Day 11 – 12: The Old Town of Tallinn
Arriving in Tallinn a couple of hours after leaving Helsinki, we were again amazed at how beautiful this region of the world is, and how fantastic it was to have such long days thanks to the northern summer. Even though it was almost seven before we ventured out of the hotel, we still had three hours to wander around the city, seeing some of the sites and taking some photos.
Along the way, we walked past St Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, built to symbolise Russian power over the region. Now, it’s just beautiful. Plus, it holds the most expensive toilet in Europe. Yep…it cost the Estonia government 2.3 million kroons to install. We wandered up to the top of Toompea Hill, stopping at St Mary’s Cathedral, the birthpoint of Tallinn.
Then we headed for some beautiful views of the town at the Kohtu Viewpoint. The town is just amazing. Incredible views!
More views were viewed at the top of St Olaf’s Church, once the tallest building in the world (at 159m high). It’s also the most unlucky: it has been hit by lightening at least eight times, and burned down three times. Along with the best viewpoint in town (on the deck half-way up), this church was also used as a KGB centre during Soviet times. Given my fear of heights, I wasn’t so keen to be wandering around a really tall church steeple with protective rails that slope outwards. But, I got out there and did it!
After the church climb, we wandered around Tallinn for a while to take in some more of the gorgeous old town. I absolutely loved the town’s old walls, originally built in 1265 but strengthened since.
Dinner was had in the Peppersack restaurant, a medieval style eatery. We were treated to medieval dining and medieval beer with medieval dancing. To kick it all off, we managed to view the nightly demonstration of medieval fighting – on the staircase and around all the tables. Overall, it was a highly recommended evening of fun and frivolity that ended by walking past a sign that told us exactly what we were going to do the following day…
We woke up the next day, ready for a good Kiek in de Kok! Meaning “peep into the kitchen” in German, it’s actually just a tower that’s been transformed into a museum. We spent the morning enjoying some historical facts about Estonia before heading off to take a couple of bike tours with the wonderful guys at the Tallinn tourist tent. A wealth of information about the city, I can’t recommend these guys more. They were absolutely wonderful!
Our first tour took us through the Russian area of town. Occupied/controlled or other by Russia in some way from 1940 through to 1994, Estonia has a large Russian population and Tallinn’s architecture is heavily influenced by Russia.
First stop on the tour was Balti Jaam, the Tallinn train station, where we stood in the same place a train had “landed” in 2008. Not so surprising, except that it was on the station side of the flowerbed right behind me in the photo (below). To think we complain about Melbourne trains!
We then headed to the Russian flea market to try and find the most interesting item possible for the smallest coin possible. After that, we jumped right into the Kalamaja district feeling very much out of place. Such a big difference from the rest of Tallinn town.
Turns out that while the prison is no longer functional, there is indeed a bar hidden within its grounds. So naturally, we stopped and had a drink. Luckily. As the skies opened up and drenched the surroundings, for the first time.
We finished the tour by heading to the memorial platform for the MS Estonia. The ship was crossing the Baltic Sea from Tallinn to Stockholm in 1994 when it capsized in tragic circumstances, killing 852.
And that was the end of the Russian tour. Tallinn welcomed us back in true style, by opening the skies again and almost flooding the main square. It looked awfully like our tour of the East would be cancelled until…it just stopped raining.
So off we went again – in slightly wetter streets this time.
On the way out of the city, we headed through the main business and residential district of Tallinn. One of the interesting sights was an old garage. Not sure I’d be putting my car in this one!
Anyway, we rode out to Kadriorg Park, a beautiful park built by Peter the Great as a family retreat in 1714, just after Russia captured Estonia from the Swedes. Kadriorg (“Catherines Valley”) is a secluded neighbourhood made of large areas of forested park. Owning a house here might just get you some envious looks.
A couple of the “houses” include Kadriorg Palace (bottom left), a Baroque structure built by Peter the Great and the Presidential Palace (bottom right), built in 1938 in Estonia’s first period of independence and still used as the Presidential residence.
We kept going East, through the Estonia Song Festival Grounds (a festival was either beginning or ending) and onto the Soviet Obelisk. The memorial was first built in 1960 in memory of Russians who died in 1918. In 1975, the concrete and iron figures were added to honour Soviet soldiers killed in an attempt to protect the city from German invasion during 1941. It’s not that popular now, as you can imagine.
What was amazing about this point in the tour was the view back into Tallinn. Apparently, when we were out of town seeing the sights, a brilliant thunderstorm had hit the city. Beautiful, and just a little bit freaky.
We got back, all was ok and we celebrated our last night in Tallinn with a few quiet Estonian beers. They really do have nice ones, I highly recommend them! Now – off to Lahemaa.