Medieval Old Town in Tallinn, Estonia

Tallinn, Estonia is a UNESCO World Heritage site for its well preserved medieval old town. It was founded in the 10th century as a place where merchants came together to trade. In the 13th century, the Danes settled it and established a fortified city called Reval. It remained named this until 1918. For all of this time, it has maintained its Estonian language despite occupation by everyone who had the energy to try to occupy them: Danes, Swedes, Russians, Germans. The language is more like Finnish than either of its Baltic neighbours: Latvia or Lithuania. The population of Tallinn is about 400,000 and the population of Estonia is about 1.2 million.

In the town square

Early Estonians were just called “Country” people, while the term Estonian likely just means “Eastern” people. They were pagans and felt that if they took care of the land, the land would take care of them. Despite numerous occupations and attempts to integrate religion, only about 16% of Estonians today identify as even somewhat religious. In fact, it is one of the most atheistic countries in the world. I was looking for a graphic timeline that would highlight the history of occupation of Estonia and found these below. It probably adds to their sense of distrust of outsiders (at least according to our tour guide)…

Compared to other old towns, the one in Estonia is the best preserved that we have seen. It is an excellent example of medieval towns that you can experience still today. You can walk the city wall and stroll through small streets and by old homes that are likely still from the 1300s. This is what earns it its spot on the UNESCO World Heritage list.

After our frustration getting off of the Princess Anastasia… again, we took a taxi to our AirBnB. It was a long walk from the ferry terminal. Our host had suggested we take a Bolt taxi but we were not sure what that was. (BTW, we have now figured it out…; it is like Uber but the cost is a fraction of the cost of a real taxi). So, we took a regular taxi and it cost about 10 euros. We had three nights in Tallinn before we had to head to Riga, Latvia for the Ed Sheeran concert. That was probably enough time to see the Old Town in full detail. The day we arrived was my birthday, July 8… and Nic planned a fun day.

Old Town

So, the first thing she planned was a nice dinner. In a very non-Estonian fashion, we went to an Argentinian steak house for an asado. We got the meat parilla for two, plus an appetizer of king prawns, a couple of Estonian beers, and of course cake for my birthday. It was early for dinner (about 4:30pm) but it was our first real meal of the day. When the waitress brought out the cake, mine had a flaming sparkler in it. Nic and waitress sang happy birthday to me. How fun! My cake was on the house… even better. The whole meal was excellent… but not cheap (about 100 euros for the two of us). It will be memorable for sure… my Argentinean meat 51st birthday dinner in Estonia.

That’s a lot of meat
Happy Birthday to me

Very close to the restaurant was an IMAX movie theatre. I don’t think this was part of the plan but it was spontaneous for us. We checked out the movies and the only option for us was the new Spiderman movie (but not for a couple of hours). We decided we would see where our wandering took us and if the movie was in the cards. It was in English but with Estonian (and maybe Russian too). It was 3D IMAX.

The geocache was nearby this Russian Orthodox church

We wandered to the Old Town. We did not get too far in and we tried to find a geocache. It proved elusive but there was a young girl looking for the same one. I don’t think she found it either. I think the clues were too confusing and problematic that they said that the GPS coordinates would not help you much. Hint to geocachers, if you are going to do this, you need good clues and puzzles. We gave up on this one. I pulled up another one that looked close by (within 400 m). I did not quite realize that despite the 400 m, there were houses and walls and hills in the way. We did not know the pathway but that is sometimes the fun of geocaching. We found a beautiful church (Russian orthodox – remember the comments earlier about atheism, there are a lot of churches for an atheist society). The geocache was close by. We found it but there were a lot of muggles near; I think we were discrete enough.

Nice armoured car…

After our geocaching inspired tour of the old town, we started wandering back. We arrived at the IMAX theatre in perfect time for the movie. We bought too tickets sitting on couches and a beer for the movie. How fun! I am not a huge Spiderman, Avengers, or Marvel movie aficionado. However, I have questions about what the heck happened since Tobey Maguire was Spiderman and Kirsten Dunst was MJ??? Spiderman seems to be younger (and it is not a prequel) and MJ is a different ethnicity all together. I am wondering what I missed.

3D baby

The next day, we did a free walking tour of Tallinn’s Old Town. Our tour guide, Helen, was very entertaining. Not only did she help us to understand the history of Tallinn and Estonia, but she helped us to understand the nature of Estonian people. We learned that Estonians do not want to talk in public to strangers and she advised us not to touch their dogs; they don’t like that. She also opened our eyes to the fun rivalry and ribbing that happens between Estonians, Latvians, and Lithuanians. I expect we will hear more about that in those countries (and indeed we already have in Riga). Her sense of humour also was a great way to approach the occupation of Estonia by other nations. She equally ribbed the Russians, Germans, Swedes, Poles and everyone really. The tour focused mostly on the upper areas of old town and not much at all on the lower areas.

Our tour guide Helen
The flag of Denmark was actually founded in Estonia… It descended from the skies during a battle in 1219… 800 years ago. It is Europe’s oldest flag. This was celebrated in Estonia this year.
There are viewing platforms from the upper Old Town
Medieval selfie… not just because I just got older

After the tour, we went for coffee and dessert with Stan and Hani from Israel. They were on a two week holiday and had the neatest bikes. They were travelling in the Baltics and wanted to learn more about our travels in Iceland. It was a nice chat and I expect to hear more from them in the future (hint hint guys!).

Too bad this is blurry… Stan and Hani

On our way home, we stopped at the grocery store for some food and beer for the next few days. Nic whipped us up a wonderful dinner as she is so good at doing. We spent the evening researching our next location (after Riga), Vilnius, Latvia. We booked a week (which is probably a lot) but it would be some time to relax after a hectic travel schedule.

On our last full day, we were slow to get going. We had a late lunch/early dinner before we left our place. Once we did, we just wandered to Old Town again, with a plan to see the lower areas. We wandered aimlessly for a few hours, exploring what we found along the way. Along the way, we met Philipe and Alejandro, from Mexico. They were taking pictures of each other and I offered to take a picture of both of them. We ended up chatting for a quite a while. They were very thankful for talking to them because they found it very challenging to talk to people in their limited English.

Around the lower area of Old Town
Philipe and Alejandro from Mexico
Nic is always flummox by why people would put graffiti on historical landmarks
Portrait setting
The wall around Old Town is still about 2/3 intact

As we wandered, we actually ran into Stan and Hani again. With all of these tourists, it seems strange to run into the same people again. We sat and chatted for a while about our days. Finally, we wandered back home to get packing.

Stan and Hani’s bikes

Yesterday (July 11th), we had a bus at noon to Riga. It was about a 4.5 hour trip. We checked out of our home away from home in Tallinn and hit the road by about 11am. It was about a 2.5 km walk to the bus station. My next update will be from Riga… including the Ed Sheeran concert.