Cross the Baltic Sea to Tallinn

Tallinn Travel Blog

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Arriving in Tallinn on the Superseacat, with the city in the background.

We got up early today to sunny skies and moderate temperatures. We took the Superseacat ferry across the Baltic Sea to Tallinn. The journey took about 1 hour 45 minutes over a fairly smooth sea. Although there were a few small bumps it was not eventful. The Baltic Sea freezes in the winter and the faster Superseacat (a catamaran) does not go over ice, only the slower ferry can go across after the ice breakers makes way for them. It's pretty amazing to think this big surface of sea as frozen, if anyone has a photo of it I would love to see it. As an aside Finland is the world's largest producer of ice breaker ships! As the ferry got close to Tallinn, we could see the colorful city approaching, and the various spires and towers, looking very attractive.

Map of old town Tallinn

Tallinn is the capital of Estonia, the smallest of the 3 Baltic nations. Estonia has only 1.4 million people, and 400000 of them live in Tallinn.  Gaining independence from the former USSR in 1991, it nonetheless has a large Russian population of about 25%, with most of them in Tallinn of course. Estonia has the most strict rule for the Russians to become Estonia citizens among the 3 Baltic nations. The Russians must learn Estonian, and its history, and pass a citizenship test. Otherwise they are not very employable. We saw many young womens selling postcards in Tallinn, and were told these are Russians without jobs! The three Baltic states are current European Union members, but they have not achieved the economic status of using the Euros as currency, which is expected in 2009. The Finno-Ugric people and language of Estonia are more closely related to the Finns than its other Baltic neighbors.
Tallinn harbor has lots of cruise ships and ferries
Estonia had been ruled by the Danes, the Germans, the Swedes and then the Russians.

After arriving and getting through customs, we boarded our bus which came over on the same ferry with us, and head to old town Tallinn. Tallinn old town is a well preserved medieval city with city walls, gates, cobble stone streets, old churches and merchant houses. One would think since it's medieval there would be no cars in its streets, but that's not true. We saw many (ok, not that many, but enough you can not assume you own the streets) cars zipping along its narrow cobble stone streets!

Our local guide took us on a guided walk through parts of town, starting at the Russian Orthodox Cathedral across from the Toompea Castle at upper Tallinn. 3 cruise ships have just disgorged thousands of people onto Tallinn, so this place was choke full of people! We took a quick look inside the cathedral, which was grand and had Russina icons, tombs of some important people I don't know, and lots of candles.

Our ferry opens its cargo bay to let the cars out onto Tallinn
It was a real church in that there were grandma type women doing religious thing inside, I didn't feel quite proper  to take photos of them and you were not suppose to take photos anyway. Too many people can spoil a good church, but it was pretty quiet inside even with the crowds.

Next we went to the Cathedral of Saint Mary the Virgin. There was a sundial on the wall above the door, after considering the daylight savings time, it was still telling the time correctly! This church had very high pews, many coats of arms on the walls, and tombstones on the floor inside. Then we walked to an overlook point where we could look down on the lower part of old town, before heading through a doorway next to Kiek in de kok (peek into the kitchen) tower where the guards supposedly could literally peek into the kitchens of the houses below into the lower town.

The Russian Orthodox Alexander Nevsky Cathedral

Next stop was the Niguiste Museum/concert hall, which used to be St Nicholas' church. This church was bombed and destroyed during WWII and now is restored and used as a museum and a concert hall. The pew seats can be moved to face either the pipe organs or the front of what used to be the altar. This church also had many coats of arms on its walls, tombstones on the floor, but also museum items such as the silvers from the House of Black Heads (a guild of merchants who were not married), part of a long panel of painting depicting skeltons dancing/talking with young women, meant to tell people that the dead is just the future of the living, and the dead were once living, since people can not take anything with them after they die, they should give material goods away.

The sundial clock on the wall of the Cathedral of St Mary the Virgin
There was also an altar panel showing the life of St Nick (patron saint of sailors, women and children too, and supposedly his act of putting coins in poor children's socks was the origin of the inspiration for the Santa Claus). There is another panel showing Christ on the cross, but with two later day "donors" praying in the front, these were people who paid for the restoration of the panel!

We ended our walking tour at the town hall and market square, where there were thousands of people, vendors selling all kinds of stuff in little booths, sidewalk cafes overflowing into the sqaure, and people generally having a good time. The town hall has a tall steeple, and watersprouts in the shape of dragons.

After lunching at the cellar restaurant called Vanaema Juures Restoran (old grandma's kitchen) on a side street away from the market square, we checked into our hotel, rested a bit (found the computer inside the room) and headed out to see some of the sights mentioned by another travbuddy cessna152 (Yeah for travbuddy).

Bell tower of Cathedral of St Mary the Virgin
We went to the Viru Gate, walked through the picturesque Kathrina Kaik alley, where there were many old stone tablets (or tombstones?) hung on the wall. Around the corner was a workshop of artists making hats, quilted pillowcases, leatherbound books, etc. I liked the handmade books, but the thought of carrying the heavy book for the rest of the trip was not welcoming. Then we went to a store which sold cute little doll people (elves?)with pointed hats and the girl in the store did not speak English so the best I could figure out was these were people who lived in your houses (maybe they were house elves).

