Tallinn #2: Museums and a Walking Tour


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Europe » Estonia » Tallinn
February 5th 2019
Published: March 2nd 2019
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I can't decide whether I like that nothing seems to open until 10 am here. It does mean that I can get some extra sleep and take my time getting ready, but I also feel like if things were open earlier, I could see and do more each day. After a leisurely breakfast, I headed to the Old Town. I wanted to go to the Tallinn City Museum, but since it didn't open until 10 am I had to take my time on the walk. I had a bit of a walk around taking some pictures. Everything was covered with a light dusting of snow making it look really pretty. I wandered down a few backstreets, too, and found a really cute little alleyway. It was also home to 14-15th century tombstones from St. Catherine's Dominican Friary. The tombstones belong to the Magistrate of Tallinn, the Brotherhood of the Blackheads, the Great Guild, and others. The Old Town was really quiet too, and it felt like it was earlier in the morning and that it was just starting to come to life for the day.

I made my way to the museum just after the opening time. There was already a school group in there, but the lovely lady on the reception desk, who talked me through the layout of the museum, offered me a route so I wouldn't get stuck behind them. The museum is pretty cheap, the entrance fee was around 4 euros. The museum is located in a 14th century merchant's house. I headed up the stairs to the first floor. This first small exhibition in the hallway appeared to be reading/alphabet/phonics books that had been used in schools to teach the local language. There wasn't any English signage to tell me exactly what they were so I had to make an educated guess. The next room was dedicated Tallinn's history as a port city. it is due to the harbour that Tallinn developed into a bustling city. Tallinn was one of the ports along the trading route between Novgorod and London during the Hanseatic time. It was a transit port, sending furs, honey, flax, and hemp west and salt, cloth, herring, spices, wine, and metal east. Grain was one of the products that Tallinn exported. Not only goods, but people arrived by sea, too. Today, around 6 million people use the port annually. Next, I came across 'Old Thomas', which was the Town Hall's weather vane from 1953 to 1998. I think that there have been other weather vanes over time, which were also called Old Thomas, but the museum only displays one. According to local legend, the weather vane was named after a former town guard, who, as a young boy, had beaten all the rich folk in a shooting contest. They were so impressed with him that the mayor arranged for all his schooling to be paid for by the town. Such an interesting story.

In the next room, I learnt about guilds, which were the oldest unions in Tallinn. They originally united people of the same descent and granted members welfare and support. Over time, guilds evolved and in the mid 14th century crafts formed smaller, sub-guilds and guilds united due to a common trade. As I walked around, I was impressed by the collection of old shoes for some reason. I also learnt about almshouses, which were places that were not only used to isolate the sick, but also to shelter the poor of the town and those that had arrived from the countryside. I headed into the 'Treasury', which was a room filled with lots of portraits, tapestries, and collection of finery. This room reminded me a lot of the Town Hall museum that I had visited the previous year in Wroclaw. I headed upstairs to the room, which had a model of the city in it. I liked feeling like I was getting a bird's eye view over the city. It's a shame the upper floor was under renovation meaning that I couldn't see the exhibits up there, so I headed back to the ground floor. There was a Tallinn through the ages exhibition that how the city and people had changed showing different toys and household things from each decade and from the year ending with 8, i.e. 2008. Then I headed down to the basement, which was filled with all kinds of treasure. There were loads of different kinds of crockery and porcelain on display. The cellar also had a fireplace, its purpose was not to heat the room but to keep the cellar dry as the humid conditions could melt the salt and spoil the grain. All in all, I liked the museum. It was small but gave a good introduction to the city and its past. Opposite the museum, there was a very beautiful looking church, so since I had time, I headed over to take a look inside. St. Nicholas' Orthodox Church was esigned by Luigi Rusca, an architect from St. Petersburg. It was designed in the Classicist style and built in the 1820s. Photography is prohibited in the church, so I couldn't get any pictures of the very grand interior.

I headed over to the meeting place for the free walking tour, I was about 15 minutes early, but the guide was already there. This meant I had time to run and get a coffee. There was a coffee shop located just across the way. I think it just called 'Caffeine', a good name for a coffee shop. I had seen a few of them about, I don't know whether it it a local chain or not. I decided I wanted one of those hot chocolates with a shot of espresso in it. Since I never drink them normally, I couldn't remember the name. The lovely barista understood what I wanted from my crappy description though. It warmed me up nicely before the start of the tour. The tour left from in front of the tourist information centre at midday. There were about 8-10 of us on the tour, which didn't seem like too bad a number considering how cold it was. Our guide took us just across the way to under the sheltered awning of a bookstore, so we could escape the wind as he gave us an introduction to Estonia. All I can really remember is that Skype was invented in Estonia and the language is a bugger to learn.

