The Start of our Baltic Adventures – Estonia

After the fiasco with taxi drivers at Saint Petersburg, Di and I were desperate not to have a repeat on our arrival at Tallinn Train Station – so we were walking to our apartment – end of story. Luckily, the apartment we booked through AirBnB was only two kilometres away and we made it there relatively easily. We stayed for 2 weeks for around AUD$73/night.

The apartment was a one bedroom loft and was rather cosy and cute. This meant the ceiling in the bedroom sloped through the bedroom nearly dissecting it. I did, though, have to bend my head and shoulders into a Quasimodo position when walking around the bed to get to and from ‘my side’ of the bed. This was no real problem except for the occasional night-time trip to the loo always ended with me getting a slight concussion!

The apartment was about two kilometres from Tallinn Old Town and that is what we came to see in Tallinn. Timing, we soon discovered, was everything when sightseeing through Tallinn Old Town – you time when the cruise ships are at their least. Tallinn is a cruise ship destination and when several ships are in, the Old Town is chockers with cruise ship tourists, god love em!!!!

The first day we went into Old Town it was cold, the wind was blowing and it was brass monkey weather!! Tallinn is one of the best preserved medieval cities in Europe. All roads in Tallinn Old Town lead to the Town Hall Square and this is where you will find the gaggle of cruise ship tourists.

The Town Square

The square is ringed with restaurants and bars. Many of these restaurants have the Tallinn traditional cuisine at heart but many just have burgers and pizza.

You will also find a few pubs with dubious Estonian decent, like Mad Murphy’s Irish Pub!!!!

We visited the Square on our initial wander around and we felt we just had to have lunch in the Square, so we came back and sat outside with all the other frozen patrons just to say we did it – we had lunch in the Square. This was despite the fact the Square is the most expensive area to eat and, like I said, it was way too cold to sit outside, but we wanted the photo! Yes, we had burgers!!

Old Town is a maze of narrow, cobblestoned streets. There are flags flying, flowers in window plots, amazing old doors, lovely old balconies, large Estonian women dolls, outside cafes, old signs hanging from buildings, vendors in traditional clothes, and old, old buildings; it is just a sheer delight to wander around – with the cold weather you walk slowly through the sunny parts and hurry through the shaded areas!

Many of the narrow streets are connected through tunnels and narrow windy footpaths – it is a wonderful adventure simply finding your way around and you often find yourself asking yourself, ‘have we been this way before’?

There is, of course, a large fortified wall running around the Old Town and with this comes many towers jutting skyward.

There is the obligatory gated area to enter and exit the Old Town. It is just a fairy tale from some Disney movie – Di just needed a Prince Charming but she had Shrek instead!

Just when you were thinking how great the whole place was you came across a McDonalds and the fantasy came crumbling down around you.

Di got so excited when she saw a troupe of six year olds all wearing Orange reflective vests and tethered together come walking along the street, she was in Grandmother heaven – not that she is a Grandmother yet, just a Grandmother in waiting!!!

Naaawww

Surprisingly St. Olaf’s Church in Old Town has the unofficial honour of being, what is believed, the tallest building in the world in its time. Yep, way back in 1549 that is – well that’s the fable anyway and it makes for a good story – it is only 124 metres high.

St Olaf’s

Once you finish gawking at the lower section of Old Town, you head up past Cat’s Well to Toompea and the upper fortified castle which overlooks Old Town and the city of Tallinn.

Cat’s Well

It is a small hill to climb but well worth the effort.

Perched at the top of Toompea is the current Estonian Parliament.

Estonian Parliament Building

When Estonian sought its independence from the USSR back in 1991, it was believed the Russians would attack the parliament, as had happened in Latvia and Lithuania. The Estonians blocked the streets of Old Town with large boulders to prevent the Russian tanks from reaching the parliament.

The Russian tanks arrived in Tallinn but before they could attempt to reach the parliament, Estonia was granted its sovereignty and the tanks turned around and left without a drop of blood being spilt.

Toompea has sweeping views of Tallinn and its harbour and, for that alone, it is worth the walk.

Views over Tallinn from Toompea

Toompea also has the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral and St Mary’s Cathedral.

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral


St Mary’s Cathedral

We did come across a cluster of strange looking statutes whilst going up to Toompea; these statues were of faceless monks. They reminded me more of the Grim Reaper than any caring understanding monk – you be the judge!!!

There are also some lovely walks around the outside of the Old Town walls. There are gardens, with ponds and fountains. These gardens with the Old Town wall as a back drop make for a great photo.

During our time in Tallinn we made several trips through Old Town. We loved going to the Nimeta Baar to watch the English football on a Saturday afternoon and then have dinner. There we met Patrick and Chec whilst watching the Man City vs Liverpool game – they were from Artarmon in Sydney and we had a great chat – sadly never got a photo with them.

No matter how many times we wandered through Old Town we always came to a street we had not been in before, it is just that kind of place.

Our stay was plagued by rain, in fact, it pretty much rained every day. We were there at the start of autumn and the weather was always on the cool side. The town though is very easy to get around and, other than Old Town, it is completely flat.

