Royal Caribbean Cruise - Tallinn, Estonia
Myself, my sister and my parents went on another Royal Caribbean cruise in August (2013). It is our fifth cruise with royal caribbean, we love them! This cruise is the first one we have been on that goes to northern europe and russia - places none of use have ever been. One of the later stops was Tallinn, Estonia.
- Very brief history and facts
Tallinn is the capital of Estonia and it was founded in the 13th century. Due to the very close proximity of the sea, Tallinn was a trading port particularly during the 14th-16th centuries. The medieval section of Tallinn (the old town) is still well preserved from this busy trading time. Before and after the founding of Tallinn Estonia was invaded and occupied by numerous countries such as Germany, Denmark and Russia among others. Estonia became independent from Russia thorough the war of independence during the early 20th century. But it was occupied again by Russia until the collapse of the CCCP (USSR) in 1991. Estonia joined the EU in 2004 and it is one of the least populated country within the EU. The estonian language is similar Suomi, the Finnish language. The majority ethnic group is Estonian followed by Russian. Estonia has the Euro and it has a estimated total population of about 1.2 million.
- Arrival, port terminal and weather
When we arrived in the morning, the weather was similar to the other northern european countries we had been to on the cruise (and england) - a bit grey and a bit chilly for the time of year, also because we were at the port the wind was really quite strong. We had to walk for a couple of minutes, then we reached a large bridge that we had to walk across, this made it even windier! At the end of the bridge is a fairly large shop (which we later found out was really large, the biggest port shops we had seen). We boarded our coach for the coach/walking tour. The tour we booked was called 'the city of contrasts', I think tickets were around $40 each which is one of the cheapest tours through out the cruise. We arrived in Tallinn on the 15th August which was my 21st birthday!
- The City of Contrasts Tour
We boarded our coach from the harbor, the tour was almost full and our guide was Tiina - all of our guides have been female on this cruise and they have all been able to speak very good english. Although this guide was a bit of a dictator. We drove past houses, shops and churches on the way to the coach stop for the start of our walking tour. The start of our walking tour was just outside 'the old town' which is the medieval part of the city and the section I was most excited about. The old town was really nice, with old medieval style buildings with lots of restaurants and cafes and also some souvenir shops which were nice - but some of the souvenir shops had large rag dolls outside which were a bit creepy! We only had 10 minutes to shop which wasn't nearly enough and we met up again outside the town hall which looked gorgeous and we went inside where they were serving elk soup for one euro and cabbage pastries (which was really nice and only one euro). Inside the town hall was gorgeous, the decor was amazing - like a Viking hall! There were rustic wooden tables, fur on the seats and there were no lights, only candles which looked so cosy and lovely - the woman serving the food was dressed in traditional medieval clothing. We didn't know about the inside town hall and cafe until a nice american woman from our group told us, she was from new york. The old town square was quite empty at the start of the day - the shops were open and people were driving around but it wasn't busy at all! There were small souvenir shops and amber/jewelry shops but it was mainly just restaurants and cafes which is very disappointing for shopping purposes (and we only had 10 minutes to shop on this tour which is ridiculous!). Our group all met at the town hall after ten minutes and our guide was waiting, two people from our group didn't get to the town hall or they were in a shop but the guide just went without them - this is at the very start of the tour that they had paid for (and royal caribbean tours are not really cheap).
We then walked through the old town to the coach where we drove to the arena, open air museum and coffee stop. The drive took us through Kose which had gorgeous wooden colorful houses and green/woodland areas and then we arrived at the arena. The arena was just an outdoor arena (which was CLOSED) so it was a pointless stop but Robbie Williams was going to perform there in a few days times which must have been why it was closed. It is apparently a big, important venue in Tallinn and it is very popular. We then drove to the coffee stop - the cafe we stopped at looked like an upturned boat where we had tea and chocolate cake. The cake was really nice as were the staff. The cafe, well restaurant, was in a part of Tallinn called Viimsi - the cafe was called PAAT. I love the decor and design of the small building and the outside is right next to the sea and when I say right next to the sea, I mean within a 30 second walking distance.
After the coffee stop at PAAT, we walked about a minute along the coastal road to the open air museum. This stop would have been more pleasant if it wasn't so damn windy! Our guide walked the group down at the sea basically and tried to explain a bit but the sea and wind was really quite strong we could barely hear her. She gave us half an hour to walk around which was more than long enough as there wasn't really a museum it was just a collection of very small buildings to show how Estonians lived a few centuries ago - no dummies, no real tools etc, just a empty building with seating. The items were no even labelled and without a guide, we had no idea what the items were for or who would have lived there. It would have been so much better if our guide (or a guide from the 'museum') walked around with the group to explain. There were some nets to show how they fished but it just looked like a random kind of assault course which was a bit confusing and seemed out of place. The only real positive about this museum was the giant swing (and mini shop). My sister, my dad and a couple of people from our group all climbed on the giant swing - you could go on it - and you had to stand up and it looked quite fun. We then went to look in the mini and I do mean mini museum souvenir shop (it was about the size of our fairly small conservatory). I did buy a cute stripe top which is super thick and comfy for about Euro15 and my mum bought some nautical style decorations for a few euros each. The shop and items were really nice and very nautical themed but it was so tiny and cramped which doesn't make sense as the area around the shop was really large.
We then had a quick stop in Pirita where we looked at the Olympic regatta building (yachting centre) and the sea/lots of boats. Pirita is a really pretty area, again with houses and green space. It is only about 15 minutes drive from the city centre. The olympic building was built for the sailing events for the 1980 Moscow summer olympics. We went from the Olympic regatta area back on the coach to go back to the ship - there was a stop near the shuttle buses for Royal Caribbean and we got off the coach along with a lot of other people to go back into Tallinn as we wanted to go back to the old town of Tallinn which was really nice and we only managed to have about 10 minutes looking around it earlier in the tour.
The walk back into the old town was fairly short from the shuttle bus stop and the old town was a lot busier than before! The shops were really nice, especially the one which had all products made in Estonia - there was wild boar on sale as well as honey and bee pollen chocolate - I almost bought it just for the novelty element. I was surprised by the large number of vans/cars in the old town, especially later in the day. We went back to the shuttle bus stop and for four of us it cost Euro18 to get on the shuttle which wasn't worth it at all because it was such a short distance to the port. There is a large range of stalls and shops at the port with a cafe and bar and also a free wifi hot spot! The walk from the Port to the ship was very very windy, we had to cross a large bridge and it was incredibly windy, about 40-50 mph! It was horrible! The wind was made even worse while we walked back to the ship as we had to walk between the royal caribbean ship and a thompson ship (which looked like a nautical version of a prison, in my opinion), you could barely walk because of the wind!
Overall, it was a nice place to visit on my 21st birthday. Before visiting Estonia I had no idea what to expect and I loved the old town, so picturesque and easy to walk around - a good amount of shops too. I also like the PAAT restaurant but I wouldn't go to Tallinn again - in my opinion (and from my experience of the tour), there just isn't that much more to do.
*Fairly cheap Royal Caribbean tour (not too much walking for the tour and the opportunity to go back into Tallinn on the shuttle bus)
*Clean, easy to get around and the people were nice/friendly
*Pretty views of the sea/boats from the olympic centre area and the open air 'museum'
*The Paat restaurant
*Old town - very pretty, shops, lots (too many in my opinion) of cafes/restaurants
*Not that much to do in Tallinn, in my opinion
*The open air museum wasn't really a museum at all, very disappointing
Thank you for reading my review
I went to Tallinn as part of a group of 7 middle aged blokes, who were intent, as we usually are when we have a 'lad's weekend' away, on having a good few beer's and to also take in some of the local scenery and food.
As I say, we are middle aged, varying from mid forties to me, I'm 57. Some of the guy's were pretty much into Depeche Mode during their heyday and so when we found out that Tallinn had it's very own Depeche Mode Bar, it was met with a considerable amount of glee!
The hotel we had booked was The Go Hotel Shnelli, which is situated at the railway station and the nearest bar to it, is? You've guessed it, The DM Bar.
We usually make one bar our 'base', where we start and finish our day's/evening's drinking and the DM Bar was the obvious choice.
Finding it is simple, on a Street named Nunne, near to The St Olaf Hotel.
Finding your way down the few steps and into the bar area you will find plenty of memorabilia around the place, as you would expect, but what I didn't really expect was every single song played was Depeche Mode. I know it's the Depeche Mode Bar, but, every single song?? Anyway, some of the lad's were in their element and on the night we spent over 3 hours in there, we must have heard a hell of a lot of the total back catalogue.
