Tallin was a gem of a find for us. A great overview was provided in our ship’s daily “Port of Call” newsletter:
Estonia, the northern most and smallest of the Baltic States, is also the most westernized and lies on the shores of the Gulf of Finland, between Russia in the east and Latvia in the south. Some 18,000 square miles in area, with a population of about 1.5 million people, it is a country of plains, marshes and forests, with as many as 1,500 lakes and 500 islands. The language is Finno-Ugric which is closely tied to that of Finland.
On August 20th, 1991 Estonian independence from the Soviet Union was declared, and the United Nations recognized it as a Sovereign State. It was the first Baltic State to begin monetary reform and a national currency, the Estonian Kroon, was introduced in 1992.
Tallinn, the capital city of Estonia, is only 53 miles by sea from Helsinki. It is the Republic’s largest industrial and cultural center and an important Baltic harbor. With a population of 400,000 inhabitants, Tallinn is thought to be one of the prettiest cities in the Baltic and was once one of the largest towns in Europe. Set on a hillock above the Port, the old town is a medieval enclave with old walls, towers, winding cobbled lanes and buildings dating back to the Middle Ages.
Today the city’s main industries included electrical and oil drilling machinery, textile and paper manufacturing, and mobile technology. The city has over 600 public WiFi spots.
The key word here is “medieval”. Fortress walls, narrow cobble streets and buildings from the middle ages truly made you feel like you stepped back in time. However, look more closely and you see touches of a very modern society from both a social and commercial standpoint. Starbucks was nowhere to be seen, but we saw many posters for modern theatrical and music venues, plus advertisements for events like raves and dance parties. This mix of young and hip entertainment with the medieval surroundings was very cool to see.
We confined ourselves to the old town, which is very different from the newer part of the city and its few skyscrapers and modern shops. Since most vehicular traffic is banned on many streets, we were able to walk everywhere. As in the other cities we’ve visited, street signs exist as small signs on the corners of buildings and you have to look closely for them. Fortunately, a good map and plenty of street signs allowed us to stay oriented through the many intersecting streets. No Chicago grid layout here!
In keeping with the tradition of medieval times to post store signage out front, we saw many cool signs. Stores didn’t have modern awnings to advertise themselves. Instead, we saw many cool metal, painted wood and sculpted signs hanging outside shops. We have quite a few pictures to post of these when we get back.
One of the most peculiar signs we saw was one that simply said “DM”,in black lettering on a red square. It turned out to be a bar called “Depeche Mode”. For those of you who don’t know who Depeche Mode is, they were a very popular group in the 80’s wearing predominantly black and utilizing lots of synthesized music. This bar was open daily and filled with memorabilia.
The other peculiarity of the city was the prominence of erotica boutiques and mens clubs. They were as subtly advertised as any other shop, but we thought it funny to run across so many. We wondered if we’d stumbled into a red light district, but realized we hadn’t. The clubs were very integrated with the rest of the town.
Tallinn’s past is as riddled as any with occupation by foreign powers. The Danes, Swedes, Russians…all had their time, sometimes alternating. It’s amazing this little country and city survived and became the independent beauty it is today.
Unlike the other cities we’ve visited, there weren’t any famous grand palaces or buildings of note to talk about. But, that didn’t stop us from shooting a ton of pictures, which I wish we could share right now. Tallinn has to be seen to be appreciated.
It’s 7:30am and I’m sitting on our balcony as we sail into Stockholm, Sweden. It’s amazing how many little islands make up this area. We’ll be talking more about that in our next entry. We’ll be in Stockholm for two days and have some exciting sites to visit!