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Tallinn, Estonia
Written by Rick Archer
February 2013

Tallinn, Estonia, was our final stop on the trip before heading back to Copenhagen. 

This just happens to be the Golden Age of Estonia.  The country is currently enjoying its longest stretch of freedom in perhaps its entire history. 

Estonia is not a large country. Throughout the ages, Tallinn was always being attacked by someone.  With a relatively small population, it was fairly helpless to defend itself against the giant forces of its various neighbors.

In addition, since Estonia suffers the unfortunate fate to be located right at the crossroads of the Baltic sea lanes, invading forces have been landing on its shores and tromping through its lands dating back many centuries.

At various times Estonia has been dominated by the Vikings, the Danes and the Swedes.  But its largest nemesis has got to be Russia.  Starting in 1703, Estonia was subjugated by Russia dating back to Peter the Great.  That marked the start of two centuries of Russian rule.

Following the Russian Revolution of 1917, Estonia enjoyed a brief 23-year stretch of independence.  However, in 1940 at the dawn of World War II, the Red Army occupied Estonia.  Theoretically Russia and Germany had signed a non-aggression pact, but the Russians didn't trust Hitler.  Its move against Estonia was an attempt to set up a perimeter against Nazi invasion.

Believing that resistance was futile, the Estonian army simply laid down its arms and let the Russians do what they wanted.

Estonia just happened to have the miserable fate of being located directly between Nazi Germany and Communist Russia.  As long as Russia and Germany pretended to be allies, Estonia was left unharmed.  However, that changed when Hitler decided to invade Russia.  Now Estonia became a helpless pawn caught in the giant struggle between two titans.

The Nazis controlled Estonia for most of the World War II.  In 1944, Estonia was retaken by the Soviets.  For the next forty-five years, Estonia and its neighbors Latvia and Lithuania would continue to be unwilling members of the Communist bloc throughout the ensuing Cold War.

It was only recently in September 1991 following the fall of the Soviet Union that Estonia regained its independence. 

From what I gather, the past twenty years have been very good to Estonia.  Tallinn appears to be a thriving, prosperous city.  A quick check of Wikipedia confirmed my hunch.  As a member of the European Union, Estonia is considered a high-income economy by the World Bank.  Because of its rapid growth, Estonia has been described as the "Baltic Tiger".

The country is ranked 16th in the 2012 Index of Economic Freedom with the most free economy in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.  Estonia has the lowest ratio of government debt to GDP among EU countries. 

I laughed when I read that Estonia has been listed among the top 10 digital cities in the world.  I might add that Estonia is said to have the most sophisticated hackers and cyber thieves in all of Europe, but that's another story.

Let's just say that with a balanced budget, an almost non-existent public debt, a flat-rate income tax, a free trade regime, a competitive commercial banking sector, innovative e-Services and a lucrative travel influx, Estonia is sitting very pretty at the moment. 

However, like its friend and neighbor Finland on the other side of the Gulf of Finland just 50 miles to the north, I have no doubt Estonia keeps a worried eye on Russian politics.  All this prosperity could be gone in a blink of an eyelash the next time Russia has another bad mood. 

Tallinn is two cities in one.  It is a thoroughly modern city that just happens to surround an incredible Old Town hidden behind a huge stone wall.

One step through the gates and suddenly a visitor is transported 700 years into the past.  This is Tallinn's Old Town, one of Europe's most fascinating treasures.  Who can help but be enchanted with this marvelous medieval town complete with narrow cobbled streets, 14th-century churches and a wild mix of restaurants, cafés, nightclubs, hotels and boutiques

Historically, the city has been attacked, sacked, razed, and pillaged on numerous occasions.  Consequently, the town made a decision to erect a truly formidable wall surrounding the entire Old Town complete with 26 watchtowers.  Once completed, these powerful defensive structures have protected Tallinn from being destroyed in wars for many centuries.

