Arriving in Tallinn
It was a happy couple who kipped our first night in the capital city of Estonia, Tallinn. To be fair it would not have taken much to put us to sleep after the rather long and sleepless cruise from Stockholm.
Throughout our travels we had erred on the budget side when booking accomodation and Tallinn was the same. It proved that even seasoned AirBnb travellers can get it wrong. Cath had fallen in love with the traditional wooden workers houses when researching Tallinn and whilst they are very romantic and pretty to observe, perhaps they are not the perfect accomodation for a couple of middle aged travellers. We found our studio apartment consisted of a first floor studio, with a mattress on the floor, a washing machine that was out of order, a shower in the toilet and questionable cleanliness. You know what? It wasn’t that bad.
Day 1 Exploring the Old Town
The next morning we found the shower was great, the neighbourhood was close to the old town and a supermarket was just around the corner. Estonia is about half the price of our homeland, Australia and we were able to stock up on supplies for a very reasonable price. We (read Cath) became quite adept at grocery shopping in various languages during our travels and before we knew it an enjoyable brunch was spread before us.
It was a very pleasant stroll through the city from the Kadriorg area to the Old Town, and it gave us a chance to get our bearings and put the city in context. Tallinn is an eclectic mix of pretty wooden houses decorated in pastel colours and wooden lacework, Soviet era brutalist buildings, new glass towers, 19th century romance and family friendly parks.
Tallinn’s Old Town has a fairytale charm, it was built up from the 13th to the 17th century and retains it’s city wall almost perfectly intact. As always in European medieval towns, there have been a few additions and renovations over the centuries giving the Old Town an eclectic air. There were a few tourist groups in evidence when we were there but you can easily escape them by taking a turn down a cobbled side alley, into one of the many squares and be lost in another world.
Estonia is still catching up on the many years lost to it due to Soviet domination and they are clearly working hard to attract tourists, but in the meantime it means that attractions are cheap. As we meandered through the city we discovered that you can climb up into the City Wall and guard towers for the admission price of, wait for it, €2. Yes you read that right, €2 to climb one of Europe’s best preserved medieval walls.
The view is no doubt quite a bit more serene than it was for the many generations of soldiers who defended the city from here. The view through the outer wall from slitted windows, across what was once the moat, now overlooks the delightful Tornadi valjak or Tower’s Square park, whilst the view on the inner side affords a view of the red tiled roofs and various church spires within the Old Town.
Tornadi väljak is known as one of the best places to view the many guard towers and the City Wall and it is easy to imagine knights riding up to rescue one or two damsels in distress. As we are won’t to do on our travels we were distracted from exploring inside the city wall and found ourselves through the gate and into the park. As we meandered along we were confronted with all sorts of displays and exhibits; unbeknownst to us the Flower and Art Festival was open. It features local and international artists and garden designers. The park was filled with installations, including bee friendly flower beds (much to our resident bee lovers delight) and a multitude of other things, some a bit odd as only modern installation art can be, e.g. female skeletons drowning in puddles amongst the flower beds and clay pots with eyes. Cath was in photographic mode and commenced snapping everything, extending our walk by at least an hour but as it was a gorgeous warm sunny day, why hurry?As we walked along it was like being in a fairytale, what with the city walls and towers appearing above the numerous trees of the park.
Eventually we headed back into the city and were surprised to find an increase in the number of tourists, but the Old Town is such a delight, one can’t help but be enchanted. At every turn you see medieval buildings, alleyways and cobbled streets that, but for the tourists, could take you back 500 years. The Plats are full of outdoor bars and restaurants with umbrellas, flower baskets and the early drinkers. We found our way into the appropriately named Beer Street, where we enjoyed a pint. There is no shortage of bars in Tallinn and before long we had moved on and descended into the “Bear Bar”. After our travels through the Scandinavian countries, where buying a drink is an expensive treat, we found the prices in Tallinn much more to our liking, about €3.50/pint.
All good things must come to an end and with sore feet, we finally called it a day. Another of the challenges we now relish upon arriving in a new city is finding and using public transport, we think we have become pretty good at it. A little research goes a long way and in no time we had located an R-Kiosk, conveniently located right near the main tram stop just outside the Viru Gate and purchased our tickets. In no time at all, well with a little bit of trepidation, given we weren’t really sure of the direction we should be heading in, we were on the tram and away home.
Day 2-Saturday Night party time
It had been a while since we had been able to afford a bit of a Saturday night out on the town and so we decided that we best discover the bars of Tallinn. We have had some success finding non touristy spots with the Like a Local Guide and were determined to find such a bar and meet some Tallinnites.
An Anomoly, promised to be an interesting if somewhat obscure place which sounded just like our cup of….wine. Somehow we missed our mark and walked into a strange bar by the name of Suhkrumoll, a cave like bar which featured a decor based around Mexican death masks. What to drink in a place like this? Double vodkas with lime and soda seemed to make sense, although in hindsight a double tequila would have been more appropriate. We sat in a corner admiring (and we use the term loosely) our surroundings for as long as it took to finish our drinks, before moving on.
