As I get more
and more into travelling to Eastern Europe, I find myself wanting to go
there more and more. This includes visiting old places (such classics as
Prague and St Petersburg are definitely on my wish-to-return-to list) as
well as seeing new ones. Tallinn is for sure a new one, and it will be
my second visit to the Baltics, which leaves Lithuania so far unvisited
(but on the wish-list ;)
I spend some time on Tripadvisor
searching for accommodation, and combine it with the also excellent
website In Your Pocket in order to choose my hotel, and my choice is on
Meriton Grand Conference & Spa hotel. While not ranked among the
very top on Tripadvisor,
reading about it gives me a generally good impression, and it seems to
have the facilities (and much more since I am not so into spa things)
and has a good business style standard, which I tend to often go for
when travelling. They have a fairly newly added wing, which is supposed
to be the 'good one', so I request this in my booking of the room, and
my wish is granted.
Thanks to the In Your Pocket
guide, I am also able to go through a pretty extensive list of choices
for where to eat during my stay. Since I want to vary my culinary
experience (which I have more and more come to realise is almost half
the experience when travelling, when done right) I search through the
list several times and tick off my interesting choices, and actually
land on making a somewhat open list for each day's lunch and dinner.
Ryanair's planes have been
nicknamed 'hot dog stands with wings' in one of my net-based travel
information sources, and it may at times give this impression. However,
they are efficient and extremely cheap. My trip back and forth including
15 kg checked baggage (and 10 kg hand luggage) is around 85 €, and I
land earlier than planned at
Tallinn airport (Tallinna Lennujaam), which lies only 4 km southeast
of the old town. The air is very hot and humid, and I expect thunder or
heavy rain before this day is over.
local line, has fairly newly opened a convenient transport possibility -
a bus which makes a roundtrip to the city centre, stopping at various
strategic locations which are convenient for tourists. The trip is only
2 € and it takes me around half an hour to reach my hotel.
The bus stops at the 'wrong side' of the hotel, so I have to navigate
through its length to find the reception, but check-in is very efficient
and I find out I have been granted a room on the top floor - excellent!
My room is not particularly large, but is more than sufficient for just
one person. I have a double bed, a ceiling-to-floor window which
overlooks a construction site - not a particularly sexy view, but I am
not here to sit on my popka and look out the window anyway..hopefully! I
find out that the airconditioning is excellent - the individual control
lets you set it as low as 14°C or so, and the sound insulation is great,
so sleeping well should be no problem at all!
There is a minibar which I won't be
using, and a 'tempting' bottle of water at 5 € outside it - daylight
robbery even here, as you can find the same bottle in any shop at a
fifth of the price.
The bathroom door creaks a bit, and there is a bathtub here *sigh* but
otherwise the bathroom is ok.
As I am well ahead of
schedule, I head out to my lunch place and hope it isn't completely
full, as I have heard it is very popular. I navigate up the Toompea Hill
and walk back down to the freedom monument, then head into the old town
area and seek out my choice -
Von Krahli Aed (Von Krahl's Garden) which lies on the street called
Rataskaevu. On my way I pass several restaurants I remember from my
previous research, and even a couple of hotels - it almost feels as if I
have already been here.
I had emailed the restaurant beforehand, asking if they would recommend
reserving a seat, and they suggested me to do so just in case. However,
I decided not to, as I would have no idea when I would be able to arrive
due to possible plane delays, waiting for luggage, traffic problems etc.
But I am on the 'good end' of my most optimistic schedule, and
fortunately there is a table available for me.
The restaurant isn't large (many in old town are actually quite small)
but is very cozy inside as you get the 'old medieval building' feeling,
with thick stone walls and ceiling beams. They play some slightly
alternative music, which is fine anyway, and it reminds me that they
also run a theatre and bar with music entertainment next door.
While they have lunch menu options at
very low prices (4.50 € at the time of visiting), I decide to go for a
proper dinner dish and no starter. I try the 'roasted chicken breast
with fresh salad, coconut milk and lemon grass sauce' - my mouth waters
at writing it down again, as it did when it arrived on my table. It was
really nicely presented, the chicken was perfectly tender, and adding
the warm lemongrass sauce to it..ahh! Together with my ecological glass
of white wine (actually the wine was ecological, not the glass...) -
what a great culinary start! And to top it off, my (definitely after
this trip) favourite dessert - crème brûlée with strawberry salad, which
in my eyes (read: mouth) is absolutely heavenly :)
The sign outside the restaurant reads 'embassy of pure food' and it
seems they have a big focus on healthy servings (not size, but
lifestyle-related). That dessert was just..hmm, well, it was very good!
