A day at sea was just what we needed after a long visit in Germany and as we looked forward to five straight days in various ports. We used it to relax, exercise, possibly play Bingo (although you won’t hear me admitting to that) and generally just enjoy the Baltic Sea’s stunning beauty.
This was also the first time change during the cruise, which pushed us from six hours ahead of Eastern Daylight Time to seven, which means we lost an hour over night. This was especially brutal due to a late night of drinking where we met a young couple who were the only other native English speaking people our age.
That evening was formal night, so we donned our best and met that couple for a drink at the wine bar a half hour before we ventured to dinner at 8:30. The day wasn’t quite the recovery we needed, but it definitely helped.
The Estonian port was one of the easier ones to navigate. There was a large open air cruise terminal where many peddled traditional Estonian goods such as handicraft woodwork, sweaters, ornaments and more. Baltic amber is also a popular souvenir in the region. Beyond this was a relatively short walk to the Vanalinn, or Old Town. This is where we spent our entire visit.
The Medieval architecture and fortifications were remarkable. Having never visited Southern and Western Europe, this was my first taste of authentic buildings from the middle ages. One of the more noteworthy feelings I had was that the entirety of this section felt like it was built in forced perspective. Walt Disney World often uses this trick to demonstrate large scale in a limited space, but it has always seemed a little off to my eyes. Here, though, as I viewed buildings at a distance with some open space, I gained a newfound appreciation for this art. The buildings were obviously real, but I felt like I was on a movie set. It would’ve been easy to overlook Tallinn as someone browsing our itinerary, but for the Old Town alone (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), the day here was totally worth it.
We’d made a short list of possible lunch spots ahead of time, all closeby. Although there was one particularly intriguing joint specializing in super authentic Estonian cuisine, we weren’t able to find it, so we defaulted to our second choice, Hell Hunt. The name sounds ominous, but it actually means “Tender Wolf” in Estonian. The food was decidedly not authentic, but they did serve Scandinavian and Russian fare along with an extensive drink menu that included most major beer producing countries and its own proprietary brews. I had a Hell Hunt Tume, which was tasty. This to go along with two “snacks,” an order of Russian dumplings and an order of pickled herring with dark rye bread. Both were around 5 euros and either would’ve been a more than satisfactory lunch portion on its own. They had the Hockey World Championship playing on a large television, so the total experience was fantastic.
There were several antique shops in Tallinn, which featured interesting items in their display cases. Several coins and medals from Nazi Germany were available, but without enough knowledge of the era or research done beforehand, I couldn’t attest to their authenticity. Soviet coins were present in abundance, which were more likely the real deal. A collector could probably have a great time here, assuming everything wasn’t a reproduction or an outright fake.
In search of an Estonian newspaper, I entered a grocery store and had a look around. It was quite cool to see the products locals would use regularly. Some was familiar, some was foreign and some I wished was more readily available here at home (See: Quail Eggs). Also worth mentioning was an entire shelf devoted to Brooklyn Brewery.
After being satisfied that we’d seen every last inch of Old Town, we started back to the ship. Of all our stops, Tallinn ranks as the most underratedly enjoyable. It was relatively inexpensive compared to the high cost Nordic locales, but it had some of the best architecture. There was a certain quaintness related to its recent freedom from Soviet rule that was easily detectable. Estonia is a country finding its own identity, distinct from Russia or Scandinavia, but also heavily influenced by both.
Next Stop: St. Petersburg, our two day adventure into Frenemy Territory.