience and he was not lying!  The menu was funny and interesting.  I asked Gert what I should try and he responded, “Bear!”  That’s right folks!  Bear!  Who eats bear?  I then proceeded to scour the menu and was chuckling to myself!

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I was a little worried for Aaron!  He is a vegetarian and as we started looking at the menu he kept giving me a little elbow tap!  LOL!  Our waiter was great and created a dish full of the vegetables they serve with the main dishes!  I chose to eat rabbit and it was really good!  I think it helped that it was so dark so I couldn’t totally see exactly what I was eating! The sauce was delicious and the flavors of all the sides were yummy!

Gert ordered an appetizer for us all to share that was mainly fish.  I tried eel, which I do not need to have again!  They had a dark bread which contained pieces of meat, which was tasty.  We had a great time and kept thinking how much our children would have loved this restaurant!  One other thing, as we entered the restaurant the hostess gave each of us an old token, or money piece, that we could trad in for a free alcoholic beverage!  We traded one in for a non alcoholic drink and took the other two pieces home for the kids to see!  It was a fun experience!

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Julia Danielle

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Happy 21st Birthday Julia!  I can’t think of anything else to post today, except about my beautiful daughter, Julia!  I am so grateful she came into my life 21 years ago.  She was a stubborn little thing at two weeks overdue and required forceps to help her into this world! Julia was a great baby and was always my little helper!  We spent so many hours together reading, playing, shopping, swimming, enjoying treats, and the list goes on and on.  Julia was and is always very respectful toward me.  She is a hard worker who has wonderful things in store for her!  I miss her tremendously today!

I wish I had all my library of photos to post of Julia over the years!  I was a young Mom when I had Julia, just 20 years old!  She has been a constant source of growth for me these 21 years!  We have had our highs and our lows, but in the end she is my daughter and I love her unconditionally!

As I reflect upon her life I am remembering her cute little chubby cheeks as a baby, her first experience eating bananas, her first time in a swimming pool, her very first plane ride at 3 weeks old, all the cute clothes she was bombarded with as the first granddaughter on my side, riding a bike, hours of piano practicing, learning the cello, saxophone (wait, which one was it?), remembering Julia recognize her “abc’s” at age 2, hours spent working along side Aaron and I in Arizona, hide and seek in awesome locations, christmas’s, watching her read Harry Potter and anxiously waiting for the movies to come out, standing in line at bookstores for new books, New York trips, singing, watching her accomplish new gymnastic moves, watching her run for 5th grade office, birthday’s, seeing her excitement as she went on her first over night trip with her class at Ring Factory, watching her preform in all the different choirs she participated in, remembering her first sunday in Young Women’s, hearing about her first time going to the temple, listening to her dreams of the future, watching her kick booty in the Turkey Trot, seeing her cook in the kitchen, watching her change diapers and cradle her young siblings, her first date, watching her and helping her with prom and other high school dances, seeing her thrive in a learning environment, watching her navigate her way around the world, and my list goes on and on in my mind…

I am so grateful I have had Julia in my life!  We have cried and laughed together and I can’t wait for all the fun and exciting things the future will bring!

 

Tallinn, Estonia

Aaron had a short business trip he needed to take to Tallinn, Estonia.  I selfishly asked him if I could go, because I would love to experience a new country and/or culture.  In fact, Aaron is always asking if I would come with him on his business trips but it rarely works out because of my responsibilities with our children.  This time I jumped on the idea and I am so glad I did!

Lolita was kind enough to stay with our kids from a Thursday to Sunday.  Aaron and I traveled by train and airplane.  Nîmes has a small airport and doesn’t offer many reasonable flights so we usually have to take a train to a larger city before getting on an airplane.  This is exactly what we did.  We took the train to Lyon and then flew from Lyon to Frankfurt and on to Tallinn.  We arrived in Tallinn during their first snowstorm of the season. It was a welcome change from our rainy weather we have been receiving here in Sanilhac! Plus, it was the weekend leading up to Thanksgiving and the holiday season!  It was perfect and got Aaron and I into a great holiday spirit!  The airport was covered in snow and the passenger sitting next to me on the plane gripped the seat tightly as we landed.  I was a little nervous myself.  I couldn’t see the runway due to the snow and lack of visibility and because the runway seemed white too!  But, we landed safely and it was beautiful!

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Going into this trip I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.  Estonia is bordering Russia and Finland is just north.  I guess I was leaning more to a cold and dark Russian experience than anything.  Tallinn was definitely cold and dark but it was nothing like I had expected. I was not expecting the Estonians to be very friendly and I expected a people deprived from Russian occupation, etc.  I was pleasantly surprised and I can not wait to go back.

Aaron’s business associate, Gert, showed us around the whole time we were in Tallinn! He was very gracious and kind!  We landed around 4-4:30 pm and it was already nighttime. Because Estonia is so north they only get about 6 hours of sunlight in the winter months and then in the summer it only gets dark for about an hour!  Pretty crazy!  So when Aaron and I got settled into the hotel we psychologically just thought it was time for a quick bite for dinner and off to bed!  But, the night was young, literally!  Gert took us to the old town of Tallinn!

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The Church photoed above is where traditional ceremonies of Tallinn are preformed.  For example, the Tallinn Mayor greets all new babies at this Church.  Gert did not know how often this takes place, but when one has a new baby they can bring their baby to this greeting ceremony.  Gert said it was very common and traditional.

Tallinn only has 500,000 people.  It was large enough that I felt like we were in a large city, but small and very quaint at the same time.  Everything was so easy to get to, even in the snowy weather.  Aaron and I both noticed how the snow did not deter people from anything.  It is just their way of life at this time of year and everyone was out and about!  It is like most European countries where people walk and take public transportation and the weather does not deter them.

The weekend we were in Tallinn was the opening weekend for the Christmas Market and Christmas festivities in the Old Center Town!  Gert took us to the Town Square and it was beautiful and magical!  Old fashioned wood carts and stalls were set up by locals who were selling handmade wool sweaters, socks, blankets, scarves, etc.  Lots of Christmas items and hot drinks were being sold!  I was enjoying every minute!  It was different than anything I had experienced and it was so fun!  People were singing and greeting us with smiles and kindness.  Gert made a point to tell us that Estonia is more Nordic than Russian!  Most all Estonians speak english, so that was a bonus!  I definitely felt the influence of the Nordic  and I loved the spirit of these people!  It helped that all the items being sold had a Nordic feel to them!  In fact, at one store front the man was selling wooden Russian nesting dolls and Gert told us they were not true Estonian items.  Gert was a little confused why they were being sold, but they were clearly for the tourists like myself who would have thought they were part of the Estonian culture!

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We spent some time meandering the snow covered streets and soaking in the beauty of Estonia!  Gert informed us that Estonia gained its’ independence from Russia in 1991. Since this independence, Estonia has become a very successful and thriving country. Estonians seem to be very happy and are enjoying their independence!