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Published: September 8th 2014
Friday, 5 September 2014 – Tallinn, Estonia
We woke to a sunrise over Russia inside our Finnair plane, and were thankful that our plane was still in the air. As we came into Helsinki for a transfer to our flight to Tallinn, we were excited that only 30mins separated us from the start of our adventure. Unfortunately the tale from here gets quite frustrating.
Finnair offered great service and the food was very good for airline food, but the planes were old and cramped, and the seats didn’t have much padding to them either. When we landed in Helsinki @ 6.40am, we only had 30 minutes before the gate was closing for our next flight to Tallinn and were horrified to learn that we had to go through Security and Immigration first. Sitting up the back of the plane and getting off last didn’t help either. Within 5mins of exiting the plane, at the first security checkpoint, we could hear them paging our names.
I ran to the transfer desk to tell them we were stuck at the Immigration line and could they please let the gate know that we were on our way, but by the time
we got to the gate at 7.25am for our 7.35am departure, the gate was closed and both the staff and plane were nowhere to be seen. How often do planes leave a bay 10 minutes early?
Anyway, the earliest flight they could put us on was 1.45pm. Then they didn’t give us enough boarding passes, then we asked to be placed on the earlier 11.55am flight which they wouldn’t do because it was full. Then they said it was clearing and could put two of us there, whilst the other two had to take the later flight. Then they said they could fit all four of us on the 11.55am.
The fact that the transfer time wasn’t sufficient, and they didn’t have anyone upon arrival to escort us ahead of the lines, and that we had to go through security and immigration when Helsinki was not our final destination and finally, that the flight left 10 minutes before schedule, is enough to make sure I won’t be flying with Finnair again after this trip. We’ve lost half a day of sightseeing because Finnair can’t organise their transfer times.
We finally arrived at Tallinn airport and were pleasantly surprised how much nicer it is than Helsinki. Unlike Helsinki which is minimalist environment and the same food at every outlet, Tallinn is warm and welcoming with many varieties of food outlets. Of course, Finnair sent Dwayne’s bag to some small town in the middle of Finland so it’s yet another thing to muck around with. My roaming bill is steadily climbing.
The old town of Tallinn is wonderful. Filled with cobblestone streets, medieval walls and the most wonderful little cafes and restaurants around every corner, it is a delight to explore – not to mention cheap! It’s an unusual city in that it has two levels. I think we’ve done nearly 12km of walking. Surprisingly, none of us feel jetlagged or tired so I’m quite amazed that we’ve hit the ground running after 30hrs of travel! Given it is Dad’s birthday, I found a restaurant in the Lonely Planet that catered well to vegetarians and when we walked in, we felt like we were in a grand palace. The place wasn’t spacious in size but the surroundings were opulent, as if the chairs had come right from Versailles. LP was right – vegetarian options abounded and with entrees and dessert being €3.50, and mains being €6, we ate a 4 course meal. The standout dishes were smoked cheese and tomato soup and a chocolate tart that was almost orgasmic. Would highly recommend Von Krahl Aed to anyone that finds themselves here. Sabbath, 6 September - Tallinn
Another expectation of jetlag that proved incorrect. Can’t believe we all slept through the 1st
night and woke around our normal time of 8.30am. 17km of walking today and the town had twice as many people as yesterday due to the weekend. We did a free walking tour at 12pm and couldn’t believe over 100 people showed up! The guide was very good given the impossible size, explaining the “modern history” of Estonia (aka 700 years). It is amazing that a country can be used as a soccer ball for so long and yet retain its own culture and language after all this time. Surprisingly enough though, there is English everywhere. And the supposed fact that Estonia has the most beautiful women in the world seems to be a myth. There are occasional beauties but most are average like everywhere else.
The architecture is more closely aligned with German towns rather than French or British, but it was also different in its own way. There are a plethora of cute cobblestone streets and hidden courtyards with cafes and artisan shops. One courtyard we walked into had a photo of what it looked like a mere 20yrs ago as a Soviet relic and you could barely believe you were standing the same space, now decorated with green vines, flowers, cafes, outdoor tables and chairs and artisan wares. Speaking of flowers they have flower stalls that sell roses for €1 each (or €10 per bouquet) and some of them have glitter on them. They were so pretty.
We also went to find the Tallinna I Adventist Church, which is on the perimeter of the old town. There was a Russian service just finishing up so we didn’t join in and no one was speaking English so we politely left and continued on our way.
We went home to explore our local area, Kalamaja. It’s known for old, multi-family wooden houses that all look the same but have different colours and trimming. There is also a very pretty park in the middle of the houses. After that small exploration we went home for a meal of baked beans on toast and then headed back into town for our night shots and some dessert. We went back to Von Krahli for their chocolate tart but they were solidly booked so we went to a pancake house instead. For €4.50 we were given the biggest plate of pancake you have ever seen, with flavours like ginger/orange, blueberry/cream cheese and peach/cottage cheese/brie. Only Dwayne finished his and the rest of us left ¼ on the plate, making a pact that pancakes are now banned for the rest of the trip! Sunday, 7 September- Tallinn > Gauja NP, Latvia
I got a call from Bankwest Fraud team today asking if my transactions were ok. I was rather annoyed as it’s $3.50p/min to make and receive calls and I’d already told them a month ago I was travelling. Banks are so incompetent.
Went back into the old town and bought our souvenirs from the markets before collecting the car, checking out and starting for Latvia. The drive through Estonia was very pretty with most of the road being escorted by tall pine forests on either side. The roads and signage are excellent. There were a plethora of cars parked on the side of the road and we soon saw that people were foraging for wild mushrooms and coming out with bucket loads of them.
One thing that did surprise us is the complete lack of fences and no animals on the land. We saw 4 goats, 2 fields of sheep and 1 cow – on the whole 2hr journey to the border!
I like Estonia. I’d come back here again.
Within 50m of entering Latvia the roads took a turn for the worse and the trees made way for farming land. I had booked a hotel in the middle of Gauja NP and we turned onto a dirt road hoping for the best. After several kms we came to a river crossing 50m wide with a wooden barge and one man literally pulling the ferry across the river with a car on it. He arrived at our bank, we paid our toll and drove onto his ferry. Again, he pulled us across the river using nothing but his brute strength. There was a queue forming on the other side and once we drove off he loaded 2 cars onto it and started back across. He works 12hrs a day for about €3.50 per car – not an easy job.
We eventually arrived in Ligatne and breathed a sigh of relief when we saw our hotel (as we know from experience that GPS maps are not 100%!r(MISSING)eliable). We pulled up and found the entire thing locked and dark with not a person in sight. Hello international roaming – again! Luckily a lady answered the phone, knew who we were and came up to let us in. She said we were the only ones booked for the night so here I sit typing the journal, with an entire hotel at our disposal. We are the masters of the house. Tomorrow the lady returns to cook us the €2.85 breakfast. We’ve made jokes that if people turn up looking for a room tonight, we’ll charge them cash and tell them they have to be gone by 7!
There was only one place open for dinner in this tiny town in the middle of nowhere, but they did a wonderful Chanterelles dish (mushrooms) and a veggie cheese chop, which was squares of cheese battered with seeds and deep fried (like deep fried camembert). It was surprising to find yummy veggie fare in such a remote location.
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