Tallinn, Estonia was on my list of must-see places during my trip to Finland. It’s two hours by ferry across the bay on a very comfortable ship (with wifi) from Helsinki. The ferry lands you about ten minutes by foot outside of the walled portion of Tallinn. Cost return is about 45-50 Euros (varies by season and demand) and is worth every penny.
Stepping into Tallinn was like walking into a time warp, but a cleaner, less dangerous time than would have been in the high middle ages. I arrived at 9:30 and budgeted six and a half hours to crawl all over the town. Moving at a fair clip, I managed to see pretty much everything I wanted just fine, with a stop for lunch and a coffee break in the afternoon.
Choosing to hit a few particular sights and to more or less “wing it” by walking around and seeing what interested me proved to be the optimal strategy. Equipped with a map, I meandered from lane to passage to street, backtracking and circling to see things from different angles. I was less interested in visiting every museum on the travel brochure and more interested in the bits and pieces off the beaten path.
Since I was travelling alone, I could set my own pace and stop where it suited me. I spent a goodly amount of time just walking and looking, setting up for photos and wandering away from the crowds. Most people seemed to take the brochure quite literally and walked from promoted site to promoted site, while I found myself alone in the ruins of a monastery, a feature which had not made it to the official list of things to see.
There are stairs in Tallinn. So many staircases built about three feet wide or less and almost vertical. They often ascend three stories and I can’t tell if the ropes that have been added for safety are a recent phenomenon or if they might have had something similar in the middle ages.
There are stairs that wander up towers, descend into chapels, and meander from shop to dwelling. None have been modified for easier access, which was a strange and reassuringly authentic feature. No elevators to the towers or walls meant that I was often alone on top, as so many of the folks wandering the village were unwilling or unable to make it up the stairs, so I was often alone on the walls, watching the bustle of the town below.
It was one of those rare experiences in which all the senses simply drink things in, a place that almost defies words and where pictures really do communicate better the beauty and vibrancy of the town.