Tourists in Tallinn?

Tuesday 26 – Friday 29 June

Lauri and his team looked after us extremely well, the facilities were lovely (free laundry and sauna!) and they even laid on a free safety demonstration for us, and a few others who bothered to turn out.  We had hands-on experience of setting off flares and putting out fire with powder extinguishers.  The only downside was that the wind was predominantly from the West or Northwest, which blows straight into the harbour mouth, raising a nasty chop and bounce. It rained, too.

My crew were kept busy giving me a thorough clean inside and out – long overdue if you ask me. Decks were scrubbed in places I’d forgotten existed, and cupboards were turned out, wiped and tidied. I felt like a new…boat, by the time they’d finished, and ready for our first visitor this season.

After the inevitable laundry session, another major task was to unearth and build the bikes, ready for the first of several forays into town to find some food shopping. Excited by the discovery of the same chain of supermarket that stocked the favourite wine in Latvia, they were disappointed not to find it here in Estonia…but managed to select one or two acceptable substitutes. Needs must, beggars can’t be choosers, etc etc.

Finally satisfied that I was properly shipshape by the end of Wednesday, they permitted themselves a little tourist time in Tallinn on Thursday, and discovered that the city is easily reached by bicycle, bus or on foot.  They cycled the (painfully) cobbled streets of this mediaeval and Hanseatic city in search of the tourist office – Mate’s favoured first stop in any new place. This one was disappointing for its lack of interesting leaflets, free information or friendly, helpful staff: her strongest hope is always for a small guide to local walks, the better to seek out the facts unique to the town.

She did pick up a street map, and resorted to the Internet for further details. They also sourced and purchased a travelcard, from an R-Kiosk if you’re interested: Tallinn has a cool system of public transport, and you can charge the same journey for several people on the same card, which saves buying several cards on which you pay a €2 Euro deposit. The cards are refundable within six months of purchase. Local residents travel free, but you risk a €100 fine if you’re caught trying to do like a local.

Having established the timings for the airport, Mate set off in the sunset to catch the Number 73 bus from the road at the top of the marina into the city centre, changing to a Number 4 tram which stops at the main entrance to the terminal building. After some confusion around the arrival time of the plane, which in fact was delayed only a few minutes, there was an emotional reunion when Second Mate appeared through the sliding doors of Arrivals, complete with gorgeous new haircut, and surprisingly little luggage.

Another short tram journey brought them back into the city, but unfortunately the last bus 73 had already left, so a brief taxi ride brought them right down to the quayside, where Skipper was waiting to welcome our guest. A late supper was enjoyed as news was exchanged and plans discussed.

Friday morning was cool and windy. Mate went off early for a much-needed haircut, leaving Skipper and Second Mate to a more leisurely breakfast and bus ride into town. They finally met up and decided an early lunch was the order of the day. Mate dipped randomly into the adverts bordering the map, and led them to ‘Von Krahli Aed’, described as offering clean, modern Estonian cuisine with a menu including something for everyone. WOW – by complete chance, they discovered possibly the best restaurant in town – a beautiful building over several floors, with an intimate courtyard at the back, from which they were sadly rained out, and absolutely stunning food, elegantly served by a friendly, efficient American/Estonian waitress. Highly recommended, reasonably priced and excellent value, in spite of being in the heart of the touristic old town.

Tallinn has been described as a mediaeval theme park, and in the season is overrun by hordes of daytrippers from the huge cruise liners that dock here every day. It is built on a hill, making wet cobblestones even more challenging to walk on, and is probably at its best out of season and early in the day. Much of the city’s walls and towers remain and can be walked, the architecture is attractive and the market square vibrant and colourful. The old city centre is almost traffic-free, as a busy ring road parallels the perimeter walls, so pedestrians spill into the roadways off the narrow pavements.

After the restaurant, our highlight was the discovery of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic church in the Laboratooriumi, just inside the old city walls. Used as a records store by the KGB, after Independence the building was restored by the German caretaker who now welcomes visitors, and is keen to discuss its history for as long as you wish to chat with him. Beautiful dark oak panelling displays stunning icons commissioned by a local artist, and the atmosphere is one of peaceful spirituality. Around 120 parishioners worship here regularly.

When we felt we really couldn’t monopolise the place any longer, we braved the rain in our unsuitable choices of clothing and footwear, to hurry home and put the heating on – in late June. Sadly, that was almost the last we saw of Tallinn, as Skipper’s study of the weather forecast indicated that if we didn’t depart the following day for Helsinki, we were unlikely to make the crossing in time for flight and ferry bookings.