The first stop on my 34,000 kilometre journey was Tallinn, Estonia. After landing in Helsinki, I made my way to the ferry terminal for the two hour journey across the Gulf of Finland.
I stood outside on deck waiting for a glimpse of the shoreline as we approached, and what I got was completely unexpected.
A gorgeous little city! I had envisioned Estonia as very Eastern European – a gray and dull former Soviet country - but it was anything but that. Yes, areas of town were full of remnants of that boring gray architecture, but as a whole, the city was a good mix of old and new, especially in the main tourist areas. The old city, with its cobblestone streets, medieval passageways, and colourful buildings, reminded me of Western Europe in every sense. Outside of that, some of the newer parts of town were equally as vibrant. I think the beautiful fall foliage added to it, as that’s not something I’ve seen in ages.
For a bit of a history lesson, I hit up the excellent Museum of Occupations, outlining the long history of Nazi and Soviet rule. In school, we learned all about the World Wars and the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, but lessons were always taught on a grand scale. It was interesting to zoom in and learn about one country’s plight to overcome decades of oppression. The Soviets relocated many Russians into Estonia over the course of their occupation, and their continued presence has created a schism in the cultural fabric of the country.
During the occupations, many Estonians fled on these tiny little boats to try to make it to Sweden.
My next stop was, appropriately enough, Freedom Square and the Monument to Independence. I was pleased to learn, from the inscription on the monument, that Jews had fought alongside Estonians to help gain their independence.
From there, I met up with my Couchsurfing host, Martin. Martin gave me a walking tour of the city – taking me to places I would not have otherwise known to go to. As we got down to the waterfront, the blending of old and new became very apparent in the architecture, with new developments built directly above old, historic brick buildings.
For a bit of a cultural exchange, I introduced Martin and his flatmate to the Tim Tam and taught them how to do a Tim Tam Slam.
In exchange, Martin introduced me to Kohuke, an Estonian sweet made from cheese curds. It was good, but I definitely couldn’t down them like I could other sweets.
I also sampled some Estonian chocolate, but was fairly disappointed.
The next day, I explored Kadriorg Park and the surrounding areas. The park itself has some beautifully maintained gardens, and is also home to two of the city’s main art museums: the Kadriorg Art Museum, which contains older art, and KUMU, which focuses on newer art. The Kadriorg Art Museum is located in the old Kadriorg Palace which has beautiful architecture and a good collection of old paintings (including the below painting of medieval Tallinn), woodwork, porcelain, and more.
The KUMU was more my speed with art from the 18th century onward, including some very new pieces. One of my favourites was this painting of a swan hunt, though I would much prefer them to be hunting seagulls or pigeons.
There was also this room full of creepy busts. Can you find the one bust of a bird head among the humans?
Nearby, I also had a bit of a gay moment when I visited Lauluväljak, the Tallinn Song Festival Grounds. From a historical standpoint, the site is important as it was where Estonians gathered in 1988 to being the Singing Revolution, which eventually led to their independence from the Soviet Union. The site was also featured in a documentary on Eurovision, where the Australian commentators interviewed past Estonian winners there. Of course, I had to go check it out.
Overall, my 25 hours in Tallinn was fantastic, and I wish I could have stayed longer and seen more. There’s always another trip…