I do a small walk around the old town on my way back and take in a few
sights and try to learn the street layout, which is a bit confusing at
first. From Town Hall square, narrow roads go in every direction, but
some curve into other directions, sending you to places you didn't want
to go in the first place...or?
The Town Hall is pretty impressive by the way. It is the oldest one
intact in northern Europe, from around 1400, and while not overly
decorated (which was normal for medieval times), it is very well
preserved and makes a good sight along with the rest of the buildings
around the square. Most of these are, during season, outside summer
restaurants, and the square is indeed filled with restaurants, tables,
and a few 'recruiters' here and there. It is often said that the more
centrally located you are, the higher the price is and the poorer the
food is. I do not try any of the restaurants in the exact centre, but
instead opt for ones nearby, or on a couple of occasions, somewhat
outside the old town.
The day goes by pretty fast and
before I know it, it is time for another highlight - dinner! This
evening I go to Klafira (Клафира),
and while I have the option to sit outside, I choose to go inside, where
the decoration takes you back to the tsar era, with heavy, colourful
tablecloths and even waiters/waitresses decked out in costumes!
My main waitress has sharp blue eyes and is quite friendly - in fact it
turns out I receive the warmest service on my trip here. We exchange
some enthusiasm about DSLRs and she gives me a couple of suggestions for
sightseeing as she asks about my plans.
I remember reading on their website about
a tasting menu named 'Pearls of the Russian cuisine', and this is what I
will want to have. The first bit is 'game meat borshch' which is pretty
good, although not the best I have tried. The second is pelmeni -
Siberian dumplings, which are really excellent and taste much better
than they look :) The waitress told me they have them delivered fresh
every morning from a local woman who makes them. Third - beef
stroganoff, a fairly small portion but it is very good, along with fried
slices of potatoes. And finally - sweet blini with honey and jam, very
very tasty ones indeed!
There is live entertainment in the evenings - on three occasions, some
dancers come in and perform a small classic music/dance show, quite
loudly so, but entertaining indeed (for tourists).
It is friday evening and
the rain is pouring down as I leave the restaurant. Thankfully I have my
umbrella with me but the cobbled streets turn into rivers, and my
low-soled shoes get wet :(
I head to a place called Kompressor,
which normally is famous for their pancakes, but at the time I arrive,
the kitchen is closed so I order a drink - and try the local liqueur
known as Vana Tallinn. It is quite good but very strong, especially
straight up as the girl at the counter suggests for a..virgin.
I go towards Viru Gate and search for a
possible bar visit - the name is 'Butterfly
Lounge' and is supposed to be good according to my guidebook. It
turns out that it probably is, as it is packed with people and there are
no tables available. Nearby, there is another but smaller bar/lounge
named 'Rumours'. I
decide to try my luck in there. Beside the bar, there is a small round
pedestal where a small but perfectly fit young lady is dancing. She has
piercing blue eyes and gives you a look which suggests you will want to
stay there. Unfortunately the area with 'view' is filled up so I find a
table in the back and sip away at my drink..Long Island Iced Tea (for a
And as I expect when travelling to Eastern Europe, there are lots of
models on high heels around :)
It is quite late as I head to bed, a bit too late, as I am not quite yet
adapted to..something, and wake up with a stretched neck.
Breakfast is small for me, but I notice
also that while the area they use for serving it is quite large, it is
almost chaotically busy, and the variety offered isn't as much as I had
expected. Everything seems to have been cloned, so you get a sense of
dejá vu when you walk around, trying to get an overview over what's on
offer. I get at least some cereals, bread, meat, juice and tea. They
have some warm offerings as well but that is not really up my alley.
The weather today is not good! It is raining, and it doesn't just seem
to be showers, since everything is dark grey. I decide to lie down and
relax in my hotel room for a while instead.
