One of the best preserved medieval cities in Europe

Our day started at about 5:45am so that we could watch as the ship sailed into Tallinn. That plan turned out to be a bit of a bust, with there really not being too much to see on what was a very overcast morning. The day’s forecast called for showers, and it was looking as though it was on the mark this time. Oh, well. After breakfast at Windows Café we made our way to the Cabaret Theatre for our 8:00am tour of the city. By the time we left the ship the weather conditions had improved, still overcast but at least better. From the ship we took a fairly short bus ride to the historic old town of Tallinn.

A Day in the Old Town of Tallinn

Our first impressions, if you go by such things, of Tallinn were that the city was lovely and full of friendly looking people. Off the bus near the top of Toompea Hill we first walked along the back of the Estonian Parliament building to a tower known as Tall Hermann (or Pikk Hermann). The tower is part of the Toompea Castle and is the tallest structure in Toompea perched on the hill overlooking the lower Old Town.

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    At one point in history the upper and lower towns didn’t see eye to eye and were separated by a wall. The upper town was the location of Estonian government while the lower town was a major merchant trading centre. Can imagine taxation probably had something to do with the tension. Doesn’t it always? From Tall Hermann we walked around the to front of the Estonian Parliament building, built between 1767 and 1773 in the location of Toompea Castle’s east wing anchoring what is known as Castle Square. Incidentally, by this time the weather had improved dramatically with the sun burning through the overcast conditions to make the day now warm and sunny. Directly across Castle Square from the parliament building sits the imposing Russian Orthodox Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. The cathedral was built between 1894 and 1900 when the country was part of the Russian Empire. Interestingly, it was almost demolished in 1924 because it so was hated by Estonians as a symbol of Russian oppression. What saved it wasn’t an impassioned plea for the sake of a church but simply a lack of money to carry out the decision to demolish the huge cathedral. After an interior tour of the cathedral we ventured back outside to walk along the quaint streets of Toompea. From one nice vantage point we could take in a panoramic view of the lower Old Town. It was near this location that we first encountered people dressed in Medieval costumes selling spiced nuts from a rustic looking cart. Of course, to entice sales they would hand out tasty samples. The lovely smell didn’t hurt, either. Turned out as our day continued that these carts were plentiful throughout the historic parts of Tallinn.

    We checked out the shops in Toompea, most of them selling Baltic Amber, before making a long winding walk down to Old Town. As we neared the wall of Old Town we saw a staging area for a large group of people dressed in Medieval garb. Turned out we had arrived on the first day of an annual Medieval Festival in Tallinn. We watched a bit of the preparation and then began to wander around the Old Town. The day had turned out to be quite wonderful at this point - beautifully warm and sunny. Out tour included a stop at a local Medieval style restaurant called Peppersack for coffee and a sweet Estonian cake covered in marzipan. And by sweet we mean near sugar coma inducing sweet. Once our sugar levels had equalized, our tour of the Old Town continued with a walk to the Town Hall Square (Raekoja plats). The square was full of artisans making and selling their creations, with many of the artisans dressed in medieval merchant clothing. The dominant building on the square is, not surprisingly, the Old Town Hall (Tallinna Raekoda) itself - and we made our way inside there for a look around. According to the propaganda it is the only remaining Gothic Town Hall in Northern Europe. Records indicate that the building dates back to at least 1322, but its current size came in a couple of expansions in the 14th/15th centuries with the exception of its current spire that arrived in the 17th century. Atop the spire sits a weather-vane known as Old Thomas (Vana Toomas) - the figure of an old warrior. The one now on the spire is the third version, with the original safely stored and on display inside the Town Hall. The original Old Thomas topped the hall’s first spire starting in 1530. Following the tour of the hall we returned to the square to watch a parade to mark the official start of the Medieval Festival in the Old Town. We found ourselves fortunate that we had arrived in Tallinn on the day that the festival started, and we now connected all of the costumed people we had seen earlier practicing their musical instruments, games, juggling acts and dancing. We found a good spot near the Old Town Hall to watch the procession of people dressed in medieval garb as they made their way to a stage set up in the square where the festival’s opening ceremonies took place. We watched the ceremonies and some of the musical acts for a bit and then we spent some time checking out the artisan’s stalls in the square. noticing some things that appealed to us, we made a plan to return here later in the day to pick up a couple of things to take home with us. We met back up with the people of our tour at the appointed time to take a bus ride to the final stop on the tour, but we knew we’d have the opportunity to be left back in the Old Town rather than being taken back to the ship directly.

