30 March 2017 – Exploring the Tallin Old Town and the Seaplane Harbour [Estonia]
The curse of the jet lag almost struck again when Soren woke us up at 5am to go to the toilet and proceeded to wake everyone up. After not enough sleep we were determined that everyone was going back to sleep, and while it took awhile we all slept till almost 8am. Poor Astrid did not want to get up at all, and thought her bed was comfy and warm.
We had breakfast in the hotel restaurant and it was our first Estonian breakfast, which turned out to be pretty good. There was a good spread and lots of great cheeses (Estonian cheese is really good), plenty of meats, and pancakes that are similar to the Swedish ones. There were also lots of good jams and fresh berries and nice hot selections. Soren ate his body weight in egg, smoked salmon and rye bread yet again and Astrid ate everything with sugar! She was also impressed by the chandelier that was made from patty cases……….
With a late breakfast we eventually had to get moving as it was our only full day in Tallinn. It was still around minus 2 outside but sunny with no wind, so after rugging up appropriately (which takes forever) we headed out just before 10am
Our first port of call was a wander up to the old town, that we hadn’t had much time to explore the previous day. Tallinn is best known for its medieval old town which is reputed to be the best preserved Medieval city in Northern Europe. The old town area is quite small and quite close to the CBD. W were actually staying just outside the old town so we could afford a room bigger than the size of a shoe box! As you walk up the hill into the old town it is quite interesting to see the change in architecture.
Our first port of call was the very amusingly named (at least for Aussies) Kiek in de Kök museum and bastion tunnels. It is actually a German name meaning ‘peep into the kitchen’. Kiek in de Kök is an artillery tower built in 1475. It gained the name Kiek in de Kök from the ability of tower occupants to see into kitchens of nearby houses. The tower is 38 m high and has walls 4 m thick. Cannon balls dating back to 1577 are still embedded in its outer walls.
The kids enjoyed winding our way up and down the stone staircases and looking at the models of the old town and other Tallinn towers. They were however, a bit too fascinated with the torture instruments and information about the plague! The museum has free guides stationed within the tower who gave us a bit of history and wore very trendy black cloaks adding to the medieval atmosphere.
There are several floors to stop at during the climb up to the top. Each level was interesting and had nice views over the town. There was also an art gallery in the basement, which currently housed a photographic exhibit that was interesting. You can also visit the bastion tunnels but they were closed during our visit. Kiek in de Kök is worth a visit if you are in Tallinn. There are a number of towers around the town and most are open in Summer. Our visit was during the Winter season (Winter runs through to May) so only a couple were open. Kiek in de Kök rates as one of the best to visit.
Next we went to the Russian Orthodox Alexander Nevsky church which is very pretty and quite different to many of the other buildings in Tallin. The inside was interesting (but no photos were allowed inside). The adjacent Estonian Parliament (pink building below) is a pretty and understated building on 3 sides attached to the old 17th century stone Toompea castle walls on the 4th side.
We wandered through the cobblestone streets on Toompea hill which offered fantastic views down over the old town. There were several vendors out making and selling hot cinnamon nuts and with the cold temperatures the smell wafting through the air was delicious. Of course we ended up buying some!
The cobblestone streets are beautiful and it wasn’t too crowded being off-season. It might not be obvious from the brilliant blue skies but it was rather cold, but rugged up it was actually a beautiful day to be wandering around. The downside of Tallinn old town is that it’s very touristy and has almost a ‘Disneyfied’ atmosphere with the hundreds of souvenir shops (there is one about every 5 metres), and people selling things in the street. You can understand why it’s a tourist hot spot though, the old town is gorgeous and the views are amazing. On such a clear day it was easy to see all the way out to the harbour and into the CBD.
From up on Toompea hill lookout you can get the picture postcard views of Tallinn, and chat to a giant seagull or 2! We were all fascinated by the size of the seagulls and we weren’t the only tourists who thought they were amusing.
We wandered the cobblestone streets for a bit until Astrid decided she was starving. Anto had done research and found reviews for a restaurant – Rataskaevu 16 which we were keen to try out and it was in the old town, not far from where we’d been walking. Tallinn has a plethora of restaurants, bars, galleries and museums and many of the good ones are within the old town area.
Rataskaevu 16 can be difficult to get into without a booking but we lucked out and they had a table, which was our good fortune because it was amazing. It was one of those meals we’ll be talking about for years to come! The restaurant was in a lovely old building, and we had the friendliest ever waitress. There is a kids area in a stone alcove where the kids could play (and drawing on old stone walls was encouraged) and meanwhile the adults could sit in peace and drink the very good wine and local beer!
The menu was so cheap and we couldn’t decide what to have as it all looked so good. The meal started with complimentary starters which were cream cheese with pumpkin and then warm pumpkin rye bread and butter from a secret recipe. It was so good we didn’t need to eat mains!
I had the pumpkin soup with mozzarella and pumpkin seeds, Anto the oven-baked salmon with potato chive cream and asparagus. Astrid had the kids pasta with Estonian cheese and Soren had the kids pork fillet with potato and carrot mash, cream sauce and cucumber. It was the most impressive kids meal ever!
