Medieval alleyways and cheap booze…Tallinn

So if you are an avid reader of our no flying adventure you will know right at the start of our trip we ended up on a cruise…for two weeks…with three thousand eighty year olds. We chalked it up as an experience but felt it probably wasn’t something to repeat until we are eighty ourselves. However, upon leaving Helsinki on an overnight boat to Estonia we once again found ourselves on yet another cruise. Granted it was very different, but there were still eighty year olds getting their ballroom dancing and buffet dinner fix… sigh. There did seem to be a secondary purpose to this cruise though, and that was for the Finns to come on board and buy cheap alcohol when in international waters, you haven’t lived until you have seen elderly Finns fighting over the last bottle of Jagermeister! As the boat docked in Estonia a whole 10 hours before we were allowed off the ship we realised our mistake in taking an overnight ferry for a two-hour journey, but hey, we had a cheap cabin for the night… it could be worse…

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Until I (Ella) moved to Australia I knew nothing about Estonia apart from it  had once won the Eurovision song contest, but having worked with a beautiful, proud Estonian lady named Theresa, this all changed and we knew we had to visit. We started our Estonian adventure with a visit to the capital, Tallinn. It was amazing to see a small nation, that over the centuries had been conquered and ruled by everyone else (Germans, Swedes, Russians, Nazis, Russians…) had such a strong national identity, even if the language and national anthem had been stolen from Finland!! People were very proud to be Estonian, and very proud of their achievements… did you know they have online voting in their elections and skype was invented there?? We do, as every Estonian person we met liked to reminded us…

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But it’s not the technological advances that bring in the tourists to Tallinn, but instead the beautifully preserved medieval old town. The town square leads off into curving alleyways, hidden churches and even the odd defensive tower, making it incredibly picturesque. So much so that we walked through the set of a TV show being filmed! Like good backpackers, we made use of the free walking tour (that you find in most European cities) and a very knowledgeable guide led us through the city, teaching is about its history and buildings as well as Estonia and Estonians in general…. did you know Skype was invented here……

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The one piece of advice for Tallin’s old town sites that we can give, is NOT to visit the tunnels under the city! We try to stay clear of negativity on the blog but we feel this is worthy of a public service broadcast!  Starting at the Kiek in de Kok tower (a peak in the kitchen tower…named because it was so high the soldiers could see down the chimneys of neighbouring homes) a series of tunnels constructed for defence purposes run under the city, and have now been converted to a museum filled with waxworks (never Ella’s favourite part of a museum!), and an odd “train ride” to the future complete with a video presumably made by the Disney channel and evangelical Christians! We also had a tour guide who decided to turn the 2 hour tour into a 1 hour tour, and was very keen on expressing her “interesting” views on homeless people…. yeah not a top sight.

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We didn’t have the best luck with museums in Tallinn city. We tried to go to the Occupation Museum on the day of a gallery opening, and though it was fun in its own way, we couldn’t hear much of the mainly audio displays of the museum due to the live band…. oh well who really needs war knowledge anyways. Thankfully our luck changed when we left the centre for our museum fix, and headed to the seaplane museum down by the water. The inner seven-year old in both of us had a great time, climbing through a decommissioned submarine, pretending to fly an airplane and even driving remote control boats through a watery obstacle course. They also had some of the real things outside for us to climb all over and have the obligatory “Titanic moment” standing on the front! On our walk back we stopped off Talliskivi arts centre, full of cool restaurants, cafes and artist studios, and pretended for an hour we were part of the artsy scene in Tallinn!

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Speaking of restaurants, no doubt the Tallinn food highlight was from a spot in the town hall building, right on the town square. In a very dark, medieval style eatery, where the serving ladies wear handmade dresses and hand out tankards of ale to wash down your meal, they serve up cheap (3 euro) bowls of Elk soup without modern conveniences like cutlery or customer service. There is even a big barrel where you can bob for Gherkins. embarrassingly I’ve forgotten its name…but go find it!!

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Unfortunately we seemed to have got to Estonia just a few weeks too early, loads of guesthouses weren’t open, the weather would make the national park too boggy…and just our luck it was a holiday in Russia (for their Victory day) so prices were high. Even worse our grand plan of hiring a car was thwarted by us not having the second part of our licences…. Doh! So after a brief stop in Parnu, to see the Estonian coast and eat some traditional pea and ham soup, we headed south to Latvia.

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All we can say is Estonia we’ll be back…probably in the summer though and with full driving licences!

R&E

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