May 8, 2016: Tallinn, Estonia
Following a day at sea from our 12 hour blitz of Berlin touring, we arrived in Tallinn, Estonia, the capital city of this former Soviet state. Just shy of its 25th birthday, this relatively young country has one of the oldest and most preserved city centers of all the European capitals. Pulling up to the dock at 10am, we had a scheduled 11:30am start for a 25 Euro per person 3 hour private walking tour of the waterfront, Upper and Lower Town, so we took our time this morning with breakfast and catching up on some of the day to day needs onboard, like laundry, tidying up the cabin, etc.
Baba wasn’t feeling well today, so Natalie, R, and I headed down with Baba Mickey to meet our guide, Maria, from Tallinn Traveller Tours. Waiting just outside of the gate to the port, sign in hand, we introduced ourselves and Maria took some time to get to know us and our expectations for the day. She was a university student that was going to be headed to Scotland in the fall for the new semester to study Mathematics.
From the cruise port gate, we began to walk along the waterfront as Maria introduced us to the history of Estonia. Though becoming a separate country from Russia in 1991, Estonia has over 1000 years of history being many country’s territory/possession/province, which provides a unique viewpoint of its current infancy while walking through the city of buildings that are centuries old.
We viewed the now vacant concert hall along the waterfront – specifically designed and made for the boycotted 1980 olympics, it awaits a new owner and purpose. As we continued along the sea front, we saw many fishermen out in search of today’s catch with dozens of lines cast into the water.
Making a wide loop to the northwest and then to the south, we arrived at Fat Margaret Tower, the main entrance to Old Town Tallinn, where the suburban feel of our previous 20 minute walk disappeared immediately, replacing sidewalks and tram lines running over green grass and sprouting yellow flowers with massive stone walls, narrow lanes, and cobblestone streets.
Walking up Pikk Street, the main avenue of Old Town, we saw a balance of current residents living in converted flats from these old buildings, with new and trendy restaurants offering nearly every possible cuisine.
We made our way to St. Olav’s church, with one of the tallest spires in the area, as we heard some music playing from inside, as we continued to move to the West in Lower Town. Another church came into view a few minutes later as we arrived at the Church of the Holy Ghost (Puhavaimu Kirik). Beyond this, we visited St. Nicholas Church, a 13th century gothic church, the Alexander Nevsky Russian Orthodox Cathedral, and the Dome Church. One of the most interesting facts about Estonia, given all of these churches is that while its history was based on the spread of religion by various rulers and missionaries, today only about 15% of Estonians practice or identify with any religion at all. While the largest of this minority is Lutheran, most people in this country identify as Atheist/no religious affiliation! Maria provided some great stories about how this made life interesting in the country, especially in the contrasts between the older generations and today’s youth, and how many of these locations are used for cultural events like concerts and town gatherings over traditional religious services.
Heading to Upper Town (Toompea), R held Maria’s hand as we walked up the steep sidewalks to the Upper Town overlooking the rest of the city. We visited Freedom Square, the Independence Memorial, Toompea tower, the Parliament building, Toompea Castle, and enjoyed a beautiful viewpoint overlooking the modern city of Tallinn and its surrounding towns. As we continued to wind our way along the beautiful streets, we closed out our tour out at the central Town Hall Square, a major marketplace of trade and commerce through the centuries, though today, it was packed with restaurants, bars, a family festival for Mothers Day (being celebrated today too!) and cruise ship tour groups! It was here that we said goodbye to Maria and thanked her for a wonderful day and a beautiful welcome to Tallinn and the country of Estonia.
She directed us to a nearby bookstore, Apollo, (8 minute walk away at the big Solaris mall) where we were able to pick up a picture book in Estonian for R, and then made the big 25 minute walk back to the ship. It was an incredible day in Tallinn, and even though we only were on tour for about 4 and half hours, we covered over 8 miles on foot! A tiring day, but very enjoyable, getting us even more excited about our time to come in St. Petersburg!