Christmas in Tallinn – Part One

Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, is only a short ferry ride from Finland’s Helsinki. It’s even doable in a day trip, so Liisa and I had talked about heading over — but something had always gotten in the way. Finally, this winter, the time seemed right — had a few days before New Year’s, and they would still be celebrating Russian Christmas in Tallinn! The idea of seeing the famous Christmas markets and lights all over the city was too good to resist.

Christmas lights in Old Town Tallinn!

Originally, we planned to take the ferry in, and fly back home… but the ferries are uncertain in winter weather, and we got cheap and fast flights in and out of Turku instead. We looked around for a place to stay, and considered a fancy-pants but reasonably priced spa hotel — and then we got lucky. One of Liisa’s childhood friends lived in Tallinn, so Liisa asked her if she would be around. It turns out she was on — and in Florida, of all places! But she said we could stay at her apartment. So we had a perfect situation — and her place was really cute and near the old town!

When we arrived the first night, we went out and bought a few breakfast and snack groceries. Then we tried to walk somewhere nice for dinner. I was still adjusting to Nordic winters and it seemed like we were out very late, because it had already been dark for hours — since before we arrived at the airport. Then we managed to get quite lost, walking in the opposite direction of the old town.

Still, we found a very cool looking bar. We went in, wondering if they had any real food — and in fact they had quite a nice menu. Although I’d only been gone from the States a few days, I was desperate for the curry when I saw they had several kinds. Liisa and I both ordered Indian food and it was actually fantastic — far better than any of the Indian food I’d eaten in Spain, Germany, Eastern Europe, etc. It was not as creamy as British curry, but that was even a good thing in my opinion. It was quite similar to what I can get back home. We both enjoyed it a lot. Afterwards we walked all the way back home, the way we’d come, and went to sleep.

Café VS, which we later discovered is one of the trendiest places in Tallinn, known for its Indian food as well as the submarine-style decorations.

In the morning, we took a look at the map and saw what we had done wrong the night before. We headed straight for old town, which was, after all, only a block away — and we passed the Café VS! The night before, we had consoled ourselves that although we got very lost, we had found this great secret restaurant for our — but now we realized it was easy to find and in the middle of everything!

We continued into the old town as a very late dawn broke. Throughout the short daylight hours, there was still a blue tone to the light because of the cloudy weather and the low sun. But it gave the city an interesting, mysterious atmosphere!

Tallinn is on the UNESCO World Heritage list as a well preserved example of a Northern European trading town.

We wandered up and down the streets, marveling at the architecture which was completely new for me, and the flat, pastel colors everything was painted in. We visited the St. Nicholas church and museum, a huge building with some famous art inside — including a great example of Danse Macabre, the dance of death. The acoustics were good and there was actually a concert going on while we were there.

Danse Macabre was a common painting theme in medieval times, and shows people from all walks of life — from bishops to beggars — dancing away with skeletons. The message is that no one is immune from death when it comes to take you by the hand.

Then we went back into the winding streets and alleyways, ducking into various shops and galleries, and even a small toy shop and museum.

We didn’t want to admit it, but we were getting pretty cold. So when we reached the 800 year old city walls, we were interested in the sign offering hot wine in the cafe above.

I loved being able to understand some Estonian, like most of this here (Torn is tower, very similar to Finnish Torni). But why is the cafe called Dannebrog? That’s the name of the Danish flag!

Actually we didn’t get the hot wine, because it was a little bit overpriced. But it was so interesting just to walk through the narrow, winding stairways leading up to the cafe. I realized I had never been to a castle in the winter before Dannebrog always in summer when wearing a bright colored T-shirt and sweating. So this was a different experience, and a more authentic one, I think. The fires were lit in the fireplaces and the tower smelled like wood-smoke, and I could see my breath in the drafty air. I felt like I’d walked into a fantasy movie!

We kept walking to the famous Alexander Nevsky Cathedral — one of the only orthodox churches I have seen, and it is beautiful.

Nearby was a very interesting public toilet, and some young Russian tourists with cool outfits.

Then we walked down below Toompea hill and saw children playing soccer beneath the government buildings.

In the park we found a bunch of trees with leaves taped to them — very strange!

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