Tallinn Capital of Estonia 13 August 2014

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August 13th 2014
Published: August 15th 2014
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Tallinn Capital of Estonia 13 August 2014

We had an excellent 2 hour ferry trip from Helsinki to Tallinn. It cost 144 Euros with Tallink. The ferry had 10 levels but it definitely wasn't full. We thought it was also used for longer, overnight trips. We said our goodbyes to the Nordic countries which we have travelled through for the past 2 1/2 months. Wow, the experiences, the scenery, the people have been wonderful.

We arrived in Tallinn at 6.00pm and drove straight to the Tallinn City Camping which is only available in summer. On the way, we passed through a lot of road works, and find out later that they were renewing all the tram lines throughout the city of 400,000 people.

We had dinner in the motor home as it was about 7.00pm by the time we booked in a settled down to our evening refreshments! There were a lot of motor homes and caravans on the site.

Next morning, after getting advice from the Park Manager, we rode the 2.5kms into see the Medieval Old Town. Excellently preserved, built in the 15-17th centuries, the city's old town has been well preserved and was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1997, it is now in better shape than ever.

After riding along the coastal road we saw the Old Town walls a rode through the Great Coastal Gates and past Fat Margaret's Tower. We locked our bikes up because all the roads in the Old Town were cobble stone so doesn't make bike riding easy!!

We headed for Toompea Hill. According to myth, the hill was built on top of the grave of legendary Estonian king Kalev, but more historically, it's solid limestone and the site of the Danish castle that founded the city in 1219. Toompea was the home of the Danish aristocracy and relations between the toffs and the plebs were often inflamed, which is why it's surrounded by thick walls and there's a gate tower (1380) guarding the entrance. We went there for the viewpoint, which gave us a great view over the city.

There were a number of churches in the Old Town, some of them converted to museums, others are functional churches. One of them was the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, a classic onion-domed 19th-century Russian Orthodox church that has become a touristy symbol of the city, much to the annoyance of nationalist types who regard it as a symbol of oppression. It was almost demolished in 1924 during Estonia's first brief spell of independence, but the Soviets left it to moulder and it has been restored to its former glory.

Next was the St Mary's Cathedral - Toomkirik. This is the oldest church in Tallinn, originally built as a Catholic church in 1229 but renovated and expanded many times since then, becoming a Lutheran church in 1561.

We were really impressed with the City Wall. A section of the City Wall can be climbed from the corner of Suur-Kloostri and Väike-Kloostri, with entry into three towers possible. Quite frankly, the views from up on Toompea are better, but we negotiate our way up the spiral staircases which was steep and narrow and now leads to a cafe.

We then saw the Ex-KGB Headquarters, which is in the central street. Now the Interior Ministry and not open to the public, this is where the KGB detained and tortured suspected dissidents.

We had lunch then visited Freedom Square and Town Hall Square and the Oldest Pharmacy in the world as well as the oldest cafe in Tallinn. The whole Old Town is being used productively. We really enjoyed wandering around the cobbled streets.

On the way back to the camp site, we climbed up the dilapidated Linnahall which was used for the 1980 summer Olympic Games, which gave us a lovely view of the harbour. There were 6 big cruise liners in the harbour, hence the 100s of people in the Old Town.

There were a couple of spots of rain when we got back to the motor home, but the day had been beautifully sunny after a cool start.

It was about 3.30pm by the time we got back and re loaded the bikes. We then got fuel and did some shopping and headed west for Haapsalu which is on the coast. We found the new town of Tallinn, sprawling all around and is largely built in typical concrete Soviet style, now joined with glass-and-steel cubes celebrating the post-Soviet economic boom.

With the road works and the kilometres of suburbia, it took over 45 minutes to get out of the city. We were about 40 kms out of Tallinn when we can across more major road works. It then started raining so there was a lot of mud around for about 5 kms. The rest of the roads were fantastic, with many kilometres of new surface. We stopped about 15 kms out of Haapsalu in a little village for the night. There were plenty of children around, running, cycling and playing soccer. The night was quiet.

A bit of info about Tallinn:

Tallinn lies on the southern coast of the Gulf of Finland, only 70 km south of Helsinki. It is an historic city dating back to the medieval times and it was first recorded on a world map in 1154, although the first fortress was built on Toompea in 1050. In 1219, the city was conquered by Valdemar II of Denmark, but it was soon sold to the Hanseatic League in 1285. The city, known as Reval at the time, prospered as a trading town in the 14th century, and much of Tallinn's historic centre was built at this time.

Tallinn then became a pawn in the geopolitical games of its big neighbours, passing into Swedish hands in 1561 and then to Russia under Peter the Great in 1710. By World War I and the ensuing brief Estonian independence (starting 1918) Tallinn's population had reached 150,000.

Estonia was eventually occupied by the Soviet Union in 1940, only to be conquered by Nazi Germany (1941-44) and then retaken by the Soviets. In World War II, the city was quite extensively bombed by the Soviets, although luckily the medieval town remains. The Soviet Union undertook a program of massive Slavic migration, and just over 40% of Tallinn's current inhabitants are Slavic (compared to an average of 28% for the entire country). On Aug 20, 1991, Estonia declared independence and Tallinn became its capital once again.

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