Arriving in Tallinn after the calm, safe, tranquillity of Scandinavia is like the start of a fireworks display on a previously quiet night.
Suddenly there’s life all around, cars coming from every direction, people, heat, trams, buses, sirens, horns, screaming motorbikes, the old fashioned bells of trolley buses.
Driving ArchieVan becomes demanding for the first time after a couple of months of gently rolling through the Nordic countryside. In Finland and Sweden there are rumble strips down the centre and sides of most roads to help keep drivers awake – there’s no need for them here.
All that Scandinavian respect for fellow man has disappeared in a short ferry ride and been replaced by an urgent demand to get there, anywhere, so long as it’s somewhere, and fast.
For a change and a treat we’ve rented a flat on the edge of the old town. It turns out to be on Narva Mnt, a very busy road, the equivalent to London’s Tottenham Court Road, and it’s bloody noisy! Other than that though the flat is great, it’s a good size studio and thankfully the windows are north facing. Tallinn, like most of Europe, is hot, and the flats facing the sun must be unliveable.
There’s a washing machine – so everything gets a refresh. And it’s so hot even thicker things dry in minutes.
Tallinn Old Town.
The old town is everything we’d hoped it would be.
Glorious gothic buildings, still following the 13thcentury city plan. UNESCO protected, and so it should be. Restaurants all around. Great beer at great prices. OK, so it exploits its heritage, but why wouldn’t you?
And then the people… there are far more women than men, and they are so beautifully stylish. Even the (hordes of) tourists seem better turned out here.
Norway is one of the world’s richest countries.
You wouldn’t know it. Beyond its wonderful public facilities there are few outward shows of wealth.
But it’s a hellofalot better off than it was under the Soviet regime and it’s keen to show what it’s worth.
Cars are big, shiny and fast.
Buildings are going up all over, and every corner in the centre seems to have yet another flashy shopping centre attracting expensive brands.
Clothes are beautiful, expensive, elegant.
Ha! As I typed that I looked out of the window to see two of the new rather vulgar Bentley SUVs go by – and one of them was bright yellow.
Truly independent for but the blink of an eye.
It’s hard to imagine that this country only escaped communism in the early 90s. It thankfully escaped the bloody end of communism suffered in other states as the commander of the Russian troops refused to turn his guns onto the public. That soldier, Dzhokhar Dudayev, went on to become the Chechen president, but was later killed by the Russia military.
As we drive I find it hard to conceive the level of change this place has seen in the last 20 odd years. From everything being state run, and badly run, to a free market economy. From shortages of even the most basic stuff of life to the beautiful supermarket across the road from us that’s like a mini Harrods food hall. I considered the use of beautiful there, an odd term for a supermarket – but it is correct. The colours and smells of the fantastic foods on offer were a delight to the senses.
The port area has become the Shoreditch of Tallinn.
Crumbling factories and tumbledown large wooden buildings are being reimagined as cool bars, homes and hangouts for the young and wealthy.
Seeing a teenager drive from a modern apartment block in a frighteningly expensive Mercedes brings home the new generations’ extreme fortune compared to that of their parents.
A former prison, Patarei, is currently closed, awaiting its next reincarnation as an underground arts venue or some such, but the grim walls tell tales that nightmares are made of. French Jews were deported here, Soviet prisoners suffered here, the horrors are beyond our imagination.
Nearby we were surprised to be free to climb aboard and around several of Estonia’s first naval vessels at the Seaplane Harbour Museum before fantastic savoury pastries at a little café to build our strength.
Dinner. And what a dinner. Real food, served well in a cellar bar.
Broad beans and ham – delicious. Strong flavours. Gorgeous black bread that’s more Soreen than Warburtons.
Salmon soup. Chicken in mustard with cèpes and champ mash.
Two strong beers – a farm ale that tasted more of fruit than beer.
All for a fraction of the Scani prices we’ve become used to. Suddenly we feel rich too!
In a country where the highest hill is only 115m a 314m tower stands out!
The Teletorn was completed as a TV tower and part of the 1980 Moscow Olympics (Tallinn hosted the sailing events for the games).
Its significance is demonstrated by the events of August 1991 when the Estonian Supreme Council bravely declared independence from the USSR. Soviet troops tried to storm the tower, but locals flocked to defend it and armed Estonian’s holed up there.
Today is has been restored, but it still looks like a dodgy Soviet concrete structure on the outside.
The 21stand 22ndfloors are the viewing platform and restaurant and it’s a great experience. Probably the most frightening things about it are the glass covered holes in the floor from which it’s an uninterrupted drop 170m to the ground.
From above you can see lots more of that new money. The tower is north east of the city, near the lovely Pirita Beach, and surrounded by gentle woodland. The best houses in town are around here and there’s no limit to the architects’ imagination.
Leaving the city.
Capital cities are easy.
While they’re busy, they’re also multi-cultural, multi-lingual, transport is comprehensive, everything you need is there.
Next up we need to head out to see the real Estonia, and we’ll start by heading north east.