Exploring the Old Town: First Day in Tallinn

The Day Zero of my trip had come on Thursday, 2nd February. I call it „Day Zero“, because I was just travelling on that day. My bus started from Vilnius bus station at 4 p.m. The distance to Tallinn is 600 kilometers and that means 9 hours in the bus, but it was very comfortable and I didn’t even know how fast the time had passed.

I remember one moment on the bus, when I looked on the map on my phone and I saw the small dot somewhere after Riga moving slowly in direction to Estonia (that was me!) and it was a strange feeling, like to be in the middle of nowhere, going to some strange country and depending on people I don’t really know that much, not sure what to expect… that’s what I call to be out of your comfort zone! How it all ended up? Let’s continue reading 😉

I arrived to Tallin after midnight, fortunately my host was okay with my late arrival, I agreed upon it with her before buying the ticket. She lives in district Raua and that was very strategical not just for coming there from bus station in the night (not even 20 minutes on walk!), but also for the next days, since it is pretty close to almost everywhere I wanted to go. She welcomed me very warmly and since her flatmate was not at home on those days, I could sleep in her bed.

In the morning, after having the zuchinni cake that I prepared for my host for breakfast, my first steps led to the St. Olaf’s Church. Why? I just love the viewing platforms and scratching up the craziest staircases of the narrow old church towers for the beautiful view. So St. Olaf’s Church tower with its 123,6 mestres being the highest building in Tallinn (any of the six skyscrapers in Tallinn can not be higher than the cross on the top of this church) was a clear choice. I could find it very easily – from Raua I just went in the direction where I could see the tower of the church. I was passing the narrow streets on the edge of the Old Town with the view of going there later, I could see famous Viru Gate that was the part of the medieval defense system and I met also Fat Margareta (Paks Margareeta), the cannon tower with thickest walls (up to 5 meters!) that hosts Estonian Maritime Museum and the attached Great Coastal Gate (Suur Rannavärav). Tallinn is mostly known for its medievial architecture, but to be honest, that was not the thing that I was so much excited about. For me, there were some different places waiting.

To my dissapointment St. Olaf’s Church Tower is closed during the winter months (as almost all the towers in Estonia as I could find out later) and opens just in March. At least I sneaked into the yard of the church and admired it from all its sides. Then walking through the medievial streets I discovered cool retro shop with old vinyls and the extraordinary chocolate shop (both on the Voorimehe street). I couldn‘t resist to enter both of them and in the chocolate shop I let the very nice shop assistant help me to choose which chocolate chunk shall I buy – and it was really a chunk, just for 2 €! Satisfied with the one with the flavour of the liquer Vana Tallinn I just passed Town Hall Square since I had to hurry to another point of my plan – Free Guided Tour.

 

Free Guided Tour in Tallin starts everyday at 12 a. m. from Tourist Infromation Center at Niguliste 2. If you have never tried this kind of tour, I really recommend it for whichever capital you are in. Sometimes it has a different name – Alternative/Walking/Local Tour, but the concept is the same – usually young local people passionate about their city and coutry guiding the bunch of foreigners through the usual touristic places, but showing also the small details that just locals know about and telling you a lot of interesting facts, not just boring historical stuff. The tour is for free, but at the end you are supposed to leave the tip for your guide and its amount depends on how much you liked the tour and at the same time on how much you can afford. First I tried this tour in Riga and then in Vilnius and it was always a great experience, so of course I had to go in Tallinn, too!

Our guide was very energetic person and she led us first to Freedom Square (Vabaduse väljak) and then we continue up to the stairs along the Harjumägi hill. There she told us a story about how people used to sell the vinyls with forbidden western music there in 70’s and 80’s. Of course it was illegal, but since this vinyl market was taking place on the hill, people could see police coming from below and could hide the forbidden vinyls and change them for stamps. I got super excited because this is the topic I was always interested in and I was sure that I will come back to that hill later that day. Tour continued up to the Toompea Hill where we passed by another medieval artillery tower Kiek in de Kök, impressive orthodox church Alexander Nevsky Cathedral that is right opposite to the houses of Parliament (or Barbie house as our guide called it). Here it is worth mentioning that the Estonian national flag that hangs above the Parliament Tower is taken out every morning accompanied with the song of national anthem and taken down on sunset with another national folk song. The tour continued by St. Mary’s Cathedral (Toomkirik) that the hill is called after, and we proceeded to my favourite point – viewing platform. And there is not just one at Toompea Hill, but two – Kohtuotsa and Patkuli viewing platforms. If it is a bright day, you can see the sea and even Finland that is 80 kilometres far! At this point guide told us about the influence that Finish TV and radio stations had on Estonian people during soviet times and recommended us the documentary Disco and Atomic War on this topic. (I have already watched it at home!) From Patkuli platform the stairs took us down from Toompea Hill and went to end up our more than 2 hours long tour at the Town Hall Square (Raekoja Plats).