The beer choice is good, with both dark and light European style beer and the general ambiance of the place is good, with a good mix of clientele, in every sense, whether it be in their dress style or Nationality.
All in all, a great place to visit even if you are not a fan, an amazing place if you are and you might just be lucky enough to be there when the band themselves drop by.
Nearing the end of our cruise and we have reached a city I have never before visited - Tallinn, in Estonia. Estonia is one of the three Baltic nations (with Latvia and Lithuania) that until the breakup of the USSR were part of the Soviet Union.
There is a strong Nationalist movement and pressure to abandon Russian as a national language. I feel this to be foolhardy considering the proximity to Russia. It isn't going to go away and inevitably there will continue to be trade between the nations. Mostly the movement is influenced by the existance of the large ethnic Russian presence within the population. However, English is widely spoken here and we didn't see any evidence of Right-wing extremism during our short visit.
The Baltic States are all now amongst the most recent entrants into the European Union. Estonia has elected to adopt the Euro as its national currency, attaining full conversion in Jan 2011. Until then both the Euro and the Estonian Kroon (£1 app eq 15 Kroon) are officially acceptable although you will still find some dinosaurs who are in denial and refuse to accept the Euro. These are the shops you tend to find are relatively empty, especially when the cruises are in port. The customer is always right!
Tallinn is the capital city of Estonia. By most European standards it is relatively small although the new city makes up the bulk. During our visit we were only interested in visiting the Old Town, within the old city walls. This is within a very short distance of the port, where our ship docked. The coach from the docks dropped us at the city gateway at the bottom of Vana-Viru.
Tallinn old town is just magical, with it's ancient buildings, cobbled streets, narrow alleyways and open squares. As we entered the town through one of the old gateways, it became evident that a festival of some sort was in progress. Locals were dressed up in what I assumed is national costume and were selling local delicacies from street stalls. We picked up a bag of sugared almonds to nibble on our way around the town.
The whole town rises up the deeper you get into it, towards an area named Toompea, and the square where you will find the magnificent, ornate Aleksander Nevski Cathedral. On the way up, watch out for the strange metal thigh boot hanging from the corner of the roof of one of the shops. It's actually a rainwater down-spout!
Up here you are at the highest point of the old town and as you make your way around the streets here you will find numerous lookout spots which provide magnificent views over the town below. You will also come across another large church - Tallinna Toomkirk - which is worth a visit. It has a tower which, for a fee, you can climb but we declined the opportunity. Be aware though that photographs may not be taken in either place of worship.
Eventually you will make your way back down to the town. We ended up in the large central square - Raekoja Plats - around which are a number of restaurants, all with tables and seats set out on the square itself. Mindful that the weather, even at this time of year (June) is what would disappoint us in the UK, each seat is provided with a warm blanket which you can wrap around yourself should the need arise.
We ate at the restaurant at the top of the square but to be honest, all of them seemed to offer very similar food and prices. We had an enjoyable lunch and then set off to explore a bit more. On the way we came across a small, bronze statue of a man in a top hat carrying what appeared to be a reel of wire, in front of the Club Hollywood Casino. There was no information and I still have no idea what it was supposed to represent!
Far too soon it was time to return to the ship. Eventually this lead us to an outdoor street market, pretty much where the coach had originally dropped us off. Time for some tourist knick-knacks to take home to the folks. Finally, we boarded a return coach for the short trip back to the docks, sad to have to say good bye to Tallinn. It had been a very enjoyable, if chilly experience.
Tallinn is one of my favourite cities in the world, probably. Located in Estonia, at the top of the Baltic states, it's a beautiful city of two halves. The first half is the one which tourists flock from around to see - the Old Town. And there's a good reason why, it's a beautiful place, full of cobbled streets and soaring towers. It's a great city to go and lose yourself in as the small alleyways are as beautiful as the open squares.
The Old Town centres around the main square - Raekoja Flats, which is a great place to sit at a pavement cafe or bar and watch the world go by. Further up hill is Toompea, a kind of craggy cliff with some beautiful churches on, including the Orthodox church which is well worth a sneaky peek around. At the edge of Toompea you can get a great view over Tallinn and the sea beyond.
The other half of Tallinn is the one less seen by tourists - the concrete Soviet blocks on the outskirts of town. Still worth a visit, to remind yourself how people still live in the city.
Helsinki is located just across the bumpy stuff, and in the summer is a very easy day trip if you fancy some odd fish based foods.
There are many good cafes and restaurants in town, highly recommended is Kompressor, which does some of the best pancakes you'll get in the Baltics, trust me!
Getting to and from the airport is easy, just ask at your hotel for directions to the trolleybus, it's quick, easy, and you'll save a fortune instead of getting a taxi.
Last summer, I spent three months in Helsinki with a summer job. Four two months of the three, my boyfriend joined me. As something to do, it was recommended to us that we take a day trip to Tallinn in Estonia. This we did one sunny weekend and we had a great day out. There were a huge number of museums and galleries that we didn't look at, a huge number of shops we didn't go in and a vast number of traditional Estonian restaurants that we didn't have the space in our stomach to try. This is just a brief description of our trip; there is plenty more in the city that we didn't see.
~~~ Getting There ~~~
There are plenty of boats that go from Helsinki to Tallinn. The cheap option is to take a ferry which takes about three hours. We avoided this option because I have a tendency towards seasickness and one of the ladies at work told me that the slow ferries tend to be full of drunk Finns. So we took the somewhat more expensive Nordic Jetline Catamaran at 56 euro each return.
We were told to arrive half an hour before the departure time to collect our tickets (booked online at an efficient website) and check-in. The actual check-in was very simple. We handed our tickets to a member of staff who checked them and then we went through passport control. For someone used to airport security, it was amazingly easy, but I guess not many people want to bomb a ferry between Finland and Estonia. We then had to stand around for a while before they'd actually let us on the boat. There were plenty of people who didn't pay attention to the half-hour deadline and turned up only five or ten minutes before the departure. We were wishing we'd done the same and had an extra ten minutes in bed!
The boat ride lasted about an hour and forty minutes. There was a large area of seating on the main deck and the seats were pretty comfortable. There was a duty free shop, a few arcade games and an area selling food and drink. We tried out the food on the way back to use up the last of our Estonian currency and it was surprisingly good.
The sea was wonderfully flat and I didn't have any trouble with seasickness. But that comes down to the weather. If it had been windy, I doubt even the nicest boat in the world would have helped. Fortunately, for the trip out, the sea was almost flat and the waves were only slightly larger on the way back.
There wasn't much in the way of outside. There was a tiny little deck at the back that was filled with people smoking. If I had suffered seasickness, I would have liked to have stood outside, but I can't stand the smell of cigarettes. Still, this was the only downside to an otherwise excellently organised boat.
The staff all appeared to be multi-lingual. You can tell what languages they spoke by checking the flags on their name tags. Most had three (Finnish, Estonian and English) but there was at least one that I saw who had four. You should be able to speak to them in English. Even if you speak to the rare staff member with a bad grasp of English, he or she will be able to find someone who speaks the language fluently.
~~~ The Old Town ~~~
The old town centre of Tallinn is definitely the touristy bit. The entire area seemed dedicated to the tourist trade. There are a lot of old buildings and nice bits of architecture, including the remnants of the former town walls, complete with towers in places. It's a very pleasant place to just wander around the town, taking a look in the churches and admiring the buildings.
We went up the tower of one of the churches, I think it was called St Olav's church. It cost 30 Kroon each (approximated £1.50). The stone steps were uneven in places and it was a very tiring climb, but the views at the top were worth it. There was a flat stretch part-way up the staircase with a few seats for those who really found the climb a struggle. The tower had clearly never been designed for people to be walking round, but there were safety railings and some wooden boards to walk on making a very narrow path. My camera got a lot of use up here. Something to be done early in the day before your feet are worn out from walking, but definitely something to do if you think you're up for the climb.
There are a huge number of souvenir shops and traditional Estonian restaurants (as well as a few Indian, Italian and the inevitable McDonalds). There are also plenty of museums. We passed a maritime museum and saw a guy holding up a placard for a museum of Medieval torture implements, though standing in the hot sun with the advert was probably torture enough for that guy! Neither my boyfriend or I are much into museums or art galleries, so we didn't try any of these out.
We were also surprised by the number of strip clubs and gay bars we passed. We'd been expecting something a bit more conservative from a town so recently under Soviet control. Needless to say, we didn't try any of these either.
Up on a hill in the centre of the old town is an area that is World Heritage Site because of its historical architecture. We spent a couple of hours wandering round here, admiring the view and watching archery. There was an archery range set up with a couple of people in medieval dress instructing people on how to shoot. We thought about having a go, seeing a board advertising that it was 20 Kroon (about £1) but it turned out this was the price of one shot, so for the set of five it would have cost 100 Kroon. We decided it wasn't worth that much considering we could join the university archery club for a year for about the same amount of money.
