Four months in Russia has meant four months in a society dominated by the Russian language and in supermarkets hit by sanctions. We decided it was time to re-enter European society and booked a trip to Tallinn, in the hope of having a light break from the constant demands of the Russian language and rediscovering cheese (I will use ‘we’ throughout the article to refer to my faithful travelling companion, Issy!).
Tallinn is the capital of Estonia and is home to approximately a third of the Estonian population. Honestly speaking, we didn’t really pick Tallinn for any particular cultural and historical sites: we had found some reasonably priced coach tickets and simply fancied having a mini-break from St. Petersburg! So on a Thursday morning we hopped onto the coach for a six-hour trip. We arrived in the late afternoon and had time to wander around the Old Town.
The Old Town in Tallinn is a well-preserved medieval northern European city and was a significant trade centre between the 13th and 16th Century. It became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1997 and continues to be the main attraction for people visiting Tallinn. We wandered through the narrow streets and poked our heads in a few of the old churches. The centre really pushes the ‘medieval’ theme with candle-lit stone-walled restaurants, vendors in costumes selling candied almonds and a museum of medieval torture instruments! We altogether avoided this rather tourist-centred scheme and went for a rather dubious pizza, before heading back to the hostel.
The next morning we woke up to absolutely glorious weather. Being slightly further down south on the world map perhaps brought the weather, but then again it is already May so the weather should be considerably more sunny than we’re used to! We hopped on a tram to Kadriorg Palace. The palace was built in 1725 for Catherine the Great; it’s name actually means ‘Catherine’s Valley’. We wandered around the vast palace gardens and encountered several British tourists who were stopping off on their way to St. Petersburg. The gardens were incredibly beautiful and we enjoyed a picnic sitting by the edge of the Swan Pond.
For the afternoon we returned to the centre and visited Freedom Square, which features a monument to those who died in the Estonian War of Independence (1918-1920). However, in fact, Estonia swiftly was taken by Soviet occupation in the wake of the Second World War and only reclaimed it’s independence in 1991.
After picking up a few postcards we continued to wander about the Old Town before heading for dinner at a restaurant, where I made the most of my newfound cheese-freedom by ordering a blue cheese and pear salad. Such luxury. We finished the evening with some gorgeous ice-cream at a very popular parlour nestled on the outskirts of the Old Town. It tasted much better than any of the rather strange Soviet-era ice-cream that is still sold all over Russia, and which even shopkeepers advise not buying.
The Estonian language has a few similarities to Russian but throughout the trip we realised it was basically incomprehensible to us. The place names in the Old Town, however, were very cute, with places such as ‘Toompea’. Nonetheless, we couldn’t help but snicker at this particular sign which tells you the best way to make tears come to a man’s eye…
Before we knew it, the next morning we were on the coach back to St. Petersburg! If our itinerary seems rather empty it’s because we felt the weather was simply too nice to stay inside stuffy buildings all day. Tallinn does have a handful of interesting museums and art galleries which are popular with tourists, but we opted to have a more relaxed time rather than trawling through more art and history. All in all, it was a lovely little city which was perfect for a relaxed city break!
Updates from St. Petersburg
Here are a two snippets which didn’t make a whole blog entry but are amusing nonetheless.
Channeling my inner-Theresa-May
One Saturday I went to Этажи (Ehtazhay) with Sasha to check out an exhibition of foxes… This hipster-market-shopping-complex located in an old concrete multi-storey building often hosts events for particular breeds of animals (it’s quite hard to describe, apologies for how odd it might sound!). When I saw that there was an event for foxes I simply had to see what was happening! We paid an entry fee and walked around pens where peoples pet foxes were chilling out or having a cuddle with their owners. We got to pet a few of the foxes and witnessed some foxes being introduced to each other, which sometimes ended in growls and scraps!
Afterwards we explored the labyrinthine structure of the building and accidentally walked into several shops tucked away at the ends of corridors. On one floor we came across, of all things, a shooting range. Sasha was interested in trying her hand at some target-shooting and so we paid 100 roubles for 5 shots each. It was a surreal turn for the afternoon as I have never shot a gun before, like most British people. When we asked for the ‘easiest’ gun he handed over an absolutely HUGE weapon. After a quick briefing we took our turns shooting. Sasha, having grown up in the USA, had some experience and so wasn’t quite so startled by the experience. When I went up to the mark I must have been taken by some beginner’s luck and managed to get 4/5 targets – a reluctant natural, perhaps…
Afterwards we went for some freshly made ice-cream. This place contains the strangest combination of activities and attractions…
Pictures with Pals
- Issy and I went to the St. Petersburg Botanic Gardens with our friend Nelliya and enjoyed an afternoon wandering around the gardens and tasting some of the food available at a special Japanese-themed event being hosted on the grounds over the weekend.
- Nastya came around for drinks one evening. She has decided to drop out of her current course (Medicine) and re-apply next year to study English. I’m sad to see her leave St. Petersburg and return home for a bit, but am glad that she has made a bold move to study a subject in which she is far more interested. I wish her all the best and hope we can somehow meet again in the near future!