I freaking loved Estonia. I say it like that to convey just how much I enjoyed visiting this country. It’s hard to transfer emotion to written word, but I’ll try my best: I freaking LOVED Estonia. The country officially gained independence from the (then) Soviet Union in 1991, as part of the ‘Singing Revolution’, and it’s as if the citizens are so grateful that they just exude happiness and gratitude. The architecture, the people, the vibe; it was basically myself, personified into a country. I love history, and from the moment we walked up to the gates of the capital city Tallinn, I felt transported back to the 15th century, a time of knights, kings and queens, castles, and all-around medieval shenanigans.
The location where passengers disembarked from the cruise ship is a little ways from the city entrance, but you can see the “skyline” from the dock. I could tell right away that this would be a very cool place. After making our way through a small group of vendors selling collectibles, knick-knacks, and very expensive hats made out of real furs, we began our journey into a different time period. I’m sure this was not the only entrance into the heart of Tallinn, but it was the entrance we took, and it was surreal to say the least. It was like walking through a portal back into the Dark Ages, minus The Black Death and overall suffering and despair.
Right away, a major thing I noticed (which has stuck with me all these years because of how bizarre it was to me) was the lack of cars driving down the streets. I’m still not sure if cars were prohibited from driving down certain streets during certain hours of the day, or if we just happened to visit at a time when there weren’t any cars driving. Sadly, I’ll probably never know. There were plenty of parked cars on the side of the road, but I never saw any driving once we entered the mystical gate portal. We had to cross a main road to get to the entrance of the “portal”, and that street had vehicles with real humans inside of them driving, but that was it. I was, and still am, very perplexed.
The streets of Tallinn are all cobblestone, and the buildings all made of stone rise up high to surround you from every direction. It’s not foreboding or claustrophobic, but almost embracing. I’m aware that I could be a tad biased because of personal affection for this place, but this is how I felt while walking down the streets. We entered a tourist shop not too far from the entrance, and that’s where we encountered our first Estonian. Polite is an understatement.
After leaving the shop, we continued our way down this car-less, cobblestone, 14th century mindfuck, and came upon a giant square in the middle of town. Here was a castle of some sort (or maybe a church, we never found out), not too big, but noticeable, and you were allowed to walk up the winding steps to the very top of the tower and look out to see all of Tallinn. We spent a good 15 minutes up there, just taking in the sights and snapping pictures. I’m not sure if we got lucky, but we were uninterrupted the entire time we were up there and were able to actually enjoy the view. I guess I can just chalk that up to being part of the mysteries of this place.
After leaving the tower, we continued our journey through Tallinn. My stepdad, a retired California sheriff’s deputy, loves to visit police departments in every country he goes to (this turned out to benefit us very well in Alesund, Norway), so off we went to the Estonia travel building to find the location of the police station. Much to our surprise, we were informed that Tallinn does not have a police department. Their crime rate is THAT low (still one of the biggest “Wtf?” moments of my life while traveling). We asked the woman, “But what do you do when you need a police officer?” and she said they will just call in officers from neighboring areas. This was in 2010, so it’s possible that has changed, but that’s how things were then. Greg was disappointed and we were all shocked, but what can ya do?
We next entered a more congested area of the city, with more restaurants and shops, and stumbled across ‘Keskaegsete piinariistade näitus,’ aka The Museum of Medieval Torture Instruments. I understand there are people who think a museum like that is “weird” or “bizarre”, and they’re entitled to their opinion, but I think places like this are an interesting and unique form of history. The museum is small, a single room with various torture instruments displayed throughout. They had the infamous Iron Maiden, The Rack, and various other ‘if you see, you know it’ type of torture instruments. I’ve read reviews from people who didn’t like the museum, but I found it to be interesting, albeit macabre. The museum costs 8 euros ($9.85 USD), which some think is too expensive, but I disagree.
We continued our odyssey through the city, and once again found ourselves at a McDonalds. I hate, hate, HATE being “those Americans” who eat McDonalds while traveling abroad, but when you only have a few hours to visit a city that should take you at least a week, wasting time at expensive, sit-down restaurants where you can’t read the menu isn’t a logical option. Still, even the McDonalds was located in a building that looked like it was straight out of a fairy tale.
As we walked through the streets of Tallinn on our way back to the ship, we happened upon St. Catherine’s Dominican Monastery (built in the early 1200’s; why there was a need for a Dominican monastery in Estonia back then, your guess is as good as mine). I had never been to a monastery, so of course we had to stop and look. It was free to enter, and I don’t recall anyone else there but us. Regrettably, we were on a time crunch at this point and didn’t have time to properly explore the monastery. Apparently, it’s a lot bigger than the small section we were able to see.
If I had to sum up Estonia in one word, it would be: wonderful. This country is not well known, few Americans make travel plans to visit it, and many have never even heard of it. When I tell people I’ve been to Estonia, it’s a 50/50 chance they’ll answer me back with “Where?” It disappoints me a little bit that people are so uniformed about this country, because Estonians have been through quite a bit to gain their independence. We learned all about it after watching a video in their history museum (look up the ‘Singing Revolution’). If you ever get the chance to visit Estonia, please don’t pass it up, because I promise you it won’t let you down.