The part of the town on the top of the hill was very attractive, with loads of old buildings and some areas with trees and grass that made for a pleasant sit down when our feet were aching. There were plenty of shaded benches around. Clearly the locals thought the place attractive too, because we saw at least two wedding parties gathering who'd driven up the hill to have their photos taken.
I was very impressed by the street sellers or, to be more accurate, by the lack of them. There were some postcard stands, with the people running them sweltering in medieval costume. On the walk up the hill we passed several artists with displays of paintings. And, around the town, there were vendors with little coolers selling cold drinks. But none of these people were pestering anyone. I've been to towns where you can't go ten metres without someone bothering you to sell you something, but these guys stood quietly by the sides of the street and let people approach them. That's the way I think they should be.
~~~ Food ~~~
About mid-morning, shortly after the climb of the tower, we were feeling peckish. It was far too early for lunch, but we were both needing a good drink and something to eat. We found a little deli/corner shop and bought drinks and some very nice pastries very cheaply. The owner seemed a bit grumpy, but I've no complaints about the food.
For lunch, we went to a place called Café Eat, which was mentioned in the Wikipedia article we'd read prior to our trip. It serves filled dumplings (more like pasta than what we in the UK would call a dumpling) that are apparently traditional Estonian cuisine. You go in and pick up a bowl and fill it with as many dumplings as you feel like in whatever flavours you choose. The flavours available when we were there were meat, meat and spinach, turkey and potato. The bowls are then weighed and you pay for the amount you've bought.
The dumplings were absolutely delicious. So good, that my boyfriend has been looking into recipe information to learn how to make them. Not much in the way of vegetables and possibly a little salty, but they tasted wonderful. Despite the enormous choice of restaurants, I think we'd probably go back to this place if we ever go back to Tallinn.
Another reason we liked that restaurant so much was the price. Between us, the food cost about 33 Kroon, that's about £1.60. And we were both pretty full with the portions we'd eaten! Seriously cheap and seriously tasty. If you ever find yourself in Tallinn, definitely try Café Eat. It's on a street called Sauna very close to the old town square.
In the afternoon, after quite a while wandering in the hot sun, we decided to go for ice cream. We wanted to go to a café so we could sit down (touristing is tough on the feet!) rather than buy something from one of the stands we passed. This was where it got tricky. We wandered through the streets for a bit and passed plenty of restaurants, but they were all serving full meals. Sure, we could have just asked for the desert menu, but we wanted a proper café.
In the end, we went to tourist information and asked a very helpful lady there. She spoke excellent English and recommended we try a special ice-cream shop called Da Vinci, on the street Narva Mnt, a short walk out of the old town. We followed her advice and found the shop. It took us maybe ten minutes to walk there from the centre of the old town and we weren't walking fast at all.
The ice cream was wonderful. The fruit flavours actually tasted of fruit rather than fruit flavouring and the portions were decent. I generally like foreign ice cream more than the stuff sold in cartons in the UK. It's more like sorbet than UK ice cream and very fruity. Delicious!
The only complaint I have about this place is that they really needed air conditioning. It was all very well eating cold ice-cream, but we were too warm and our deserts were melting before we could finish them!
~~~ Shopping ~~~
We didn't really do much shopping, but we did spend a short while in a shopping centre a little way from the old town. It was called Viru Keskus and it was a pretty big mall, with one of the streets it opened onto being Narva Mnt. It has everything you'd expect of a shopping centre: clothes shops, a newsagent, camera shop, DVD and music shop, more clothes shops, cosmetics and bath products shop and a few more clothes shops. There were different names over most of the shops than you'd find in most UK malls, but the type of thing being sold was much the same.
There was also a supermarket in the basement. We went here to buy some more drinks and ended up buying olive oil (it was near the end of our trip, we had Kroon to use up and it was cheap). We also got a bottle of freshly squeezed orange juice from a machine in the back of the shop. I don't mean a vending machine, I mean a machine that you operate to chop and squeeze the oranges.
As mentioned earlier, the old town is full of souvenir shops. A lot of them seemed very nice, with attractive jewellery and some good craft products as well as the usual tack. There were plenty of art and craft shops in the old town.
If you prefer markets, there were a couple of covered markets near the harbour. These sold what you'd expect to find at markets, namely cheap clothes and a few stalls of tat, but there might be some interesting stalls as well. To be honest, with the exchange rate as good as it is, it's not worth trying bargain hunting at these places. You'd be better off heading into the main town and finding a shopping centre.
~~~ Overall ~~~
We had a pleasant day in Tallinn. We were running out of things to do in the end, but that's really because we don't like museums. If you're interested in museums and galleries, there's probably enough here to keep you going for two or three days. As it was, we were ready when it was time to head back to the boat to come home.
In terms of money, Tallinn is very, very cheap. We worked out that our entire day, including lunch, ice-cream, drinks, snacks and climbing the tower cost us £21 for the two of us. This doesn't include the price of the boat obviously, but the exchange rate is currently excellent. We kept wondering if we were miscalculating, but no, things really were that cheap.
Our feet were seriously aching by the time we'd finished wandering, but we'd enjoyed ourselves. It was a good trip. I'm glad I went, but I'm also glad we didn't try to stay the whole weekend. I'd definitely recommend it. If you're into museums, go for a weekend break, if not, you'll be done in a day.
I was a little disappointed not have got to Tallinn before the stag parties but its proximity to Finland where I was holidaying last September coupled with the touristic worth of Estonia's capital city meant I would have been foolish to let a few drunken Brits put me off. As it turned out, the irritations came from another group altogether....
Tallinn is situated on the Baltic Sea a couple of hours across the water from Helsinki. The Russian city of St Petersburg is a couple of hours north east along the coast and Estonia is the most northerly of the three former Soviet Republics referred to as the "Baltic States". (Incidentally, to remember how they lie it's alphabetical from north to south - Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, easy).
Its primarily the amazingly beautiful medieval part of Tallinn that attracts visitors though in recent years the liberal prostitution laws and thriving sex industry as well as the cheap beer have seen the city become a popular destination for groups of young men from all over Europe though there will be plenty of British voices to be heard on any weekend.
The Old Town (Vanalinn) forms the heart of the city; Tallinn Bay is just to the south and the newer parts form a shell around the other sides and outside this armour lies a belt of greenery, a series of attractive but quite different parks and open spaces.
Most visitors to Tallinn only see the Old Town which is a shame because as city break destinations go, Tallinn has more to offer than most. The only problem is deciding what you can see in the time you have available; my only regret was not leaving more time to spend there.
To see the Old Town you need either a good guidebook or a good guide; there are plenty of walking tours available as well as a jump on, jump off bus, a cycle tour and even one on skates though I think the cobblestones might make that one more difficult. We opted for the guidebook tour but we found that there were so many guided tours taking place that we could quite easily listen in to what was being said at various points of interest. My preferred way of doing things is to put the book away, wander the streets at will without following any particular route, nosing into little side streets and alleyways that look appealing. Then stop for lunch, and take a look at the guidebook as you eat, picking out those things you'd like to see before going back out into the Old Town. If you spend your time deliberately looking for things in the book first time round, it'll diminish the sheer pleasure from discovering little gems yourself.
The drawback with Tallinn's Old Town is that many of the historic buildings are still in use today, often by the government or private businesses and so are closed to the public. Of the others, many such as churches can be viewed but only by appointment and so doing a guided tour may grant you access to places you could not see independently. Another reason to have a good guidebook or a guided tour is that there are lots of little facts to learn that you would know simply from strolling the streets looking at the buildings.
For example, one of the towers in the city fortifications is called "kiek-in-de-kok" meaning "Peep into the kitchen" (not in Estonian but in Low German, commonly used at the time because of the influence of other members of the Hanseatic League) and is so called because the homesick soldiers could peer into the kitchens of the houses below from their elevated positions in the tower. All the little snippets of information help to flesh out the bones of this historic city and really bring it alive.
If you are travelling in summer it might be a good idea to make your second trip around the Old Town late in the afternoon by which time it will be much quieter because the cruise passengers will be back on their boats. I must say that I found the excess of portly Americans shrieking and generally impeding everyone else quite annoying. Every quiet spot would be invaded by them and they would spend ten minutes trying to get the perfect photograph while other tourists waited patiently for the circus to leave town.
Vanalinn is conveniently split into two parts, the Lower and the Upper. The upper part is called Toompea and its here that you'll find perhaps the city's most memorable edifice - the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, built in the Russian Orthodox style, resplendent with gold domes and colourful friezes although Toompea is actually named for the Lutheran Dome church that dominates the hill and is very much in the old Swedish style.
