Two very different visits to Tallinn.
Tallinn Revisited - Last summer August 2009
I was fortunate enough to visit Tallinn, Estonia. It was a short visit just one overnight, as Madonna was performing a concert there, and accommodation prices for the dates of her concert were through the roof. This was not our first visit to Estonia. We went to Tallinn on the 26th of April 1986. How can I be so precise about the date? Because it was the same day as the Chernobyl disaster, though of course, we were not to know that at the time. Myself and my husband, at that time my boyfriend, were both living in Finland and decided to take a day trip to Tallinn. It was a popular trip in those days as the ferry had 9 bars, and since alcohol was (and indeed is) extortionate in Finland, many Finns made the four hour trip and did not even get off. At that time Estonia was very much part of the Soviet Union and as soon as we told people we were going there, they started telling us horror stories about how they knew people who had visited and never been seen again. We laughed it off at the time, but when we actually set out, we began to be a little nervous in case the stories were true.
We were part of a Finnish tour group and should have gone on an organized tour round the city, but when we arrived all tour members with Finnish passports passed through customs at speed, while we two British passport holders, threw the authorities into confusion. It took us a full hour to be let into Estonia. And our entire trip there was only supposed to be four hours long. When we finally got through, our tour group was long gone, and we had to venture round by ourselves. At that time it was compulsory to change a certain amount of money. We spent our whole stay running round the beautiful old town and the in tourist shop trying to spend our money. Unspent roubles would be confiscated upon departure. We bought masses of beautiful Russian wooden dolls, painted wooden spoons, tins of tea. We had so much money left it was unbelievable. We started buying street snacks and telling the vendors to keep the change. They would not. They were too honest or too afraid. We could not get rid of our money in the allotted time. It was simply impossible.
We arrived back at customs an hour early in case we had the same problem getting out as in. We were both in the same queue. I got through first. I got distracted for a moment, turned round and my boyfriend, who had been just behind me had disappeared. I thought maybe he had come through, passed me and gone on the ship. I boarded. I thought no, he would not have got on without me. I got off. No sign of him. I boarded again. Still no sign of him. I got off. Stories of people disappearing started to make sense. I was running on and off the ferry in a state verging on hysteria. Finally, as the ferry was about to depart, whistles blowing, people screaming at me to board, he turned up. Our passports had been removed when we entered Tallinn. By chance, I had got in the right queue to get my passport back as we left. My boyfriend had got in the wrong queue. Due to linguistic differences no-one could tell him this. So the lady at passport control got on her phone and summoned two armed guards to frogmarch him to the right queue. He thought he was about to get shot or arrested. As he waited in the correct queue, he watched me running back and forth hysterically but could not catch my attention. Anyway it kept us amused at dinner parties for months to come and somehow we both made it back alive. Thank God for those 9 bars on the return voyage!
In Tallinn now you will have no problems spending your money. There are shops, bars, restaurants, cafes all over the old town. The streets which in 1986 were almost totally empty are filled with hoards of locals and tourists. I feel so fortunate to have seen both stages of Tallinn's history. We even left Tallinn for Helsinki from the same ferry terminal where we had lost each other in 1986. It is now covered in graffiti and its roofs were a popular location for local sun bathers. Times have certainly changed.
Tallinn's old town is beautiful. I especially loved the city walls with their rows ot tall circular towers. There are churches, gateways, a huge town hall and wide open town hall square. The upper old town has beautiful views and a lovely old Russian church. Further afield you can visit Kadriorg the former palace of the Russian Tsar, now an art gallery set in stunning grounds.
Tallinn's Old Town.
Tallinn's old town is beautiful. I especially loved the city walls with their rows of tall circular towers. It's great to take a stroll along them and there are many opportunities for beautiful photographs. There are lots of churches, gateways, a huge town hall and wide open town hall square. The upper old town has beautiful views across the red roofs of Tallinn and a lovely old Russian church. Lots of good locations to eat and drink, too.
Kadriorg Palace Art.
Further afield you can visit Kadriorg the former palace of the Russian Tsar, now an art gallery set in stunning grounds. As our hotel was equidistant between the old town and Kadriorg, we walked here on our last morning in Tallinn. We did not have time to visit the art gallery as we had to catch the boat to Helsinki early that afternoon, but we strolled through the beautiful grounds and admired the palace building from the outside. Definitely worth a visit. Directions: Walk through the park along Weizenbergi, then take a left at the KUMU museum. Peter's home is an easily
overlooked white cottage on your left.
Toompea Hill viewing platforms.
Tallinn's old town can be divided into the upper town on Toompea Hill with its castle, Russian church and viewing platforms; plus the lower town with its city walls, town hall, churches, towers and squares. The Kohtuotsa and Patkuli viewing platforms are on the edge of Toompea Hill from these you get great views across the red tiled roofs, church spires and towers of the lower old town.
Alexander Nevsky Cathedral.
This Russian Orthodox cathedral is named after Alexander Nevsky, a Russian nobleman who attacked southeastern Estonia in the 13th century. The cathedral was designed by Mikhail Preobrazhensky and was completed in 1900. It is a beautiful building and dominates the upper town. Address: Lossi plats 10, 10130 Tallinn.
Town Hall Raekoda.
Tallinn has a huge town hall building dominating the town hall square of the lower town. This building has been the centre of civic rule in Tallinn since the Middle Ages. The town hall was completed in 1404. On the roof of the town hall there is a weather vane, the locals nickname Old Thomas. This has watched over Tallinn since 1530. Town Hall square is a bustling lively place. Address: Raekoja Plats.
City Walls and Towers.
One of the pleasures of Tallinn's Old Town is strolling along the walls and viewing the many defensive towers around town.
My husband spent most of his time in Tallinn picking up loose women and having his photo taken with them.
This is the ferry terminal where we had so many problems in 1986. It is much more relaxed now and a popular spot with sun lovers.It was very interesting to see it again after having such a bad experience of it in the past.
The lovely streets of Tallinn's old town lend themselves beautifully to a spot of aimless wandering.