Before going to visit famous oldest continuously running pharmacy that is placed on Town Hall Square, I went to explore the streets that surrounds the square from the side I haven’t been at yet. Accidentaly I discovered the medieval St. Catherine’s Passage, where the fragments of old monastery are exposed. I was coming back to Town Hall Square from the other street and I went to visit Raeapteek that still works as a regular pharmacy. Besides that the small pharmacy museum is ran there and you can still buy some old remedies, for example the one made of marzipan with almond inside that cures broken heart. I bought two for sure.

It was the best time for a lunch, so my next steps led to Kompressor – the place that my host recommended me with the words „they have the best and biggest pancakes there – and very cheap!“. And it was true. Just few steps from Town Hall Square, on Rataskaevu street, there is this inconspicuous place, that you can recognize rather thanks to the load of posters for cultural events and concerts hanging around on the wall than its name written above the entrance. It was difficult to choose from all the pancakes flavours they offer, sweet and savoury, too, and at the end I ended up with the one with tomatoes, feta cheese and pesto. I was warned that waiting time is 40 minutes at that moment, but at least I could take a rest before going to explore Tallinn city centre on my own with the sun coming down.

With stomach full of pancake I went back to Harjumägi Hill. I tried to go through different streets than before (I always prefer to go the way I haven’t walked on yet J), so I explored some more medieval fortifications and while passing by the Parliament suddenly I could hear some song – Estonian flag is coming down! I couldn‘t believe how lucky I am and I continue to the Hill. It is already almost dark, the small lights in the tree are lightened and I was trying to imagine how was it in the soviet times when people had to smuggle vinyls with their favourite music from abroad or pay for it almost all monthly wage. Fascinated with the place where the vinyl markets took place in the past I was wandering through small park that is on the hill. On the place with the view on Freedom Square (with terrible Freedom Monument) I discovered commemorative tile that was presented to Tallinn by Vilnius City Government. There are the footprints of one of the partipants of Baltic Way on the tile. Baltic Way (or also known as Baltic Chain) was one very extraordinary moment from Baltic states‘ history. More than 2 milion people joined hands and created the chain spanning 600 kilometres from Tallinn through Riga to Vilnius in peacefull protest against Soviet regime on 23 August 1989.

Some people asked me to take a photo of them on the hill, so in reward I asked them about the same – the only photo of myself from my trip! But definitely on the place that I liked probably the most.

I couldn’t resist to go to viewing platforms again, even if it was already dark, but this time it was not so packed with the tourists. Afterwards exploring medieval fortification a bit, adventurous scratching down the castle hill by the icy path (but I was going different way than I came from!) and accidentaly discovering a park with the small statue (actually it was this one). I could see some impressive church in the distance and I decided to go there. It was St. Charles Church and it looked better in real than on the picture. But what was more important, on my way to that church I was passing by an interesting place wherea lot of stone suitcases were on the ground and birches  grown from asphalt (birches were real as I could find out afterwards). It was Museum of Occupation and on the information board I could read that there is a temporary exhibition about rock music in soviet Estonia. I had to go there next day!

In the evening the plan was to visit some cool pubs and to meet with my host and the other volunteer I knew already from Vilnius. First I went to heat up with some tea and Vana Tallinn liquer to Must Puudel – the cafe with retro soviet interior  (you could already notice that I am bit obsessed with soviet times). It was crowded, but there was still enough space since the place was really big. They offer also some vegan and gluten and lactose free meals (thumbs up even if I do not have any food reqiurements). Later my friend came to pick me up from there and brought me to his favourite club – NoKu klubi that you can enter just if you know the code that is reqiured at the entrance (it is 2580 btw ;). Looked like a cool place, but it was full, so we moved to pick up some other EVS volunteers from Kompressor and went to Red Emperor where they use to go often. I could understand why – very informal athmosphere, unusual eqiupment (for example train seats instead of chairs), a lot of graffitis on the walls, cheap drinks… After one more Vana Tallin, one round of table football and chat with my EVS friends I went back to my host‘s place early to have enough sleep for the next day – because I planned to see a lot!

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