On Thursday we said goodbye to Riga and headed to Tallinn, capital of Estonia. The journey took 4 ½ hours on a nice warm and comfortable bus. We arrived at our hostel which is right in the heart of the old town and is really kitsch, resembling a fancy hotel more than a hostel. After checking in we just had enough time to have a quick look around and realise that Tallinn is one very pretty city.
Don’t get me wrong, I loved living in Asia and still love a lot of things about Asia but after 3 years of travelling around Vietnam I got tired of the hustle, the hassle, the dirt, and the rats everywhere I visited. Now I am making the most of the contrast that Europe offers: getting off a bus and being able to look at a map without a swarm of arguing taxi drivers all vying for my business, café-lined terraces, ancient cobbled alleyways, church spires, stunning architecture and clutching a mug of steaming hot chocolate. I am even enjoying wrapping up all snug and warm against driving wind and rain. Yes, you heard me correctly. I still hate being cold, but the Swedes are right – if you wear the right clothes the cold isn’t so bad. It is true that I have spent most of this holiday resembling an Ewok or a Ninja but I don’t care as long as I am warm!
Tallinn looks like a picture from a chocolate box and with a sprinkling of snow it would make the most perfect Christmas card. The old town is a scene straight out of a children’s storybook, it is just like toytown – shop displays seduce with a sumptuous array of tempting chocolates, colourful woollen mittens adorn every market stall, and quaint houses line every street. Tallinn’s medieval history is exploited to the delight of hundreds of tourists who are treated to the sight of serving wenches ladling bowlfuls of steaming elk soup and pouring tankards of frothing ale. The smell of pies made from deer, elk, or wild boar send a mouth-watering aroma wafting through the streets. For dessert monks offer delicious smelling hot spiced almonds and walnuts from the back of wooden wagons. Sadly, the romantic illusion is quickly shattered when the medieval monk takes a break to make a call on his mobile phone or light up a cigarette.
For me the best thing about Tallinn is walking around and soaking up the atmosphere, it’s like Venice – you don’t have to go far to find the beauty of the place, it is all around you everywhere you go. Even in dismal Baltic drizzle the town square has its own magic as the lights glow orange across the saturated ancient cobblestones. Riga is pretty too, and in some ways the old towns of the two cities are very similar but there is something about Tallinn when you are sitting outside on a reindeer skin, that evokes childhood stories of romance or adventure and of white Christmases—a past long since forgotten. There is something Narnia-esque about it and it wouldn’t seem too out of place to see the White Witch sweeping across the town square in her magnificent sleigh.
Yes, Tallinn and Riga are both definitely worth a visit. I have really enjoyed my time exploring the beautiful Baltics and soaking up some much missed European culture. Now back to Scandinavia with some Estonian woollen garments to fend off the approaching winter!