    Our final tour destination for the day was Kadriorg Palace, originally named Catherinethal (Catherine’s Valley) by Peter the Great when he bough the property for his Estonian born wife Catherine I in 1710. The palace as it stands today is the result of renovations done in the time of Nicholas I in 1827. The palace fell into disrepair for many years and was closed in 1991 and has only been reopened to the public since 2000. Not the size of its Russian counterparts, Kadriorg is still worth the visit with both the restored house full of art and beautifully kept grounds and gardens outside. Indeed a lovely seaside residence for Russian royalty in its day. From the excursion to Kradriorg Palace we had the bus drop us off near the Old Town before it made its way back to the port. Azamara had arranged for a regular schedule of shuttle busses running from the same location back to the ship, so we took to opportunity to enjoy a bit more of the Old Town on our own. First order of business was to find a nice spot to get a drink after all of the time we had spent in the unexpected sun and heat. We settled on a shaded spot in the Town Hall Square (Raekoja plats) where we could see and hear some of the continuing entertainment as part of the Medieval Festival. Dutiable refreshed and rested, we strolled the artisan stalls once again and made purchases of a nice wood bowl and some bracelets. We meandered around the Old Town to enjoy more of the sights that this Medieval town had to offer. It had truly been a surprising day - the weather was much better than expected and Tallinn turned out to be a picturesque town with a terrific atmosphere. The people seemed to be so very friendly throughout the town. We aren’t really sure what we expected, but prior to the cruise we hadn’t anticipated Tallinn to be a highlight of the trip - but as we concluded our wandering we talked about how much it had be a very pleasant highlight of the trip, indeed.

    After a short shuttle bus ride back to the port we checked out a small sea side shopping area that wasn’t worth the time to linger so we made the easy walk back to the ship. As often happens when we tour, we hadn’t eaten lunch while in Tallinn, and while it was too late for lunch once back on the ship, we decided to take in some tasty bites and cappuccinos at Mosaic Café in the late afternoon - enough to satisfy but not too much with the proximity to dinner. With that we returned to our room for a bit of relaxation and customary daily photo back up as the ship set sail for our next destination of Stockholm, Sweden. For dinner this evening we had a reservation at Aqualina for 8:30pm. Gary selected the Chilean sea bass for his main course, but Linda opted to go with red snapper this time - having had the sea bass on our last visit to Aqualina. Our server Marlon convinced her, though, that she really should have the sea bass even though she had had it before because it was much better so Linda decided to heed the advice and selected the repeat meal. When on main meals arrived, Marlon had also served a third plate with a portion of the red snapper for us to try. There was no doubt that sea bass was the better choice for the evening - Marlon was absolutely correct, the red snapper was not of the best quality and Linda had enjoyed the much better fish dinner this evening. Before the meal ended, the sous chef came over to talk to us about the meals - was a nice touch to end our time in Aqualina. We had such an enjoyable evening that we decided to book another dinner here for the final night of the cruise. Following dinner it was time to make another stop at Mosaic Café for some espressos and then we did a bit of souvenir shopping in the are very close to the café. With that, our evening was drawing to an end so we made our way back to our room. As we said before, Tallinn had been a surprise - and definitely a very good day. As the ship sailed to Stockholm we would gain another hour of sleep with the time change...a welcome hour of extra sleep for travellers on the go.

Tallinn Image Gallery

Cloudy morning arrival in Tallinn
Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, Tallinn
Looking towards Dome Church in Tallinn
Stone bird sculptures in the street
View of the Old Town from Toompea
Medieval scene unfolding prior to the start of the Medieval Festival
Some of the people involved in the Medieval Festival
Outer wall of the Old Town
A common Tallinn sight - rustic carts for selling spiced nuts
Looking out a window of the Old Town Hall to Town Hall Square
Making a bit of jewelry in Raekoja plats (Town Hall Square)
Raekoja plats (Town Hall Square)
Official start of the Medieval Festival in the Old Town (July 8-11, 2010)
The market in Raekoja plats (Town Hall Square)
Medieval musical act in Raekoja plats (Town Hall Square)
Good spot for a drink in Raekoja plats (Town Hall Square)
One of the best looking McDonald's anywhere
Kadriorg Palace
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WHITEonline is the digital home of Gary & Linda White. We’ve been married since 1980 and live just outside Toronto in Ontario, Canada. Linda was born and raised in Toronto while Gary was born in London, England and moved to Canada at the age of 11. We enjoy travelling and taking photos while we travel. WHITEonline provides the opportunity to share some of our photos & experiences.

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