Traveling the world, learning languages, and immersing myself in new cultures.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Talinn, Estonia: Skype, Culture Kilometer, and much more

Synopsis: Two trips in one month!? We crazy people, working to live and not living to work... Since Stephanie is leaving Europe (this is where the audience 'aawws' in sympathy for me), we decide to go see her top place she's wanted to visit, before she leaves. Estonia is not an easy place to get to, as the tickets are expensive or for cheaper flights, the required travel is longer than the alotted vacation days.

Trip Overview:
Day 1: Take off from Brussels, where our plane just appeared out of Finnair, at 19:20. We get a sandwich and drinks on the flight. Land in Helsinki but we don't Finnish there (ok, I'm done). Shuttle ride to the plane is longer than the 52 second flight from Helsinki to Tallinn and we arrive just after midnight, yet I can still see sunlight. We catch a taxi for about 9€ to the hotel.

Thoughts: Just can't get over the ridiculousness of the prices of Brussels' cabs and public transport! It cost us 6€ a piece to catch a bus 3km to the airport in Brussels, yet only 4,50€ a piece to catch a cab about 7km, directly to our hotel, in Tallinn.  Daylight so late in the evening reminds me of my trip to Alaska

Boarding the plane in Helsinki at 23:45

Tere (tear-ay) Estonia!

Day 2: Breakfast at the hotel and then walk down to Old Town. We stop at Freedom Square and Harju Hill, and warm up our cameras with a few pics. Walk down Harju street and stumble upon a tv in a corner explaining the history of Harju street. We head up Toompea hill, past St. Nicolas' church to the castle, St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, and Dome Church. From the viewing platform, we walk down a path along the city walls. Find ourselves at St. Olav's Church. 258 steps to the viewing platform of the church. One way up/down spiral staircase. Lots of stopping to let others pass. Lots of heavy breathing. Coming down is much easier. Stop for lunch in a small park. Walk over to Linnahall and take pics. Then back to Old Town for, maybe, the most delicious cappuccino ever, at Vennad Restaurant. Walk over to Town Hall Square and then to Viru Gate and Viru Square, where we get on the Tallinn Citytour bus. It goes for an hour and is pretty insightful. Walk around Tammsaare Park before heading to Kompressor, for dinner. After sharing two giant crepes, we swing by the market on our way back to the hotel.

Thoughts: Our hotel is in the Toompea area, so we can just walk to Old Town. On Harju street, I remark that there is free wifi everywhere in Old Town and Steph says, "Tallinn is the cyber capital of world, why wouldn't they have wifi everywhere?" Makes sense. Streets are very clean. People seem friendlier than Europeans in other countries that I won't name (*cough* all of Western Europe *cough*). Cobblestone roads all over Old Town, like many other European cities. There are like 57 museums here! They have a museum for everything. Estonian eyelash collection museum, anyone??? Seems Estonia was built entirely by architecture competitions. Nice parks surround the Old Town. After the private tour with Gabriel in Bucharest, these hop on/off bus tours suck. Notice many people with e-cigs. 

Freedom Square

2 million Estonians, Latvians, and Lithuanians joined hands to create a 600km human chain, peacefully protesting Russian rule

The info tube off Harju street

Why is everyone else sideways?

St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral

View from the city walls, looking out on Old Town and Tallinn Bay

Just 3 more inches, right Steph? at St. Olav's 

The view from the top of St. Olav's 

The 1980 Olympic regatta (boat race) course from the top of Linnahall

Who, them? No, Uus!

The sugar is really smart in Estonia

Trying to get a date with a local

City information, then public transportation

Women protecting the house

Neither of us got picked for the team

Going to the big show

Day 3: Eat breakfast at the hotel, outside, thanks to the nice weather. Walk to Old Town and stop in a cafe, as the weather begins to betray us and drizzle. After a cappuccino, the weather is better and we jump on the hop on/off bus for the blue and green line tours. After memorizing the bus recordings, we head to Town Hall Square and eat at Old Estonia, where I try some traditional soup (a bit too sweet for my taste) with rye bread and pork dumplings. Not bad, but nothing to write home about... except on a postcard. Hang out there for awhile, watching the performers in the square and the tourists walking around lost. Head back to the hotel for a massage. It was a gentle massage and I fall asleep; the lady I go to in Brussels usually has me in pain 5 minutes in and I lay awake at night crying. 

