We boarded an early coach from Latvia to Estonia, which delivered us to the cobbled streets of Tallinn early afternoon. A few minutes walk from the bus stop and we were soon checking in to our somewhat lavish hostel. The rooms were pretty standard – an eight bed dorm room with the usual lack of floor space, but it was the bathroom that made it special. The huge room was equipped with the expected amenities (shower, toilet, sink) but also a giant jacuzzi hot tub and sauna! We spent the next few hours freshening up and planning our afternoon but took so long to leave that the sunny morning had digressed into heavy rain, turning Tallinn’s skies into some kind of grey soup. It was at this point we realised that we missed umbrellas off our packing lists, so set off in the rain to find the first shop selling them!
Armed with our matching, multicoloured umbrellas, we had a brief walk through the Town Hall Square, the market and some of the tiny alleyways which lead on to secret courtyards, but soon stopped for dinner to get out of the rain. I tried out one of the two vegan restaurants in the Old Town, warming up with a Thai green curry. We then went to check out a tiny medieval eatery we’d read good things about. They only sell pies (savoury, sweet, meat and vegetarian) for €1-1.50, sausages and soup and everything is set up as it would have been years ago. Even the staff are dolled up as medieval wenches, and the soup is served in clay pots. No spoons allowed here – you have to cup the pot with both hands and slurp away!
We finished our first day with a few drinks in a local bar, trying a couple of Estonian beers (which we weren’t too impressed with!). On returning to our hostel, we spent the evening luxuriating in the jacuzzi!
Gary was convinced there was too much to see in Tallinn in the short amount of time we had. As he was keen to see as much as possible, he woke up extra early at 6am to avoid the crowds and climb to a viewpoint before breakfast. When he returned two hours later, he admitted that it was in fact much smaller than anticipated and he’d accidentally seen everything already!! After breakfast, we ended up doing exactly the same loop together which began by taking us through the Town Hall Square, past the market and to Raeapteek, one of the oldest continuously running pharmacies in Europe, operating in the same space since the early 15th century.
We climbed up into St Olaf’s church and on to a rickety balcony for the best views of the Old Town. Our walk continued past ‘Fat Margaret’s Tower’, through a couple more alleyways and courtyards, including St Catherine’s passageway and the ‘Masters Courtyard’ where we stopped to try some famous handmade truffles from the Pierre Chocolaterie. Most were alcoholic truffles which doesn’t interest either of us, but we found a caramel one for Gary and after confirming which chocolates didn’t have milk/ egg in, I tried their ’Rio Rio’ truffle which was made with dark chocolate and chilli – both were delicious (which was lucky as they came with a fairly hefty price tag!). We also climbed the old defensive wall – we thought we could walk along but were disappointed to find the climb terminated in a small gift shop.
We also visited some gardens that had been created especially for some kind of ‘themed garden’ event/ competition, which were alongside another one of the defensive towers. It was then time for yet another climb as we made our way to the view point Gary had been to first thing in the morning. Earlier, he’d experienced having the viewpoint to himself, which is one of the benefits of getting up at stupid-o-clock! It was now brimming with umbrellas and selfie sticks as people elbowed each other out the way for the perfect profile picture.
On the way down, we passed by the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral which was beautiful – although I’m sure it would have looked much better on a sunny day! Again, Gary came up trumps as he had plenty of photos from the morning when the weather was better and there were no tourists obstructing his view!
We ventured into the newer areas of the city afterwards – stopping in large shopping centre for a nosey around. Gary found a hairdressers and despite the language barrier, bravely booked himself in for a trim in the afternoon!
At 3pm I had a reservation at the same vegan restaurant I’d had lunch in the day before. Being the only decent vegan restaurant in town, and serving amazing food, it was hugely popular and we were lucky to get a table. People were pouring in and were constantly turned away, informed they would need to make a reservation. I knew I wanted to eat there again, so I’d tried to reserve a table the day before but the only time they had free was 3pm, so I headed there for a late lunch! I sat back with my kindle and a large glass of wine and enjoyed an exceptionally tasty starter platter of olives, vegan cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, various dips, roasted zucchini and marinated tofu. The salads were so cheap that I figured they’d be small but they arrived very much full sized. I managed most of one, but kept the leftovers for dinner!
By late afternoon the weather had cleared, so we decided to walk to Kadrioru park. The walk took around 40 minutes and was definitely worth it. The park was lovely – there were a collection of themed gardens, including a large Japanese garden, some kind of palace, a huge pond and different sculptures dotted about. As we were close to the coast at this point, we decided to walk to the beach – our first glimpse of the sea since we left! The beach nearest the park was comprised of a simple slither of sand (the proper beaches are further down) but we both enjoyed spending time by the water. We walked back via the harbour with some great views of the sun setting!
Our ferry to Finland wasn’t until 6pm so we decided to rent a couple of bikes and cycle to Pirita beach, which was further than where our walk took us previously. The ride took about an hour on the way out as it turned out we went a rather long winded way. We eventually found our way on to the cycle path and sped along the designated coastal track, through bumpy forest paths and on to the sandy beaches at the end. We only hired the bikes for three hours, so we didn’t have too long on the beach. We scoffed our packed lunches and enjoyed the view (including some crazy people swimming!) before cycling back when the chilly sea-side winds got the better of us!
After returning the bikes, we went back to the hostel for an hour before gathering our things to walk to the harbour. Our tickets stated we should get there ‘at least one hour early’. We got cheap and cheerful tickets with Linda Line which meant we were on a much smaller ferry than the huge Dover to Calais types and as a result, left from a much smaller port around the corner from the main docks. We got there an hour and a half early and were greeted with a completely empty room and two cheerful ladies behind a desk who told us to take a seat until check-in, which is a mere 20 minutes before departure. Thankfully there was wifi to keep us occupied!
The ferry was a small, double decker boat equipped with a bar, a handful of duty free perfumes and not much else! It was a short, but turbulent journey to Finland where we were met by Gary’s friend Sara who we were staying with for the next four days. We both loved Tallinn’s cobbled streets, medieval feel, beautiful parks, beaches and churches, the quaint, hidden side streets and their secret courtyards and the multiple historical defences. Tallinn offers us the last ‘Old Town’ for a while as we move into more modern times with Helsinki and onwards into Russia.