‘First bar in 50 steps’ reads the first signboard on exiting the ferry.
My kind of people, these Estonians, I think to myself. After all, its not everywhere you’re told which way the nearest drinking establishment is, especially on arrival.
The beginning of my trip to Tallinn is still somewhat blurry in my mind after an eight-hour plane ride from Montréal. Note to self: must avoid getting sloshed on plane rides… just kidding (read: only partly kidding). Anyhow, I believe the trip in question started on a bright, sunny day in Helsinki with a two-hour ferry ride. Since the only ferries I’d ever really been on involved 30 cars being dragged across a water-body on a large flat-topped motorboat, the one I took to Tallinn was nothing like I’d expected. When Finns say they’re taking a ‘ferry’ to the Estonian capital, they really mean, “we’re taking a nice cruise on a ship that has a million slot machines, duty-free shops, pubs and restaurants, which also happens to have a large capacity for cars, trucks and the like.” While the ‘ferry’ ride itself was quite enjoyable, especially for someone like me -who enjoys a beer or two while losing small sums of money to the on-board slot machines, Tallinn itself has much to offer as a city.
Tallinn, Estonia’s capital city is for lack of a more deserving word – charming. The city itself is divided into two – Old Tallinn and New Tallinn.
New Tallinn, is very much like every other metropolis around the globe – high rises, traffic, and bustling streets. Old Tallinn on the other hand, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is a captivating destination for those such as myself with a weakness for narrow cobblestone roads; architecture reminiscent of medieval years; and tramways.
My first glimpse of Old Tallinn on arriving from the port is ‘Fat Margaret’ – an early 16th century tower that earned its’ deserving name because of its plump, 25 meter diameter. Evidently, it is home to the Estonian Maritime Museum, and the grounds beside it are often used as archery fields. Themed archery fields, in fact – complete with medieval bows and arrows, and finger tabs and bracers similar to what Robin Hood probably wore.
What is more is Old Tallinn comes with all the comforts of modern life. Albeit set in the medieval ambiance most come to adore – housed behind brick walls are a selection of cuisines, wireless internet cafés as well as local and foreign brews, all of which are but a few of the fancies the Town Hall Square has to offer.
The Town Square, a bustling spot one would only imagine to see in fairytales was filled with street vendors, dressed in medieval peasant clothing in keeping with the prominent theme. Amongst the abundant souvenir stalls, selling everything from amber-tree magnets (Estonian amber is amongst the finest in the world) to souvenir shot glasses, are traditional sugared, spiced almonds. Not being overly keen on the variety of nut personally, I found myself pleasantly surprised by taste of the brown sugar and cinnamon almonds whose aromas wafted through the air.
A large part of Estonian culture today, it is evident, is remnant of Russian rule which dominated the region from the mid-1700s until the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991. Prior to Soviet control and Imperial Russian reign, Estonia was tussled between the Danes, Poles, Swedes, Germans, and was historically inhabited by Vikings. Remarkably, all this cultural and historical diversity is seen in the comparative languages, music and customs of the region. The Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is a typical Russian Orthodox Church, bearing ornate interiors and elegant onion dome exteriors. Similarly, the Swedish era developed the fine arts, and are namely preserved today in hand-carved stone buildings of the time. The Dominican Monastery Museum houses the largest collection of such stone carvings, as well as sculptures and tombstones.
Tallinn today, apart from being prosperous in terms of its culture and history, is also home to many a pub and club. A vibrant nightlife adorns the charismatic core of the city by daybreak and there is something entertaining for nearly everyone. Saaremaa, a local vodka named after Estonia’s largest island, is the prominent drink of choice in such occasions and comes in an 80% ABV selection.
For those intrepid souls wishing to venture into the capital, a visit during the pleasant summer months is well warranted. The flower and flea markets are in full-bloom; street corners host busking musicians; and the city has a different sort of life breathed into it. Tallinn is an entirely different city from most of its European counterparts, and its time-honored allure is a rarity in today’s world.
OK, enough formage* from me — just go visit it and see for yourselves, OK?
* French for cheese, jeez! (Not going to lie- very amused with self since that rhymed)
If you liked this post, drop me a comment, if you didn’t like it definitely drop me a comment, and if you really loved it, like it, share it, or tell your grandmother about it.