“The traveller was active; he went strenuously in search of people, of adventure, of experience. The tourist is passive; he expects interesting things to happen to him. He goes ‘sight-seeing.’”
Generally our trips don’t have a fixed itinerary or firm destinations, but a rough plan that we adapt and adjust as we find new places to visit and things to explore. It’s about discovery, chance meetings and enjoying the pleasure from the beauty of our surroundings. Or in other words we make it up as we go along. After getting kicked out of Norway, Tallinn was the obvious substitute, so let the sight-seeing begin…
In 1997 ‘The Old Town’ of Tallinn became a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site. However the winning bid to become the European Capital of Culture in 2011 helped broaden global appeal and opened up Tallinn as an essential cruise ship destination. Not long after Michael O’Leary spotted the opportunity to take us Brits there for a ‘bit of culture’ and all for £12.99.
We saw lots of classic American cars throughout our travels in Sweden, which according to some estimates boasts more restored 1950s classics than the US, with approximately 5,000 classic cars shipped to Sweden each year. This trend is clearly spreading to it’s Baltic neighbour as this 1959 Cadillac Fleetwood followed us into the queue for the ferry to Estonia.
Whether you’re a fan of American classic cars or not, the rear of this ’59’ Fleetwood is a bit special.
We splashed out and booked a cabin for the 11 hour night time sailing. We also struck lucky when a friendly security guard invited us to have access to the exclusive Commodore lounge with its rear viewing deck. Just perfect for watching the sun go down as we left Sweden behind.
Having been to Tallinn 20 years ago whilst on business in Helsinki, my memories were of cobbled streets in the Medieval Old Town with the old centre surrounded by a sprawl of left over and neglected Soviet-style tower blocks. How times have changed things.
Whilst the Old town is largely unchanged the area down by the yacht marina was either under construction or a rich collection of glass and steel buildings. These smart new offices are occupied by a Ferrari showroom, a Bentley office or the HQ of Estonian Hi-Tech start-ups. Gone are the tired old trams, new ones now share the space with fast flowing roads carrying expensive Merc’s and BMW’s.
Arriving anywhere for the first time the usual ‘new town rules’ apply – go to the tourist Information and ask for a map. Opting to buy 48 hour Tallinn passes we immediately started our mission to see the old and the new.
Built up from the 13th to 16th centuries, the Tallinn Old Town is, according to UNESCO, one of the best-preserved medieval cities in Europe with 1.9 km (1.2 miles) of its original city wall and 20 defensive towers still standing.
Fat Margaret – Maritime museum
Fat Margaret isn’t in fact a large, overweight woman, but the last round tower of the towns defensive walls that now houses the Estonia Maritime museum. Starting at ground level with the remains of a 700-year old medieval Cog. – “A cog is a sailboat which was very common in Norther Europe in the Middle Ages and was used as a cargo vessel as well as a warship”.
The museum space spirals up the four levels covering all aspects of Estonian seafaring history. Like all of Tallinn’s museum’s we visited, It’s very well done with lots of interactive elements to keep kids and bigger kids entertained.
Sea Plane Harbour Museum
The Sea Plane Harbour exhibition was created around the Lembit submarine. Interestingly for an Estonian naval vessel, the sub was made at Vickers-Armstrong shipyard in Barrow-in-Furness and launched in 1936. The Lembit was the bees knees at the time and the pride of the Estonian Navy.
Lembit survived both the Second World War and a long exile in Russia. Until 2011, it was also the oldest submarine still afloat after a total of 75 years.
This is a fantastically well put together exhibition and is much more than just the Lembit submarine, or the the sea plane harbour building it now occupies. There are many imaginative hands-on elements to experience. Like firing an anti aircraft gun, flying (crashing) a sea plane or the unfettered access to the inside of a real submarine which was the real highlight for me.
“Up periscope”. “Dive, dive!”
On the quay of the Seaplane Harbour there’s an icebreaker (no not a warm up act!), the Suur Tõll is one of the museum’s three steam-powered icebreakers from the early 20th century. The quayside also shows examples of smaller naval vessels including a minesweeper with non metallic fibreglass skins to their hulls.
Given that alcohol is about 75% more expensive in Finland compared to Estonia, the frequency of the booze cruise ships going back and forth between Helsinki and Tallinn runs the risk of making a grove in the Baltic sea bed.
Covid’s impact on travel meant there were less cruise ships in the main Tallinn harbour and no large crowds in the town. We did see a bride and groom walking around, but there was no evidence of Stag n Hen parties that the low-cost airlines bring or the worst excesses of Helsinki’s weekend booze cruise trade.
Lesley has the onerous task of doing the foodie research and of course all things cake. Having found an excellent vegetarian cafe for lunch on the previous day, today she chose the highly rated Maisemokk Café for our lunch stop.
Set right in the heart of the old town the café is very popular and with good reason as the atmosphere was a relaxed and calming place to recharge before setting off to see yet more sights!
Birthday meal at ‘Vegan Restaurant’
With only one day between our birthdays, it’s sometime fun to celebrate the day in the middle as our Un-birthday.
For our Unbirthday meal we went to the “It does exactly what it says on the tin” Vegan Restoran V. The V had been a recommendation from Lisa & Nick. What a good choice! When it opened in 2014 it was the first vegan restaurant in Tallinn and Estonia! We booked the day before and were lucky to get a table as it was busy. The atmosphere inside was lovely, the service was good and the 100% vegan food was fab. Oh and the company wasn’t too shabby either.
BTW – it’s a very, very happy unbirthday to you, to you….!
So we had one final mad dash around to eek the last bit of value out of our 48 hour Tallinn passes, before they and we expired. You’ll no doubt appreciate the effort taken to capture the view from the Gothic tower’s 115-step, narrow stone spiral staircase to reach the belfry balcony. [There’s no way an ambulance crew would be in a fit state to give you CPR if you had heart failure at the top of there].
Pierre’s Chocolate café
With the much heralded rain now upon us we to sheltered down an alley and stubbled on Pierres’ Chocolate café. Hidden in the master craftsmen’s courtyard this chic, bohemian space is like stepping back to the 1930’s. We were convinced that on certain days Mystic Meg would use the table in the corner for fortune telling or perhaps the odd seance!
That’s it my brain is completely fuddled. We’ve seen too much, we’ve walked too far, eaten too much and I’m completely cultured out. Tallinn really is a bonnie place with so much to see and do, even if you had a fortnight of 48 hour Tallinn passes you’d have to have Mo Farrer trainers to get round it all. And that of course as we have demonstrated it’s not what it’s about…
Sometimes it might be better to stop and enjoy the sweet aroma of the sweet shop, than feel you have to eat all the sweets. But then again as someone with far more wisdom than me once said “The only mistakes you make in life are the ones you don’t learn from”….
Dave & Lesley