In the centre of the city is a rather ugly tall building called the Viru Hotel. The Viru Hotel stands out because it simply does not fit into the overall look of Tallinn. Well that hotel was built by the Soviets during their occupation of Estonia and it was, you guessed it, KGB headquarters. This building is now a hotel, it is also home to the KGB Museum, but at 14 Euros per person it was too expensive for us. A better option is the Occupation Museum for 5 Euros, which provides the Estonian history from 1938 to 1991 and covers both the Russian and German occupation of Estonia.

We enjoyed walking out to the harbour and visiting the Lennusadam Seaplane Harbour. It is free to wander along the pier and there are many old ships on display. When Estonia gained its independence in 1991 the navy was Russian, so when the Russians left they took their vast naval fleet with them. Estonia then relied on handouts from other countries, like Sweden, Germany and the US. These countries literally gave their old naval ships to countries like Estonia and Latvia so they could build a Coast Guard and Naval fleet. Those early ships are on display at this museum. There are also Icebreaker ships and other sailing vessels. There is a museum to enter and I am told it is full of interactive stations to experience and is quite good – but we are on a budget.

The place we really enjoyed is Kadriorg Park. Again, this is within walking distance as Tallinn is really not that big, but you can take a tram. The population of Estonia is only 1.3 Million with 400,000 in Tallinn, so it is not a big place at all. Kadriorg Park is a large and beautiful garden park that has the Kadriorg Palace at his centre.

The Palace is now an art museum. The Palace was built by Peter the Great in 1725 for Catherine the 1st.

Surprisingly the home of the Estonian President is situated next to the Palace and the story is you may be lucky enough to see him wandering around as security is rather non existent.

Another interesting statistic from Estonia is that there are far more ladies in Estonia than men, in fact, the ratio of men to women in Tallinn is the lowest in the world (excluding Pacific atolls). Of the 400,000 inhabitants of Tallinn, 230,000 are women and 185,000 are men (news.err.ee). So, if you are looking for a wife, this could be the place but not so great if you are looking for a husband!!!

I also took in a local Football match. There are several Premier League teams in and around Tallinn. The ground for league leaders Flora was only a short walk from our apartment and the 5 Euro entry was worth the visit. The crowd was small, but I was surprised with all the flares being released during the game and no one seemed to care If flares were released in Australia like this the Police Riot Squad would have been called and there would have been mayhem – but everything in Tallinn is pretty casual.

We also planned, well I did (it got screwed up so I have to take responsibility), a day trip out to Prangli Island. The plan was easy, catch the 114 bus from the bus station outside the train station to Suureniidu and then catch local bus V5 to Leppneeme and then catch the first ferry over to Pragli Island. Well, there are several bus stations outside the Train Station and ours was down the road in a car park. We eventually found it and we literally saw bus 114 departing and drive past us – so we waited an hour for the next one. The 40 minute journey to Suureniidu was very good as we travelled along the coastline. The problem was that Suureniidu was the name of the bus stop and not the suburb, so we passed the stop. We then had to get off at the next stop and this meant a hurried walk back to Suureniidu. Luck was with us because as we arrived back at Suureniidu the number V5 bus arrived which took us to Leppneeme. The fare for both buses came to about 2 Euros each, so it is pretty cheap.

On arrival at Leppneeme we enjoyed the short walk to the pier looking at all the lovely houses. The pier though was empty and we discovered the ferry only makes two trips to Pragli Island a day – 9am and 5pm – that is it. We were there at 11am!! Di has this horrible habit of asking blatantly obvious questions, “Didn’t you check the ferry timetable?” she asked. Obviously, NO, I didn’t!!!!  Then right on cue it started to rain – @#@##@!!!!  There is little to see at Leppneeme Pier. It was though a nice bus trip out and back. We never got to Pragli Island but it is supposed to be very nice.

The large white boat is the ferry!!


The main tourist attraction – a puddle!!!

 

For three Euros I did a day trip to Paldiski by train. Paldiski is about 70 minutes from Tallinn. Paldiski was the home of the Russian Naval Fleet in Estonia. The town itself is pretty boring but if you walk through the town and head along the coast towards the lighthouse, you walk along a cliff face hiking trail that used to be where the Russian Navy base was. The base was blown up and bulldozed by the Russians when they left Estonia. There is very little to see of the base, just the occasional building foundation – I would find a much better Russian Naval Base ruin in Liepaja in Latvia, but that is to come – the walk along the coast though is very good. It takes about 90 minutes to walk from the train station, through town, out to the trail along the coast to the Pakri Lighthouse.

The hiking trail along the cliff edge.

The current Pakri Lighthouse is a tall red tower and was built in 1889 and is the tallest lighthouse in Estonia.

The interesting thing is that the original lighthouse built in 1724 is nearby precariously perched on the headlands. The area is limestone based and parts of the cliff are continually falling into the ocean. The old lighthouse foundations are exposed and overhanging the cliff ledge. There is a sign in English explaining the lighthouse may topple in the ocean at the next major storm – surely they could move the lighthouse!!!

