Day 1 - Sunday 10th February 2008 - Journey to Tallinn, Estonia

Tallinn Travel Blog

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It’s late at night on Saturday 9th February, and I don’t remember feeling quite as excited since I was a 7 year old on Christmas Eve. I had been tracking the progress of the Baltic countries since I was a 10 year old (for 8 years), and always had been desperate to visit them. Although a trip to northern latitudes in February isn’t most people’s idea of a luxury holiday, it certainly was for me. I decided to go in this month to avoid the hoards of tourist who are discovering cities like Tallinn and Riga, in hope of experiencing the culture a little more.


Its 2:15am on the morning of Sunday 10th February and my excitement seems to overshadow my tiredness by a considerable amount.

Raekoja Plats - Old Town Hall Square
We leave our home town of Peterborough at about 3am, heading for Stansted Airport to catch our flight to Tallinn.


We arrive at the airport terminal around 4:30am, but despite the initial check-in time being 4:55am, we are able to check-in straightaway.  We are travelling by Easyjet, for the first time.


Time passes quickly in the departures area, most of it spent in Wetherspoon’s. As soon as we find out which gate the flight is departing from we catch the transit train immediately.


At the gate there is a huge huddle of people carrying Estonian passports, with few Brits around.

The grim view from the hotel room
Eventually everyone crams their way onto the plane, and we are off with a delay of about 15 minutes. As the plane climbs, a thin layer of mist seems to be developing across Suffolk, as we head over towards the North Sea. I stay awake and follow the journey over what seems to be the Dutch coastline, until the clouds cover up my view. I decide to catch up with a little sleep on the rest of the journey.


I wake up just as the pilot announces for seatbelts to be fastened for landing. The plane experiences a short period of turbulence as we begin to descend. Then my first signs of Estonia appear, as we approach over the partially frozen Lake Ülemiste towards the runway. The plane lands comfortably and there is the usual scramble to get off. A bus takes us to the terminal, which largely seems to be under repair. Tallinn Airport is very small for its size, but very clean and modern. It was quite a prolonged wait for the luggage, but we pick up our bag and are on our way.


We head for the bus to the city centre which is waiting just outside, however it is rammed full so we decided to wait 20 mins for the next one. In the passing time, I go to the local kiosk to purchase the bus tickets, with my best attempts in Estonian. “Palun kahks pilet autobussi” (Roughly translated as “2 bus tickets please”, not exactly correct but enough to make sense), I say to the lady, who understands and smiles. We board the bus and stamp our ticket, then are off on our way to the centre.


We get off the bus in the heart of modern Tallinn, next to the Viru Keskus shopping centre, and across the road from the SAS hotel, surely one of the largest, if not the biggest in Estonia. We immediately make our way for the hotel, which is on the other side of town, talking us directly through the Old Town. The Old Town is beautiful, despite the very overcast weather. Despite the average temperature in February being -4 degrees Celsius, it comfortably stands at around 2 or 3+ degrees Celsius, making it more enjoyable. After having spent a few minutes in Raekoja Plats (Town Hall Square), we make our way through several back streets towards the railway station, where our hotel is located. We are staying in “Hotel Shnelli”, a relatively new hotel built to keep up with the increasing amounts of tourist visiting Tallinn. I try, but miserably fail, in asking the receptionist if he spoke English (in Estonian). Halfway through asking “Kas te räägite inglise keelt?” I am interrupted with “I’m sorry?” He and his colleague were extremely friendly. We make our way upstairs to the room which is also perfectly nice, if a little basic. However, the view overlooking the railway station and old Soviet-style factory is not exactly pleasant. We drop off our stuff and swiftly head back to discover more of the Old Town.


Most of our initial time is spent in the tourist hotspot of Raekoja Plats (Old Town Hall Square), and its charm is hard to escape. We stick to the main streets such as Viru and Pikk for the time being, and we will delve into the side streets later on.


My first proper experience of a hostile Estonian Culture is in the supermarket called “Kaubamaja” in the Viru Keskus shopping centre. I purchase a bottle of water and head for the checkout, little am I to know about the seemingly “strict” rules for buying. I say “Tere” (Hello in Estonian) to the checkout assistant, with no reply. She almost chucks my bottle of water down the aisle, and murmurs the price to me. I hand over a few Estonian Kroons to her, which she snatches. I go to the other end of the conveyor belt to pick up the water, expecting her to hand over the change by hand. Instead, she slams it down on a small tray in front of her, meaning I had to go back and collect it. Not that I was being lazy, I just didn’t expect it to be put there. However, don’t let this occasionally unapproachable behaviour from Estonians put you off from visiting the country; it can be very interesting to experience their culture like this. These small things are why I enjoy travelling so much, although I hardly expected this!   


It’s almost 5pm and it’s starting to get dark, so we quickly head back to the hotel to drop a few items off. By then it’s around 6pm and we decide to start searching for somewhere to eat. Determined not to end up in some over-priced American restaurant in the Old Town centre, we go on the search for some traditional Estonian cuisine. Not far from the Viru Keskus centre, we find a restaurant named “Eesti Maja”. Although it is hardly renowned for its cuisine, this place certainly packs some unusual meals into its menu. I am initially unsure if I want anything from the restaurant, I decide to choose Heeringas hapukoore ja sibulaga” (translated as Herring with Sour Cream and Onion). I had never actually tried Herring before this, but I was impressed, even if the plate was a little large for me personally. The price was very decent too, at 65 Estonian Kroons (around £3).


It’s starting to get late, and we spend about an hour or so walking around the Old Town again ��" I can see why this place is a magnet for so many tourists. I couldn’t stop walking around it, even on a cold dark February night. However, there are still plenty of people around even on a Sunday night, so it still feels relatively safe (not that it has much of a reputation for crime).


We head back to the hotel about 9:30pm for an early night to make up for a very long day. I turn the TV, and to my surprise, I catch some of the Tartu Ski Marathon highlights on the Eurosport Channel, one of the most popular events in Estonia’s sporting calendar. Being located so close to the railway station, we can hear the rumbling from the overnight train, which was about to depart for St. Petersburg. It was pretty loud, so we waited until it left, and then decided to settle down. An exciting day in prospect tomorrow.


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Raekoja Plats - Old Town Hall Squa…
Raekoja Plats - Old Town Hall Squ…
The grim view from the hotel room
The grim view from the hotel room
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photo by: Chokk