Tallinn was a major played in the Hanseatic League in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries and the restored buildings of Tallinn's Old Town reflect the golden age of this trading port. There are houses that would have belonged to wealthy merchants, ornate churches and colourful guildhalls.
There are a few museums in the Old Town but there was nothing that particularly attracted my interest. As you would expect there's plenty of opportunities for souvenir shopping and the quality of the goods in generally high. There's a plethora of stores selling goods made from amber - mainly jewellery but other decorative items too - but these seemed to me to be over-priced and we found alternative shops in the less touristy areas offering better value. Linen goods are beautiful but quite costly and there are plenty of stalls selling knitted goods too.
On the lower level, the large Town Hall Square (Raekoja Plats) is where you'll find the busiest cafes and restaurants with outdoor seating available so you can watch the world go by. As well as plenty of places to try traditional Estonian food, you can find Indian, Russian, Brazilian and Chinese food on or close to the square. Of course, these establishments are more expensive because of their location and better value can be found further away from the square. Our favourite was a place called "Pelmeni", tucked away in a basement on a narrow alley a minute from the main square. Pelmeni are little Russian dumplings with various fillings served with a light stock and topped with a little soured cream. It's self service and your bowl is weighed at the counter, the price included a side salad and soup to start as well as a soft drink. Alcohol is available but charged separately. It was a nice alternative to the more formal places we'd been dining in for the past week.
As you approach the edges of the Old Town bars become more prevalent and and in the evenings it becomes much noisier. There are lots of English and Irish bars, all boasting of topless waitresses, televised football and cooked breakfasts. For a bit more style and authenticity there are plenty of places if you hit the side streets where you can find not only cosy traditional places but some very funky designer bars with striking décor and creative cocktails. The Depeche Mode bar is a must for fans of eighties music, with music from the Essex lads playing non-stop in this synth shrine.
As well as some cool places to drink alcohol, Tallinn also boasts some lovely cafes, usually small and cosy with soft sofas to snuggle up on while you drink great coffee and eat sinful pastries and cream cakes, many also sell handmade chocolates.
My favourite Tallinn activities were outside the centre. A fifteen minute bus ride brings you to the television tower, a common sight in most Soviet cities. This one measures 314 metres and has a viewing platform and restaurant (with old style Soviet service from the waitresses) at 170metres. You can see some bullet holes in the concrete near the doors of the building that date from 1991 when Estonia attempted to break away from the Soviet Union. Needless to say the views over the city and Tallinn Bay are worth the trip out here. The city's Botanical Gardens are next door to the tower.
Back towards town it's worth stopping off at Kadriorg Park to see the "Song Bowl"; Estonians are crazy about singing and this amphitheatre in the park is the setting for singing competitions. It has an an official capacity of 150,000 but in 1988 twice as many people managed to cram in for a festival during which people started to call for independence. Two years later, at the final festival before independence, over half a million people came to the song bowl to show solidarity. As historic sights go, this is today one of the most important in Estonia.
As a devoted eastern Europhile, I enjoyed seeing the real Tallinn as much as the fairytale city on show for the tourists but it is a stark contrast. During the 1990s money was pumped into the Old Town, without it the neglected medieval buildings could not have been restored to drag in the sightseers that come now. However, it has meant that the suburbs have lagged behind and the reality for most of the city's residents is one of poor housing and poverty with crumbling tenements and shabby stores selling limited goods.
For anoraks like my other half, Tallinn has the full range of public transport with several options usually available to make any journey. We seemed to spend an inordinately excessive amount of time indulging his love of trolley buses and trams and found them easy to use, cheap and frequent. Remember to take some comfortable shoes because the Old Town is quite hilly and there are lots of cobbled streets.
Overall Tallinn is quite a cheap city to visit though you can spend more by choosing to eat and drink in the more centrally located establishments. Beers are a little less than you'd pay in the UK, drinking domestic brands saves you more. There are plenty of accommodation options and even in the centre you can find all price brackets have lots of choice; you won't save much by staying further out. Two people can eat a good meal with drinks for about thirty Pounds though its easy to spend more and possible to spend much less. Travel on public transport is mere Pence.
My gripes about the numbers of tourists might sound churlish but it was the only negative aspect of my experience; I was simply so struck by the Charm and beauty of this graceful city that I didn't want to share it - especially with Norman and Wilma Sue of Iowa.
Fortunately, I knew in advance that Tallinn wasn't going to be the way it looked as we came in to land, or I might have felt depressed. The plane's flightpath brought us in from the east, flying over the dreary sprawl of apartment blocks that disfigures so many cities scarred by a Soviet past. And quite a few without a Soviet past, of course.
I knew that amid the sprawl I would find an attractive historic centre - a World Heritage Site, no less - with other monuments and places of interest scattered around the outskirts. And so it proved. I also found a clean and prosperous-feeling city, very modern in places, capital of a country, Estonia, that has grown confident in its recently rediscovered independence and is eagerly embracing Western ways. One could almost forget its long periods of past subjugation - sometimes gruesome subjugation - under foreign occupiers. Almost, but not quite. The relics remain and the problems have not all departed with the erstwhile occupiers. Indeed, not all the erstwhile occupiers have departed, which is one of the problems.
As a short-break destination, Tallinn today has much to recommend it. The charming old centre is compact enough to be explored in a day on foot - though two or three would be better - while the outlying sights are easily reached by cheap, efficient public transport. Notwithstanding the ugly sprawl seen from the air, the city has its pleasant green spaces and a shoreline too. The locals are friendly, welcoming and keen to practise their remarkably good English. Prices, though not really cheap, are perhaps a shade lower than in the UK. There are good places to eat and drink, and comfortable places to stay. You can even drink the tap-water, though the beer is tastier. And though it is true that the city has lately been discovered by stag-party-throwers and cruise-line day-visitors, their presence is not so overwhelming as to spoil the experience for everyone else.
* Historic Centre *
There is much that is reminiscent of Krakow about the old town of Tallinn. Like Krakow, it has a mediaeval citadel on a hill at the south-western corner (in Tallinn's case known as Toompea), with the rest spread out in a north-easterly oblong around a central market square. Both have the remains of ramparts; Tallinn's are the better preserved - 2km intact out of an original perimeter of 3.6km - but only on their western side do they have surrounding gardens like those that insulate the centre of Krakow from the rest of town. Tallinn, too, is on a smaller scale than its Polish counterpart, less magnificent in its architecture and, despite being a capital city where Krakow is not, more provincial in feel. Not that it's any the worse for that, since there is still plenty to see, and plenty of history to reflect on while one does so:
~ Toompea, literally "Cathedral Hill", is best approached by mounting the stone stairway that ascends from the gardens on its north-western side. As you climb, views open up behind you over the city towards the Baltic, while the fine façade of an official building (or so I assume; the Estonian coat of arms adorns its pediment) perched on the ridge above beckons you upwards. Once atop the hill, narrow lanes lead you through to two squares, each with two notable historic buildings, one religious and one secular.
The first square surrounds the Lutheran Cathedral, essentially austere within but decorated with the coats of arms of notable families and some fine carved tombs. In the shadow of the cathedral stands a handsome but dilapidated building that was once the headquarters of the Estonian knighthood - successors to the Knights of the Teutonic Orders who swept up the Baltic coast in the 13th century, spreading Christianity with their swords and establishing themselves as feudal masters in the process. Their mastery was interspersed with dominance by Denmark, later superseded in turn by conquerors from Sweden and finally Russia in the early 18th century.
The later periods are evident as soon as you reach second square, known as Lossi Plats. Again the centre piece is a Cathedral, in this case an ornate onion-topped Russian Orthodox one; although built in traditional style it was not in fact completed until 1900, part of a Tsarist drive to make the Baltic possessions more Russian in character, a repetitive theme in recent centuries in this part of the world. Facing it is Toompea Castle, where the Estonian Parliament now meets. At first glance, this looks more of a chateau in the French style than a castle, with an elegant neo-classical frontage picked out in pink and white. At its rear and to one side, however, it is revealed as a hybrid edifice as it merges into the remnants of the original Danish citadel that stood here in the middle ages, and which gave the city its name; the word Tallinn derives from the Estonian for "Danish fort".
For most of its history, though, the city was not known as Tallinn at all, but as Reval, a Germanic name bestowed on it during the rule of the Teutonic knights. In their wake they brought German merchants and tradesmen who, being regarded as inferiors by the knighthood, were excluded from Toompea. Instead, the newcomers set up shop and home between the hill and the harbour, and, as they grew prosperous with the city's affiliation to the Hanseatic League, built their own protective walls around the resultant lower town.