The hotel is almost as close as you can get to an all-inclusive place,
with 4 restaurants: Spanish Tapas Bar, Balalaika - Russian restaurant,
Asian Wok & Grill and Bistro Mary - the latter two both being used for
serving breakfast, as well as Café Mademoiselle, with seemingly
mouth-watering cakes and the Lobby and Piano bars. There's even a
Good morning! Let's go somewhere! How about the
Solaris centre? According to
Google maps it should be...there,
very close to Freedom Square. But it doesn't seem to be..so I ask in a
nearby shop, where I get a much better map along with directions, and
find the centre - which is quite new - at least a city block off my
expected position. The centre is quite nice, with lots of shops, and as
usual most are clothing related. There is also a cinema here, in fact 7
rooms, 6 of which are 3D enabled. They seem to have a lot of new movies
showing even at daytime, so I try to adjust my schedule and plan for a
visit later in the afternoon.
First, I go for lunch and my
choice today is
Vapiano - a local chain serving Italian food. In fact it is sort of
a fast food chain, although with quite a bit of difference. As you head
in, you are given an electronic card. When you get to the seating area
you bring the menu with you, choose your dish, then head to the proper
counter (pizza - pasta - salad - dessert etc) and order your food, which
is then freshly prepared in front of you! As you get the meal, you swipe
your card at the same place, and return to eat. So if you want more to
eat, you repeat the procedure. And when you are finished and head out,
you are charged the amount due on your card. Quite a good solution,
although at times the queue takes some time, since every meal is
prepared separately. I have a tempting pasta dish which isn't on the
regular menu. You can choose which kind of pasta you would like -
spaghetti, tagliatelle, penne etc. and also if your dish includes
garlic, you may opt out of it (thanks!)
And one more (and highly important) thing
- the food is very good! Now if only Autogrill in Italy could even
remotely reach a standard such as this!?
As a meal in-between I go to
Kompressor (no website) to try one of their pancakes. I have a sweet one
- with apple and vanilla sauce. Getting it takes ages, and I am thinking
it shouldn't be a problem devouring it all, even though the reviews on
Tripadvisor suggest otherwise. I must admit I almost never leave
something on my plate, but this time something just went 'boom' in my
tummy and I had to leave a third of it :( It does taste very good
though, and at 2.50 € it is a steal for filling your tummy.
In the afternoon I head back to the centre for a visit to the cinema -
Pirates of The Caribbean in its fourth installment and in glorious 3D.
It is enjoyable enough, with the added comedy parts which I expect from
Since I have been crossing over this hill many times already, I should
comment a bit on the sights along the route:
Toompea Hill, where the castle
stands, is the seat of power for the Republic of Estonia and is home to
the Parliament. Right next to it is the Russian orthodox Alexander
Nevsky cathedral, built late in the 19th century. After Estonia was
'liberated' from Russia there was a wish to tear it down, but it wasn't
done, and now it is under refurbishment and looks splendid (and to our
western eyes, exotic).
Down the hill on the western side of the
old town is the oddly named tower 'Kiek in de Kök' which means 'peek
into the kitchen'. To me, the native name sounds more Dutch than
Estonian, but anyway it is one of the many remaining and well-preserved
towers of the old town walls.
Just below this one and at the bottom of the hill stands the Freedom
Monument, raised during their first independence in 1918-20. Here, you
are at the edge between the old town and the more modern part.
After the movie, it is
definitely time to have dinner. I head for my choice of the evening -
Sisalik which means lizard. I have
the chicken breast with chanterelles and creamy brandy-apple sauce,
which is very good, but the side dish - mushroom risotto, is not quite
to my liking. A glass of white wine is a perfect match. For dessert I
have a warm chocolate cake which is veeeeeeeery sweet..a bit too much.
The cellar is cozy as well, and the atmosphere is quiet - nice for a
romantic dinner if you have company, I am sure!
It is saturday evening and quite lively
down at the Viru Gate area. As I take some pictures of the old gates, a
couple of young ladies want to be added to my eh..collection as well. As
I show them the result, I hear the word 'horosho' so I understand they
are Russian speaking, and I am able to add a couple of words myself just
to impress..a little.
I head over to "my" Rumours bar again as
Butterfly is still packed, but the interesting dancer isn't there
tonight..that sucks a little. I stay in the bar and have a drink, then
head back home.
Sunday - the weather seems to be getting
better now - at least it isn't raining. It is cloudy but the forecast
suggests they will disappear during the day. I head out for my roundtrip
in the old town, and take in as many of the sights as I was hoping to
do, including partly a walk around the outside of the walls along some
of the towers. Tallinn is European capital of culture in 2011, so it is
neatly decorated, and there are several events taking place during this
summer. Behind the town hall square is the well known restaurant/shop
known as Olde Hansa. They say you
haven't been to Tallinn if you haven't visited it, but it is not on my
restaurant list. Instead I have
Peppersack, very close by, as an option. The medieval music coming
from inside some of the houses sets an extra nice mood, although to a
native, I am sure it would feel very touristy.