We went next to the back of the St. Olav's Church, where there was a big tombstone with carvings of people mourning this guy who died of the plague, over a stone (not his real) skelton of him! St Olav's Church has a tallest steeple in Tallinn, at 124 meters high.

Interior of the Cathedral of St Mary the Virgin
It used to be even taller. Local legend says that the people of Tallinn wanted the tallest spire in the world to attract passing ships to increase commerce in Tallinn. But the height of the spire attracted lightening (I guess they did not have the technology to redirect the lightening to the ground safely) and the church burned down 8 times between 1625 to 1820.

We kept walking to the Great Coastal Gate and Fat Margaret's Tower, out the gate and saw the memorial of them 852 victoms of the ferry Estonia which sank in the Baltic Sea in 1994. (My husband was travelling on another ferry the day before on the Baltic Sea arriving in Helsinki himself.

Interior of the Cathedral of St Mary the Virgin, the high pews.
) The navy museum was closed by the time we walked back so we did not get to go inside the Fat Margaret. So we walked along the western part of the city wall and took in some very nice view of the best preserved towers of the wall. (Photos will be uploaded later).

The Domina City Hotel has internet connection for 9 euros per day. A first I have seen, it comes with a computer in every room! Our room was small with a slanted ceiling (being on the top floor right under the steep roof), so if you were tall you had to watch your head when you get into the bed. We opened the window and the seagulls were having a great party making all sorts of noises. The sky was light even at 11pm!

Dinner was at Gloria's, a fancy restaurant which served the Soviet elites while Estonia was part of USSR.

A fancy door in Tallinn
The decor inside was very interesting, with intimate booths each decorated in a different theme. The food was very good too. Cavier was 1800 kroons so we did not order that! My duck breasts with mango and creme brulee dessert were very tasty and well presented.

portia says:
You are welcome, I am sure you will enjoy Tallinn a lot!
Posted on: Jan 22, 2008
xhris94 says:
great blog, thanks for sharing this. im visiting tallinn in a few weeks time and will take some of the things you said into account!
Posted on: Jan 22, 2008
travelman727 says:
You do such a great job of describing your adventures!
Posted on: Aug 14, 2006
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Arriving in Tallinn on the Superse…
Arriving in Tallinn on the Supers…
Map of old town Tallinn
Map of old town Tallinn
Tallinn harbor has lots of cruise …
Tallinn harbor has lots of cruise…
Our ferry opens its cargo bay to l…
Our ferry opens its cargo bay to …
The Russian Orthodox Alexander Nev…
The Russian Orthodox Alexander Ne…
The sundial clock on the wall of t…
The sundial clock on the wall of …
Bell tower of Cathedral of St Mary…
Bell tower of Cathedral of St Mar…
Interior of the Cathedral of St Ma…
Interior of the Cathedral of St M…
Interior of the Cathedral of St Ma…
Interior of the Cathedral of St M…
A fancy door in Tallinn
A fancy door in Tallinn
An armor on a shop door
An armor on a shop door
From the lookout point on upper ol…
From the lookout point on upper o…
A short door, presumbly to a stora…
A short door, presumbly to a stor…
Bell tower of the ex-St Nicholas c…
Bell tower of the ex-St Nicholas …
Stairs from upper to lower Tallinn
Stairs from upper to lower Tallinn
A shop sign
A shop sign
Tombstones on the floor of the Nig…
Tombstones on the floor of the Ni…
The painting in the Niguliste Muse…
The painting in the Niguliste Mus…
A wooden statue inside the Nigulis…
A wooden statue inside the Niguli…
Coats of arms inside Niguliste Mus…
Coats of arms inside Niguliste Mu…
The resturant where we had lunch, …
The resturant where we had lunch,…
View of Niguliste Museum (ex St Ni…
View of Niguliste Museum (ex St N…
At the Viru Gate of old town Talli…
At the Viru Gate of old town Tall…
The flower shops right outside of …
The flower shops right outside of…
Outdoor cafe along the city wall
Outdoor cafe along the city wall
St Catherines passage
St Catherine's passage
A window at St Catherines passage
A window at St Catherine's passage
The stone tablets at St Catherine…
The stone tablets at St Catherine…
The workshop of the art guild in S…
The workshop of the art guild in …
Book making at the Katariina Gild
Book making at the Katariina Gild
The entry to the art guild
The entry to the art guild
A view of the steeple of the St Ol…
A view of the steeple of the St O…
The back of the church, with the s…
The back of the church, with the …
St Olavs church and spire. The 12…
St Olav's church and spire. The 1…
The Great Coastal Gate from inside…
The Great Coastal Gate from insid…
The three sisters buildings
The three sisters buildings
The Fat Margaret and cannons outsi…
The Fat Margaret and cannons outs…
West side of the city wall, the be…
West side of the city wall, the b…
a street leading to town square
a street leading to town square
Chocolates in a store
Chocolates in a store
The Peppersack restaurant
The Peppersack restaurant
A vendor selling roasted nuts
A vendor selling roasted nuts
Tallinn Hotels & Accommodations review
The best hotel in old town Tallinn we were told. The room we stayed at was on the small side, on the top floor with slanted ceiling right under the … read entire review
Tallinn Restaurants, Cafes & Food review
Gloria's is a restaurant which has a long history. Even during Soviet times, it was the best restaurant which served the high rank officials and is no… read entire review
Tallinn
photo by: Chokk