The old lighthouse waiting to fall!!

Anyway, I enjoyed my day trip out to Paldiski, mainly the scenic hike and the lighthouse, I would not consider it a must do, but certainly if you have time it is an enjoyable trip.

The day trip I would say is a must do is the trip out to Keila-Joa. We caught bus 108 from Viru Keskus bus station – again a couple of Euros only for the 60 minute journey. Di organised this day out and it was smoothly planned with no hitches whatsoever.

Keila-Joa has three things to see, a lovely park with a river running through it is the first thing, the river leads to a waterfall at Keila-Juga and overlooking the waterfall is the stunning Keila-Joa Manor. The town is very small and when you get off the bus at the end of the line you just head to the river and follow it to the falls.

With there being so much rain recently the waterfall was working harder than the photos I had seen of it, so we were blessed in that respect. The waterfall used to be a watermill back in 1555. In 1928 a hydroelectric plant started producing electricity here. This plant was shut down in 1999.

The Keila-Joa Manor is just beyond the waterfall and presides regally above the picturesque setting. There are several suspension bridges crossing the river and from the opposite side you get some lovely photos of the river, waterfall and the manor.

The Manor was built in 1831 and is now a restaurant if you fancy lunch.

There was hardly anybody there when we went, but as we were leaving a bus full of school kids arrived and then a second bus full of elderly people arrived – Di plans things so well. We then caught bus 237 back to Tallinn for 3 Euros. A great day out that was planned to perfection.

We really enjoyed our stay in Tallinn. There is an easy and comfortable feel to the city. Tallinn being so small it is just easy to get around – everything is relatively close.  We loved ‘crazy Tuesday’ at the cinema – Euro 1.38 each movie, that is AUD$2.50, yes it is all in English and ultra-modern. Normal cinema prices Euro 8. There is just so much history in Tallinn and the Old Town is an absolute delight I would recommend it as a must see place. The apartment we stayed at was lovely and certainly value for money.

We reluctantly left Tallinn and walked from our apartment to the main Tallinn Bus station – a 40 minute walk. We caught a Lux Express bus for 6 Euros to the coastal town of Parnu out near the Latvian border.  We stayed at Parnu for three nights. The bus was very luxurious and was by far the best bus we have caught throughout our 19 month journey. The Lux bus actually felt like being on an aeroplane rather than a bus. There were TV screens in the seat in front of you, with a wide variety of shows in English, Estonian and Latvian. The seats were super comfortable. There were tea and coffee facilities on board…and of course a toilet. It was a shame the trip was only two hours I could have sat there enjoying the view and reading for a lot longer.

We stayed in another lovely AirBnB apartment in Parnu. Parnu is a small city and the apartment was a ten minute walk from the bus station. We paid $AUD75 per night.

Having said Parnu is a small place, it is in fact, the fourth largest city in Estonia with a population of around 42,000 – this will give perspective to just how sparsely populated Estonia is. Parnu is famous for its beach (well famous in the Baltic area at least) and is a popular summer holiday resort.

Parnu Beach

The problem though is that summer does not last a very long time in this part of the world – we were here the second week of autumn and it was cold and miserable; I lie, we had one morning when the sun came out and it was a pleasant day.

The beach is very large and a short walk from our apartment. There are these cute little changing rooms scattered along the beach.

There is an area designated for ladies to bathe naked and a sign asking to show the ladies respect – a bit sexist here because there was no mention of males – well I walked up and down that area every day and never saw one naked lady – the sign LIED!!!!!

The beach promenade is a lovely garden walk that stretches for a few kilometres – we were soaked through walking here as it rained so hard.

When you look on Tripadvisor for things to do in Parnu you know it is going to be a quiet old time when in the top ten is the Parnu Jetty, this is long rock wall barely visible above the water, that stretches several hundred metres out to sea. There are also several small and very basic statues listed that we never even bothered photographing, my point is other than the beach there is not much else to Parnu.

Parnu Jetty

When it did stop raining we walked along the beach promenade to Tallinn Gate and then followed the river around to the centre of town.

Tallinn Gate

There I posed with a statue of Faberge – yep, that Faberge was born in Parnu, and then we walked through the lovely main street of Parnu and that is pretty much Parnu.

Parnu was quiet and peaceful when we were there, but I read that in the height of summer, I guess June, July, August, it is extremely busy with tourists from Russia, Finland and Sweden predominantly vacationing here. Parnu was a pleasant stopover, but after three days I was pleased to be moving on. We left Parnu and headed to Riga in Latvia.

The Baltic adventure continues………………………………

2 Comments

  1. Gilda Baxter

    Another great read full of humour and lots of good information. Di is definitely a better planner than you 🙂 Tallinn has a lot to offer, but probably would skip Parnu. Loving your blog:)

    Reply
    1. meandering_wanderers@outlook.com

      Thanks again Gilda on commenting. Yes Di definitely is the better planner 🙂

      Reply

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: