I have been travelling a lot in Eastern and Central Europe which I prefer to Western Europe any day. One of my favourite cities here is Tallinn, Estonia which is still an under-rated destination. Its easy to reach by ferry from Helsinki which is what I did.
Tallinn was under foreign rule for centuries- under the Danes, Swedes, Germans and the Russians. Today, it’s one of the most wired cities- where people do almost everything online...this is the birthplace of the phone service that everyone loves- Skype!
Old Town is a delectable warren of gingerbread houses, terracotta rooftops, cobblestone streets, turrets and spires and a UNESCO World Heritage site today.
There are more than ten Indian restaurants in Tallinn, can you believe that? I saw one called Maharaja, smack dab in the centre of the Town Square, and owned predictably by an enterprising Sardar.
We strolled past Olde Hansa, a medieval themed restaurant, with a lissome lass in period costume outside, inviting customers to sample the wild boar, elk, bear and beer marinated pork.
I visited the Town hall Pharmacy (with its intriguing symbol of a cup with a snake around its stem) which is touted as the ‘oldest, continuously in operation pharmacy’ in Europe (it was already on its third owner in the year 1422). In medieval times the remedies sold here were black cats’ blood, rabbit’s heart and powdered unicorn! I saw the town hall reflected in a bowl here...
My sweet tooth lead me next to the colourful Kalev Marzipan Museum! Tallinn is supposed to be the place where this almond and sugar delicacy was invented. Did you know that Marzipan was at first meant to serve as a medicine?
I walked along Pikk jalg (the long leg), where the colourful guild houses stand in testimony of the powerful merchant and craft guilds that controlled life in Tallinn in the 14th century.
My favourite door here was the extravagant Renaissance style red, green and gold door of the ‘House of Brotherhood of Black Heads’.
The Bogapot is a cozy, family run café, tucked into the ancient city walls at Toompea! It also doubles up as a ceramic studio and displays hand- made pottery.
As I slowly walked uphill to Toompea, munching on roasted almonds (with sugar, herbs and spices added) sold by medieval maidens in carts, the chilly Baltic winds make my fingers numb.
From the Patkuli street viewing platform, we got the fairy tale view of Tallinn that is straight out of a glossy travel brochure.
I walked along the colourful flower market near the old city gates and feasted my eyes on the traditional jumpers, hats and gloves in a riot of styles and colours at the woollen market along the city walls. I saw this gentleman in his peculiar garb on most days!
I drove to Kadriorg, east of the city centre, where Peter the Great who conquered the Baltic’s in the 1700s built an extravagant, baroque summer palace for his wife Catherine. This palace now is the Estonian Museum for Foreign art. There were ornate wooden mansions and a frozen park with a gazebo, fountains, jogging paths and people walking their dogs. I wished I could come back in the summer...
My defining moment was at the Song Festival grounds, looking at the bowl shaped stadium where in September 1988, 300,000 Estonians gathered, many in folk costumes, to sing the Soviet repression away with patriotic songs.
My guide took me to the Freedom Square- the new gathering spot of the people. It’s filled with cafes, benches and lively crowds. The buildings around the square are in a mélange of architectural styles-Art Deco and modern.