Glorious Estonia, Sept 2013

I just spent a week alone in Tallinn, Estonia and it was a truly wonderful experience; well, except for the part where the airlines damaged my suitcase & I had to buy a new one. No more TSA locks for me, they're free to rifle through my clothes & undies at will! I went because I'd read an article a couple of years ago in the SF Chronicle touting the well-preserved Old Town, several friends had been and loved it, plus I'm 1/4 Estonian and wanted to see a bit of my heritage. I chose the Savoy Boutique hotel and it was just lovely in every waycheck-in took all of 2 minutes, I got the room I requested and it was clean, spacious and attractively furnished with a well-appointed bathroom, desk clerks were all helpful and the included breakfast was exceptional. I planned & researched everything and made my own itinerary:
Day 1 was an all-day tour of Lahemaa Nat'l Park, including manor houses, a bog walk and Baltic shoreline walk, with EstAdventures. I highly recommend this small group (limit of 7) company, great fun and very knowledgeable guides. In the evening I ventured into downtown Tallinn to buy a suitcase at Stockmann, and amused myself checking out their basement grocery store. Walking alone at night felt perfectly safe, lots of regular Estonians once you leave Old Town and at most you'd see groups of young men that were out to have fun more than harass anyone.

Posted by christa
alameda, ca, usa
58 posts

Day 2 I took the trolley to Kadriorg Palace & checked out their museum as well as KUMU, a must for modern art lovers. Good food at the cafe. I ventured into Old Town and wandered the twisty windy cobblestone streets, quickly realizing that each shop had pretty much the same mass-produced stuff, which does not appeal to me. Then I found the Katharina Guild and several other shops with hand-crafted items made in Estonia and truly unique. As for knitted items, the open stalls on Muurivahe all have the same things & they are not hand-knitted-I'm a knitter, I can tell. I did find gorgeous mittens & yarn at the Jolleri on Muurivahe 11, near my hotel. That night I ate at the Peppersack, excellent rack of lamb & local beer. Day 3 I planned to visit Rocca Al Mare outdoor history museum & the Zoo. My attempts to find the bus fell apart so I took a taxi there, returning easily on the bus. Rocca Al Mare is quite spread out, it was a pleasant day & I enjoyed the relative solitude there before heading to the Zoo. Typical zoo, nice gardens & great ion of birds of prey. That night I ate at MEKK, they feature excellent modern Estonian cuisine. Day 4 I took the Tallink ferry to Helsinki, 2 hr crossing then I took a smaller ferry to Suomenlinna from Kauppatori market square. Helsinki felt very much like San Francisco to me, beautiful old buildings on a picturesque waterfront. Suomenlinna is a must-see. Day 5 was another tour, this time called Western Wonders with Est, more manor houses & ruins and the charming town of Haapsalu, where I found even more wonderful knitted things.

Posted by christa
alameda, ca, usa
58 posts

Day 6 was my last full day so I headed up to Toompea to see Alexander Nevsky cathedral, viewing platforms & pretty much see all the rest of Old Townquite a lot to see, so many nooks & crannies. Had a drink at Hell Hunt pub and excellent pizza at Pizza Grande. Overall I felt very safe here, most young people speak English (especially if they are workingresturants, hotels, shops, etc) and the Estonians give off a pleasant vibe; they are as friendly & helpful as you need them to be, otherwise keep to themselves. It's a very clean and pretty country, lots of parks and green space. As much as I loved the perfectly preserved walled Old Town, there's also plenty else to see in out-lying areas and you can easily get around on their buses, trams & trolleys. Early Sept was perfect as far as weather, mid-60s or warmer, and at the tail end of tourist season so perhaps not as crowded as summer. I felt prices on food & drink to be affordable, with a wide range of interesting ethnic & traditional Estonian food to choose from. I hope to return in a few years and find it just as pleasing!

Posted by Andrea
Sacramento, CA
4875 posts

Thank you for your trip report christa. And thanks for combining them into one post. It's much easier to follow that way.

Posted by Monte
Genesee, ID
1376 posts

Christa, Your journey sounds very, very interesting. I'm glad you shared it with us.

Posted by Fred
San Francisco
2699 posts

Hi, Thanks for an interesting report on Tallinn. In particular, I was interested in the comparison and description of Helsinki to SF. That's even more of a reason to go there. It has been on my bucket list to do: take that ferry to Helsinki for a planned 4-5 day visit. But since the ferry departs from Germany (Travem√ľnde), it'll be a ride of 27 hrs.

Posted by Sarah
Chicago (formerly St. Louis), IL, USA
1311 posts

Great trip report, Christa, thank you! Estonia has been on my list since I saw a Globetrekker show on it. Did you see a lot of old Soviet / Communist architecture? I find Eastern Europe and the Baltic countries so fascinating in part because of what they went through under Communism, and because of the visible layers of 20th-century history.

Posted by christa
alameda, ca, usa
58 posts

There's definitely areas of unfortunate Soviet-era buildings, they are quite unnattractive & extremely utilitarian, especially when you see the beauty of Old Town or the more modern (early 1900s)buildings in downtown. On one of my tours outside Tallinn we stopped at an abandoned Soviet air base, built right behind the ruins of a magnificent 1890s stone house, interesting juxtaposition. There are tours that focus on the Soviet era in particular, and the antique shops have an intriguing array of uniforms, gas masks and medals. I apparently missed the chance to buy a friend something he'd really like--a vintage Stalin alarm clock!

Posted by Elaine
Columbia, SC
746 posts

Christa - Great trip report, and I can't believe the timing!! I just started this week to research and plan 5-6 days in Tallin and Helsinki. We plan to arrive in Tallin by bus from St Peterburg on 7/7/2014 and to fly out from Helsinki on the 12th or 13th.
With your suggestions for hotels, restaurants, tours and shopping, you've probably saved me a lot if time. I just copy/ pasted the entire thread into my travel file. Thanks so much.