Most of the towers have names, but
the northernmost stands out on its own in a literal way - Fat Margaret.
It was built in the early 16th century, is 25 metres in diameter, 20
metres tall and the walls are up to 5 metres in thickness. Southwestward
from here, several towers in a row are worth strolling along, as much of
the outer wall has gardens or parks nearby.
My visit to
Von Krahli Aed was so successful that I go there for lunch a second
time. On this occasion, I have a fresh salad with oven-baked chicken,
which is very good value at 4.50 €. Then I decide to try a slightly more
adventurous dish - rabbit fillet with vegetable pillow and "Põltsamaa
Tõmmu" wine sauce. The rabbit itself has little taste although it is
tender, but the vegetables are slightly spicy and make the dish overall
better. It wasn't as good as my chicken, but all is good as I go for
another crème brûlée for dessert. I should probably head to a gym
In fact, I brought my gym clothes and shoes with me, as my hotel has a
very big fitness department alongside the spa and pool area. I attend
Body Pump class, and notice that the instructor uses a combination
program, but most of the songs are quite old to me, as I am used to the
most recent versions. Still, it is fun and enjoyable and I definitely
get a good workout.
I was originally planning
to set aside half a day for a possible visit by ferry to Helsinki, but
as my saturday got lost in the rain, I will have to use that extra day
for out-of-town sightseeing. So I continue to cover the old town for the
remainder of the day, and relax a bit before heading out for dinner,
which is more off the beaten track - in fact I head a bit south of the
old town to find
Restaurant Kathmandu Hill.
After studying their website menu,
I decide to go for a starter named 'Chicken Tikka - tender pieces of
chicken marinated with herbs and spices, cooked in tandoor. Served on
hot plate with mint sauce'. And what a dish it is! It is more or less
the best one of any cuisine I have ever tried. The girl serving is
friendly but somewhat shy, which is fine by me, as I am not there to
pinch her popka anyway.
For main course I choose the Kathmandu chicken - in creamy tomato cashew
nut sauce...tasty but not nearly as heavenly as my starter. A glass of
rosé wine goes well with both these dishes, but for my dessert - fried
banana with ice cream (which are ok but not super) a glass of plum wine
As I leave the place, well fed and happy, I know I have to return just
to have that starter again!
It is sunday evening and the town
is much less lively, so my evening is shorter this time. Instead, I use
the cover of darkness to go for a walk with my tripod and take some
shots of illuminated buildings..including the parliament, Freedom
Square, Town Hall square, Kiek in de Kök and Toompea Castle, the latter
being lit up like a castle from a ghost story (with extra effect from
the thick leaves of the nearby trees). As I walk down the final part of
the hill to return to my hotel, I pass an english couple, and I don't
know how I did it, but the woman nearly jumps up above the treeline as I
come up on their side. I don't know if she had time to see that I was
carrying my tripod and decide to mistake it for a machine gun or
medieval torture instrument, but in the end, all of us are still alive.
Today the weather seems to be near
perfect, so I decide to go for my out-of-town experience. First of all,
I walk to the Baalti Jam railway station and try to find somewhere to
buy a day ticket for public transportation. I find a kiosk and after a
bit of hand signage manage to get the right ticket. This was in fact my
first and only experience with having difficulties getting around using
english. I take tram no. 1 (Kopli - Kadriorg) and get off at the second
last station, then head into the park. It is very nice, beautifully
planted, and I stroll around for a little before heading towards the
main palace, built during the tsar area as a small and rather modest
cabin (compared to the palaces of St Petersburg). Unfortunately,
refurbishing is going on..surprise, surprise! Opposite the palace stands
a newer palace in a similar style, which is now the official seat for
the President of Estonia.
I head to the end of the tram line
before it turns back towards the city centre, and wait for bus no. 8.
Although I am sure many others cover my destination, at least this is
the one suggested to me on the public travel transport website of
Tallinn. It takes a bit of waiting, but the ride is less than 15
minutes, and as we reach the coastal area, I notice that the road
follows the coastline closely, and there is a walking/cycling path next
to it! Perfect for my return home, I think. At the stop 'Pirita', I jump
off (after the bus has stopped) and head towards a local sight - the
ruins of an old monastery. It is quite well kept and neat, but will not
take much time unless you want to dig around on your own. Entrance was 2
€ if I remember correctly...