~ Lower Town.
Zig-zagging down from Toompea through the mediaeval gatehouse at Pikk Jalg, you are quickly disoriented in the cobbled alleys below. No matter. Given half a chance and maybe a turning or two, most of them seem to lead soon enough to Raekoja Plats, the central square. One end of the square is dominated by the Town Hall, a heavy Gothic structure attractively - if a little incongruously - topped by a spindly minaret-like tower. On the outside of the Town Hall are hung irons for the shackling of convicts, the local equivalent of stocks, used in mediaeval times before crueller punishments superseded them in later eras.
The rest of the square is rimmed by cafés and restaurants, which (in summer at least) spill out onto the cobbles, lending the square a festive atmosphere, even more so when the middle is filled with market stalls. Above the cafés, the buildings are mostly flat-fronted and high-roofed in a distinctly Nordic style, as many others are all around the lower town.
Exploring the surrounding streets, one finds many examples of merchants' houses from the city's Hanseatic heyday, when it was the nexus of trade between Muscovy and the Baltic. Typically, these have only a narrow frontage, since taxes were paid by the width of pavement occupied, but are of four or five storeys, high for the times. The upper floors would be used for storage, and it is common to see one wide window under the eaves with a timber beam jutting out above it bearing a pulley with which to raise and lower merchandise. Three particularly fine examples, terraced together at the northern end of Pikk ("Long" street), are known as the Three Sisters, and are now joined as a hotel. Another, in Lai ("Broad" street), turns out to be a theatre complex, with performances staged both in its panelled interior rooms and in the courtyard at its rear.
Other worthwhile sights include: a fine 15th century Guild Hall, now housing a museum; numerous towers and gateways of different vintages that punctuate the remaining walls; a circular building, the usage of which you could guess at for a long time without recognising that it was a horse-mill, for times of siege - when the outlying windmills could not be used, sixteen horses were harnessed to walk in continuous circles to power the millstones; and several churches of note. The most notable of all is St Olav's, with its 124m high spire. According to the guidebooks, you can for a small fee climb up to an observation platform in the spire, but I never managed to be there when it was open. A pity, since the view must be magnificent. The church is held in such high regard locally that there is a city ordinance forbidding the erection of any taller buildings, which accounts for the relatively modest scale of the small cluster of "skyscrapers" that mark the business district just to the east of the old town.
The best thing to do in the old town is simply to wander round. You'll stumble across most of the main sights anyway, and it's easy to find quiet backstreets behind the looming stonework of the city walls, where you can hear your own footfalls, observe the jumble of architectural styles and enjoy the wafted scent of lime-trees from the gardens outside. Once away from the crocodiles of sight-seers from the cruise ships that crowd around the central square, old town Tallinn seems curiously empty, as if it were neither lived in nor even worked in by ordinary Estonians. Whilst this adds to the quaintness of the place, it feels artificial, almost disquieting.
* Outside the centre *
When you've grown weary of wandering round old buildings in the middle of Tallinn, it's time to go and wander round some on the outskirts of town. Two places for doing so, easily accessible by bus or tram, particularly spring to mind:
~ Rocca al Mare. Sounds like a sun-bleached Sicilian shore, doesn't it? Reverse that image; see it in negative. We're talking here about dark, dank woodland, dotted with sombre wooden buildings, roofed in slats of timber or dense thatch. The Estonian Open Air Museum, to give it its official name, exists to display the past traditions of rural life from each of the country's four main regions, and has brought together typical old houses, churches, windmills and the like in which to do so. There is even a village inn, selling local refreshments at very reasonable prices. We went round in pouring rain, but still spent several hours and found it fascinating, well worth the 70 kroon per adult (about £3.20, but much cheaper out of season or for families) entrance fee.
~ Kadriorg. Peter the Great's summer palace set in parkland near the eastern shore is a superb Baroque masterpiece, complemented by elegant gardens in the French style. The Tsar loved Tallinn, but, fortunately or unfortunately, captured it from the Swedes after he had already founded St Petersburg to be his seat of government and "window to the west"; otherwise he might have settled on the Estonian city to be capital of the Russian Empire as well, with incalculable historic consequences. Inside the palace is an extensive collection of 16th-18th century Romantic art. Entrance is 45kr (£2.00), and for another 15kr (70p) you can see inside the cosy little house to the rear of the gardens where Peter stayed while the palace was being built and which is now a museum full of fascinating memorabilia of his stay. Again, well worth it. Also in the area are some attractive 19th century bourgeois houses in traditional wood-fronted style.
Just beyond Kadriorg is the Lauluväljak (Song Bowl) where the annual Estonian singing festival is held. This is a site of great significance locally, since the singing of banned patriotic songs at festivals in the late 1980s acted as a fuse to ignite an explosive latent resistance to Russian communist rule. The "Singing Revolution", as it is known throughout the Baltic states, included such daring acts of defiance as when over two million people formed a human chain that spanned the 600+ km between Tallinn and Vilnius via Riga while they, needless to say, sang. Although the Red Army was initially sent in as a show of strength, ultimately the collapsing Soviet regime balked at the prospect of a bloodbath and the resultant international ignominy, so independence prevailed.
Further east along the shore is Pirita, Tallinn's playground for water sports, including yachting and boating facilities used during the 1980 Olympics. Also at Pirita are the Botanical Gardens, and there is a beach, very popular with the locals, which we never reached, maybe just as well since the weather was poor and the Baltic is one of the world's most polluted seas.
* Restaurants, Cafés and Hotels *
There are plenty of eateries and drinkeries in old town Tallinn, the centre of which becomes quite lively in the evening. For better or worse most seem to be there primarily for the tourists, which may be one of the reasons they are not particularly cheap. All cuisines are represented (just around the central square one quickly notices an Indian restaurant, a pizzeria and an Irish pub).
As usual, we aimed to seek out local fare. Estonian food is not noted for its sophistication - robust roast or stewed meat with plenty of vegetables seems to be staple - and restaurants tend to feel it's necessary to serve it in a mediaeval setting to make it interesting. Avoiding the Olde Hansa, which is famous, in tour guides at least, for its candlelight, spit-roasts and serving-wenches in period costume, we tried the almost-mirror-image Peppersack opposite. Here we enjoyed quite a tasty meal, but one which, with booze, came in at 720kr for two - about £18 a head. The Kuldu Notsu Kjrts (Golden Piglet Inn), with atmospheric cellar rooms and decent food, but less over-the-top medievalism, cost us 600kr - a bit under £15 a head. The third night we were there we went a little way down Pikk away from the centre and found a cellar restaurant with Mediterranean pretensions called Sisalik; again the food was okay, but this time totalled 830kr, about £20 a head, so going a little off the beaten track proved to be no saving.
My wife prefers to drink wine, and this probably added to the cost, but there were not a lot of noticeably cheaper places around, not in the old town, anyway, all of which, it seemed to me, made eating out in Tallinn pretty pricey by Eastern European standards. In bars and restaurants, local beer tends to cost between 30 and 50 kr a half-litre (equating to £1.50 to £2.50 a pint) and is drinkable enough without being distinguished. The two dominant brands are Saku and a le Coq, both offering a variety of brews. The best of those I tasted was a le Coq's "English Ale", which is a mellow, full-bodied lager and quite unlike any ale I would associate with England. The Brew House in Dunkri, just off the main square, has a micro-brewery in its cellar and looks interesting, but alas I never drank there.
Tallinn is well-known for its cafés, and it was pleasant to take a break from sight-seeing over coffee at one or another of these. The one we liked best was out at Kadriorg, with an open-air terrace beside an ornamental lake at the entrance to the park, and exceedingly good cakes. In the centre, the Bonaparte on Pikk is justly famous for French-style patisserie.
There are many places to stay in central Tallinn, from back-packer hostels to the swish and soulless clones of the international hotel chains. We had intended to stay at the Domina City, a traditional-style hotel in the centre, but they seemed to have confused our booking and after some argy-bargy we settled for being upgraded to a suite at a sister hotel, the 4-star Domina Ilmarine, an imaginatively-converted warehouse outside the walls, but conveniently close to the port for a day-trip to Helsinki. The suite was comfortable, the staff were helpful, but the breakfast room inadequate for the purpose and overcrowded with tour parties. Searching on the net, I see you can currently book a double room for £45-£65 a night, depending on season and day of week. At this price, I'd say it was reasonable value.
* Shopping *
In their quest for modernity, the citizens of Tallinn all seem to shop at new purpose-built shopping centres; there were two such visible along the 4km drive in from the airport alone. Perhaps as a result, there is a complete dearth of neighbourhood stores in the old town. Looking for a place to buy a litre of mineral water and a couple of bottles of beer to avoid having to fall back on the mini-bar in the hotel room was a bit of a washout.
