I have discovered a thousand reasons to be fascinated by Estonia – from the cobbled streets of the Old Town, dating back to the 1500s, to a touch of Venice with blow-glass expertise, to teenagers driving rickshaws, but what piqued my curiosity in the first place is their president bragging about the fact that theirs is the most "wired" country, the government uses internet for pretty much everything, and the fact that this is where SKYPE was conceived.
While we were in Finland, my sister and I couldn’t resist the urge to take a trip to yet another new European country. It would also be our first cruise ship experience - just a two hour ferry ride across the Baltic Sea, we were excited to discover another old town and so we took a little day trip to…Tallinn, Estonia’s wired capital!
It was love at first sight.
We took the Tallink Silja Line which has a very flexible and convenient schedule. The journey takes about 2 hours one way and there is food, free wifi and a duty free shop on board. We traveled in the Star Class on the way over, and then returned late in the evening in the Comfort Class. The nice thing about the Comfort Class is that you can go into a separate lounge, watch some television, and munch on some snacks which are included in the ticket price. It cost us 64 Euros for a return trip to Helsinki. This is me in the dining hall/lounge in the star class. Since this was my first experience on a cruise, I was really happy.
When we got down from the cruise, we had a dash of home sickness seeing the local boys with the rickshaws. They asked for an exorbitant 10 euros for a ride to the Old City – so we decided to find our way through, or get lost, as it is more adventurous. :) We did get lost a bit, but that's because I am bad with directions. But who cares for all that while traveling - everything is a new experience - getting lost is discovering a new path!
Eventually we reached the Tallinn Old Town and felt transported to an age old era. As soon as we entered, we were welcomed by the flower market – something that I had been prepared for since I had read about them on the internet. But to see the lovely splash of colors in reality is a different feeling altogether. This was accompanied by horses' hooves clattering over the cobblestones; young Estonians dressed up as knaves and ladies of the castle advertising the traditional restaurants, and vendors selling traditional herbs. Everything had a touch of the medieval.
I had made a list of all the places I want to visit and I started ticking them off one by one. First came St. Catherine’s Passage, which is one of the prettiest little walkways in all of Old Town. On the northern portion of the passage you can find what's left of St. Catherine’s Church (hence the passage name) and various large, ancient tombstones that used to line the inside of the sanctuary. On the southern portion of the passage, you’ll find numerous artisan workshops, where you’ll even get to see them hard at work creating new items for you to buy. As we stepped out of the lane, we were in the local wool market which strangely reminded me of Ludhiana. On further research, I found out that these products are very unique to the local style and their weather – nothing for a girl from the hot continent. Sigh.
We proceeded to walk towards Toompea Hill and visited the famous Alexander Nevsky Cathedral at the hill. Around the corner from the cathedral we could see the town's ancient wall from where we had a wonderful view of Tallinn, including the former KGB HQ. We spent some time admiring the view and walked down Raekoja plats, that has a lot of their city walls still standing up and in a good condition. For 3 euros you can go up in one of the towers and walk a little bit over the city wall: around 200 meters! So maybe it's a little bit expensive. But it’s worth it because where else is this possible? J It is also a great place to buy some local art at reasonable prices and you can even watch the artists at work. This makes the best souvenirs as many are painting scenes of Old Town.
On our way back, we had to use the rickshaw service after all because we did not want to miss our return cruise to Helsinki. We got a chance to speak to the local boys about their dreams and aspirations and why they were pulling rickshaws instead of going to school. Turns out that like most other kids they want to relocate to another European country for a better life. The grass is always greener!
Needless to say mere words are not enough to describe what I saw and felt. Here’s a video from the internet. Enjoy!!: