If you’re looking for a medieval-type city in Europe, Tallinn is the place for you. A city can’t retain all of its medieval quality, of course, as some modernization is inevitable, but looking at the architecture here you could almost imagine people decked out in medieval garb, riding on horseback, and discussing the most recent jousting competition. The streets definitely brought you back in time, especially the St. Catherine’s passage, and there were towering stone arches marking the multiple entrances to the city. Whereas I thought Riga was moving away from their medieval heritage, Tallinn seemed to be embracing theirs. There were clearly some non-medieval aspects of the city – e.g. the multiple fast food restaurants and the 24-hour massage parlor located down a dark alley near my hotel (looked like a great place to get robbed and/or stabbed) – but overall Tallinn had an old-fashioned charm.
I try not to whine about the weather much, but one of the things this entire Christmas/New Year’s trip forced me to learn is how to take pictures in the rain. At night it’s difficult to use the flash and not get some residual reflection from the raindrops, which shows up in your photo as annoying white specks. Also, it helps to keep the camera pointed downward until you’re absolutely ready to take a picture, or else you increase the chances of raindrops landing on the lens (I’ve heard recently about lens guards to prevent this, should probably look into that). I’m sure this is all obvious information for most photography enthusiasts, but I’m quite new to this and learning for the first time. I’m just glad I live in Belgium – because of that I’m totally used to bad weather, and rain doesn’t ruin my travel anymore like it did in my pre-Europe years.
Our dinner at Olde Hansa restaurant was one of the highlights. This somewhat reminded me of the experiences at ‘Medieval Times’ restaurant and the ‘Excalibur’ hotel in Vegas, in that there was a heavy medieval theme. However unlike those two other places I mentioned, Tallinn can actually lay claim to medieval history thus it seems like less of a gimmick here, although judging by the crowd it definitely would be considered a touristy spot. I’ve been to ‘Medieval Times’ in Anaheim on a few occasions, and it’s mostly characterized by kids running around with paper crowns and plastic swords, and a competition between actors dressed as knights. The experience here had a touch more class, as the restaurant had a nice low-light ambiance, and they had live medieval-like music. I enjoyed the instrumentation of the all-female band, though there was one instrument I couldn’t figure out, something you turned a crank to play. The musicianship was pretty good, especially the woman who played violin, then switched instruments later. The food was above average….once again I was restricted to the ‘vegetarian plate’, which was decent, and they had this really interesting spiced beer.
I must say the city centre of Tallinn was beautiful, and adding to that beauty was their annual Christmas market. As everyone probably knows I saw more Christmas markets this year than anyone in history, I think, so this wasn’t particularly unique to me. The night picture, however, of the Christmas market in the main square looks like a postcard. There was a kids’ choir singing at the time, and the whole scene with the music, cold weather, and picturesque town square exuded the Christmas spirit…even though the choir wasn’t exactly the ‘cream of the crop’ in regards to singing talent.
We walked along Toompea hill to the upper part of Tallinn, where there were some incredible night-time views of the city, and a couple great looking churches – the Nevsky Cathedral and St. Mary’s Church.
There was a monument at freedom square, signifying Estonian independence from the Soviets….it was just okay looking, and I actually read where many of the locals were initially upset about the quality of the monument versus the high cost of building it.
Tallinn is a really great city, and is still largely untouched by the tourist mobs relative to other European capitals. Admittedly it’s difficult to get to, as direct flights from other European cities are rare, with most connecting through Riga or Helsinki. Maybe it’s better that way, as it keeps the tourism down to only those who really want to experience this medieval gem.