I freaking loved Estonia.
Out of the 9 countries we visited, I’d rank Estonia as number 2 (Norway is number 1 😍). 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 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 location where passengers disembarked from the ship is a little way 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 because it looked medieval right off the bat. 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. It was like entering a portal back into the Dark Ages (minus the Black Death and all that), and it was surreal to say the least. Places like this make me itch to return with my improved photography skills! I’m sure this was not the only entrance into the heart of Tallinn, but it was the entrance we took.
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 cobblestone streets. I’m still not sure if cars were prohibited from driving down these particular streets during certain hours of the day, or if we just happened to visit at a time when there weren’t any cars driving… 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’ll probably never know and it’s just one of those life mysteries that you take along with you. 🤷🏻♀️
As mentioned above, the streets of historic Tallinn are all cobblestone, and the buildings all made of stone rise high to surround you from every direction. It’s not foreboding or claustrophobic, but almost embracing. It truly is like stepping into the set of the t.v. show Once Upon A Time (terrific show, btw) or Diagon Alley from Harry Potter.
After visiting a tourist shop, we continued our way down the car-less, cobblestone, 14th century fairytale street, coming upon a giant square in the middle of town. In the middle of the square was an impressive building that could cosplay as either a church or a castle, which turned out to be the Tallinn Town Hall. Very awesomely you could walk up the winding steps to the very tip-top of the tower. Here you were offered an incredible look at 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. Perhaps not too many people are keen on climbing a centuries old, winding staircase with worn down, rickety stone steps.
After leaving the tower, we continued our journey through historic 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 “whaa whaaat?” moments of my travel experiences). 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 apparently 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. Some may find these places “weird” or “odd”, but I think places like this are an interesting and unique form of history, and I appreciate their existence.
Located at Viru tänav 1, Kesklinna linnaosa, Tallinn, its open daily from 10am to 7pm. It costs 8 euros ($9.85 USD) for adults and 6 euros for pensioners, university students, and school students. Now, there are a handful of complaints among the interwebz that the museum is too small and/or “not worth it”. I have to admit, the museum is rather small, comprising of a single room with various torture instruments displayed throughout. However, there were still so many different torture devices to learn about, and I believe that getting the opportunity to see these medieval instruments up close and personal was more than worth it. I am a bit of a history buff, so perhaps someone who isn’t may feel differently.
They had numerous torture devices including the infamous Iron Maiden, The Rack, impalement devices, something horrific called the Bock or Witches Billy Goat, the Street Sweepers Daughter aka the Stork, a chair of spikes aka The Iron Chair, and various other ‘if you see, you know it’ type of torture instruments. Again, I’ve read reviews from people who didn’t like the museum, or felt like it “wasn’t worth it” due to it’s size, but I found it to be interesting, albeit macabre.
We continued our odyssey through the city, and once again found ourselves at a McDonalds. I hateee being “those Americans” while traveling abroad, but when you only have a few hours to visit a city that should take you at least a week, spending time at expensive, sit-down restaurants where you can’t read the menu isn’t a logical option. Also, McDonalds is pretty much the same in every country, so it’s always a safe, quick bet. Amazingly, 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 (1246); 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.
Located at Müürivahe Tänav 33, 10140 Tallinn, Estonia, it sits on a street known as Catherine’s Alley (formerly Monk’s Alley), where “the southern side of the alley is lined with predominantly 15th-17th century residences”. You can find more information about that at https://www.visitestonia.com/en/st-catherines-passage). It was especially awesome to visit because this monastery is one of the two intact and still-standing medieval monastery complexes in Tallinn, as well as one of the oldest buildings, period, in all of Tallinn. Lastly, the monastery was known for being a major producer of.. wait for it…. beer. According to Wiki, “The monastery also had a brewery, producing four types of beer”. I find this particularly interesting, showcasing how closely religion and drinking has been tied together throughout the centuries.
If I had to sum up Tallinn, Estonia in one word, it would be: wonderful. This country is not well known in the States, 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.