Thoughts: We see very few people when we are outside of the Old Town. Seems like no one lives here, but really, they don't walk around because the locals all get free public transport. The German influence in Estonia is evident to me because of the 37-letter words (that you have to take a breath to say) on the sides of buildings. Walking around here is pretty simple. Notice adults at many restaurants drinking milk. 

Things I leaned on the city tour bus: 
  • Cyber city indeed: in 2005 Tallinn became the first city in the world to hold elections and accept votes online. 
  • Skype was invented in Estonia. 
  • 27% of Tallinn is green area.
  • Estonia has many of the world's top music conductors.  
  • The guy in front of us on the green line has the most potent b.o. ever!!
  • 21C is nice to walk around in, but is really cold when you are on an open-top bus. 
  • There is very little to see outside the main area of Tallinn. 

Bus riding view

That's like our whole alphabet - 3 books/person in Estonian National Library 

Plus someone else's alphabet - Open Air Museum

Concentrating on the sights, or gazing in the distance?

Everyone is happy on the hop on/off

Elk and bear are pretty expensive (Old Estonia menu)

Eating seljanka (in front of me) pork dumplings (right) grilled salmon (in front of Steph) and two ciders

Tim and the TV tower

It's darn near midnight

Day 4: The morning is rainy so we eat breakfast and hang out at the hotel until the sun comes out. Walk down to Old Town and grab a cappuccino at Matilda cafe. Head out toward the coast, where we do the "Kultuurikilomeetri" (Culture Kilometer). We join the culture kilometer at its midpoint and head north. It offers much more than I anticipated. The Lennusadam Sea Plane Harbour is full of activities and people and music. We climb aboard a few dry docked vessels and walk around them. After hitting the northern end, walk back down the culture kilometer toward the port.  There are activities for kids, the Tallinn balloon, open air concerts, and outdoor food vendors. Plus, at the port there are all the souvenir shops and tourist traps. We head back into Old Town to grab a bite to eat at Elevant. Then, walk the last undiscovered streets of Old Town and stop for dessert and a warm drink at Kovihtuba. Walk back to Freedom Square and practice some French, before heading back to the hotel. 

Thoughts: Walking on the ships at Lennusadam sea plane harbour, there is nothing off limits, no warning signs or anything; lawsuits would abound in the USA; I appreciate Europe for assuming I have common sense. You can see the Talinn balloon from everywhere! Found out today that 18-20 July is Tallinn Maritime Days, which may explain a lot of the activities and events going on. Found a free public toilet and it was clean too! Like finding gold in Europe. 


So easily amused

Where we started

Next point on the route

So much to do on the docks at Lennusadam seaplane harbor

Interesting art at the Patarei Prison and Sea Fortress

Walked all the way to the port

Thor takes boats when he isn't flying 

Clearly, this was a delicious drink

Börsi Passage and the outdoor exhibition "The Passage of History" 

Guess who is a part of Estonian history?

We could see that balloon from everywhere in Tallinn

Day 5: Of course the most beautiful day is the day we are leaving. Breakfast outside and then head to the airport, as we wave goodbye to the wonderful city of Tallinn and it's Tallinnites, or Tallinnians, or Tallinn... people. 

Thoughts: The Tallinn airport is really nice. They have couches and comfy chairs, an indoor playground for kids, a free library, and art hanging all around. Several of the gates have themes and are decorated very well. 

Mailing last postcards

Free skype in the airport... but this one wasn't working

Estonia was definitely "positively surprising"

Final Thoughts: I seem to be a stranger-magnet because I had an Estonian guy stop me just to say hi and shake my hand (all in Estonian), and I had another guy flash me with his superman underwear, because I had on a superman shirt. I mastered the estonian "tänan" (thank you) as I said it to everyone I came in contact with and they all responded "sa oled teretulnud" (you're welcome you smart and lovable character you). The weather was fairly good, though it got chilly (16C) around 8 at night. The prices here are lower than western Europe, similar to Bucharest. The Estonians sang for their independence, which makes me wonder if their singing was so good that it calmly subdued their oppressors or if it was so terrible that it aggravated their oppressors into submission? Either way, they got their freedom, and I had the pleasure of enjoying it this past weekend. 



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