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8:02pm on Thursday, 16th July, 2015:

Tallinn Vignette


Today, the Costa Luminosa ("diamond of light" — it has to be the darkest ship I've ever been on) docked in Tallinn, Estonia. I was here only last year, so still remembered a lot of the layout of the Old Town. This time it was July rather than April, which meant it was ten degrees warmer (17C instead of 7C).

I had more time to look around on this occasion, which is good as I really like Tallinn. It's similar to Visby, which I also really like (both are former Hanseatic League cities) (Tallinn was called Ravel at the time), but there are important differences: Tallinn is a living city, so the centre isn't pedestrianised (unlike Visby) and it doesn't look as if someone put a dustcloth over it 300 years ago and only recently removed it (unlike Visby); it has a day's worth of sights to see in it (unlike Visby); our cruise ship stopped at it (unlike Visby).

Estonia is go-getting and full of potential. It's how Russia ought to be, but Estonia is well-governed and has low levels of corruption. Russia, on the other hand...

OK, so you want to see some pictures.

Some cities have a common practice going on that make them memorable. Salzburg, for example, has individual, tasteful metal signs outside all its shops and businesses in the centre, whereas Dubrovnik has lanterns. Tallinn has these woollen women dotted around:

The woollen woman is on the left. Here are some more:

I like the fourth-from-last best, she's so friendly.

This is the restaurant where I ATE BEAR last year:

My wife wouldn't go there as she only wanted a snack for lunch. This means I remain the only person in our family who has EATEN BEAR. RAWWWR!

This gargoyle is on the side of the Town Hall:

It looks a bit too mechanical to be a dragon, to be honest. It's not going to scare away any demons.

Here's the St Nicholas church, which has the usual too-high-for-one-photo tower:

Here it is from further away, where you can see the tower but not the rest of the church:

Annoyingly, the church authorities don't let people go up the tower. That's bad form: I shall be writing to St Nicholas to complain when I get back to the UK.

This is a tree from the 1600s, which is important to the people of Estonia as a person important to the people of Estonia is buried under it:

It's half the height it was in 2003, but wider in girth. It's full of bricks and cement to hold it together, which may explain the wider girth thing.

There are flowers growing from the city walls:

This is probably causing the walls damage, but they're several metres thick at this point so I don't suppose they're in immediate danger of collapse.

The Old Town in Tallinn is divided into a Lower Town and an Upper Town (called Toompea). There are two roads connecting them: Lühike Jalg and Pikk Jalg. Here's a shaky photo showing the English translation of the former:

So, they're called Short Leg and Long Leg. Who knew that Tallinn named streets after fielding positions in cricket?

This is the Russian cathedral, St Alexander Nevsky, which was constructed in the Upper Town when the Russians ruled Estonia:

There's a better view if you come at it from the right direction but we didn't come at it from the right direction. No problem, though, because I remembered there was a good view from the other side of the cathedral:

Drat. I think these places use green netting as some kind of incentive: "For every euro you donate, we'll remove one square of green netting".

No pictures from inside the cathedral because Estonia has a rule that if the inside of a building is worth photographing, you're not allowed to take photographs there.

This pink house is Toompea Castle:

It looks as if you ought to be able to go into it but you can't. Well, maybe you can but we couldn't see an open entrance. There's a parliament shop nearby it, so it might be something to do with the government. I think this idea of a parliamentary shop would transfer well to Russia, because then you'd have a convenient place to go if you wanted to buys some votes.

This little yellow house used to be a school:

I know this because I pay attention when I hear nearby tour guides speaking English.

There are some spectacular views from the Upper Town:

That one would be even better if someone hadn't parked a Costa cruise ship right behind that imposing church.

Talking of churches, there's one in the Upper Town (known as the domed church) that does let you up its tower (for a fee). The views from here are amazing! Here's the Russian cathedral from it:

You can almost not see the green netting.

You're not allowed to take photos inside the church, which is a shame as it was full of coats of arms you don't normally see in churches. I did manage to sneak one, though:

Unfortunately, it's not actually of anything particularly special.

Here's another nice view from the Upper Town's walls:

You can see the towers of the Lower Town's walls.

This isn't a woollen woman:

Some people just don't want to play the game.

This mean-looking avian brute hoped to stop me from taking photos:

I paid no attention: he'd never be able to get at me from behind those iron bars.

This is a nice sign, even if it is completely out of keeping with all the other signs we saw on our travels:

Oh, and congratulations: you now know the Estonian word for "souvenir". Or maybe "souvenirs".

