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Thursday, July 24, 2008

To Russia With Doug, Part 5: Tallinn, Estonia

Tallinn, Estonia

Estonia is a tiny country. It’s the smallest member of the EU, and many people have never even heard of its historic capitol, Tallinn. Its entire population is smaller than the Bronx. Their travel slogan is “Estonia: A great little country.” And having been there now, I can tell you that this is very true, and very indicative of their self-effacing attitude.

Like Riga, Tallinn is a medieval port with a historic heart. The people are warm and the city absolutely charming. It was one of my favorite places. Sure, it doesn’t have the awesomeness of Moscow or St. Petersburg. But wandering aimlessly along its crooked streets and ancient walls is an enchanting, almost surreal experience.

My hotel was another modern skyscraper just outside the Old Town, the beautiful and brand-new Swissôtel. My room didn’t have a view of the Old Town but rather of the ship and ferry terminal on the Baltic Sea:

At the center of the city is the Old Town Square, and as you wander through the city you inevitably wind up back here:

Beautiful buildings surround it:

And it is dominated by the Old City Hall:

Note the dragon gutters!:

On one side of the building is a great, beautiful old clock:

On top of it is Vana Toomas (“Old Thomas”):

The figure of Old Thomas was put atop the spire nearly 500 years ago, in 1530. According to legend, Thomas was a peasant boy who excelled in parrot-shooting contests organized by the local German nobility (where contestants fired crossbows at a painted wooden bird on top of a pole). Although he was the best shooter in Tallinn, Thomas could not be awarded a prize because of his lowborn status. So they gave him the title of “Town Guard for Life” and he was subsequently immortalized in copper atop the town hall where, 500 years later, Old Thomas continues to stand guard:

The other building that stands out in the Old Town is St. Olaf’s Church:

The great turreted steeple rises well above the city walls. In fact, it was the tallest building in the world in the 1500s and 1600s. During the Soviet occupation, when churches were closed to parishioners, it was used by the KGB as a surveillance facility:

Another beautiful church, St. Nicholas:

The other most recognizable aspect of Tallinn is the wall that surrounds the Old Town. This was once a feature of virtually every European city, but they have rarely survived as well as those of Tallinn. Striking red-roofed towers connect sections of the tall, stone wall:

Some other views around town:

Estonia is known for their linen and knitwear. Here’s the knit market, held under the city walls (not to be confused with the store where Karen Landes does all of her shopping; that’s the nitwit market):

That night I had dinner outside on the Old Town Square, enjoying a delicious meal and local brew as I watched the sun set on Old Thomas:

Like everywhere else in Northern Europe, it was light 20 hours a day—and this photo from my hotel window shows you how dark it gets at its very darkest:

The next day, unfortunately, it rained cats and dogs. So I slept in and changed the time of my ferry the next day to Helsinki so that I would have more time in Tallinn. I went into Old Town to buy some souvenirs and only took a few photos. This statue outside the Estonian Theater looked kinda cool in the rain:

And I passed this striking edifice:

The next day it was again bright and sunny and so I headed out bright and early to see Toompea before my ferry to Helsinki. Toompea is a hill next to the Old Town. According to Estonian folklore, Toompea is the burial mound of King Kalev, built by his wife Linda. Sitting upon it she cried the tears that formed Lake Ulemiste. Now it’s home to Tallinn’s government and beautiful views of the Old Town. Pikk Hermann (“Tall Hermann”) is an ancient tower on the hill that has always been the most revered symbol of Estonia. The Estonian flag—banned during the Soviet occupation—is raised upon it every day:

I happen to love the Estonian national colors. I think I’ll do my next home in them:

But I digress. Pikk Hermann is now connected to the incongruously pink Estonian Parliament building:

And across the way is the Eastern-inspired Alexander Nevsky Orthodox Cathedral (I felt like I was back in Russia!):

Typical view of the crowded buildings on top of Toompea. The pale yellow house on the left with the flag on top is where the President lives:

Beautiful views over the Old Town:

In the distance on the right side of that first view you can see big ferries waiting at the shore. Well, soon after taking this photo I would be on one of them, sailing across the Baltic Sea to Helsinki!

Still to come… Finland’s Helsinki and one night in Stockholm!! BUT BEFORE WE GO TO FINLAND…A FEW PARTING SHOTS!

This dog food looks so exciting, even I want to try it:

A little taste of home in the Old Town of Tallinn:

Finally, Carol DiSanto has demanded more pictures of yours truly…so here I am in the Old Town Square!

See you in Helsinki!


  • Where do i begin. Love the pink parliament. Love the daisies. Love the chappi. Love you!

    ps. ixlsm - official religion of Ix

    By Blogger Colleen, at 12:57 PM  

  • fear of me not having previously realized i was insulted in this post??!

    By Anonymous mbl, at 4:18 PM  

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