Tallinn

Taani linn, Estonian for Danish town was established in the 13th Century. Estonia passed through Swedish, Danish, Russian hands and the Knights of the Teutonic order at several points in the history. The city like the country is fairly small and beautiful. Tallinn a coastal city with the bay of its namesake and the gulf of Finland, the Old Town has been beautifully restored and interwoven with the city. In the Old Town you will find most of the best restaurants, the nightclubs, cafes, shops and sweeping panoramas of Tallinn.
On the downside I would say the city is definitely overpriced, perhaps as a result of its popularity with tourists.

Having decided to use couchsurfing I found a wonderful host Elena. Apart from being very kind and welcoming (and having met me when I arrived between 5-6am) is extremely knowledgeable due to her work as a tour guide in free time.
She could write far much more and in more interesting detail than I can of Tallinn.

Estonia suffered under Soviet occupation but it became the most economically successfully of the Baltic states emerging from Soviet rule.
There are several important connections to interest those interested in that period. On the way to to the Old Town or rather just outside is the Hotel Viru. Famous because its foreign guest were wiretapped. And inside the Old Town itself is the interior ministry building which was once the KGB headquarters. The lower floors windows were bricked (in order to cover the screams of those being tortured inside). Olaf’s Tower was used as a radio mast and a KGB surveillance centre and so on. The TV tower apparently has bullet holes from the Soviet coup attempt of 1991. On perhaps a more positive note so is the Sailing centre built for the 1980s Moscow Olympics.

The huge and beautiful Orthodox cathedral of Alexander Nevsky, built on Tooplea Hill and on the site where a Martin Luther statue once stood and opposite the parliament has caught the ire of some nationalists before in contrast one can see what happened to its Polish counterpart (destroyed by Polish authorities) . The cathedral is now a major symbol and attraction of Tallinn and is in the process of being restored. inside a liturgy or vespers was going on. They do allow tourists in but behind a cordon at the time. I found it much better to visit at an early morning time when free of tourists. The pink coloured Parliament building opposite is also a nice building architecturally.

The Old Town is split into upper and lower parts (to separate the nobility from the merchants etc. Today a fee is no longer charged to move between both and a stroll throughout is beautiful in whichever section you are in.
I went with Elena up St Olaf’s tower. Named after St Olaf (of Norway) but some say alternatively after the architect Olaf. He apparently promised to build the Tower for free if anybody could guess his name. of course he would not reveal this and say nothing to the townsfolk. Some spies found in his home a woman singing a lullaby to a bay and mentioning his name. And as Olaf was adding the cross to the church they shouted “Olaf!”. He lost his footing when hearing this and fell to his death! Out of his mouth came a toad and snake apparently because of the evil forces he was in collaboration and this is reflected in the skull with a serpent and toad in a wall carving.

The problem with this story is then how it can to be called ‘Saint’ Olaf… But you decide 🙂 The church is now owned by baptists who still allow the tower to be opened to tourists at a certain time of year. The view from the tower (accessed by climbing many steps) is beautiful and really ought not to be missed. I saw many beautiful views in Tallinn, perhaps this view was the best on account of its 360 degree views and somewhat closer views of the Old Town (of course as being in the Old Town itself) than the TV tower’s view. Between 1549 and 1625 the church was the tallest building in the world.
Tallinn reminds me of Veliko Tarnovo with its many beautiful vistas.

Another place to seek out is Josephine’s cafe. With both Elena and I being fans of chocolate it is a great place to go. It has a nice interior and really nice chocolate and I am glad it is not in the UK otherwise I may find myself going every day!
There is a market in the town centre and nice cafes and restaurants. My stalls selling sugared (or salted and spiced almonds) which were very nice and I did but someone but cost in multiples of the price I paid in Russia. 5 euros for a small bag is steep indeed.

From Russia with Love

Tallinn has a ethnic Russian population of above 40% and although this was not visible to me there are sometimes tensions that flare due to history of the Russian occupation not just of the soviets, but occupation under Peter the Great and earlier sieges by Ivan the Terrible etc. Politicians or nationalist parties sometimes like to play on these despite the Polish, Lithuanians, Swedes and Danes among others having occupied what is now Estonia. It is Russia and those living in Estonia of Russian descent that can feel they are targeted. Some guides even recommend not to speak Russian or highlight the possibility of negative treatment in these regions. To what extent, I would not know. But the fact that tensions can and have happened and some of the government policies are seen as anti-Russian speakers by some. In turn the Estonian government sometimes considers Russia to be bullying and to have reneged on some of its promises regarding the border, after Stalin had annexed some of its terrority which the present government of Russia will not return.

There is a Lutheran (ex Catholic) Dome church. Rather dark inside and sparse looking despite the huge organ and shields. Btw, I read on a blog that the pews have padlocks which was so that the congregation could not leave early!

It contains the grave of a Russian citizen who circumnavigate the globe and rumoured to be of the (many) lovers of Catherine the Great (and I would ask who wasn’t at that time!?).
However perhaps appropriately also contains the Don Juan of Estonia – Otto Johann Thuve (d. 1696), buried near the entrance. An alcoholic and notorious womaniser asked to be buried here for penance so that when God fearing people kneeled to pray upon entering they might save his soul. However it also has an alternative story. Knowing the location he would be able to for eternity look up the skirts of women as they entered! In fact some say if women have romantic wish they can wish it here..and it is probably best to wear a skirt. Ermm..

Estonia is a city of interesting stories it will be interesting what new ones there will be in 50 years time. There is a statue of a chimney sweeper and rubbing his (I presume) brass buttons and wish and your dreams will come true. I tested it and you may have to wait though..my wish for world peace..in a week.. still hasn’t come true!

On my second day I visited the TV tower in the morning. It has a nice cafe with very friendly staff. I felt the tower itself is overpriced despite its nice views but if one has time it can be worth going there, I would still be happy to go back but mostly on account of its cafe and setting. There was an interesting but ridiculous short film set in the tower surroundings. Probably more aimed at young children and some displays. Afterwards I took a bus back into Tallinn that passed by some beautiful monuments and a park.

Later Elena and I went to see a small but pretty waterfall. I think Keila-Joa. The area and bridge around is lovely and from there we walked a few km to a beach.
I liked these places being not far from Tallinn but with tranquility and nature and enjoying walking and talking with Elena. Tallinn is a lovely city in good weather.
In the evening I met with Elena’s kind friend and also a fellow tour guide.