We crossed the street and our guide explained a little about this area, Harju Street. This area has quite a history and I can't remember all of it, but a lot of the buildings were destroyed during war and occupation. It was interesting to contrast the difference in the buildings. From here, we headed up a backstreet, where we came to the executioner's former residence. The building is now a pub. Our guide was great telling us about the executioner and his duties, the guide mixed the right amount of macabre with corny jokes. The weather was freezing and my toes had gone numb by this point. We couldn't hang around in one place for too long. We kept walking and headed up to the old fortifications. We were now in the Danish King's Garden. We had some good views over the Old Town, although the snow was pretty. It would have been nice to see the place with a bright blue sky. There was a bit of graffetti/street art, which I liked as it made a nice contrast to the traditional style of the Old Town. I had stopped listening to the guide at this point as I wanted to wander and take some pictures. The snow was coming down a bit heavier now and it looked so beautiful. There were also some statues of three faceless monks. They were quite creepy, but at the same time I did rather like them. The guide told us a story about a pissed up tourist getting his head stuck in the arms of one of the monks. That I would have liked to have seen.

We headed through the wall and made our way to Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, which was located just in front of the parliament building. The exterior of the building is beautiful and constructed in the Russian Revival style and was designed by Mikhail Preobrazhensky. We went inside the cathedral to warm up a bit, not that it was much warmer inside, but at least there was no wind. The inside was beautiful, too. I really wished I could have taken some photos of its beauty. From here, we made our way to a viewing platform that gave us some great views over Tallinn. It was pretty but freezing. From the platform, we headed carefully down the steps. I could see myself slipping, but I managed not to. From there, we walked through the Old Town until we reached the Town Hall Square, and that concluded the tour.

The tour had been good, but being outside in the cold, snow and wind had left me freezing. It was definitely time to find somewhere warm for lunch. I already had the place I wanted to go to in mind. Luckily, it was only a one minute walk away from the Town Hall Square. I went to the restaurant that I had seen the day before, Kuldse Notsu K├Árts or in English the Golden Piglet Inn, which was billed as a traditional Estonian country style pub and restaurant. It was pretty quiet when I arrived as there were only a couple of other tables taken. I must have looked frozen as the waiter gave me a table next to fire. Some would probably find the place a little kitschy as the staff were dressed in old school Estonian outfits and there was traditional Estonian music playing, but I rather liked it. There was a lot of choice on the menu and everything sounded delicious. It was really hard to choose just one thing. I changed my mind several times before deciding on the traditional roast pork with sauerkraut and potatoes. The inn had an extensive drinks menu and I opted for a cider because I hadn't had one in ages. It was nice to relax in the warm and enjoy my cider. I was so happy when my food came and dug straight in. The pork was really nice as were the potatoes. I liked the creamy sauce that the dish was in. It felt like the right amount not too little, but the dish wasn't swimming in it. My favourite part of the meal was the sauerkraut. It was just amazing, so good. I can't remember ever being that enamoured with sauerkraut when I lived in Germany, but this stuff was the best. I wished that I'd had a bigger helping of it. Also, it was warm, which I think made it taste even better. The dish also came with a big dollop of homemade mustard, which the waiter had warned me was pretty potent. It definitely had a good kick to it and it was nice on the pork and sauerkraut. I was enjoying my time in the restaurant and watching the snow come down outside made me reluctant to leave, so I opted to stay a bit longer. Time for another drink, this time I had a local beer, which was pretty tasty. There was also still some room in my stomach so I had a look at the dessert menu. When I saw that they had a cheesecake, I went for that. It was made with the local Vana Tallinn liqueur. The cheesecake was nice, but definitely not of the best ones I have had.

Finally, I dragged myself away from the restaurant. It was too cold to be outside for too long, so I went to the Estonian History Museum located in the Great Guild Hall. The entrance fee for the museum was 8 euros, which was a little pricey in my opinion. First, I headed to the temporary exhibition. This was about Estonian women's fashion from the 1920s to the 1940s. I am not really interested in fashion but it was interesting to see how people dressed back then and how much it has changed when comparing it to what we wear now. The main exhibition in the Great Guild Hall is 'Spirit of Survival: 11,000 years of Estonian History'. Estonia has a rich history as the area has been inhabited for around 11,000 years, but was only mentioned on world maps 700 years ago. The name came into being around 2,000 years ago. The exhibition is divided into different sections and covers questions about Estonia's history and people. It was interesting to learn that Estonians are a rather unhappy bunch of people according to the World Happiness Index. That shocked me as most people I had interacted with were generally pretty happy, but a combination of factors, being occupied by different nations of the centuries and the cold, dark Nordic climate, left them unhappy. Another point I found interesting and that I didn't know was that Estonia considers itself a Nordic country. When it was part of the Soviet Union, it was known as a Baltic country as it was lumped together with Latvia and Lithuania and this legacy continues today. However, Estonia has much more in common with its neighbours to the north. Lastly, I headed upstairs to a small room, which was filled with old coins. I had information overload by this point so I only took a quick look at some of the things on display. Then I made my way back to the hostel wandering the lovely lit up streets of the Old Town. I definitely didn't take the quickest route, but the area was so pretty I was quite content to walk about in the cold. Back at the hostel, it was time for a small dinner and to relax.


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