I’ll be the first to admit that my first four days in Tallinn didn’t involve a whole lot of sightseeing or cultural activity, aside from aimless wandering around the Old Town. I planned to do more than drinking on my second visit to this fair city; actually, I planned to not do much drinking. While the not-much-drinking plan absolutely failed, to the extent that terrible dancing may have ensued on my final night [thank God those pictures have not yet emerged on Facebook], I did manage to see a good deal of what Tallinn has to offer outside pubs and bars.
I also had the joy of changing hostels every night, as everything was full. Luckily, on the morning of my last day, it turned out that there had been a no-show, so I only had to move rooms rather than traipse across town again.
My first full day back in Tallinn I decided to visit Kadriorg, a beautiful green area of the city that is home to parks, presidential and royal palaces and museums. It’s a short tram ride from Old Town, although it took me forever to get there as it turned out that tram number three was taking the day off, and I’d been waiting for about an hour before I discovered this. I probably should have given up earlier and walked the 100m to get tram number one, but I was holding onto hope.
The tram stops in a tiny street with pretty wooden houses, and it’s a short walk to the park with a rectangular lake with a fountain and an island gazebo. A woman and her granddaughter were feeding the pigeons, who excitedly gathered around for the crumbs they offered. Gardens surround the lake, all very organised with patterns of colour and curls – it was a little strange.
I spent some time in the Kadriorg Art Museum, once a royal palace built for one of the Russian tsars. It’s full of overly romantic 17th and 18th century art, mostly from the Netherlands, and it wasn’t to my taste at all. Plenty of not-particularly-special still life oils and paintings of peasants in their very dark homes, as well as a bunch of portraits of Russian nobility. There was one painting, a large piece on the ceiling of what must once have been a ballroom, that made me laugh. It was of a bunch of naked women bathing, and I question whether the artist had ever seen a naked woman, as they were rather odd-looking.
The building itself was quite beautiful, if incredibly ostentatious as per the tastes of the period. I had packed myself some sandwiches, and sat under a tree in the garden eating them in front of the palace.
What I did find quite interesting however was the exhibition of Estonian folk icons. They reminded me of the Byzantine and Armenian styles of religious art – orthodox – which I have discovered bears many similarities to the Russian Orthodox style. These icons were quite important as it had been thought that Estonians didn’t have a local tradition of folk iconography, and the pieces in the exhibition were drawn from different villages throughout the country. Some seemed quite unique in their incorporation of metal and other materials such as enamel, beads and glass into the icons.
I walked up to the President’s Palace, which was decidedly uninteresting. You couldn’t really get close, and there were two guards marching around out the front. I’d be pretty embarrassed if I were them, as really they looked quite silly. Still, maybe they love their job…
I took the tram back into the centre and walked up to the Russian Market. It was a bit of a disappointment. Sure, there was plenty of junk, and shops selling a bunch of old military gear, but it didn’t seem anything to write home about. Not even worth pulling the camera out as the atmosphere wasn’t too friendly. I spent a while going through piles of clothes looking for a cool vintage skirt. I found a pretty amazing one, if you happen to be a size negative three. Still, it killed some time.
For the period of my second visit to Tallinn, they had their ‘Old Town Days’ happening. Basically it’s a medieval festival, complete with a mock- Hanseatic market and medieval entertainment.
Throughout the day there were shows on a stage in the square, with singing or folk dancing or short plays. It was good fun to watch.
Most of it centred around the main square, but up near the information centre and Nigiliste Concert Hall there were a number of tents with activities aimed at children, like sword fighting and crafts. It seemed that this was entertaining the locals as well as the tourists.
In the evening, they had some kind of ceremony – everything being in Estonian, I couldn’t understand anything that was being said – where a whole bunch of people in beautiful and bright medieval costumes would be let into the old Town Hall.
Ok, so the medieval days festival was more than a little kitsch – but it was good fun, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I mean, how can you look at bright yellow pixie boots on a grown man and not laugh?