There are craft and souvenir shops, of course, including those on the market stalls. Linen goods, amber jewellery and wooden ornaments are the staple fare, and very well-made and attractive some of them are here, as they are throughout the Baltic states. Talking of which, the prices for similar items tend to be cheaper in Latvia and even more so in Lithuania, so if you're visiting all three, you know where to buy your souvenirs. On the other hand, my wife did find some most unusual and inexpensive knitting yarn.
* Getting Around *
The centre of Talinn is small enough as to allow one to walk around and see most of the main attractions. Outside the old town, though, it is served by plenty of public transport, most notably the trams and buses, which are quite comfortable when not packed with people at rush hour. Tickets can be used for any single journey, and can be bought in booklets of ten at 85kr from shops and kiosks, which works out at just under 40p a ride. If you don't buy in advance, you can pay 15kr (70p) on board. We found our way to Rocca al Mare and Kadriorg, by bus and tram respectively, without any difficulty. I understand that taxis are also reasonably priced in theory, but in practice taxi-drivers have a bad reputation for tampering with meters and taking unnecessarily scenic routes. We never used them.
* Getting There *
It's easiest to fly, of course: Estonian Air from Gatwick, Easyjet from Stansted, BA from Heathrow. In a brief scan of the internet, I haven't managed to find direct flights from UK regional airports; most schedules seem to involve a change. One good way to go might be to fly to Helsinki and catch the hydrofoil across the Gulf of Finland, which is fun, not too expensive (£35 return) and takes less than two hours.
There are apparently long-distance coaches from London, which can be cheap, but I wouldn't want to be on a coach for that kind of distance. Alternatively, you could drive; probably a very strenuous drive - three days minimum, probably more like four or five. Or if you don't mind the time and expense, you could catch the Eurostar train to Brussels, take the overnight sleeper to Warsaw, and find your way by rail through Latvia and Lithuania, which I have to say I rather fancy doing sometime, though I'm told people in the Baltic republics don't themselves much use the railways.
* The People *
Asked to describe their national character, Estonians tend to use the word "calm", and I suppose you'd have to be pretty phlegmatic to bear up under all those long periods of subjugation by outsiders. They are measured and polite when you talk with them, though a sense of humour may be lacking. They also take a pride in being diligent and meticulous in attention to detail, and there is nothing plodding or pedestrian in their calmness, as the country's rapid modernisation since independence testifies. Business is booming, and Tallinn has one of the world's highest internet penetrations per household.
Estonians regard themselves as Northern rather than Eastern Europeans, Scandinavians not Slavs, and their closest ethnic and linguistic affinity is with Finland. Highly educated, many of them speak good English and some German. Russian too, of course, though the 60% of Tallinn's population that is ethnic Estonian much prefers not to do so.
The other 40%? The other 40% is mostly Russian, plus a few Ukrainians and Belorussians, left over from the long period when Estonia was subsumed in the Soviet Union, forming a sub-population that was once privileged but is being increasingly marginalised by the upsurge of Estonian national consciousness and the country's western orientation now it is a member of both the EU and NATO.
* The Tallinn you don't see? *
All of which brings me to the question of the Tallinn the tourist doesn't see, and I can only pose it as a question because being a mere tourist myself I never found the answer. But I sense that all is not as it seems on the surface in this city with its picture-postcard mediaeval past and its much-vaunted high tech future. One thinks of the drab, dreary outskirts over which one flies but which one never quite penetrates once on the ground. One thinks of that 40% of non-Estonians. Those not born in Estonia, and their children, do not automatically qualify for citizenship, and the many of those who do not speak Estonian cannot get jobs of any seniority.
One thinks of recent confrontations with Russia. Only this Spring, the Soviet War Memorial, a bronze statue of a Red Army soldier contemptuously referred by locals as "the unknown rapist", was removed from central Tallinn to obscurity in the outskirts, provoking a storm of protest from Moscow, and what many believe was a Kremlin-orchestrated cyber-attack on crucial Estonian financial and governmental websites. Estonians remain deeply resentful of the long periods of Russian rule; one we met told us in all seriousness that Nazi occupation during the war - with everything that that entailed - had "not been a problem" by comparison. The Russians are evidently correspondingly prickly, and one can only imagine that this is doubly true of those Russians still living in Estonia.
But a tourist in Tallinn sees very little of the Russian side of things. It is like anti-matter, that undetectable substance of which half the universe is allegedly formed; ever-present but intangible. For all the time-capsuled charm of the old town, the lime trees and the lilac around Kadriorg Park, the bright calm of the seemingly endless summer evenings, I sense that there must be another Tallinn of a very different, much less cheerful and comfortable, character.
© Also published under the name torr on Ciao UK 2007.
The Tallinn Card is a great idea for anyone heading to this beautiful medieval city. The card allows free and discounted entry to many of the sites of the city and offers discounts at both shops and restaurants around the Old City.
Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, is a popular destination for tourists with the countrys entry into the EU and the arrival of low cost airlines. My wife and I visited the city in May 2004, crossing by bus from St Petersburg and then fly out to London on Ryanair. We spent 3 days in the city staying in the old area just outside the city walls.
The Tallinn Card can be purchased at various locations around the city; we got ours at the tourist information centre. The card is valid for either 6, 24, 48 or 72 hours from time of purchase. Here is a brief outline of the activities we undertook using the card all either free or heavily discounted.
One hour bus tour of the city followed by a one hour walking tour of the old quarter.
A very informative tour that gave a feel for the city and some insights into some of the sights. The tour is conducted in Finnish and English, the day we did the tour there were only 2 other people so this enabled us to ask lots of questions.
Estonian Outdoor Museum. A bus ride out of town and a little disappointing when we were there, it was the first weekend of the season and half the museum was closed up. The museum recreates life in the country from the last century and earlier, displaying traditional farmhouses and farming techniques.
Town Square, the hub of the old city, rimmed by cafes and restaurants with the Town Hall dominating the southern side of the square. Various discounts be found around the square using the card from coffees and beers to free marzipan in the historic Old Pharmacy
Self-Guide Audio Walking Tour. We picked up the hand held audio sets from the tourism office, and headed off on the walking tour. Taking around 3 hours it takes in the major and minor sites of the Old City including several of the churches and museums. Well worth doing each site has at least 3 audio pieces about them, including legends, history and modern information.
Museum of Natural History. A small but interesting museum hidden away in the back streets.
Convent Ruins. I forget the name of the Convent but its about 10 minutes out of town by bus and has various legends attached to it.
City Walls. Several sections of the Medieval walls are still intact around the city, its is possible to climb some of the towers and walk along the wall.
We purchase the 48-hour card costing 19 euros each. This was money well spent as the audio tour on its own would have cost 14 euros, there are many places listed with the card maybe too many to see! The big advantage of the card is the opportunity to go to places you maybe wouldnt have gone to otherwise working on the principle that its free to enter so I might as well go.
If you visit Tallinn definitely get one of these cards for at least 24 hours, the longer the better, the audio tour makes it worthwhile on its own.
