We cruised the Baltic Sea and into the Gulf of Finland overnight from Stockholm and awoke early enough to still not have arrived at our next stop, the capital city of Estonia, Tallinn, but we were getting close and had a picture-perfect flat sea to gaze out on as we made our approach. Naturally, there were some photographs.
Tallinn was the only port of call on our Baltic cruise on Crown Princess where we didn’t book an excursion. Many of the ones offered appeared to go to similar places and a little research showed that the distance from the port to medieval city centre was only around twenty minutes on foot. In addition, I’d seen a couple of things of interest that I wanted to check out in the city that weren’t being offered on any of the excursions.
We were among the first people to get off the ship and the walk was an easy one; it was possible to see some of the old church towers and taller buildings of the city from the ship so bearings weren’t a problem and on a cruise ship of this size you’ll always find people who’ve been to the place before and know where they are going so we more-or-less kept with the main group of passengers walking off at the same time. I grabbed a photo of the cruise ship as we headed off along the water’s edge because that’s the sort of thing I do.
We entered the old town of Tallinn through the Pikk Street entrance, still retaining some of the stone walls from its medieval past. That street took us almost directly to the obvious congregating point in Tallinn, the town square, and on the way we passed the Ministry of the Interior (proudly flying its Estonian flag) which was situated next to the former KGB headquarters.
The town square was surrounded by some lovely architecture and packed with market stalls. I don’t know if the market stalls are there all the time, because of the day that we arrived, or because they knew a cruise ship was docked outside the city, but they were pretty popular with tourists and locals alike from the looks of things. We had a brief nose and I took some photos of the area around the square before we decided to pick a direction at random and head off, figuring we could always retrace our steps and choose other directions once we ran out of things to see.
We ended up heading roughly eastwards at first to the old town walls which we wandered inside taking a look at the various stalls set out, mostly with knitwear on them for purchase.
We didn’t see anything that caught our eye commercially and then got distracted by coming upon St Catherine’s Passage (ooer!) which was a narrow alley leading back towards Tallinn’s centre and contained many old tombstones as well as a number of arts and crafts shops. A very interesting and picturesque little find in the city.
We headed back through the square and headed west this time in the direction of Toompea, a hill in Tallinn with a number of interesting buildings architecturally and historically as well as some great views over the rest of the city.
There are a number of routes up Toompea and we managed to pick the steepest of them at a guess; it was harder work than we were expecting but we had a nice rest at the top to recover. Some of the fortifications were very impressive and the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral with its very Russian Orthodox design was particularly attractive.
We’d skipped a number of small museums and churches that we’d intended to visit simply because they were packed with tour groups but from Toompea we were only a short distance from a museum not on an eny excursion list that appealed to me, one remembering German then Soviet occupations of Estonia. A short distance on the map but getting there proved tricky as paths in a park in the way ended up sending us round and off in different directions before we finally found the place. There were no queues of people, which was good, but this turned out to be because, despite the website saying it was open and despite the sign on the door showing the opening hours indicating it should be open, it clearly wasn’t. Which was bad. We were hot and thirsty by this point so we decided to head back to the town centre to recuperate but we came at it from the south in order to take a look at the large, open space of Freedom Square first.
We’d already encountered a few groups of Belgian football fans on our walk around Tallinn and as we found our way to a bar on the edge of the town square to order a couple of very welcome, very lovely, local, dark ales a big group of supporters took over the bar next to us. They were in good voice, it was all good-natured fun, and we’d seen a lot of bars on our walks with Belgian flags and signs proclaiming their fans were welcome inside so it didn’t seem like anyone was expecting any trouble.
Rested and refreshed we dedicated a little time to doing some shopping at this point, wandering through the square and off down some of the roads and alleys we’d not yet checked in search of shops. It was pretty easy to find some bits and pieces and we did our traditional thing of picking up some shot glasses and souvenir mugs. You can never too many of either.
Not wanting to get back to the ship too early we flipped a mental coin to determine if we wanted to see if any of the museums were any quieter or just grab another drink. Grabbing another drink won. We chose a different bar this time and selected another local brewery offering. Very pleasant, even with the nearby presence of smokers (the bane of European travel), and we got to watch some filming taking place for an excursion promotion by Princess Cruises too, not that it was particularly interesting. That done, we then headed out of the medieval centre of Tallinn and started on our way to the ship.
As we left the older architecture behind I made a slight detour to snap some photos of more modern works including the brick tower of the Contemporary Art Museum and some modern, very shiny buildings not far from the Estonian shoreline.
There was less cloud cover at the time we were returning to the Crown Princess in the cruise port so some more photos were almost obligatory. There was also a very good-sized, very well-stocked and reasonably-priced tourist information centre and shop on the route back; some soap was purchased, another of our “things we often buy on trips”.
Our final minutes on Estonian soil (or concrete) were spent in the queue to board the ship. Often a pain you have to suffer through and a mix of blame to apportion here as we felt Princess could have opened up another gangway for boarding and our fellow passengers could have stapled signs to the insides of their eyelids reminding them to remove anything that would set the scanners off and get everything ready for putting through the machines before they actually arrived at them. How people who are suddenly surprised that they need to go through a security check even when every person in front of them is doing so actually manage to remember they were on a ship in the first place is a constant shock to me.
So, we didn’t get to see some of the museums and churches that we fancied but that’s our fault for chancing solo visits as opposed to guaranteeing some time on an excursion. And we didn’t get to see the museums of war and post-war occupations that I was interested in but I’ve no idea whose fault that was. None of this really mattered, though, because Tallinn was absolutely lovely and I’d have no qualms with going back at any time. It’s a very convenient port for anyone mobile enough to handle an easy walk of twenty minutes with loads to see and do.