Travels with V
Estonia & Lithuania
So near and yet so far away
Estonia part one, Tallinn
The Baltic countries are our neighbours, and they like to see themselves as part of Scandinavia, yet they are far from being the obvious goal for Scandinavian or international tourism. Still they have much of what it takes, mile long sandy beaches, forests teaming with wildlife and modern cities with unique sights. And high quality restaurants.
We visit two of them, Estonia and Lithuania during three weeks in the summer of 2023. We take the night ferry from Kapellskär to Paldiski, just west of Tallinn, a route mainly for lorries and cargo which means a bit simpler comfort on board. But we get there and after breakfast we roll off and head straight for the capital.
Our hotel is in a perfect spot right next to the center of the Old Town of Tallinn. The room is incredibly small and is located in one of three very old buildings connected via stairs and corridors. But the floors are not the same level in the different houses, so there are small steps up and down everywhere. But we just sleep there so it’s ok.
Just two blocks down is the Old Town’s central Town Hall square, a place with a distinct medieval feel. On our way there we walk by a long row of hand painted signs that passionately condemns Russia’s aggression towards Ukraine. This will be a recurring theme during our journey through the Baltics, how serious the people here are about this attack and how solidarity with the Ukrainian people is shown everywhere.
Not far from the Town Hall we enter the Freedom square, built in the years of Soviet occupation. But after the independence it has a new role. Here’s a proud monument on a slope that leads up to the castle hill.
Tallinn is a city where historical eras are present, in a physical way. The castle on Toompea hill was built by German crusaders after conquering the city in the 14th century. Up on the hill the castle wall and several towers are still standing. One of them is a broad round five-storey gun tower called ”Kiek in de Kök”. In old German this means “Peep in the kitchen” because from up there you could look down and see straight into the kitchens in the houses below.
In the other end of Toompea hill we walk down a looong row of steps to enter the Old Town again. Here there’s cafés and restaurants side by side, but apart from that not much to explore. A high city wall runs around parts of the town, apparently built by the merchant class in the lower parts to separate them from the elite in the castle.
Here we’re surprised to find a memorial on the wall, probably the only one in the word commemorating this man. Boris Jeltsin, the erratic and unpredictable man that was the president of the Soviet Union when it became Russia and the Baltics could declare their long awaited independence.
We pass the railway station to reach the Kalamaja district on the other side of the train tracks. It’s an area with run-down wooden houses and abandoned factories. But also a place where new life spring forth. Theaters, art galleries, fashion shops, cafés and restaurants have opened up in halls that were empty, and there´s even a branch of the famous Swedish Photo Expo “Fotografiska”. Another example of new life here is the opening of a modern market hall, called “Turg”.
In Turg you’ll find vintage fashion, restaurants and a great food market. At this time of year it’s berry season, with heaps of strawberries and blueberries and other delicious treats.
In the evening we leave the Old Town and head to a restaurant called “Horizont”, sitting on top of the Swissotel hotel. The views are magnificent and the food is super!
Now we leave the big city and head out into a wilderness, a huge national park. And we see wild animals and Estonian art. Join us!
Top five in Tallinn:
- See: A Town walk that starts on Freedom square leading to the castle and on to the Old Town is a must, then you’ll pass by “Kik in de Kök” that has a museum. There’s a nice café in a castle wall tower if you need to rest.
- Lodge: We stayed in the charming little Meriton Old Town Garden Hotel and we were especially happy with the breakfast and the location in the Old City.
- Eat: In the Old Town we had better-than-average pizzas in Margherita. Fine dining in Horisont was very high class in every aspect. We absolutely recommend it.
- Shopping: There are very few shops in Old Town, just the odd jeweller or exclusive ladies fashion stores
- Speak: All young people understand and speak excellent english. But the older people who went to school in soviet times are not so easy to communicate with.