As far as I remember, my trip to Tallinn marked the first time I had intentionally bought a ticket and not used it. After being told that I could get cheap ferries I was dismayed to find that on a Friday everything was at least €35 single, until Petri – who is a legend – managed to find me a day return for 18. I stayed in Tallinn for two nights, though my ticket told me I should have gone back to Finland four hours later laden down with cheap alcohol (no really, the actual boarding pass had the alcohol customs limits printed onto it). I’ve had an email from the company since which was all in Finnish, so either they were saying ‘sorry you missed the boat, would you like another ticket?’ or ‘we know you broke the rules, you sneaky foreigner, and we’re going to track you down and drag you back to Helsinki’
Despite being back in Europe and close to home I have to admit that I know almost nothing about any of the Baltic countries – my facts for Latvia and Lithuania equal zero, and just edging ahead of them my facts for Estonia are:
1. The Finnish go on booze cruises there (yes, I learned this the day before)
2. They hosted Eurovision not too long ago.
3. They have lots of knitwear.
Somehow I don’t think the centres of knitting tradition are in the capital, but it does mean that if you’re cold you can buy some nice factory produced souvenirs from well dressed shop mannequins.
The centre of Tallinn is the old mediaeval town, and while there are things to see outside of it, this is where to go if you only have a day and a half available. I lucked out and got gorgeous weather for both days which meant lots of nice free walking, just aimlessly wandering around, mostly mapless, popping into whatever shops and galleries caught my eye. If you manage to avoid the usual tacky tourist shops there are actually quite a lot of interesting handicraft shops here, which probably means it’s a good thing that I didn’t have any cash as I don’t really have space in my bag for a leather bound photo album. Or a sheepskin rug. Or a wrought iron wine glass rack for the wine glasses that I don’t own because I don’t drink wine.
(Logic doesn’t count with souvenirs right?)
I managed to miss the free tour here, so I don’t have a lot of information about the old town, but I learned from the map that this well used to be associated with evil spirits who had the potential to completely destroy the city. In order to appease the spirits, the super smart residents used to throw dead cats down the well. And then they had to close it because the water got contaminated. Genius.
The town hall, right in the middle of the old town, was started in the thirteenth century and finished in 1404, back in the days before they knew how to make flat floors. This is the hub for all the tourist activity and the town square is crowded with the kind of restaurants that have people standing outside with menus to lure indecisive tourists in for overpriced mediocre food.
Right in the town hall however is Ill Draakon, which totally belongs to the mediaeval theme park of old town with food in clay pots and staff in traditional costumes with ye olde banter BUT, completely unexpectedly, the food is cheap and really good. I got myself the advertised ‘decent bowl of elk soup’ and an apple pie for all of €3.
On my second afternoon I went on a walk beyond the old town to see what else the day trippers were missing. If I’d had more time and more money there are a few places to visit – open air museum, seaplane hangar, observation tower etc – but being broke I decided to go into the free contemporary art gallery near the ferry terminal. Hmm. Well. The creepy doll heads were the most normal thing in there. Generally it was six rooms of the worst examples of I’m-better-than-you art.
‘Oh, you don’t like my installation of a rock and a jar of human fat? Well no, I wouldn’t expect someone of your level of consciousness to get it.’
So I took my level of consciousness off to the park and read War of the Worlds on the grass with an ice cream. Pfft.
And then just to prove that not all Estonians are up their own arse fat, I stumbled onto a mini festival/craft fair/jumble sale on the way back. No idea what these guys were singing but they were happy and enthusiastic and popular with the kids. And had great trousers.
Nice one, Estonia, I’ll be back to see more of you some day.