My first brush with Tallinn was when I read about the ex-KGB station being discovered few years after the soviets left (more on that in another blog), the next was when I came to know that Skype was invented in Tallinn and the third was just before the trip when I came to know that the structures in Tallinn can’t be legally taller than its medieval church! This rule is just for the old town, a UNESCO world heritage site and Tallinn now is a great mix of old and new, with modern skyscrapers towering on the edge of the picturesque old town.
As the aircraft reached cruising altitude after taking off from Riga, the clear skies and relatively lower flying turboprop aircraft gave a good view of the Estonian land below. Scattered snow is not exactly what we had planned to see. The weather app predicted -4C when we were to land and -10C later the same day. As we started our descend and aligned to the runway, the frozen Baltic sea came in sight!!
The two-minute walk from the aircraft to the terminal gave a glimpse of what to expect during our stay. As we retrieved our bags and walked towards the tram stop, we got a view of the frozen Ulemiste lake. Use of technology was in abundance and we could see it at more places than one during our stay. Tram came exactly at the time mentioned on the monitors and we stepped out from the warmth of the terminal into the windy and chilly air of Tallinn. Irrespective of the distance, the cost was EUR 2 for the tram ride with tickets available with the driver. The modern coach lacked stands for luggage but had information on the next stop and was well heated. The snow on the streets and people in smart jackets and overcoats was another indication of the weather and what we should expect. The walk from the tram stop to the hotel seemed like an eternity since we had to wait for the signals amidst the chill.
We were staying at Hotel Viru – the same hotel which had the KGB spy station and is now a museum. The hotel was kind to accept our request and give us rooms facing the Baltic sea and on the higher floors. The first thing we noticed when we entered the room was the vast expanse of Baltic sea – most of it being frozen even in the last days of March, a time which is officially spring in Estonia. That was a sight to behold.
Hotel location matters a great deal and we were well located to cover the entire old town by foot. We were a stone’s throw away from Viru gate and that is precisely where we started our journey in Tallinn, with a walk in one of the many frozen parks in the city. Over the next two days we walked or hiked through the landscape of Old Tallinn covering Churches with pinnacles piercing the skies, lavish but medieval houses, bustling squares, spic and span pathways and old city walls. Google maps gave us a suggested path to cover the entire old town taking us from freedom square to Toompea Castle and further to Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. All streets and pathways leading to the Town Hall square – where the restaurants were not yet setup in full scale owing to the weather. One really unique spot is the path which leads down to the town hall square from the old city, where three intimidating and large sculpture of monks have become a popular photography spot.
The city visit is not complete without a ride on the Hop On Hop Off bus and the one and half hour tour took us as far as Pirita TV tower – which was built in 1980 for the Olympics. The tour gave some interesting snippets about old town, Estonian National Opera, Song Festival Ground; each was which had some soviet connection. The most interesting part of the tour was the journey through the Pirita suburb, whose description will always remain an understatement, no matter how creative one gets in words. The independent houses along dense tree plantation and public skiing grounds was straight out of a fairytale.
We braved the temperatures on more than one occasion and went for a stroll late at night till the Viru gate, saw the KGB spy station, now a museum. It helped to have our hotel have a connection to the Viru mall (Viru Keskus in Estonia) nearby and we made the most of it by roaming around the mall to understand the local culture, food stuffs, eat and drink – all without getting into the bone chilling weather.
A visit to any new place is incomplete without trying the local coffee and local alcohol along with the local food. We had Vana Tallinn shots – a dark rum based liqueur. The sweetish liqueur has natural spices, citrus oil vanilla and a hint of cinnamon. Also on the agenda was Minttu Peppermint liqueur shots but we had to settle for Minttu mint since we couldn’t find peppermint at a couple of places we enquired. Another legendary drink, coming from the across the sea in Finland, it is refreshingly cool and strong.
St. Petersburg, Florence and Tallinn now compete with the most beautiful places we have ever visited. Tallinn old town looked like a movie set that was never dismantled, but well-kept thanks to its UNESCO world heritage status and is definitely worth a visit.