A number of years ago I discovered a gem, hitherto unknown to me. It left such an astounding impression on me, I returned again recently. Like with a great piece of art or literature, the second visit yielded new discoveries, and even more magic and beauty.
In this blog I&rsquod like to focus on my first impressions, my unexpectedly delightful introduction to a town which remained mostly untouched since it first made its place on the map in 1154.
I was on a cruise thru Scandinavia, Estonia and Russia, when our ship stopped about 40 miles south of Helsinki, and there it was&hellipTallinn, like a tiny precious jewel, so lovely my soul was nurtured just by coming upon it.
On the southern coast of the Gulf of Finland our boat arrived in Tallinn, the capital of Estonia.
As is my way, I research each destination, with the intention of finding the best and most outstanding things it has to offer. Strangely, despite having travelled extensively throughout the world, Tallinn was unknown to me.
After reading up everything I could access, I learnt it had a long history, was culturally bountiful, small yet massively packed with things to see and do.
It was in fact inscribed in 1977 on the UNESCO World Heritage list, as the most astonishingly well preserved medieval city in Europe.
With my prepared itinerary in hand, I had planned out my visit for the approximately 10 hours of shore excursion – deciding to do a thorough walking tour of the old town.
The info I gathered told about a wall with 24 towers (18 of which were still intact, surrounding Old Tallinn and dating back to the 12th century.)
I walked around the walls, marking the location of the sites I was intent on visiting and finally entered the cobblestones street thru the Viru Gate, on to Viru Street and the area known as All-Linn or Lower Town. This is where the merchants and artisans of Old Tallinn always lived, and is still the busiest and trendiest part of the city.
I must admit I felt a stunned wonderment at the fairy tale beauty in front of me. Suddenly there was an urgency, because I wanted to explore everything and try to take in as much as possible.
I remember walking around with eyes like saucers, soaking in the beauty, feeling the authentic loveliness of the architecture and the wonderful displays by local artisans. The shops had a magnificent array of pottery, glasswork and fashion articles, unique and hard to resist. I was drawn to a wonderful hat, hand made by a local milliner, bought it and walked around all day, proud as a peacock, it&rsquos still my favorite cap and draws comments on its &ldquocuteness&rdquo, wherever I go.
The whole town looks like the drawings in ancient children&rsquos fairy tales, only more exquisite and completely real.
Just looking at the narrow streets, with every inch taken up by buildings which seem to lean on one another, in breathtaking style which combines the Viking and Russian influences, made me feel like I took a time machine and travelled back over many centuries years .Most of Old Town was built in the 15-17 century, but the town was found to have had human settlement in city center which are 5000 years old.
I soon arrived at Raekoja Plats, the square in the heart of Tallinn, and sat down to take notes in one of the cafes and restaurants which ring the square.
Then on to the impressive Raekoda (Town Hall), which was built in 1371 of heavy stone, and turned into the Tallinn City Museum. Fascinating and filled with historic artifacts, and a marvelous fountain of information.
Toompea Hill was next. According to myth the hill was built on top of the grave of King Kalev of Estonia. Factually, it was the site of the Danish castle which founded the city in 1219. The castle, which is built on solid limestone and was home to Danish aristocracy. It is surrounded by thick walls because of the fights between the aristocrats and the plebs.
Toompea hill has some outstanding viewpoints overlooking the city.
The gate tower by the walls was built in 1380 to guard the entrance to the castle, a fortress which was meant to protect the city from invading armies.
Continuing to walk I saw a sign on a building which said Tullinn Children&rsquos Library. It wasn&rsquot on my planned itinerary yet something pulled me in. I thought I&rsquoll take a quick look then continue. It turned out to be one of the highlights of my visit. The most fantastic and huge collection of children&rsquos books, new and very, very old, reading rooms and an art exhibit, the like of which I&rsquove never seen anywhere.
There were paintings on the walls, of all sizes (some of them gigantic), unique and brilliant, all by local artists. I kept staring in reverence at bold depictions using leather and oil plus other mixed media.
When I managed to tear myself away, the next place I went to see was the classic onion domed Alexander Nevsky Building, which was built in the 19th century and had become one of the most famous buildings in Tallinn. It is a sight to behold, gorgeous and very Russian. The pink Parliament building, Rigikoku and the tallest building in Estonia, which was the Ex KGB headquarters from which you can see Siberia. It serves now as the Ministry of Interior and I was graced with the good fortune to get a peek by being invited to join a group of VIP visitors. The building is not usually open to the public but the Museum of Occupations on Toompea Street and Karli Blvd, describes the conditions under Soviet and Nazi regimes, including the tortures of dissidents in the basement of the Ex KGB Headquarters, showing pictures of the crudely bricked walls to mute the sound.
Tallinn&rsquos city Walls can be climbed in the Suur and Vake-Kloostri sections, giving entrance to 3 of the remainder of the original 24 towers of Tallinn.
There is so much more to discover and marvel at&hellipI can safely say that Tallinn is a huge favorite of mine, and I&rsquom planning to be back.
image courtesy reisdit.no