In Part One, you read about our fun, quirky trip through Finland. Next on the road trip agenda was catching a ferry on Tallink Cruise Lines from Helsinki to Tallinn, Estonia. The boat was a regular cruise ship with the bottom 4 levels reserved for cars, busses and trucks; the top 3 levels included a pub, restaurant, grocery store, arcade and some additional seating. It was a fairly quick 2 hour ride across to Tallinn and of course the kids loved this part of the adventure.
Upon arriving in Tallinn we headed directly to the apartment where we were staying, just outside the city center. Just as in Copenhagen, we rented someone’s actual apartment from the website AirBnB. I wish I had taken picture of the building and the apartment because it was in a huge cinderblock building that was definitely a product of the Soviet Era of Estonia, but is was painted hot pink on the outside. The apartment owners were a young family who also had a house in the country where they spent their summers, thus renting their city apartment during this time. It was super cool inside as the husband is a architect/designer and she is an artsy documentary film maker. They have two small kids so the apartment was already equipped with kids beds and some toys. We unloaded our gear and headed out for a walk to the funky new café area that the owners of the apartment told us about. This area turned out to be our dining and beer drinking area of choice during our 3 day stay in Tallinn. It is half run down warehouses and padlocked, graffiti covered buildings and hald refurbished cafes, wine and beer houses, and playgrounds. There were a lot of young families hanging out and the food was delicious at every place we tried in this area.
We originally had planned only two nights in Tallinn, but loved this old city so much that we stayed an extra night. How to describe Tallinn with words is kind of difficult. It only recently gained independence…in 1991. Here is the Wikipedia link if you are interested in some history – Tallinn. Interestingly it is the oldest capital city in Northern Europe and a current UNESCO World Heritage Site. These facts are evident from the minute you approach Tallinn with its large stone wall surrounding the city, multiple steeples and tower rising into the skyline and narrow cobbled streets throughout. I highly recommend adding this city to your next European tour. Many say that you have to get there soon because it is quickly becoming ‘too touristy’. I am not sure what that means because I think everywhere that anyone wants to go is somewhat touristy. I have A LOT of pictures of Tallinn and I will try to pare them down, but will likely not be successful so you will all have to suffer through a ridiculous number of photos. At least I will try to put them in some order, starting with picture of the city:
Next are some photos of the family enjoying climbing along the walls, enjoying a few meals with amazing scenery, and just acting silly. You will see that Odin and Joel even did a little bow and arrow shooting by one of the castle walls. I am not sure who enjoyed it more:)
A few more interesting impressions of Tallinn. It was a most interesting city that is part old world, part Soviet Era dirty and oppressed, and part modern and hip. I am guessing this is what they mean by it getting more touristy. Not as much that it gets touristy (I think it already is), but it may lose some of its identity. Eventually, as the older generation dies off, I imagine that a lot of the Soviet Era will disappear. You could see in the faces and demeanors of the local Estonians in their 50s and above that they had seen some very hard and depressing times in their lives. The younger generation around our age was much more carefree and as we saw with the apartment we were staying at and the trendy area just outside the Old Town, there is a feeling of actually happiness and prosperity in this generation. I am not sure if I will ever make it back, but it would be interesting to see how this city and country evolves in the next 20 years.
In order to get a proper feel for Estonia, we decided to drive south through the countryside and spend a night in the beach town of Parnu. We had heard great things about this area as a popular destination for local Estonians in the summer. It was a quick 90 minute drive straight south to this seaside town in the Gulf of Riga. When we arrived, we found that a Medieval festival was taking place and the place was teeming with Estonians (and tourists of course). We witnessed some live music that had not one but THREE accordion players. Adelheyd was entranced by the music for quite some time. Odin found what he had been looking for over the past 4 days, his very own handmade wooden sword and shield, dragon fighter style. He says the red emblem on the shield is supposed to be dragon tongues, so he is ready to defend the family! That evening we returned to the city for dinner and found a nice restaurant with local ‘beer snacks’ on the menu. Feeling adventurous we ordered salted lard, various pickled items and some fried pig ears. None of this was good. There was still hair visible on the pig ears…I am not lying. Odin claims to have liked them (that boy will try anything), but not enough to have more than one. The meat dishes were MUCH tastier in Estonia…go figure. In the end, we had a great visit in Parnu, despite being rained out from our beach day the following day.
Due to the rain, rather than staying another night in Estonia, we drove back to Tallinn and took the ferry cruise over to Helsinki to spend a night and full day touring the Finnish capital. We are quite glad we did. We found a fairly cheap hotel 20 minutes outside of the city on the coast in a beautiful wooded forest area. The hotel was straight out of the 70s and quite odd, but in a beautiful area. We explored the coastline with the kids and then spent a day walking through Helsinki. It exceeded our expectations with some great architecture, nice walking streets, live music in the park and another Farmers Market to buy fresh peas and tomatoes! Back in Norway now, I already miss those fresh fruits and vegetables…(we don’t get anything fresh here excepts some berries and fish:)
Leaving Helsinki, we loaded our trusty minivan (now sporting new tires purchased for 1/4 the price in Estonia compared to Norway) on a train and climbed aboard. What a great way to travel. We squeezed our family of four into the bunk bed cabin, slept the night and woke up the next morning only a day drive from Tromsø. Again, the kids thought this was pretty cool to travel and sleep on a train! Of course this did not last long. We walked through every train car from one end to the other than returned to our very small room where the kids had to be quiet because of sleeping neighbors (very close on a train). Insert iPads here – thank goodness for movies on the train! Whew, just writing about our Grand Roadtrip Adventure exhausts me!
Top Ten Estonia
10. Our funky apartment outside the city
9. Boats and Trains
8. Riding the ancient Soviet era trams to our apartment that definitely did not look safe but gave us a great view of local life
7. Trendy area cafés and our yummy meals there…not the pigs ears and salted lard
6. Good, and relatively cheap, Beer (Joel may put this as number one, but he is not writing the blog)
5. I might as well just say CHEAP as everything is really 1/4 the price in Estonia as it is in Norway…this was nice:)
4. Fresh fruit and veggies at the Farmers Market
3. Medieval Festival with 3 accordion band
2. Shooting bows and arrows
1. Exploring the castle walls and streets of Old City Tallin