Here's the Lower Town from a spot in the Upper Town:

Here's that spot in the Upper Town from the Lower Town:

Oh, while I remember, see that tower on the left? This star is on it:

As for why, I'm sure there must be a reason.

Here are a couple of towers. The nearer one is the Maiden Tower:

I don't know what the name of the further one transates into, but I don't care because in Estonian it's Kiek in de Kök.

This is a touristy photo of a regular Tallinn picturesque street:

If you like this kind of thing, I can thoroughly recommend your visiting Tallinn (assuming you haven't already).

Tallinn claims to have the oldest continually-running pharmacy in the world. Because my younger daughter is training to be a pharmacist, naturally we went inside:

From left to right: stallion hooves; dried deer penises; scorched hedgehog. I bet the doctors enjoyed writing those prescriptions...

For some reason, I am suddenly reminded that the captain of the Costa Luminosa is called Massimo Pennisi.

This stuffed crocodile hanging from the pharmacy ceiling was supposed to deter thieves in medieval times.

If I were a thief, that's the first thing I'd have wanted to steal.

This game was on the pharmacy floor:

Some people are just no good at game design.

Here's the town square:

It didn't have that market in it when I was here last year, otherwise I'd have striven to avoid it. As it was, my wife and daughter saw the stalls and as a result I'm €40 poorer.

This troll was guarding the café where we had lunch:

I think it was modelled on one of my younger daughter's friends from when she was at school.

This woman really does no want to be advertising hot chocolate:

There's a street with paving stones bearing brass-lettered records of events in Estonia's past — and future!

I hope that by 2418, the Republic of Estonia will have learned how to use apostrophes.

Another quaint (and this time wide) Tallinn street:

As usual, I have taken the precaution of editing out the swarming hordes of tourists and the lines of parked cars, to prevent diluting said quaintness.

Amazingly, I am not yet so unfit that I couldn't climb 256 steps up another church tower (the one from earlier that had the cruise ship behind it):

The hill at the back is Toompea, the Upper Town. The church in the middle of the skyline is the Dome Church, which is the one we climbed up the tower of earlier.

This is the old harbour gate, which would have looked so much better if its small museum hadn't put those blue flags out:

As the harbour is now a good 500 metres away, I guess a little silting-up may have occurred since Tallinn's heyday.

This is a random backstreet, just to show you that not all of the Old Town of Tallinn is photogenic:

It's not run down or a mess or anything, it's just not particularly pretty.

Tallinn is 90 minutes from Helsinki by hydrofoil across the Gulf of Finland, and many Finns like to come over at weekends because they believe the nightlife is better than at home. I can't imagine what might have given them that impression:

Here's a close-up of the central image there:

If the Starks had gone with that minor modification to their coat of arms, they could have doubled the number of soldiers fighting for them.

Here's another random street in the Lower Town:

I thought I'd show you this as I liked the faces half way up that building there:

Those are guaranteed to pull in the punters.

I love these houses behind houses behind houses behind houses, rising up to Toompea:

These are the scenes of which Fantasy book covers are made.

I saw these in a shop window:

"So I want a pig, a sitting-down pig, right, with — with wings! And it's, it's — it's praying! And a cow! Give me a cow doing the same thing! Yeah! They'll sell like hot cakes!"

This mannequin head has a beard like no man ever had a beard ever:

If you want realism, add eyelashes before you add beard.

This cardboard cut-out stands outside a fur shop:

If she put some more clothes on, she wouldn't need the furs.

Here's one last view of Tallinn, from the sea as we left the harbour:

Whoever decided that putting a chimney stack there was a good idea: it wasn't.

Finally, although my wife and daughter frittered away most of our euros on useless items such as jewellery and more jewellery, I myself managed to buy something of actual practical use:

It's a 6-sided die made of amber. I chose this particular one because when you hold it up to the light:

those dead bugs (or whatever that gunge it has in it is) look like a map of the British Isles.

Tallinn was a big hit not only with us, but with the other 5 British tourists aboard the Costa Luminosa. They much preferred it to Helsinki. I think it must be a new stop on Costa's itinerary as they gave us a questionnaire to fill in about it, saying how much we liked different attractions and how much we spent on what. It was such a badly-designed form, however, that I don't believe they're going to get a great deal of useful information out of it. Costa is good at a lot of things, but customer interaction is not one of them...

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Copyright © 2015 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).