11.07.2015 - 13.07.2015
Tallinn, Estonia July 11th – 13th. 2015
Squealing breaks brought our airplane to a shuddering halt shortly before 2.30am on the tarmac in northern Estonia. Remarkably, less than 30 mins later we were squeezing into our tiny hotel room in Estonia’s capital – Tallinn. Passport control consisted of a bored looking fella standing in the connecting walkway to the aircraft who barely glanced at our documents before waving us forward. Our bags were among the first to appear and we were consequently at the front of the taxi queue and soon on our way through the ancient city walls and into the quaint little old town. Passing several gentlemen’s clubs en-route our Garden City Hotel was central and easy to find.
We slept until late and ventured downstairs just in time for a surprisingly good breakfast. Then into Tallinn. That first morning we headed for the main towns square only a two-minute walk from the hotel. Squeezing our way through the packs of cruise-boat tourists huddled around flag-waving guides, we found the pleasant little square nestled between an imposing old Town Hall one end and a seemingly endless line of cafes and bars. Estonians have an unwavering ability to drink vast quantities of alcohol at any time of day. Each morning we’d leave our hotel and emerge into the dazzling morning light to find cafes filled with locals guzzling litres of ale. Empty tankards littered the tables suggesting they’d been at it some time. Occasionally we’d encounter somebody tottering along after a particularly lengthy day and/or night on the booze, but most people seemed to be able to handle twelve hour drinking sessions without any problem.
Market stalls dominated the centre of the square and we weaved in and out admiring the collection of objects and warm clothing on offer (Tallinn is closer to the North Pole than John O’Groats – the farthest northern tip of mainland Scotland – and it was bloody cold at times!) The first stall owner we approached wore some sort of medieval garment, which clearly needed a wash. The next was clothed in an outfit more appropriate to the time of the Tudors. The next wore a suit of armour. Just beyond him some poor fella was being placed in stocks. Rather later than it should, perhaps, it dawned on us that some sort of medieval celebration was taking place in the town. This was confirmed when an area was cordoned off and a pair of jesters attempted to liven up the gathering crowd. Their comedy routine was falling flat and so they resorted to shouting, “VIVA,” and organising probably the weakest Mexican wave ever recorded. Horses with Vikings upon them (apparently the Medieval ages stretched back a little further than I’d thought) trotted into town to save us all from the jesters and various speeches took place followed by a parade through the cobbled streets of the town. We followed the parade consisting of the horses, Vikings, jesters, musicians, dancers and the occasional flame-thrower to where the ancient city wall marked the end of Old Town and the beginning of the new. There, accompanied by a modest crowd the riders entertained everyone with a modern day version of jousting, which basically consisted of knocking off a cabbage from a pedestal as they rode by.
We left after a little while and explored the city. The city wall, some of which is still walkable, was punctuated with watchtowers holding silent guard over the town. Large stone walls, tiny passageways, big towers (some with cannonballs wedged in the walls), ancient churches (including one which claimed to be the highest building in the world for a couple of centuries long ago) and an old castle presented a beautiful old town that was simply lovely to stroll around. We climbed up the stoned spiral stairway of one church and admired from up high. We turned the next street and found a wonderful little nook filled with antique shops and a café that only served coffee and all things chocolate. A photograph on the wall showed how the ‘nook’ used to look only 15 years earlier – run down and falling apart.
We did venture outside of the old town and found a market housing thousands of old war medals and, well, bizarrely, not much else. There was also a craft area where we sat and had coffee and a fantastic lunch consisting of cold meats and cheese.
Later in the day we had some Estonian beer at Hell Hunt, which was much nicer than it sounds. A little verandah overlooking a street in which drinkers were provided with a blanket in preparation for the cold night ahead. We either drank enough to combat the cold or are becoming acclimatised.
Later we ate at ‘Grandma’s’. The food was good, although clearly it hadn’t evolved very far from gruel.
The second day we took personal audio guides from the Tourist Info place and wandered all over town following the instructions given according to the route set out for us. It was informative and brought alive some of the past events of the city. In one church we encountered an organist and a trumpeter seated about 30 metres up in the rafters playing music for twenty minutes. It was very therapeutic – that is except for the agitated Russian gent at the back who ran around the place trying to keep everyone from making any noise whatsoever whilst the music was playing. As you might imagine, he made a hell of a noise dashing about and sshhhing people and generally getting angrier and angrier. Anyway, when we left he looked like he was going to blow his top.
Most of the time the people we encountered were very pleasant though. Perhaps a little abrupt at times, but mostly patient and nice. Everyone spoke English well and were polite and friendly.
We found a garden festival. Small patches of ground were sectioned off and various people representing countries had cultivated their own personal area in the fashionable style of the selected theme. Some were not overly impressive, but others were creative and demonstrated evidence of thought rather than the scattering of random seeds as was the case for some. One patch was called the Olympic Vines and had several pipes along which vine leaves were supposed to grow in a race to the other end. The British entry had either been disqualified or had yet to start. Whatever the case, it was last equal with Canada and France who were equally as hopeless. Japan were leading the way…
After stopping for coffee and yet more chocolate delights from the place we’d visited the day before, we eventually ended the tour. I then holed up in the Irish pub and watched the Wimbledon final – and Marsha joined just as it was getting interesting.
Later we found a great restaurant that was housed in the Scottish Park (really was Scottish too – Sean Connery and Robert Burns statues stood in the garden).
On our last day in Tallinn, we rose late. To be fair, the sun set well after 10pm on our visit each night, and even then it couldn’t be considered dark until about midnight. Tallinn is so far north of the equator and the sun sets at such an angle that even though it pops out of sight, it still lights the earth for long afterwards. So, we were to bed after midnight each night – each time disbelieving of the time as we hopped into bed.
So, we were late up, but still with only about 8 hours sleep. However, we’d covered a lot of ground over the first two days in the city and were disinclined to be too adventurous, especially with a boat trip to Russia planned that evening. I settled myself down in a café and caught up with stuff – like writing this ☺. And Marsha had a little wander and visited some shops and then did the same as me.
Tallinn had been lovely – a little old place steeped in history. As our boat pulled away from the city later that evening we were sad to go. As the skyline drifted away a huge hot air balloon rose serenely into the sky above the castle as if to wave goodbye.