Sure enough, just around the corner we found our destination. It would be easier to find if they were kind enough to put up a sign but then it would probably not be anomolous would it? As we were entering we overheard three guys talking over right wing political viewpoints, in English. Never one to be shy and with the power of a double vodka on board, Ian couldn’t help himself and joined in the conversation. You can imagine our surprise when one of the participants turned out to be an Australian tattooist, who had married an Estonian girl. Before long we were meeting wives, girlfriends and work colleagues as the beer flowed and the discussions continued. What an interesting group we had run into, who were happy to discuss everything from being a Nazi sympathiser to women’s rights and religion. It was an entertaining evening, although to be honest the bar wasn’t quite what we expected and disappointingly no live music. We had outstayed the public transport system but found that taxi drivers in Tallinn appear to be an anomaly amongst their colleagues world wide and will not rip you off, the driver quoting us the same price as our new found friends had advised it should cost.
Day 3-A Sunday afternoon festival
Unsurprisingly, it was a late start the following day. We set off to explore the Kalamaja district, where many of the workers weatherboard houses had been renovated and promised to be a colourful, picturesque wander. The perfect activity with a hangover of fair proportion. We may have taken the wrong turn when alighting from the bus but we did not find many pretty coloured houses, in fact the Kadriorg area near our apartment appeared to much nicer with more pretty coloured houses, to our eye. True to form we continued to walk though and soon found signs to the Seaplane Museum and not long down the road, groups of people all heading off to something, so the nosey parkers (us) went along too.
When we emerged onto the next main road we were surprised to find that there was in fact a festival in full swing, the Tallinn Maritime Days Festival. Crowds of people had gathered, among other things, to watch yacht races, admire numerous vintage boats and ships, enjoy festival food and listen to live music. Naturally we joined in, how could you not? We quickly entered into the spirit of the festival, buying beers, pork shanks and Ian couldn’t resist the ubiquitous sausage with sauerkraut and spuds. The young band weren’t too bad and the grub was good, but we eschewed the opportunity to join in axe throwing, real bows and arrows and sword fighting.
As the afternoon drew to a close the breeze from the bay became quite cool and we strolled back toward the city along the foreshore, which was basically a gravel path beside a whole lot of concrete slabs thrown willy nilly together, presumably to halt erosion. It was interesting to note the number of locals who had draped themselves over the concrete in an effort to get a suntan. More festival activities were taking place as we neared the city and we found ourselves admiring the streetart from the Mextonia:Culture Kilometer. The Mextonia street art festival unites street artists from around the world and showcases myths and legends from their home cultures, as the name suggest 2017 was a mixture of Mexico and Estonia.
Day 4-Celebrating our little Travel Blog
We arose on Monday to an exciting day in the life of Possess the World: we were to have 3 articles published in Evade Magazine UK, cause for a celebratory, non budget lunch. The restaurant, Platz, was in a pretty location with terraces surrounded by potted flowers in multiple colours but unfortunately the weather was miserable and we found ourselves in the cave like interior, which was quite cozy. We had read good reviews but whilst the entrees of Beet Tartare for Cath and Steak Tartare for Ian were OK, the mains were pedestrian and the wine was so-so for the price. Having completed our celebrations it was time to catch up on a few administrative tasks and have a wee nap, us oldies needed to recover from the weekend frivolity.
Day 5-More exploring in the old town
Arising late is becoming symptomatic of our travelling. It has come about because we struggle to go to bed until it is properly dark, which is very late in these high latitudes. It was made all the more difficult by the lack of blinds in our apartment, yet another thing that we hadn’t thought to check when booking but should you really have to check if there are blinds? We think not!
We were once again off to explore more of the city, but this time with a couple of clear objectives in mind.
Our first objective was to get some exercise and to stroll through the nearby Kadriorg Park, home of Peter the Great’s summer palace, as well as the president’s residence. It is a very large park, with various set pieces, such as the colourful flower beds, the water fountain and long stepped water feature; but for us the manicured, box shaped trees reminiscent of the Jardin des Tuileries in Paris and gravel walkways beside the well kept lawns, struck a chord. As we walked on, arriving at the palace, the symmetry was quite pleasing, however the building itself was somehow understated. Up past the president’s house, we detoured around the rose garden which was simply beautiful, with its wonderful array of differently coloured blooms. Cath in particular loved the “Rhapsody In Blue” strain with, as you probably guessed, blue tinged roses.
Leaving the park, we caught the good old number 3 tram in to the city, as we had decided to catch up on a couple of ommissions from our previous visit. First up was St. Catherine’s Passage, a medieval laneway beside the old church of the same name. It dates from the 15th century and apart from the wall of ancient tombstones, also contains numerous artisans workshops.
