The ferry from Helsinki was unremarkable. Risa enjoyed some of the live music at the bow, while I spent the two-hours seated at my laptop, catching up on writing.
Estonia is country #19 for us! It’s getting hard to keep track of.
We arrived in Tallinn around 5:30, and we both admired and were amazed by the spires we could see from the ship. We probably shouldn’t have, but we parked our van next to some other cars on a small patch off a dirt road between the port and the old town.
We were back into our exploration mode, and before long inside the gates of the old town, doing our best to lose ourselves amongst the beautiful buildings lining the twisting cobbled streets. It was a fantastic first impression, and we quickly understood why so many people talk so highly about Tallinn.
We made it to the top of town on the other side of the city walls before we got serious about direction, and sought out some dinner. We’d had a recommendation for a restaurant (Porgu), however, they were fully booked – and again for lunch tomorrow. I pulled out my 2011 Lonely Planet and found something that I hoped was still relevant – and it was. Ill Drakon was fantastic. It was in a small underground area below the town hall, dimly lit by candles (and some subtle LEDs). The staff were authentic to their roles, playing strict landladies that weren’t in the mood for the questions, or problems. At least, I thought they were trying to role-play until they yelled at one tourist to leave after he used a flash inside, irritating the ladies eyes. What I’m trying to say is, they went to great pains to create an authentic experience. Heck, there isn’t even cutlery!
The food was equally fantastic, and guiltily cheap, coming to a grand total of €14. We loaded up on a meat pie each, as well as some wickedly rich soup and thick juicy sausages. Plus, there was all you can eat pickles – once you managed to get them out of the giant barrel with a pointy stick.
We knew that we’d return again in the morning, so rather than attempt to see everything tonight, we agreed to save some energy and surprises for the morning, when the sun would hopefully be shining again.
I wish we’d stayed just a little longer, as when we returned back to our car, the sky was lit up like I’d never seen before. There were layers of clouds in the sky. Some were dark and grey, others glowing marbled pink. Then, as we turned around and faced the other direction, it was as if the sun was suddenly torn and stretched into thin wispy shapes. I was just disappointed to not be in a more beautiful location to experience this.
As we drove through the older suburbs to our park for the night, we passed through rows and rows of old wooden houses, much like what we had seen in Irkutsk (and just about any other Siberian town). The paint was peeling, and they had clearly seen better years of their life.
Our park was beside a beach just north of town. I expected it to be quiet, as I thought it was probably too cold to be swimming. This was the first of two miscalculations – 1.) People here are tougher than I am, and were happily swimming. 2.) It’s Saturday night, and people were happy just to party in the car park – this included the enormous party sauna school bus. Thankfully, we watched a movie, and by the time it was finished, most of our neighbours had left for the night.
There were a few more sporadic bouts of noise during the night, but I was more surprised to see how busy it was here when we woke up. It was quite a chilly morning, with rather strong winds. Yet, people were still lying on the beach in their swimwear. The Baltic breeds tough people.
It is starting to become a bad habit, but I’m not ready to take any action just yet. We thought we’d start with a coffee from one of the many cafes in the hipster area just outside of the old town. However, I hadn’t realised that most of these cafes were closed on Sunday (who’d have guessed), and that a second whammy was it was a national public holiday.
We decided to detox – not that I believe it’s a real thing. We made our way through an old arena that was built during the Moscow Olympics back in 1980. It’s now in a pretty sad state, though, official posters claim that it’s set to reopen again next year… If so, they’ve got some serious work cut out.
Back in the old town, it was nice to see with some sunlight. The coloured houses became much more vivid than they had looked yesterday evening. For the first part of the morning, we continued on doing much the same we did yesterday – walking in whatever direction looked interesting. It took us by coincidence to some of the sights that I had wanted to see, including Katariina Kaik – which wasn’t really worth a detour. The lustre of the town was starting to wear, and already things were starting to feel a little repetitive.
We’d enjoyed our dinner so much yesterday that we were keen to try our luck again at another local restaurant. Another highly recommended from our guide book was Vanaema Juures – Grandma’s House. It was yet another dark basement, this time themed with the kind of things you’d expect to find in your grandma’s house – well, maybe if she was Estonian. The menu was simple, and affordable – though, not as crazy cheap as yesterday. The food was simple and rich, but not nothing exceptional – and now that I think about it, it probably resembles grandma’s cooking.
We agreed that walking without purpose had run it’s course, and it was now time to start taking in the sights. We started with a walk back up the hill to see the Russian Orthodox church. Sadly it was undergoing exterior renovations, so we couldn’t see it in its full glory – however, there was more than enough exposed to get the feeling. Strangely, when we see this building in photographs it appears a vivid pink colour, however, in the flesh, it is the red bricks that were the dominant colour, with the pink a subtle shade of salmon.
However, it was not possible to take photos inside of the church, and I’m already forgetting the finer details that made it special. My memory is terrible without a camera.
While we were in the area, we went to enjoy some of the view points of the lower city from the walls of the higher city. It was great to see all the spires, and turreted towers, mingled in with all the shades of pastels on the buildings in between. Even though it was only a short walk between the two view points, the vantage they gave was quite unique.
I had one think left on my list, and that was to climb the tower of St. Olaf’s. It was said to be the tallest building in the world for nearly two centuries after it was built – and it certainly dominates the Tallin skyline still. It was a steep climb up narrow a staircase. It started off reasonably easy, but soon twisted up quite a dangerous spiral, where one slip could see you tumble for quite some time. There was just a loose rope for support, and I truly wonder how many injuries occur per year.
But, as always, the views from the top made it all worthwhile. The views we’d had earlier from the old walls were nice, but I think this was better – but it could be bias due to the exertion.
Inside the church was nothing memorable, though it wasn’t the type of church to be covered with lavish decorations. It was large and voluminous, and even with the small windows, managed to feel light.
We were satisfied with our 36-hours in Tallinn. But, even as we walked back to the car, we couldn’t help being amazed with the streets in town. It seemed that everywhere we turned, we were getting fresh and amazing views – and I had to stop to take a photo or two.
We returned to the same campsite, rather than attempt the drive to Parnu tonight. Thankfully, being a Sunday night, it was much quieter.
I’d read as much as I could, but there wasn’t anything that took my fancy in Estonia. Rather than take pointless detours, we started on our way to Latvia. Our route took us through Parnu, so we thought we might as well have a look at this beachside resort.
I thought the driving in Finland was boring, but to my disappointment, this was worse. It was flatter, and more featureless (is that even Englis?), with dense pine forest making up 90% of the scenery. To make it worse, it was busier, and the drivers were impatient and aggressive. And then there was the torrential rain.
There is nothing sadder than a resort town without tourists. This is what we’d driven into. We made our way to the beach, only to find them busily packing away all the temporary buildings. The season had ended, and it was still August. There were still a few brave souls that didn’t get the memo and were out there windsurfing in wet suits (and even just swimming). It wasn’t a particularly pretty beach, so with the winds, the rain, and the mid-teens temperature, we were satisfied with just eating our lunch in the van and continuing on our way to Latvia.