I had never heard of Tallinn, Estonia, before planning this trip (other than the infamous world capitals test in high school). Tracy heard it was supposed to be beautiful and I’m always up for an adventure so we decided to go – and what a good decision that was! Tallinn has been one of my favorite places we have seen so far. It is a coastal city on the northern coast of Estonia, just a two hour boat ride away from Helsinki, Finland. It is famous for having kept most of its medieval city intact and thriving. The center of the city is the huge “old city” with the new urbanization surrounding it like an egg in a frying pan.
We were lucky enough to find couchsurfing hosts with a place in the old city – the true downtown. After we discovered our ferry to Tallinn wasn’t overnight, we were stuck having to find accommodations for an extra night. Our hosts gladly accepted to move our arrival a day early. They also were hosting three girls from Austria who decided to stay a day later, overlapping with our arrival. It was a full house of 8 people, but their apartment was huge! It was two stories and so spacious. The only downside was that it was on the 5th floor with no elevators, but when each apartment is two stories, it’s really the 10th floor! Hauling my 35lb bag up those stairs was a feat.
The first night was relaxing. They invited a friend over to make dinner so all 9 of us had homemade lasagna and chatted. The 3 Austrian girls are currently studying abroad in St. Petersburg and invited us to a party our first night there! They also instilled a bit of fear about our Russian adventure in general. Apparently very few people speak English in St. Petersburg and even fewer in Moscow. Better yet, none of the signs are in English! They said our best bet was to try to learn the alphabet before arriving. HA! It took me a month to learn the Arabic alphabet and I’m supposed to learn the Cyrillic alphabet in a day?
Due to the overcrowding, our first night was a bit uncomfy. I slept on a thin mattress pad on the floor. Somehow despite these conditions, we managed to accidentally sleep until noon. While it was good to catch up on sleep, it was unfortunate because we missed out on valuable hours of sunlight! We went straight to the Christmas Market which wasn’t as impressive as Helsinki’s. The decor was festive but all of the booths were selling the exact same sweaters and amber jewelry. I bought my Estonian flag and called it a day as far as shopping was concerned.
We spent the rest of the day wandering around the city and admiring the gorgeous buildings. It seems we do a lot of that in every city, but when you hate museums and it is the “off-season,” that’s all there is to do! We returned to the apartment to nap until going out to check out the Wednesday night bar scene (it doesn’t exist). Even though we simply wandered the city all day, it was one of the more enjoyable cities to wander!
The next day, we decided to check out the scenic viewpoint. We almost skipped it since it was a bit foggy, but I’m so glad we didn’t. It was one of my favorite activities we did! This area of town had gorgeous views and the impressive Alexander Nevsky Church. We even went inside and, although I couldn’t take photos, it was stunning. It definitely gives the breathtaking mosques I saw in the Middle East a run for their money.
Afterwards, we withdrew even more money (sigh) in preparation for Russia where my credit card apparently “may or may not work.” For dinner we went to a place that our Austrian friends suggested called Draakon. It is a small room lit only by candlelight and they only serve soup, pies, and wine. I ordered a bowl of elk soup and a meat pie – all for 3 euros!! – and discovered that they don’t even supply utensils. Guests are expected to slurp the soup straight from the bowl. It was a lot of fun and the food was delicious. Probably my second favorite meal after the egg and salmon sandwich in Norway!
We met a couple who was speaking perfect English, so we asked where they were from. Tennessee! He lives in a small Estonian town due to work and she came for a week to visit. They had been to Russia and verified the information on lack of English. I’m a bit nervous to see how we will survive, but I’m sure I will!
Tracy and I are currently on an overnight bus to St. Petersburg. In about 2 hours we will be at the border and hurdling headfirst into the motherland! Wish us luck?