The first bit is about getting there, and after that it's about Tallinn itself, ok? It's a bit lengthy, so grab a cuppa and sit comfortably. 1st Bit ------- We board the Fantaasia ship, after some initial problems finding the terminal, signs would be helpful. Still we make it in time, and find the cabin, thanks to one of the staff who strangely speaks no Swedish. The cabin is small but we hadn't planned spending much time in here anyway except perhaps to sleep occasionally. We explore the ship, it's not too big, with just 2 bars, restaurants, a small nightclub, blackjack and slot machines, and not much else. The theme of this particular cruise is Caribbean Dream which meant they had hung a few flowers around the place and play latino music on a never ending loop, with some occasional reggae too. No steel bands though, no soca, not even a Bob Marley track the whole time. I wonder if the people behind it had ever been to a Caribbean island, or even done the slightest bit of research. Still we were looking forward to a new country, so it didn't really matter all that much. The hostess or Cruise manager as she called herself was obviously Estonian, wearing the same dress everywhere she went, did her best to motivate the passengers, but I feel most were simply unwilling to enjoy themselves. Entertainment includes the first Estonian band we had heard (and possibly the last). To be truthful they were ok. The guitarist was good, the bass player just stood as a bass player does, the keyboard player was ok, the drummer was great, and the singer was just a little bit boring. Thankfully they let the drummer sing on more than one occasion, showing that it is possible to drum and sing without losing the plot. After a few more songs from the singer, Sean couldn't help but shout out "let the drummer sing!". Well it was fun, we clapped if no one else did, and Sean told the drummer how good he was at the e
nd, sure that made him happy. And if all that entertainment wasn't enough, there was the cocktail game. Seven colourful cocktails were brought out and put on display in the middle of the dance floor, along with a list of names. A cocktail was held up and the first to shout out the correct name won the cocktail. The game was over too quickly, but more entertainment was to come. Dancers dressed in very little performed a short routine, along with a singer who did some kind of South American type song and also a talented guy who did some juggling, but this is where details start to become hazy, and we eventually head for the cabin and a good nights sleep. We awaken just shortly before the ship docks in Tallinn, and have time for hot drinks before venturing out. Passports are checked and stamped, and we are away into Estonia. 2nd Bit ------- So here we are in Tallinn, the capital of Estonia. The weather forecast said it would be cloudy, and it is a bit, but blue sky is peeking through the cloud, so we are a little hopeful. We forget the map on the boat. The first things we see are just a few run down bits of land and some old derelict buildings but we follow where it looks like most people are going and get to a clothes market within a few minutes. It's small with loads of nice wolly clothes, and even if we just look at them, we are told all about it, people desperate for a quick sale. We don't buy anything. We pass by the Advent church, which doesn't look too interesting so we don't go inside. We then find ourselves amongst the souvenir shops, alongside part of the old city wall, and stop off to have a browse. Still we don't see anything we fancy yet, so carry on until we find ourselves in Katarina Keik (old way). Now things begin to look more interesting with lots of pretty old buildings and cobbles on the streets. We find a really old looking church with a sermon going on, although it appear
s to be in Russian. The church is full of people sitting on wooden benches which rise up to make a triangle shape. It's quite dimly lit, and looks like it needs a bit of repair work doing, but it's nice and unspoilt. We listen for a while, then head further up the old way. It's now about 10am and the sky is beginning to look lovely and blue, ideal for one of our favourite pass-times, taking pics! We are in the town square now, and spot a lady in traditional dress The buildings around are quite colourful and there are places to sit and eat outside the restaurants. We head out of the square and up a steep hill where a few people are selling paintings of the city. We are greeted with a beautiful view of St. Alexanders Nevski's cathedral, with it's domes. This cathedral was completed in the year 1900. We take a few good photos of this, and also Karolina insists on us both having photos with leaves on our heads for some reason. Sean now desperate for a cup of tea, we find a beautifully cosy cafe tucked away next to a pottery shop. The place is almost empty, and we recieve a good service to the table. A few minutes later the place was full of tourists from England! Refreshed from our drink, we continue and just around the corner we see another beautiful church tower and we take more pics! This is the Cathedral of Saint Mary the Virgin (known commonly as the Dome Church). It dates to just after the Danes invasion of 1219. We go inside and it's beautifully decorated and ornate. We are not allowed to take photos inside, but manage to take one of a Lion statue in the entrance, with the sun shining through the window. A few minutes later we stumble upon a place where we can see a good view of some of the newer parts of Tallinn, but the view is not too interesting. Below we can see a run down football field and decide not to head that way. We're fascinated by the amount of old buildings that had been left to fall into dis-repair, where othe
rs were so amazingly well kept. We take pictures of both to show the contrast. Even the old crumbling buildings were amazing to see though. We find ourselves heading back towards the Cathedral again, and stop to look at the beautiful Katarina II Castle, a dominating pink coloured building, which looks nothing like a traditional English castle. We then head into the Cathedral itself where there are many locals deep in religion, and music can be heard. Again no photos are allowed inside, so we buy a postcard instead. Outside again the sky is a deep blue colour which made for some beautiful pictures again. There are a handful of old ladies begging on the steps and around the cathedral, and in return for a small gift, we photograph one old lady counting her money. We now notice a church with two towers in the distance, which we decide we'd like to see. First we pass by more of the prominent defence towers, before getting distracted by a gathering of people. On investigation we find a kind of mini market for man selling CD's and DVD's. This looks interesting and we find the prices are unbelievably low, just 60 or 70 EEK per CD. Most look ok, and as soon as we show some interest in Pink Floyd for example, the whole line of sellers know what we like. All these guys are selling straight out of bags, some on the park benches, but all ready to make a run for it should the police show up. We are assuming these were all pirate copies, maybe produced locally, or perhaps from Russia. An interesting experience. After this diversion we continue our search for the twin towered church, which seems to have momentarily disappeared from view. We eventually find the Kaarli Evangelical Lutheran Church, and on the way meet a passing group of Hare Krishna people jumping around and chanting, this is great, and we'd have liked to have joined in, but just took a picture instead. On the way into the church we see a man start praying and holding his h
ead in his hands, we feel he should have gone into the church first perhaps. After a look around we find a shop selling Estonian wine and spirits, and at these prices we can't resist buying a few, and lots of chocolate too. We notice that the prices of everyday items we just so cheap in comparison to Sweden, a loaf of bread for example would have been a tenth of the price. After this experience, Karolina wants to do nothing but shop for chocolate, so we visit another store and buy more. All this shopping makes us hungry so we look around for somewhere to eat. After a bit of looking we find ourselves back in the old square and head for the Olde Hansa. This is a very authentic medieval feasting place and is a popular restuarant. Service is great. The menus offered a variety of traditional dishes, including wild boar and bear, along with special beers and wines. Luckily they also had menus in English, and the waitresses speak English too (in fact almost everywhere we went). We opt for Cinnamon beers and meat dishes with a huge selection of vegetables and other interesting things. The waitress explains what everything on the plates were before we ate! It was delicious. Afterwards we write out our postcards and find a big orange coloured post box to put them in. All around were a lot of signs for 'Alkohol' and 24hour drinking dens, Karolina has to take photographs. We then buy some cheap tobacco from one of the kiosks. Smoking must be cheaper than eating in Tallinn, the prices were just ridiculously low compared with the UK. A packet of 20 cost only about 10 EEK (6 SEK), less than 50p in UK money. Karolina takes control of the camera once more and goes about photographing Trams, Lada's and buildings. We also see what appears to be a sculpture of oil drums in the shape of a chair, which a group of local young boys are playing on. Luckily they make interesting poses, and shout things in Estonian. Then alas, it's almost time to get bac
k onboard the ferry. We take a final look at the city of Tallinn, and recap on the things we have done, the people we have met, and the hours we have enjoyed. We haven't seen everything, we ignored the maps and the brouchures, but it was a great visit, and surely a place to come back to again. The journey home again was "most interesting", read on the website... http://angelfire.com/retro/seany
but the secret is pretty much well and truly out. The Estonian capital of Tallinn is in fact one of the most beautiful and best preserved medieval cities in Europe. Not only that its pretty cheap when you get there. All good news then? Well no - not quite. Truth is that you havent got much longer to find Tallinn in its present form. Fast food chains and stag nights are already sneaking through its medieval defences. This Baltic City has a population nearing half a million and the city is in fact quite a size. Truth of the matter is though as a tourist you will only really be interested in the Old Town and not the Soviet satellite suburbs. There is no doubt that there is still a Soviet feel to the city - the USSR only recognised Estonian independence in 1991. Nearly half the population of Tallinn are Russian speakers descended from families shipped in to provide cultural support to the super powers claim on the area. Since 91 the country as a whole has surpassed all expectations on the economic development front - much more so than its neighbours Latvia and Lithuania. This is possibly due its hard working moral fibre and the prior knowledge of the West even before they could actually grasp it - thanks to the powerful TV broadcasts from across the water in Finland. First purchase.. As in many other cities if you intend to do even a small amount of sightseeing and make use of the public transport system you are going to want to buy the "tallinncard" (www.tallinn.ee/tallinncard). The card is available in 6, 24, 48 and 72 hours the first one designed for dash trips from Finland. This card is available from the helpful information centre not far from the centre of the Old Town. One thing you should receive with this card is a copy of Tallinn "in your pocket". Think of the "Time Out" books and thats pretty much what you are getting. If you dont get a tallinncard buy one of these anyway. If you are too tight
to do this you can download a cut down version at there web site (www.inyourpocket.com). What to see.. First and foremost the Old Town. As many museums and other cultural attractions there is simply nothing to beat walking round the cobbled streets of the Old Town. Highlights of this part of town include the Town Hall Square often full of vendors. Add to this plenty of eating and particularly drinking opportunities and you have a full day pretty much sewn up. Best view.. One of the best ways to see the city is from above and there are ample opportunities to do this. Best view is from St. Olaf`s Church but no a great one for anyone scared of heights. Not so good is the Town Hall, as you dont actually get outside. Dont expect lifts in any of these, you had better be fit. Out of town the other option is the very Soviet looking Tallinn TV-tower at 314 meters. Getting around.. Apart from on foot your best bet for getting around is using the local tram and bus system. Just make sure you dont make any puns about women drivers - I have yet to see a male tram driver. Nightlife.. Bars, Pubs and Clubs abound. As far as bars go one of the trendiest is the metallic Café VS a quick walk outside of the old town. Pubs abound in the old town with Nimega and Nimeta popular. Possibly the most popular nightclub is Hollywood - free if you have the "tallincard". And finally for the quirky there is the Depeche Mode bar dedicated to the band with the groups videos playing all night. Events.. Top event of the year is "OlleSummer" (www.ollesummer.ee) which translates to Beer Summer. Held in the first week of July this is a massive beer festival held in the Tallinn showground. How to get there.. If you have read this far hopefully you are interested in how to get there - if not hop on down, miss the rest, and maybe give me a "Very useful". Ba
sically its a case of planes, trains and automobiles with ships thrown in for good measure. From the UK in particular one of the best methods is to use the cheap fairs on offer to Sweden with the budget airlines and then go direct via ferry or via Finland with a ferry/fast catamaran combination. Ferries cost roughly £50 one way with a cabin though in truth if you party all night there is no need for a room. The fastcats from Helsinki cost roughly £20 one way. Tallinn itself does also have direct (if not that cheap) flights to London and certainly the Scandinavian capitals amongst others. Long distance bus or trains are your other options.