There are a number of observations decks in Tallinn that afford views over both the city and the Baltic Sea. A fellow travel blogger, Reaching Hot had recently published a very informative blog on where to see the best views and also avoid the tourist crowds, which was a natural fit for us.
We eventually found our way out of the city walls and up the steep stairs to the upper terrace, the Patkuli viewing platform. This is the best place to see the city and it’s medieval walls, as well as across the red tiled roofs to the sea. As you wind your way down from the viewing area back into the city, you will see why both we and Reaching Hot do not recommend only seeing the view from the popular and over crowded Piiskopi viewing platform.
From here we easily lost ourselves in the narrow cobbled streets, admiring the pastel coloured buildings, ornate Cathedrals and visited The Museum of Estonian Drinking Culture. How could one not visit such an auspiciously titled place? In reality it is a rather grand title for a small building housing the remnants of a former brewing house, where, among other things we were able to tour the somewhat decrepit cellars whilst “enjoying” some locally produced rhubarb wine. Hmm, not so sure that flavour is going to take off.
Having been fortified with rhubarb it was time to stroll further down into the city, Tallinn is a marvellous little city and we were happy to just wander with no real destination in mind, until the sun became a little too warm and it was time to readjust our drinking tastebuds to something a wee bit more civilised than rhubarb. Cath had come up with another pearl of wisdom and found what purports to be the the oldest bar in Tallinn, the Valli Baar. Not only is it reputedly the oldest bar, it also hosts the oldest, local drinking intelligentsia, so we were assured of fitting in! We enjoyed a couple of cold beers before Ian noticed that they were advertising their signature cocktail, the Milli Mallikas, reputedly a knockout. When he researched it he understood why. It consists of half sambucca and half tequila with a dash of tabasco in a shot glass. Not a drink to be enjoyed at 3 o’clock in the afternoon, according to Cath anyway!
We eschewed the cocktail and with Ian muttering something about bloody women, we instead headed for home, only to be waylaid on the way to the tram by the thought of enjoying the sun and people watching near the flower markets at Viru Square. The Kalle Kusta sidewalk restaurant was the perfect spot for another beer and a late lunch or early dinner depending on your point of view. We recommend the schnitzels and salad for a large meal, under €10.
Day 6-Tallinn’s best burger joint and meeting the Jellyfish
Our second last day in Tallinn was spent organising a trip outside the city, hiring a car and generally lazing around. We had heard and read about a local’s only burger joint and bakery in the Kadriorg district, just around the corner from our apartment. The Vesivärava Kohvik bakery is run by two sweet older women and promised delectable traditional Estonian meals and pastries. Have you noticed that we are slightly distractible, especially by food? As we were entering the bakery, we were confronted by a hole in the wall style burger joint, Vesivärava Grill and the smell of the burgers on the BBQ at the side of it was just too good to walk past. So forgoing a hearty, traditional, budget meal from the ladies, we ordered some burgers and whilst we waited we acquired dessert from the bakery. What a good choice it turned out to be, the burgers were AMAZING! Yes it needs capitals, do not miss these burgers if you are in Tallinn. The meat patties were perfectly barbecued and the salad ingredients were plentiful, with a traditional twist and oh so tasty. We did find out that Ian’s burger is known amongst the regulars as the ‘hangover’ burger and had we known what was to come, we probably would have delayed eating it until the next day.
Fully sated, we spent the afternoon planning next steps of our trip through the Baltic States before deciding that there was no way we could return to Australia with knowledge of the legendary Millimallikas and not have tasted it. So we prepared with a couple of glasses of the finest traditional liquer, Vana Tallinn (which we also recommend if you are planning a visit), put on our drinking boots and returned to the Valli Bar.
It seems the Estonian’s do not only have a reputation for enjoying a drink but demonstrate it as well and it was not long before we were enjoying a large pint of beer and chatting away to the bar full of old and not so old pub goers. It appears that Wednesday night is live music night and an accordionist in the corner was the band for the evening. Well we had come for one reason and the time had arrived to meet that reason, the Millimallikas, which we now know translates as the Jellyfish and not only because it looks like one floating in the glass but because it turns your legs into jelly. The party went on and on, drink after drink until closing time, at which point we discovered our dancing legs had turned into you guessed it jelly legs.
Day 7- The lost day
As we previously noted we had planned to get out of the city and explore some of the surrounding country side but after meeting the Millimallikas, we were quite simply not capable of getting out of bed to do so. I can hear you thinking, dear reader, at your age you should know better and you are completely right but, well, we don’t. It is that simple, we like a chat, a drink and a party, if one should happen to find those things then days do become lost.
And so it was, we spent a much needed day rehydrating and recuperating before packing our bags in preparation for the bus trip to our next destination, Riga.