The townspeople also made a decision to avoid using wood for construction of the inner city.  Over the centuries, this lack of wooden buildings has kept any fire damages low. In addition, the sturdy stone structures miraculously withstood extensive bombing during WW II. 

Once the war ended, so much of the Old Town was still standing that a decision was made to restore and preserve the Old Town rather than level it for the sake of "modernization".    

That decision has paid off handsomely.  In 1997, Tallinn Old Town became a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site.  Today this area is often referred to as the “medieval pearl of Europe”.

The reward has been easy to see.  Tallinn has become a popular tourist mecca. Visitors love entering those walls and be instantly time-transported to an ancient era of history.

Think of visiting the Texas Renaissance Festival and how much fun it is to wander around pretending to be back in the Merrye Olde England of Henry VIII.  Now visualize a European town from that same era that is perfectly preserved.  That is exactly what Old Town Tallinn turned out to be.

With nearly a mile and a half of its original city wall still standing, Tallinn boasts one of Europe's best preserved Medieval fortifications. In fact, a large part of what gives Old Town its fairy tale charm is the complex system of walls and and towers that surrounds it.  It creates a sense of another world.

From what Marla and I had read, we were very curious about our visit to Tallinn.  We had a hunch we were in for a real treat.  Marla and I love to walk around a city.  As you will see, Tallinn was absolutely made for us.

Before we begin the story of our walk, don't forget you are welcome to read many details about Tallinn in Marla's Travel writeup that I won't cover here. 

Marla's Description of Historic Old Town Tallinn

Helsinki is just 50 miles from Tallinn.  Ferries cross the
Gulf of Finland daily. St. Petersburg is 200 miles to the east

Note the cruise ship in the upper left corner. 
The Old Town is less than a mile away from the ship.

An aerial view of the impressive Town Hall Square which is
100 yards by 80 yards. That church-like building
with the green steeple is the famous Town Hall

An aerial view of the wall defenses

St. Olaf's church was the tallest building in the world back in 1549.  Today it serves as a landmark that can be seen from the cruise ship in case you wish to walk to Old Town.

We were greeted in the morning by a steady rainfall.  Most cruise passengers preferred to wait for the shuttle, but Marla and I walked passed them.  We had ponchos, so we were okay.

I am standing at #9 on the map as I take this picture.  The incredible spire of St Olaf's Church (#10 on the map) could be seen from the ship.  It was impossible to miss Old Town.

The easiest access to Old Town would have been at Point #9 on the map, but the shuttle bus carrying "The Gang" was supposed to drop people off at the Viru entrance, so Marla and I walked to this corner of Uus and Viru to await their arrival.

I am not quite sure why Marla is frowning, but obviously Velma and Marsha were happy to find us waiting for them at the Viru bus stop.

These are the Viru Watchtowers; quite an entrance!  In the background is the Town Hall steeple which serves as a second landmark (w/ St. Olaf Church) that can be seen from far away.

We entered Old Town via Viru Street... see the street sign.  Although you see a car in the background, not once did I encounter a moving car during our day's walk. 

We walked down Viru to the center of Old Town.  We are now at the intersection of Vene and Vana Turg Street.  We are just a block away from the massive Town Square.

The sign "Olde Hansa" refers to the Hanseatic League, a commercial and defensive confederation of merchant guilds and their market towns that dominated trade along the coast of Northern Europe. It stretched from the Baltic to the North Sea during the Late Middle Ages and early modern period. The 13th–17th centuries marked the era when the Old Town flourished.


Olde Hansa was all over the place

The impressive Town Hall

So what's that hood all about?


The Old Town Square in the center of Old Town (#1 on the map) was a visual feast.  There was something wonderful to look at in every direction.  The Square is one hundred yards long and eighty yards wide.  It's large enough to have a soccer match here.


This looks like a church, but it is actually the Town Hall, #1 on the map. It is the only intact gothic style town hall in the Northern Europe and it is also the oldest town hall in the entire Baltic and Scandinavian region.

