Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Get Thee to a Nuttery!

As promised, a recap of the first leg on our Batlic adventure:

  Tallinn, Estonia

Annie, Kyle, and I departed a snowy Moscow on an overnight train heading east.  The only train places available were ones in a compartment for four, which meant we would be sharing the compartment with one "rando."  We took bets on what type of person he would be.  A businessman?  A college student?  None of us put any rubles on a woman, so when a middle aged Russian woman arrived to claim her space, we were quite surprised, but delighted.  Her name was Irina.  I don't think we could have gotten a better, more courteous compartment mate.
Annie snoozing
In the middle of the night, the train stopped.  We didn't know what was going on.  As it turned out, we were crossing the border and border control needed to question us.  After customs, I promptly fell back asleep and didn't wake up again until the stewardess brought us coffee an hour before we arrived in Tallinn.

The hotel I booked, the Baltic Hotel Imperial, was a short walk from the train station.

Thanks to my mom's account, we landed a great deal!

The Baltic Hotel Imperial was quaint and located in the picturesque Old Town district of Tallinn.  The extremely courteous staff allowed us to check in early and enjoy the complimentary breakfast buffet.

Refreshed, caffeinated, and satiated, we set out in search of the Tallinn Visitor Information Center.

The Old City of Tallinn is charmingly medieval.  The first fortress was built on Tallinn in 1050.

Since that time, the city has been occupied, ransacked, and attacked numerous times; however, the Old City still retains its charm and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Though I had a map, we still had trouble finding the Tourist Information Center.  Navigating a new city is always difficult.  When we saw two medievally dressed people on the street, we decided to ask them where to go.

Throughout the Old Town of Tallinn, costumed men and women make and sell sugar-coated nuts.  They are literally everywhere.  They are also some of the friendliest, most linguistically talented people I have ever met.
Buying some nuts
Every nut cart (affectionately dubbed "Nuttery") we passed invited us to sample its cinnamon almonds and orange-glazed pecans first in Russian, then in English, and sometimes in Estonian.  We even heard them effortlessly transition into French and Portuguese on occasion.  The American education system is seriously lacking in terms of language instruction.  The costumed almond salesmen on the streets of Tallinn know more languages than the majority of Stanford students.

With the assistance of our talented medieval actors, we found the Tallinn Tourist Information Center.  There, we purchased a TallinnCard, which provided us with free admission to all museums, free use of all public transportation, discounts and special gifts at many stores and restaurants, and a free city bus tour.  I would highly recommend the TallinnCard to any tourist looking to see the sights in Tallinn.

We joined a free city tour of Tallinn.  Our tour guide was a cheerful, Estonian, young woman who seemed immune to the somewhat agonizing cold.
Our tour guide speaking about the Tallinn education system.
She showed us many of the major sites of the Old City while sharing humorous and historical anecdotes.
Estonian Parliament

Park encircling Tallinn where I ran the next morning
I was surprised to learn that the past twenty years has been the longest stretch of Estonian independence.

Estonian Freedom Monument

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral
I thoroughly enjoyed the tour, though I had to duck into a few souvenir shops to warm up.  I was painfully cold and almost didn't make it through the entire two hours.

Our guide recommended we try Hell's Hunt Pub for lunch.

There, we shared pig's tongue, and each ordered a bowl of our guide's favorite shrimp soup.  The meal was just okay, but their on-site brew was very good according to Kyle.

We spent the rest of the evening touring the city and doing some shopping.
Catherine's Passage

Ruins from St. Catherine's Church
I purchased a much needed pair of handmade sheepskin mittens and woolen socks.
Photo courtesy of Annie Parker
Dried deer penises in the oldest Apteka (Pharmacy) in Estonia.  Ew.
The focal point of Tallinn, the Town Square, at night.
Photo courtesy of Annie Parker
On our second and third days in Tallinn, we really took advantage of our TallinnCards.

We saw the Niguliste Museum, which had an interesting exhibit on the idea of death in Estonian culture,
The Soviets destroyed the Church in WWII, but the Estonians rebuilt it.


The Blackhead's Silver Collection
The Kalev Marzipan Factory, were our TallinnCards earned us a free gift!

took a break for a "decent bowl of elk soup,"

And rode the city bus tour to the TV Tower, which was built to provide better telecommunication services for the 1980 Moscow Olympic Games.
I took this photo FOUR times and Kyle shut his eyes in all of them.
Tallinn TV Tower
In the Soviet coup attempt of 1991, the tower was apparently protected by radio operators who jammed matchboxes into the elevators to prevent Soviet troops from reaching the top of the tower.

We couldn't see much because of the fog, but on a clear day, I'm sure the view is stunning.

Look!  There's Moscow!

We also visited the Kiek in de Kok museum on the morning of our final day in Tallinn.  Though we wanted to see the underground passages, we didn't realize that we were supposed to book those in advance.  So, we settled with climbing the tower were "the bitchy women of Tallinn" (according to one of the English signs) were imprisoned.

In addition to seeing the sites, we also enjoyed the best of Tallinn's cuisine.

Kyle's lucky necklace led us to a fantastic restaurant called Kaevukohvik for dinner on our second night.

This was one of the best meals I've had in Eastern Europe so far.  Everything was fresh and perfectly prepared.
Salmon, asparagus, and lentil puff pastry
Tallinn is also famous for its hot wine and Vana Tallinn alcohol, both of which are smooth and unique in their autumn-like flavors.
Hot wine with dinner

We dined at Mix on our final afternoon in Tallinn.

I highly recommend the ginger fish soup.

Leaving Tallinn on the LuxExpress bus was bittersweet.  I was excited to move on to our next destination, Riga; but the charm  and calm of Old City Tallinn had stolen my heart.

Climbing the city wall

1 comment:

  1. So much beauty! I'm glad you got to experience an adventure on the Russian trains and the ancient sights of Tallinn are breathtaking. I think one of my favorite things about traveling abroad is seeing all the history in a country that dates back to centuries ago. It's like stepping into a time capsule :)