My first thoughts upon arriving in Tallinn were something along the lines of:
- It’s going to take me a while to get used to just grabbing my bag and walking out of the airport without anyone interested in checking my passport…
- Nobody tried to offer me a taxi…
- Transport from the airport to the city centre for €1… in ten minutes… Melbourne, you’ve much to learn…
- It’s just so PRETTY!
The gates to the Old Town on Viru St
I was rather exhausted as a result of the pitiful amount of disrupted sleep that I managed on the way from Tangier to Tallinn, and was incredibly grateful that the directions to the hostel were very clear and that it was not at all far from the place the airport bus dropped me off. I was looking for Goodwin Steakhouse, as the hostel was directly above that, and it was literally about twenty metres past the gate to the old town. I was the first in the dorm to check in, so I got first pick of beds [a bottom bunk by the window] and after paying, getting a map of the city and having all the good places circled for me and handing over a giant bag of laundry, I had a very long shower and felt alive again. It was time to have a wander around the city.
A street in the old town
I fell instantly in love with Tallinn. Being my first stop in Europe, the whole place was completely foreign to me – in a very different way to South-East Asia, the Middle East or Morocco. It was a familiar kind of foreign, if that makes sense, an obviously Western kind of foreign and pretty much exactly what I’d hoped for and more. Beautiful old buildings, colourful with slanted roofs, with centuries-old churches and cobblestone streets. It was kitsch as well, with medieval restaurants and people wandering around in period costumes. Wooden cloth-draped stands had girls in medieval garb offering the world’s most amazing almonds – think almonds covered in gingerbread crumbs – appeared around every corner. I must have eaten a year’s supply of almonds… These were better than chocolate. No joke.
Period Dress and Almond Stall
In Raekoja Plats, the town hall square, there was a tourist market set up with stalls full of souvenirs and handicrafts – hand knitted socks and jumpers, crocheted jackets, amber jewellery, iron wine racks and little matryoshka [baboushka] dolls, magnets and handmade necklaces and more. I’d been worded up about a great place for cheap food – Krug Inn on the corner of the Town Hall. It took me a while to find, as although it’s called Krug Inn it’s signed as Tristan and Isolde. It sells €1 pies, €1 soups and €2 drinks. The pies were good – amazing puff pastry – and the service is touted as genuinely medieval. Guaranteed a tasty and cheap quick eat.
I can’t really describe how I felt wandering around the old city. I was just so incredibly happy, looking at these beautiful fairytale buildings painted pink and green and blue, tripping along the cobblestones, peering into overpriced souvenir shops. Coupled with the fact that no one hassled me AT ALL, it was heaven.
Raekoja Plats - Town Hall Square
I went back the hostel to book a third night, wondering why I’d only booked for two nights in Tallinn.
I failed to locate the cheap supermarket on my first attempt and instead found the fancy expensive one beneath the Viru Keskus shopping centre. I bought a stack of salad, salami and cheese, camembert and stuffed capsicums and biscuits along with a very cheap bottle of Chilean Sauvignon Blanc to go with my fancy dinner of biscuits. I was surprised to see that they had an Australian section in the wine department, and that the wines were significantly cheaper than at home!
Tallinn at 10.30pm
I had a relatively lazy evening, relaxing at the hostel and going out for walk in the evening – around 11pm – when it was still bright as day. That would take me a while to get used to! In the square, a group of local guys were breakdancing and doing a bunch of acrobatics. It was great, but I couldn’t help but think how much it would hurt if their double backsaults with a half twist went wrong and they crashed to the cobblestones – or if they tripped!
It only starts getting dark at around 11.30, and is basically dark by midnight. I say basically as it never gets truly dark; the sky just turns a vivid deep sapphire and three hours later the sun’s back up again.
Town Hall Square at 1am
I slept in the next day, having a lot of sleep to catch up on, and rushed to join the free tour of the old city starting at 12pm. I rushed through the square and round the corner, arriving just in time to be told to follow the guy in the cowboy hat. The tour was quite entertaining, although for historical accuracy I’d recommend paying for a guide, as the guides for the free tour are volunteers, usually students in their early twenties.
Following the cowboy hat
Our guide, Dennis, was quick to advise that he didn’t have much of a head for dates and while he could give us an idea or time period, chances are he wouldn’t be able to tell us the exact date that XYZ building was completed and so on. However, he was full of entertaining stories and would give us a mixture of history, local folk legends and personal anecdotes and that was far more entertaining that I imagine a sterile guided tour full of names and dates would be. We wandered around past the freedom monument and the Kiek in de Kok Museum – it’s not actually pronounced as we English speakers would imagine, but worth a laugh nonetheless – and up to Toompea via some churches for spectacular views over the city.
- Church of St Nicholas
We went into a Lutheran church – I can’t remember the name – where there is a grave inside the entrance to the church that you must walk over to get in. Dennis explained that the official story is that this person felt that his sins in life were so great that this would be a form of penance – but added that the local story is that this man was a bit of a Lothario and really wanted to spend eternity looking up womens’ skirts. The Lutheran church was one of the ugliest I’ve ever seen – it was plain inside except for these horrible shields and symbols of different noble families, and it had an unpleasantly penitential feel to it, including doors on the pews that could be padlocked so that no one could sneak out of church early. It just had a very negative feeling about it in my view.
We went inside a Russian Orthodox church, which was so incredibly opulent that it put the plain Lutheran church to shame. We couldn’t take pictures inside, but every surface was covered with something, be it elaborately woven fabric or silver candlesticks or paintings. I found it far more interesting than the Lutheran church – admittedly, I’m a little partial to domed ceilings! The outside is currently undergoing some restoration.
- Orthodox Church
The views from Toompea are exactly what you see on postcards of Tallinn. It’s a wonderful view over the rooftops of the old town, with medieval towers and church spires sticking up out of the beautiful sloped red-tiled roofs.
The view over Tallinn
Not a bad view, eh?