At 11.30 prompt the Viking Express pulled away from Helsinki port and slowly but surely set sail to Tallinn, Estonia. We waved goodbye to Scandinavia as we wandered around the outside deck of the ferry until Finland was just a blot on the horizon. Everything was calm and sedate until we walked inside for a coffee and found a party in full swing. From live bands in the dance hall, karaoke in bar and top tunes on the open sundeck. This boat certainly knows how to keep its customers happy.
Two and a half hours later and we arrived at the Port of Tallinn. First to greet us, Mac n Tosh. We left them in the motorhome with one of their favourite treats, a piggies ear. We rolled off the ferry and followed the satnav to the supermarket. We didn’t need much just a few basic goodies but once we spotted one of favourite wines and a few larger tins we couldn’t resist a quick toot. The prices seemed a lot cheaper than Scandinavia….cant wait for our next big shop!
We opted to stay a few kilometres out of the city centre on the former 1980’s olympic sailing site. At the entrance a barrier and small cabin/office with a large ASCI sign. We pulled over to one side and I jumped out with the ASCI card in hand. I walked over to the office to be greeted by an old chap leaning out the office window having a sneaky fag. I waited patiently. Five minutes later, he threw his fag on to the floor and returned to the desk. I smiled and said hello. Without any expression, he bluntly informed me it was €20 per night and its a working harbour before waving his hands in every direction whilst informing me – park over there, toilets over there, showers over there. I paid our €20, smiled and thanked him. Clearly my ‘thank you’ broke his curse and half a smile combined with parting words..oh and we are open 24 hours, suggested he was rather bored and fed up.
The secure site was our home for the next few nights along with around 50 other motorhomes. The parking area is quiet as it is located towards the end of what looks like a working boat yard. However, a small walk towards the sailing club, passed the 1980 olympic torch (torch still there at the end of the pier) and life soon picks up as people walk up and down the harbour side stopping at the odd coffee shop. As far as Tallinn goes the site is good albeit a glorified car park.
The site acted as our base as we nipped bad and forth in to Tallinn on our motorbike. We did think about cycling but there is one problem. Between the site and the city is a stretch of coastline that we named ‘rancid run’. For about 2 miles we had to encounter the most horrid, pungent smell that really did turn your stomach. We are not sure where the smell came from but we suspect a huge bird colony dotted a few meters from the coast. Zooming passed the smell on the motorbike was bad enough, so cycling could be unbearable.
Tallinn the capital of Estonia, which can be distinctly divided in to 3 parts – the burbs, the modern bit and the old town. The modern bit is no different than any other city with large tower blocks, business quarters, shopping precincts and trendy bars. The burbs offer a number of unique attractions but the highlight is the core, a stone walled, medieval centre referred to as the old town. The wall is still pretty much intact with more than half of its towers still standing and accessible. Once inside the wall, a myriad of cobbled streets and lanes all offering plenty historic buildings, museums and souvenir shops. No matter where you walk there is something different to see or a plaque to read with loads of information on the history of Tallinn. It is easy to navigate around but beware, the river cobbled streets provide a challenge on ankles, so make sure you wear sensible shoes.
In the heart of the Old Town a cobbled Town Hall Square. The once market place is now packed with tourist dashing in every direction with plenty cafes and restaurants around the perimeter. The grand gothic town hall provides a great setting to for a spot of lunch. At midday the clock tower chimes and out pop 3 actors to do a circuit around the town hall . We have no idea why but like a lot of Tallinn’s old town, it sometimes feels a little too staged with sellers dressed in costume to attract attention. However, behind the costumes and tat shops the medieval city is very interesting with plenty to see and do. With museums on every corner, galleries, recitals and churches with inviting bell towers.
St Catherine’s alley was one of our favourites with rather a quaint and charming feel. One side a number of small gift shops whilst on the other unusual grave stones propped up on the alley wall. Behind the Dominican monastery and ruins, one of the city’s oldest buildings dating back to 1246.
The city has oodles of churches from Niguliste church, which houses the most important religious artworks to St Olav’s with its huge spire but the most dominant is Alexander Nevsky Cathedral located on Toompea Hill. The hill offers great views over the city as well as Toompea castle, which is now the Estonia parliament buildings. All around the Toompea are people dashing from pillar to post, as Tallinn hosts the world orienteering championship.
Once outside the centre, Tallinn feels quite different. Lots of green parks with monuments and a right mix of architecture. But given Estonia’s colourful history with Danes, Swede’s, German’s and Russian’s hardly a surprise. What does stand out are the huge ugly concrete buildings stemming back to its Russian era. Unfortunately, most just left to fade away. The song festival bowl, Pirita convent and the mighty impressive TV tower. Built in 1980, the TV tower was considered a great soviet engineering achievement but some 11 years after completion the scene of a stand off between Estonian and Russian troops. The Russian army peacefully withdrew and Estonia gained independence in 1991. The now crumbling concrete TV tower is a reminder that Estonia was not that long ago still part of The Soviet Empire.
Bumble Verdict: The atmospheric old town is a wonderful myriad of cobbled alleys with plenty medieval churches, merchant houses and museums displaying the colourful history of Tallinn through the ages. Loads to see in and around Tallinn if you have the transport to zip around
Our sleepy spot: For a few nights we stayed at the secure parking spot at the side of the Olympic sailing club. Quiet and functional but not scenic.
Paid Camping GPS position N059.456666 E024.808800
Route: Helsinki to Tallinn, Estonia