Journal of a June 2006 Cruise

Cruise 2006: The Baltic
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This page last updated: 17th December 2007.
5: Tallinn

Tallinn The next morning we arrive in Tallinn, the capital of Estonia.

It is a lovely morning. As we emerge into the sunshine, we discover an American cruise ship is berthed alongside us. At the end of the long pier we are given some postcards and a map of the city by a girl belonging to the local Tourism office.

We are pleased to be told that one of the shuttle buses has a ramp and so Christine can get her wheelchair on to it. After a bit of a wait for the bus to fill up, it takes us on the ten minute journey into the city, dropping us off near the Hotel Viru.

We set off down the street and soon come to a handicraft market, where there are various stalls. One of them has a selection of Matrushka Dolls. Christine has been fancying one for years. We get a good-sized 10-doll set. These are not traditional Estonian souvenirs as they emanate from Russia, but similar dolls in Russia are at least double the price and those on the ship are even dearer. We only see them for a comparable price in Helsinki.

Other stalls in this handicraft market or Käsitöö as it is called in Estonian, sell hand-knitted sweaters and other clothes, but we are not in need of any.

We cross the busy main street with its lorries, cars and trolley-buses trundling past and head into the modern part of Tallinn. There is some building work going on near what we later discover is the Tallinn post office. These modern glass and concrete structures don't really reveal that inside are shopping centres and offices, so uninvited we don't venture in. We turn round to look at Old Tallinn.

We go past the edge of Tammsaare Park which was established in 1948 on a former bombsite, and used by many Tallinners to go in and out of the Old Town. It was originally called Stalin Square but was renamed in 1978 in memory of the novelist Anton Tammsaare.

The Old Town looks intriguing, but lies uphill and the streets are cobbled. We've been out for about an hour and Christine is ready for returning to the ship.

In the corner is a mobile stand selling sugared almonds. The girls in national costume belong to the Olde Hansa Restaurant. Resisting their charms, we get the shuttle bus back to the ship for lunch.

Later I take the shuttle back into Tallinn on my own. Viru gate is now even busier than earlier. At the corner of Aia and Viru is an interesting mural. The upper part seems to be a map, whilst the bottom part is in two halves, one a scroll of writing whose significance is lost on me and the other looks as if it could be an advert for an ice-cream parlour.

I venture into a jewelers shop, looking for a suitable gift for Christine, it being our wedding anniversary in a weeks time. I look at some amber necklaces and ask the price in Euros. I translate the price into pounds. Thereafter the assistant quotes me prices in sterling. Having settled on a suitable purchase I decide to pay using my credit card. This seems to be the best option since the card is debited in Estonian kroon and my bank does the conversion into sterling later.

Viru, the main street is a strange mixture of ancient and modern. Opposite the mediaeval walls is McDonalds. On the outside the restaurant is not as garishly in-your-face as most branches of the chain. Across the road is a row of cycle-taxis, seemingly driven mostly by students.

Turning off the busy Viru, I find almost deserted, narrow alleyways such as Sauna. The name of the street probably means small farm though it could mean bath-house.

I continue up Viru which is thronged with people. Girls in national costume hand out leaflets about a local restaurant. The Town Hall square is a mass of stalls. I continue up towards the Town Walls and a place called Pikk Jalg which means the long leg street. Here is an archway under the walls and the steep climb to Toompea Castle. I decide not to continue upwards but turn right into Nunne. Suddenly I'm away from all the noise and in a quiet street that leads below the walls. Looking up I can see people looking down from the Kohtu viewing platform.

I rest briefly in a quiet park, Tornideväljak before returning back towards the walls along Suur Kloostri.

I follow the walls past Loewenschade Torn and then pass under them into a courtyard that leads to a street called Aida.

I find myself in Laboratooriumi. It is so quiet. There is nothing modern here at all. Grass grows in cracks under wooden doors. The old colour-washed walls are grimy and woe-begone. I am totally alone and feel in a time-warp. Is this the fifteenth century I'm stood in?

Towering above the end of the street is the spire of St Olav's Church. At just over 400ft it is the tallest of the city's spires. In the 1500s it was the tallest building in the world at that time.

I walk back into the 21st century and pick my way through some offices which I only later learn were once the HQ of the local KGB. I pass a Russian Museum and a tattoo parlour before coming upon the Russian Orthodox Church of St Nicholas.

As I head more towards the centre again, people appear. One woman is walking a deerhound. A student peddling tee-shirts approaches me. He has them priced in kroons, euros and dollars but at €15 I'm not interested.

Almost opposite the church is the Linna Muuseum at 17 Vene. The museum building has been heavily restored, whilst nearby at 23 Vene lies an unrestored Merchant's House.

In Müürivahe, a street below the walls, are some mediaeval houses. Some appear to have been boarded up for centuries.

I've had a good long walk around this fascinating city. Uus and Aia are strange streets that feature a few old buildings but also shops, carparks, apartments and the general small stuff found almost everywhere in the world.

Kanutiaed is one of a number of stretches of tranquil parkland dotted around the edge of town. Here there is a tramp asleep, a couple of giggly schoolgirls, a young mum with her baby in a pram. I sit for a while on a bench and watch the shuttle buses come and go.

Shortly I catch one back to the Port of Tallinn. Here lies an enigma. Dominating the skyline, but not encroaching on the view of the town, is a sculpture of a bear. Notices I saw as we passed by on the bus, seem to indicate that this is the site of an Historical Theme Park, yet I've been unable to find any definitive information about it. From its location, I suspect the building was originally the Tallinn City Concert Hall.

Before returning to the ship I visit a trailer that is parked at the port. It is selling chocolates. Kalev Chocolates started under that name in 1948 but the confectionary business in Tallinn can be traced back to 1806. For €5 I get a 185 gr box which carries an 1830 picture by Joseph Steingrübeli of the Town Hall.

At six in the evening we take a last look at this city of spires and head for Russia.

Photographs Journal page 6