Tallinn, the capital of the Baltic state of Estonia, is no stranger to being invaded: originally founded by the Danes, it has fallen to the Swedes, the Poles, the Prussians, and most recently the Soviets, from whom Estonia only attained independence in 1991. These days, though, the city suffers from an invasion of a different kind - Finns fleeing from their own country's draconian taxes on alcohol for a weekend of cheap boozing just 50 miles across the Gulf of Finland. Back in May, I flew into Helsinki and joined the crowds on one of the sleek modern hydrofoils for the 90-minute trip to Tallinn. Rather than just a weekend, though, it's best to spend a week ihere. This way you get to see the place after the drunken hordes have gone home. Tallinn was virtually closed to outsiders until the late 1980s, and its old town has survived remarkably intact. (And the tourist income means that old crumbling buildings have been considerably spruced up). The heart of the city is Raekoja Plats, the old town square, which is dominated by the strangely oriental looking 14th-century town hall. (Supposedly the minaretted design was based on a sketch brought back by an explorer). The square is surrounded by brightly coloured buildings and is a great place to sit and watch the world go by with a cheap pint of beer at one of the pavement cafes. (Try the honey beer at Tristan & Isolde at the left-hand end of the town hall). In the evenings its also very lively - the first night I was there, Estonia won the Eurovision song contest. These people know how to party, believe me. To the west of the town square rises the hill of Toompea, which is the oldest part of the town. The city walls have survived virtually intact and you still have to go through the original gates to enter (the whole placewas recently declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site). There are hardly any cars in this part of town and you really do feel as though you're stepping back i
n time (yes, almost back to the time when that cliche was born...). It certainly forces you to rethink your preconceptions of the "Eastern bloc". I could write hundreds of words on this place, but I know nobody would read it, so I'll point out a few of the highlights: *The Alexandr Nevsky Cathedral, built by the Russians in true Red Square style (onion domes, colourful tiles, the lot). Right on the top of Toompea hill, you can't miss it. *Fat Margaret, one of the defensive towers built into the old town wall. It contains an interesting museum, and there's a great view from the top floor. The walls are about 20ft thick and apparently there are still cannonballs lodged in them! *Kadriorg Park. This is a great place when you want to escape from the city. It's a couple of miles east of the town centre - catch a no 3 tram to the Kadriorg stop. Also here is Kadriorg Palace, where the president of Estonia lives. It's big and pink and fairly tasteless, but he obviously likes it. *The food! A strange mixture of Baltic, Scandinavian and Central Asian (Armenian, Georgian) cuisine. Vene street is good for Russian restaurants. *The bars: Molly Malone's on the town square is good for live music and drunken locals and tourists alike. Niimeta and Niimega bars (meaning The Bar With No Name and The Bar With A Name, on Suur-Karja street) are also good and popular with locals. HOW TO GET THERE It's a lot cheaper to fly to Helsinki using a low-cost airline like Buzz and then catch a bus into town and get a hydrofoil from the main docks. The hydrofoil costs about £17 each way and takes 90 mins. The Tallinn terminal is within walking distance of the old town. GETTING AROUND The old town is very compact - just walk. For longer distances, the trams are excellent and cost just a few pence a journey. WHERE TO STAY The Eeslitall guesthouse is a few yards from
the old town square and is basic but good value (single room about £15). If you don't mind sharing a room go for the Vana Tom hostel, which is just downstairs from a strip club! (But don't let that put you off - it's excellent and spotlessly clean). MONEY The kroon (abbreviated, rather amusingly, as EEK). £1 = 25EEK. Bear in mind that there are 1EEK notes - you will end up with fistfuls of notes. Prices are generally very cheap, but obvioously higher in touristy places. Expect to pay no more than £7 for a decent dinner with drinks.
I went on a tour of the Baltic States, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania back in 1996. Whilst I enjoyed it. There is not much to see outside the main cities and the landscape is not exactly spectacular. Of all the towns and cities I visited Tallinn was probably the most interesting and should certainly be visited if you are in that part of the world. Either from Helsinki, St. Petersburg or Stockholm. I flew in from Stockholm and went into town on the number 2 bus. The fare then was £0.24 ! The hotel I had been booked into was the Central Hotel a new Scandanavian style hotel which was excellent but may now be rather pricey. It was well located near the city centre and was only a short walk from the old town. The only problems I had were being woken by drunk Finns knocking on the door begging their friends to let them in ! TIP 1) It is best to avoid Tallinn at weekends as it does tend to attract the 'Boozey Weekend Brigade' from Finland. Finns are OK people until they get drunk! TIP 2) Don't bother buying Duty Free Boze or cigs before you come. Estonian Tax Paid is cheaper ! The town has a great variety of restaurants and bars including the invetiable Irish Bars. The pace of development is such that bars and restaurants change hands frequently, sometimes at the behest of the local 'Mafia' One bar I would recommend is the Bar Nimeta, the 'Bar With No Name' this has become THE Scottish bar but was also frequented by some of the 'very beautiful Estonian people'. Certainly worth a look even if only to see the artwork, the mural on the wall seemed to be Tallinn after a full blown nuclear atack ! I think things will have improved but if you are vegitarian be prepared for a diet of omlettes. Vegitarian restaurants are rare and the understanding of the concept was very limited back in 96. As to sites: wander round the old town walls from 'Fat Margaret' one of the original bastions. Visit the Russ
ian Orthodox Churches with their onion domes. Try wandering round the back streets and just appreciate the architecture. This is not my favourite hobby but I did enjoy Talinn so it says something. Shopping has become far more international and will have developed since I was there but it may still be worth taking a bus out to the Kadaka turg (A large open air market). Take the bus from the city at the intersection of Tammsaare and Mustamae and follow the crowds. At one time you could get ex Soviet Weaponry here but it has been cleaned up a bit ! However there will be all kinds of stuff from locally knitted snowflake-design sweaters to old military medals and Russian cameras, watches, binoculars etc. If you know what you are doing Amber from nearby Lithuania can also be a good buy Haggle Hard ! And lookout for pickpockets! If you can't be bothered to go out of town try the Kesturg on Turu poik 2. This is the central market a few blocks from the Olumpia Hotel (Olympia in English) Open everday until 4pm exc Sunday when it finishes at 1pm. TIP 3) Be careful if buying 'Antiques' you need a licence to export them if they are Estonian and are older than 1945 and for anything from before 1850. Stolen and forged antiques are common. I found the people friendly and got by on my language skills which are non existant. If you speak Russian be careful how you use it, make it very clear that you are NOT Russian. The Estonians are very proud of their independance and are very Anti Russian which has led to some unpleasantness with the local Russian population. Elderly Russians who were moved there by Stalin raised their children speaking Russian and going to Russian schools. They tended to get the best jobs. However when the USSR collapsed many of them lost their jobs. The elderly have a pittance of a pension and are seen selling what few possessions they have or begging. I normally ignore beggars but I think you have t
o take pity here. All in all a city well worth visiting. ATMs are available and I was able to get cash even back in 96.
Tallinn (recent historical name: Reval) is the capital city and main seaport of Estonia. It is located on Estonia's north coast to the Gulf of Finland, 80 kilometres south of Helsinki. Tallinn is situated on the southern coast of the Gulf of Finland, in north central Estonia.