After starting our trip from Copenhagen before working our way east along the Baltic Sea, my family and I made it to Estonia- the halfway mark for our journey through Scandinavia.
Home to a population of merely 1.3 million people, the country of Estonia is super tiny, but has tons of ties to its neighbors from Finland, the Ukraine, Hungary, and Russia in terms of language, culture, and architecture. We visited Tallinn, the country’s capital, for the day. Our tour guide was a middle-aged woman who spoke a lot about the history of Estonia, from the dark, medieval ages to the dark times under Russian occupation during the Cold War. In either case, the history has always been dark for this small country, and I could understand why our tour guide (and many other Estonians who grew up especially during the Cold War) really hate the Russians- really, she was none too adamant about expressing her distaste for her neighbors…
Any case, we started the city tour by taking the bus up Toompea (“tom-pay,” rhymes with “Pompeii”) Hill to the upper side of Tallinn before trickling down to the lower part of the city. The upper side was once the area of nobles and wealthy people, which was shown from St. Mary’s Cathedral (one that was influenced by Russian architecture with its “onion-shaped” domes). We then stopped by an amber souvenir store to look around; apparently, the countries around the Baltic specialize in amber jewelry, since there’s so much nature and that people can easily access it from the trees (interestingly, amber is made from tree sap; I didn’t know that before!).
Next, we went down to the cobblestone road to the lower part of the city. We had a coffee break in the town square, tasting some sweet and savory Danish pastries while, of course, having our coffee (or hot chocolate, for me. I’m not a coffee drinker, even to this day).
After the coffee break, we had some free time to shop around the town square; our tour guide recommended that we check out the linen and wool clothing items, since they’re locally made like the amber. My family and I wandered through the open-air market and ended up purchasing several colorfully-patterned hats that doubled as scarves (what a useful combination!).
Then, we proceeded to walk over to Fat Margaret, a 16th century tower that was once a part of the city’s fortifications: today, it’s the Estonian Maritime Museum. Before arriving there, we passed by “The Three Sisters,” a row of three tall and really narrow buildings which once housed each of the three daughters of a merchant, I believe. Over time, this man’s fortune diminished, and it was reflected in each of the houses, with the first-built being the thickest and the last-built one being extremely narrow- quite interesting! Today, the former houses are hotels.
Anyway, we reached Fat Margaret and climbed four flights of stairs up to the top of the tower; we saw a view of the city and harbor from above, and I even saw our ship docked there.
Finally, we ended the tour of Tallinn for the day and returned to our ship. While the city was small, it actually was quite nice! I didn’t expect much from it, but it surprised me by being quaint and charming with its cute town square, reserved but friendly people, and history with many of its neighbors (Finland, Russia, Hungary, etc.). Just like with Aarhus, exploring small, lesser-known cities like Tallinn is a nice balance to all of the other big, power-house cities in northern Europe.
More to come soon! Stay tuned for, once more, another iconic destination in Europe: St. Petersburg, Russia!
— The Finicky Cynic
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