When I found out I was going to Europe again, I wanted to visit some places I had never been before. I also wanted to find more affordable places to help compensate for the atrocious exchange rate we currently have. That turned my eyes toward Eastern Europe. I figured I could find more favorable financial conditions there.
I was always curious about the Baltic nations: Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. I figured I would look into that. I discovered Europebyair.com in my research. They specialize in $99 one way flights throughout Europe. I would be able to fly from Amsterdam to Tallinn for $99. Then I could fly from Vilnius back to Amsterdam later also for $99.
That settled it. I was going to Tallinn. This is hardly one of the more famous cities in the world although it is listed by UNESCO as a world heritage site as a medieval town. I was really pumped up for the trip. I read that Tallinn was regarded as the new Prague. That sounded good to me. My love affair with Prague is scheduled to be rekindled next year. For now, I had to settle for a beautiful new Old City.
I arrived in Tallinn early afternoon. It took a few moments to get oriented in the airport. A bus ride drops off passengers in the Center of town. This bus stop is near a mall and a casino but is not the main international bus station. Eventually, I found that I was a mere five minute walk from Old Town. Stumbling into the Old Town was a pure joy. This medieval town is one of the best preserved old towns I have ever seen. I went through what at one time must have been the gates to the town. The buildings were gorgeous.
It was a trifle cool but I followed a map to the old town and found a tourist office. They directed us to a hostel right in the old town. There was a strip club a floor above the hostel. I knew right then that it was going to be an interesting city. The people at the hostel spoke pretty good English which was a nice benefit.
After getting settled in, it was time to start exploring the town. The hostel was located right around the town from the Old Town Square(Raekoja Plats.) One can dine at a nice Indian restaurant on the town square. I guess not all things have been preserved. I found the Beer House rather easily. It was located on a small street (Dunkri) right off the Square. This was one of my destinations for the Tallinn visit. The Beer House is styled after a German beer hall but it also features two night clubs on the upper floors.
One can easily just saunter around exploring the Old Town. It is not really all that big. It is very cool that much of the original town wall is still there. I read that you can arrange to take a walk on top of the wall. Early Spring you still have a lot of thawing so it would have been a slushy if not slippery proposition for me. One can venture up to Toompea.
The parliament building is up there. This is the old Toompea Castle. There is also a nice courtyard to check out. You can also get a wonderful view of the lower town. It is breathtaking to look down on these old medieval buildings. The St Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is also up on Toompea. It is a breathtakingly beautiful cathedral. There are numerous beautiful old cathedrals in Tallinn. Many of them are well maintained and very inspiring. I usually check out a few cathedrals in every major European city.
Several of the towers are also still standing. The City Museum was once a merchant’s home in medieval times. The Maritime Museum is in an ancient building at the Pik Gate of the Old Town. This also provides an exit out toward the train station or port. There are several islands off of Tallinn but time did not permit further exploration. That is something for a future trip.
There are also some wonderful restaurants. I ate at a restaurant called Olde Hansa. This restaurant is in a 15th Century building and features what is billed as an authentic Hanseatic menu. The interior is designed like the inside of a wealthy merchant’s home. The wait staff is garbed in medieval costume and the menu features game and their own specially brewed beers. The honey beer tasted like it included cinnamon in the recipe. I had a platter that included sausages from beer, elk and wild boar. This is a bit of a tourist trap but it’s an impressive and centrally located place. The menu is printed in six different languages. English is one of them if you need ask.
One of the drawbacks of Tallinn is that the transportation is a bit spread out. The International bus station is about a 25 minute walk from Old Town. The Port is also outside the Old Town but considerably closer. About 5 or 10 minutes walk from the port is the train station. Behind the train station is a section of wooden houses (Kalamaja). This is a pretty interesting section to walk through. Some of the homes are interesting to check out. There are a lot of these homes showing signs of age but others have been wonderfully maintained. It shows a side of the culture you won’t get in the touristy old town. I stopped in a bar here. It was the proverbial other side of the tracks as they didn’t speak English. I still managed to negotiate a couple beers and it was cheaper than the pubs in the Old Town.
The port has several ferry and shipping lines. It is a three hour ride to Helsinki. It cost the equivalent of $30 for a round trip ferry to Helsinki. The Viking Line has a great ship. The ship includes several restaurants, pubs and casinos. It is a downright civilized experience. There is also an indoor flea market near the port. Here, you can find souvenirs, clothes or other necessities. It was interesting to check the place out.
The night life in Tallinn can be pretty intense. There are plenty of pubs to choose from. You can find a nice selection of native brews as well as a few good English pub. The local beers will be considerably cheaper than a Guinness or other English style. I became quite partial to the beers from Saku Brewery.
On Fridays and Saturdays, the bars are open till three or four in the morning. There are also many strip clubs for those who want to gawk at lovely Eastern European women. It was really not all that different from clubs in America. There are a couple clubs that feature full nudity. Prostitution is illegal and tourists are adviced to be wary of sexual solicitation at strip clubs and on the street.
There is a bit of hostility towards Russians. Baltic natives have not readily forgotten the Occupation. I didn’t see any open acts of aggression though. The Estonians also like their booze. They sell beer almost everywhere. It is also cheap. It was interesting when I sailed to Helsinki to see Finns crating loads of booze back home from Tallinn. I think Finnish appetite for cheap booze keeps the Estonian economy running.
Overall, Tallinn was a wonderful city. The Old Town is absolutely gorgeous. The rest of the city is interesting and in a rebuilding process. I imagine that it will be commercialized in the coming years. This is probably a good time to go. There is still much purity and the costs are still relatively low. The people are wonderful and it is a comfortable place to just saunter about and absorb the history and beauty.