Here Marla is taking a picture of the Town Hall, Velma is searching, Marsha is hanging, and Sandra is trying to figure out where we are on the map. I will now offer pictures taken in every direction from the center of the Town Square.


Before leaving the Town Square, we ran into Teresa and Mark.

We are headed down Kinga Street towards Pikk Street.


I stopped in this boutique to buy my daughter Sam a dress for her birthday.  Marla and Marsha helped me pick the right size.

Too bad I didn't take a picture of the store name but it might be "Villanella".  What I do know is the shop was on Kinga.

Now we are on Pikk Street.  There's Marla looking left.

We are still on Pikk Street.  Do you see the #14 sign?  That's a tour guide.  Can you believe someone would pay money to sign up for a tour through Old Town?  Good grief.  Just walk!

This is Rataskaevu Street.  This street took us to a "secret passage" known as Luhike Jalg.

That archway is the passage to an older part of Tallinn known as "Toompea".  Note the Luhike Jalg passageway seems to go upwards.  We are about to climb a hill.

Another look at Toompea. 

Luhike Jalg means "Long Leg" in English.

As we climbed the Luhike Jalg walkway to Toompea, this picture shows the elevation of higher area.

At the end of our climb, we were treated to a glimpse of the stunning Alexander Nevsky Cathedral (#14 on the map)

Alexander Nevsky is a Russian folk hero.  He was a military leader and a master politician in the 13th century.  At this point, he is so famous that he has even been given "sainthood".

This was erected in 1900 during the period of Russification as a symbol of the czarist rule and Russian dominance.  Due to its very prominent location and an immediately recognizable Russian style, the cathedral garnered deep Estonian opposition.

During 1920s and 1930s during Estonia's first brief taste of independence, there were many proposals to demolish it.

I suppose it is fairly obvious that we had a lot of fun.

Toompea Palace (#13) is the home of Estonia's Parliament

"Kuberneri Aed" is the name of a lovely park sitting beside the Toompea Palace.


Marla and I spotted a lovely park named Harju Mägi (Magic Yard) down below us. We were certain we would walk this area later in the day, but that turned out to be wishful thinking.

I saw this very fine car out in front of the Toompea Castle.  Wouldn't it be fun to be rich?

We are now on Toom-Kooli Street.  


I spotted a gift shop.

I bought a miniature castle as a souvenir.

This narrow alley known as Toom-Ruutli took us to a marvelous viewing platform (#12 on the map).

The viewing platform gave us a splendid view of the Old Town red rooftops.  Note St. Olaf's Church (#10) to the far upper left and you can see our cruise ship further in the distance as well.  We were one mile from the cruise ship.

Down below is the Luhike Jalg walkway that takes people from Old Town to Toompea

Here is the Niguliste Church (#17 on the map) to the right.


The corner of Kiriku Plats and Piiskopi

I believe that is the Hungarian Embassy

Cathedral of Saint Mary's (#11 on the map) on Toom-Kooli St

A Greek restaurant across the street from Toompea Castle.

We were now done with Toompea. It was time to take the Luhike Jalg walkway back down to Old Town and look for a place to have some lunch.


We picked a pretty good time for lunch.  The storm clouds meant more rain was on its way.

Our lunch spot was right behind the Town Hall and the large Town Square on Raekoja Street near Kullasseppa.

We were headed to a German Beer Hall for lunch.

One of the girls had asked a crew member aboard our ship to recommend a good spot... the Waggehus was the winner.

The Waggehus experience was pretty marvelous.  Dark with only candles for lighting, German beer, thick German bread, potato soup, and great friends... what more could we ask? 

We got the people next to us to snap our picture.  They didn't speak a word of English, but they were happy to push the camera button nevertheless.  Note that Velma is toasting the trip with Wodka as we called it... much too much fun. 


Next Story: The Conclusion of our Visit to Estonia

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