We spent only one day in Tallinn, but it was enough to get a small taste of the famous and pristine Old Town – which is not only picture-book pretty but also really interesting. Wired calls Estonia ‘the most advanced digital society in the world’, and it is where Skype was invented. Quite something for a country that was crushed under Soviet rule for 51 years (and I mean crushed: they were not allowed to speak their own language, celebrate their national holidays, follow their own religion or wear traditional dress).
Where is Tallinn? – Tallinn Map – Tallinn Map Download Free Photo Gallery
Fortunately, that’s all over now: the 1.5 million people have a very high standard of living, Estonia has beautiful beaches, lovely wine and craft beers, the euro as its currency and it can be entered with a Schengen visa – an indication of how much more it feels a part of Europe than it does Russia. Estonia may be at the forefront of new technology, but the old walled city of Tallinn is like a portal to another world. Its ancient cobbled streets are a joy to wander through, and you will definitely bump into a medieval monk or a town crier.
Obviously catering for tourists, there are quite a few actors bobbing about in national dress, which somehow manages to be charming rather than theme-park-ish, specially when they’re talking on an iPhone (as you’d expect in such a technologically advanced environment, there is very speedy wall-to-wall free wi-fi: a total boon for us Saffer travelers). It was a crisp and sunny day, so we climbed the hill to the castle, passing the quite irresistibly named Kiek in de Kök (one of the castle towers and an entrance into the 10km-long tunnels underneath the city walls), on our way. Luckily we didn’t have time for any underground explorations… I am not a fan of subterranean shenanigans.
We settled for a wander around the Toompea district, which is all contained within the castle walls and includes loads of little shops selling amber, marzipan, beautiful linen, pure wool knitwear and various touristy knik-knaks. The castle istelf sits on top of sheer limestone cliffs, offering amazing views over the Baltic. That was where I spotted some wise graffitti: ‘Save the camera, honey, and enjoy the view’. So I put my camera away and did just that. By that stage we’d worked up quite a hunger, so we walked back down the hill in search of food. FARM turned out to be a phenomenal restaurant, and I had also spotted quite a few other interesting looking eateries along the way… Along with everything else it offers, Tallinn is clearly a foodie destination too. Afterwards, we just had time to pop into a local supermarket (my favourite thing to do when traveling). We were looking for affordable caviar, and we weren’t disappointed: it started at about €2 for quite a large jar. Our time in Estonia was just long enough to know that I’d love to come back. Then home to the Symphony to set sail that night for Stockholm, W where we were due to disembark.
NEED TO KNOW
Prices weren’t at all bad – the restaurant prices were comparable to a good restaurant in SA, and the supermarket goodies (and caviar!) were extremely affordable. The new town of Tallinn is apparently just as wonderful, and culturally very rich, with music festivals throughout the year, as well as excellent art and architecture museums. Next time! You may have to dodge a few groups of Finns who have nipped across for a party – alcohol is much cheaper here than in Finland. Have a drink in the castle walls at the Dannebrog bar, but watch out for the EXTREMELY steep stairs (so steep everything is winched up). The Town Hall Pharmacy in the Old Town dates from 1422 – worth a wander through, not just for the building but also for some of the remedies still on sale, like unicorn powder, or a cure for broken hearts.
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