The weather gods finally caught up with us today and dropped a lot of rain down on Tallinn…but we are intrepid travelers and stubbornly did a walking tour of the Medieval Old Town anyway. We got off to a late start, sleeping in until 11am…the ferry ride wasn’t the most restful of sleeps. We made breakfast for lunch and finally emerged from the flat around 1pm to stomp around in the rain.
The entire Old Town of Tallinn is a UNESCO World Heritage site that dates back to the 13th century, when a castle was built there by the crusading knights of the Teutonic Order. The buildings have survived to a remarkable degree despite the fire and war in the last centuries. It’s exceptionally well preserved, and is packed full of churches, cobblestone roads, twisting staircases and back alleys.
We started by exploring Toompea, the upper part of the Old Town where all the rich people lived and looked down on all the peons below. The original castle was built here, and the finest of the three surviving towers is called Pikk Hermann. It was built in 1371, however in the 18th century, Catherine the Great slapped a huge pink building on the side of it. Now the Estonia parliament holds session in their own Barbie dream house.
Just across the street is the onion-domed Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, a Russian Orthodox church.
It was beautiful inside; light blue ceilings with hand-painted stars (something that is definitely happening somewhere in the house when we get back to Nashville.) You aren’t allowed to take pictures inside, so here is one I stole from wikipedia.
Moving on, we wound our way through the streets until we found a lookout over Lower Town. This is when it really started pissing it down with rain, which sent the crowds away rather quickly…except us, because we are stubborn and cunningly remembered our waterproofs.
We gutted it out for about 15 more minutes, then finally scrambled into the first open doorway we saw. After we had wiped the fog from our glasses, we realized we were in rather upscale Greek restaurant build in a cellar. The hostess watched us drip in the foyer for a minute before she led us to a table next to the fireplace, which, to our disappointment, was not lit. Sitting in wet jeans is not a pleasant feeling, no matter how much feta cheese and olives you stuff into yourself. Just as we finished our beers, the rain appeared to taper off, so we went back outside to hopefully dry our jeans off during the rest of the walk.
There are tons of churches packed into the Old Town, each of their spires are unique and they compete to dominate the skyline. St. Olaf wins in most cases, it’s the tall white spire in the skyline pictures. It was once the tallest building in the world from 1549-1625, and it stands at 159 meters (521.7 feet). While gazing up at St. Olaf’s tower, we realized their were people standing outside at the bottom of the spire. Always up for a good panorama shot, we paid our 2 Euros and bought a couple of tower tickets. We were shown through a small portal and huffed and puffed our way up 258 steps, 236 of those were in a very small tower, in spiral fashion, with some ropes to hang on to. These ropes became particularly handy when a group of people would come down the stairs while you were going up; both parties have to cling desperately to these ropes as you played a very tight version of chicken. If you won, you got to flatten yourself against the curved wall on the fat part of the step and force the other group to cling onto the center column of the stone staircase and tip-toe down the tiny part of the step (none of which were uniform in height). We won about 50% of the time. When you reached the top, you were treated to a wooden platform, about 12″ wide, that hugged the church tower. There was a railing…but not a substantial one…it was a lot like walking on a ledge, the corners were a bit tricky.
Ever had that feeling, when you are really high up or are in some kind of peril, when your private parts alert you to the danger by tingling in a non-fun way? It’s like they are saying “You are the furthest away from procreating as you can possibly get…we don’t like it, and neither should you.” Well, it was a tingly trip around the spire, but we scootched our way around it once and got some pictures.
Climbing down was as hair-raising as going up, you gain quite a bit of speed on the decline and we tumbled out into the lobby fairly abruptly. We exited in a hurry and found that the rain had started up again; we didn’t really notice it at the top of the tower as we were focused a little more on the peril. At that point, we just admitted defeat and slogged on through the rain. The waterproofs were wet on the inside (go figure) and we were already damp so we just kept on going.
Pikk (long) street holds a collection of cool buildings, including Hell Hunt and the former KGB HQ. According to my guidebook, the basement’s windows were bricked up to prevent the sounds from being heard by people passing on the street. As small memorial on the wall translates as
This building housed the headquarters of the organ of repression of the Soviet occupational power. Here began the road to suffering for thousands of Estonians.
The building has now been refurbished and is being sold as luxury apartments. I am not sure how I would feel about that address…and I certainly wouldn’t go down to the basement to do the laundry.
It was getting near dinner time and we were a bit walked out. We found our way through the maze of streets to the outside world.
We may have cut our walking tour a bit short, but at some point, it’s just time to go back to bed and watch Game of Thrones. My only regret is that we didn’t visit the museum that houses the largest collection of tapes from America’s Funniest Home Videos.