For a somewhat late lunch I go to the 'Winners
Sports Lounge' which is situated right next to the bridge crossing
the river. It has great views and seems quite popular, as all the
outdoor tables are busy (naturally in this great weather), so I have a
seat inside and have a Caesar Salad with chicken (which is quite good)
and a pasta with salmon (which is also good but not great). I finish off
with an ice cold strawberry daiquiri *hic* but it feels a bit too cold
so my taste buds turn numb :(
I head out towards the end
of the pier and spot the beach at Pirita and some windsurfers trying
their luck. Out here is also the 'old' arena for sailing during the 1980
Moscow Olympics, when Estonia was part of the Soviet Union. It is a bit
windy, so I head back to the road and follow the coastline towards the
city. As the spires of the old town and the tall buildings of the modern
part of the city slowly come closer into view, I realise I have spent
most of my afternoon out here as well, which suits well with my plans
anyway. The walking path, which is separate from the cycling path,
consists partly of somewhat rugged concrete, which feels a bit strange.
At least I get a nice tan from it all, and I guess you can't get that
everywhere when visiting big cities! Now I can only imagine what Odessa
or Sevastopol would be!
I was originally planning to visit
Body Combat class today as well, but due to too few people signing
up, it is cancelled. So after a rest I go back to my
and order the Chicken Tikka starter twice - as I said to the guy serving
- it was THAT good. He is a bit colder than the girl though...but I only
go there for the starter(s). For the 'main course' I head back to my favourite again -
Von Krahli Aed and order the chicken breast and the usual dessert...mmm!
I go 'out on town' in the evening and this time the Butterfly lounge has
available seats. In fact, it is almost empty, making my Long Island Iced
Tea somewhat less enjoyable.
I have one half day left and will only
spend it walking a little more in the old town - I head up the tower of
the Town Hall, 34 metres above the ground. It is a very narrow and
winding staircase where the steps are up to 40 cm tall at the most -
definitely not one for wheelchairs, I would say. My main aim is to reach
the northern part of the old town for lunch, and head for a place which
opens only today -
Kohvik Moon. After reading very nice reviews of it, I am tempted to
try it out, as they also have some quite Russian inspired cuisine. I
decide to go for a 3-course lunch - my starter being the very familiar
borshch (which is good but not the best I have tried, again), then a
salmon dish which is very tasty, and to round it off..my usual dessert.
Shhh! By the way the place is a little bit hidden so I would advise
anyone going there to mark it well on the map beforehand. It lies just
past and downwards from the
Domina Inn Ilmarine - a prison converted into a hotel (!) - at Võrgu
I asked at the hotel for a later check-out, and I am granted one at some
additional cost, until 3 in the afternoon. I head down well before that
and hope to catch the 15:25 bus back to the airport, but checking out
takes ages as there are lots of people checking in at the same time, and
for some reason only 2 people to man the desk - out of 4 possible
stations. After half an hour I am finished and still have a to wait a
bit for my bus. Getting back is more of a breeze, so that's Tallinn for
me for now!
Would I go back there? Yes I think so - the entire old town is really
medieval, and they have done a great job at preserving it, and not
introducing too many modern elements, so it all has an 'old' feel to it.
- To get from the airport to the city, use the new
bus route 90K, it circumvents the entire old town area, making for easy
transportation from the airport to your hotel, and only costs 2 €.
Alternatively, a taxi should cost less than 10 €.
- A 24 h day card for public transportation costs 4 €
and covers buses, trams and trolleybuses. Similarly, they have 3 and 5
day cards which cost 6 and 7 € respectively. You can find maps, routes
- People over 65 travel for free on public
transportation. This includes foreigners!
- As a curiosity, if you have been persecuted during
the Soviet days, you are also entitled to free transport.
- Don't miss Katarina Käik (St. Catherine's Passage)
between Vene street and Müürivahe!
- Don't miss Kadriorg
and a stroll out at Pirita if the weather permits it!
- It is possible to visit Helsinki by ferry -
Linda Line Express is the
fastest one, taking 90 minutes each way. A day return ticket costs much
less than an ordinary return ticket.
UNESCO sites visited:
Centre (Old Town) of Tallinn