Funny how quickly time ticks away without you hardly noticing and then realising months have passed in a blink of an eye. Just over two month's ago me and Daniela were in Tallinn, -10°C and snow, and now it is June. OK, the weather has not sensibly improved, at least not here – rain and cold winds making late May seem like Autumn – but Winter seems ages ago. Writing about Tallinn on this blog was one of the things I kept postponing because of my busy schedule: finally things have started to slow down a bit and so I find the time for this long overdue write-up.
This first post is uncommonly, for my blog, bare of food. Just thought I'd mention that first, in case you're on of those people whose only interest is in the edible branch of blogs. While I'm sure the follow-ups will make up for that, this fascinating city deserves an account of its own.
Having travelled quite a lot throughout Europe, I have somewhat gotten used to the general landscape and I very often end up seeing more similarities than differences between my new destinations and those I have experienced in the past. Tallinn definitely changed that perception. Everything seemed different and new – language, people (and the peculiar look people give tourists), atmosphere – tickling my curiosity enough to want to just go out, absorb the atmosphere of the place and forget about the freezing temperature. Not too hard actually: Tallinn has a fair share of cosy cafes, ideal spots to thaw your frozen feet.
The novelty of the place passed somewhat in the background once I entered the city centre's gates (above). I could blame the global chains or the tourists for that. Or even the large numbers of the prime British export to Europe, the always annoying stag parties, with their groups of apish "mates" trying to woo the local beauties – and yes, the women are beautiful here – yet managing little more than beer fuelled mumbling and a couple of steps before turning back to their real interest, the pint glass. If it hadn't been for the snow I would have been wondering if I had stepped on the wrong plane and landed in Ibiza. But that's not it, and really, it is not a question of blame.
The truth is, once I entered Tallinn Medieval city centre I simply forgot about tourists, puking Britons and McDonalds: I felt in another century, captured by the buildings, streets and, above all, the atmosphere of the place. The lack of tourist masses, probably thawing their feet in some cafe rather than sightseeing, was an added bonus.
The architecture here recalls a lot that of other old Northern European towns, especially Hanseatic ones – not surprising given the commercial exchanges that historically shaped the Baltic area – yet the ensemble is unique. No photo (at least not of mine) could do justice to that. Just walking around town without any particular destination, the surprise that behind every corner I would meet the next attraction, another simple charming building or a timeless lane rapidly turned into expectation. Of all the places I visited, only Tallinn's old town manages this feat in a way that puts it in the same league with my favourite Italian cities, Siena and Venezia (forget San Marco, get lost in the maze of Calli and you will know what I mean).
Being a lover of detailed craftsmanship I fell in love with the care put into the facades and doorways of many of the old homes, which just to the overall tone of the place. Touches of colour are another nice addition to the town's canvas. If I ever thought I would run the risk of getting bored of the grey and light tones of most buildings, those occasional lively spots of colour would break the monotony. There are quite a few of these "colour oasis" around town; in the two pictures above and left are two of my favourites: the door of the Guild house of the Black Heads, Pikk tanav (above), and this lovely red house just behind the main square, and not as I previously stated the popular Tristan and Isolde cafe (thanks Pille!).
There would be much more to say, about museums, churches and fortifications, just to mention a few, but it really all sums up in one sentence: if you haven't yet, visit Tallinn!
A few final travel tips for those of you who ended up on this page while looking for information about Tallinn.
If you are in the UK and Germany, you can fly quite cheaply into Tallinn with Easyjet from London Stansted and Berlin Schoenefeld respectively. For all others, Estonian Air is probably the best travel choice.
For accommodation, give a look at select-estonia.com. The web-site does not look particularly well designed, but their prices beat those of all other hotel reservation services I looked at (expedia, EasyHotels and more). Also, their customer service, while not fast as a lightning, is friendly and quite competent.
Finally I would definitely buy a Tallinn Card – which comes with a 24, 48 or 72 hours validity – if you are planning to do a lot of sightseeing concentrated into just one to three days, move around a lot or intend to do go on one of the organised city tours or pick up an audio-guide at the tourist info. On the other hand, if you just plan to look around the city centre and don't intend to move around much, then you'll probably be cheaper off without it.