For dessert we had buckthorn & coconut ice cream with oat flakes, and berries and bread pudding with raspberry parfait and caramel sauce. Both were amazing. The waitress even wrote notes under our coffees for us and gave the kids paper to draw on and then stapled the books they were making while eating. We spent close on 2 hours there as it was soooo good. Even the toilets were funky with a glass floor looking down into the old stone basement. There is a reason that it rates #1 in Tallin, and the whole meal was just $45 Euro!
Too full and very happy, we mostly wanted to nap, but decided to brave the cold and explore some more. We wandered down from Toompea hill through other areas of the old town including the quite pretty town square. The kids quite liked the train (although they didn’t get a ride) and we saw a line of fire engines. If we hadn’t already eaten there were plenty of great looking places to choose from!
As pretty as the old town is, it was all getting very repetitive and we’d seen enough souvenir shops! We decided to walk to the Seaplane Harbour (Estonian Maritime Museum) as it was supposed to be good, of interest to the kids and was something a little different. It was a couple of kilometre walk but it was a nice day so it was pretty easy. Soren was trying to nap in the ergo and Anto was feeling a little unwell with an upset stomach so it was somewhat of an interesting walk in the . As soon as you leave the old town the array of buildings also changes……
The Seaplane harbour (also known as Lennusadam) is down on the water and is in a seaplane hangar. The historical seaplane hangar displays about 200 items: a submarine called Lembit, a century-old icebreaker Suur Tõll, a seaplane called Short 184, the remains of the oldest ship found in Estonia, there is also an aquarium, flight simulators and kids play areas and an outdoor playground.
The kids were immediately pretty excited, the hangar was enormous (a full sized submarine looks small in it) and you walked through the hangar on boardwalks over the submarine and past boats and buoys. There were plenty of things to look at and walk through.
Astrid loved looking at the buoys as she’d been seeing them as we’d been sailing around Helsinki. The kids enjoyed walking through the submarine (I still have no desire to be a submariner) and having a go in the rescue helicopter.
There was a search and rescue exhibition on during our visit (Mayday, Mayday, Mayday) which meant the kids could sit in rescue rafts and a rescue helicopter, both were a hit. There was also an exhibit which you could fly a bi-plane in a flight simulation. Anto was pretty good and almost got through all his gates. I have zero flying skills and I always crashed after about 17 seconds. Astrid and Soren were not impressed with my flying skills and wanted to fly with Anto!
As we left the hangar we paid a brief visit to the playground (a ship), the kids could have spent ages there. There is also the Suur Tõll, icebreaker to walk around (which has a separate admission charge) but we’d run out of time to pay it a visit. Astrid was most annoyed as she loved walking around all the other exhibits.
Despite being not that into boats, helicopters and submarines, Lennusadam was really interesting and definitely worth a visit. We spent a couple of hours there and could easily have spent longer but it was getting late.
It was around a 4km walk back to our hotel but despite it being well after 5pm we thought we’d walk rather than stuff around with a couple of buses. Astrid was still bouncing despite a long day of walking and we made good time back to the old town, which gave us time for one more wander through the cobblestone streets and a quick visit to one of the 3,000 souvenir shops. It had warmed up considerably so it wasn’t an unpleasant walk back. It also gave us a chance to see the old town as the sun was setting.
We made it back to our hotel within the hour and the tired kids had opted for a hotel picnic again, rather than dinner out. Luckily our 15 Euros of supermarket food from the previous night had yielded another couple of meals worth, so it was more salad and rye bread and Estonian cheese. We’d promised the kids a visit to the hotel restaurant (The Kreutzwald Hotel) for dessert. OK, it was mostly so we could have some of the local wine and coffee and try the interesting looking desserts.
Anto had another Vana Tallin (Estonian for Old Tallin) the local liqueur is a dark brown and robust rum-based liqueur developed in the 1960s, and I had some nice white wine. The desserts we chose were also Estonian specialites. I had a kama and chocolate mousse with seasonal berries – kama is really interesting and it tasted quite lemony. The second dessert was syrniki with sautéed Apple . Syrniki were a bit like a steamed pudding/pancake and were very tasty. All in all it was a very good eating day and we are fans of Estonian food!
The kids were well and truly over everything after dessert and were ready for a quick spa-bath and bed. After a beautiful (but cold) day exploring Tallinn, the forecast was for snow overnight, a lot of snow! We were keen to see Tallinn in the snow, but we had a mid-morning flight out to Amsterdam so weren’t sure we’d get to see much of it. We also weren’t convinced there was actually going to be snow. We have a habit of having it snow just as or after we are leaving cities!
Statistics for Thursday the 30th of March 2017 in Tallinn, Estonia – the temperature range for the day was minus 2 to 3 degrees, with a mean of 0 and an apparent temperature of around minus 5 degrees, it wasn’t hot! The total walking for the day was 15km. That somewhat explains why the kids were so tired….
Up next, Tallinn in the snow and riding biking Amsterdam (all in the same day)…….