My five hour bus ride from Riga Latvia to Tallinn Estonia provided an excellent opportunity for relaxation. Driving through the Baltics reminded me a lot of Ontario’s cottage country. Only a few minutes outside of Riga there are cute little lake side homes surrounded by lush forest. Once dropped off at the bus station I hopped in a cab and soon found myself in the heart of Tallinn’s old town at my new home The Three Sisters Hotel Relais and Chateaux.
In 2003, three of Tallinn’s splendid merchant houses, built in 1362, were renovated and united to create The Three Sisters, which now offers modern amenities with great design and a backdrop of medieval history. Located within the 16th century walls of Tallinn’s fabled Old Town, The Three Sisters Hotel is the most luxurious hotel in Estonia with past guest including the Royal Family from England and Japan. My suite was located up three flights of winding staircases. The bellman popped open the door and my jaw dropped as I was given a tour of my new home.
A glass of champagne was brought up to my room and I slowly sipped while reading through the materials the Tallinn Tourism Board had left for me. I pulled out a map and lay on the carpet plotting out my itinerary for the next few days. An hour before my reservation at the hotel’s own Bordoo restaurant I heard a knock on the door. One of the staff was holding a white napkin in one hand and a small glass bottle of sparkling water in the other. The woman smiled and nodded at me saying, “some water to cleanse your pallet, we wish you a pleasant stay and enjoyable dinner this evening.” I thanked her and slowly closed the door behind me. I plopped myself back on the carpet and couldn’t help but laugh. The service at The Three Sisters would continue to wow me for the duration of my stay. I marched down to the restaurant and spent the next few hours sitting alone at a window overlooking the hotels flower filled courtyard while being dazzled by one perfect plate after the next.
The following morning I found myself sitting in the same seat for brunch. The offerings were fantastic: basket of pastry with a separate basket for bread rolls and rye, quiche, clafoutis, cold cut salad and cheese table, selection of juices, yogurt parfait and hard boiled eggs. I enjoyed a large foamy latte before hopping out onto the street.
Tallinn fuses Eastern European and Nordic moods, medieval and modern architecture, cobblestoned and cosmopolitan charms. It’s an overwhelming mix of Gothic church spires, glass and chrome sky scrapers, wine cellars inside 15th century basements, beer terraces on sun filled Raekoja plats and bike paths to beaches and forests – with a few Soviet throwbacks in the mix.
My first stop was to the centre of Old Town, Raekoja plats which has been the heart of Tallinn life since the 11th century. It is dominated by northern Europe’s only surviving Gothic town hall built between 1371 and 1404. The square fills with beer and laughter throughout the afternoon and evening. Tallinn really does take its medieval history seriously, just off the square you can find many vendors selling roasted nuts who are dressed as if they have just rolled in from the 1300′s. I do have to say that after just a few hours of walking through the many cobblestone streets of Tallin’s Old Town I fell completely in love.
I soon found myself at Freedom Square and walked up a long staircase along the fortification walls to the 19th century Russian Orthodox Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. A stones throw down the street is the Lutheran Cathedral of Saint Mary the Virgin or “Dome Church” which was founded in 1233 to serve the cities nobles. The interior is covered in the coat of arms of these wealthy families. Behind the church there is a popular viewpoint which offers stunning views of the city below. I walked along Toompark which is located outside of the city walls on the west side of Old Town. The air smelled of perfumed tulips as I walked past row upon row of gardens in full bloom. I made a quick visit to Saint Olaf’s Church at the north end of Old Town which is located just behind my hotel and a landmark of the city.
I spent the afternoon being a bit glutenous. I enjoyed a late lunch with the Chef at Mekk located in the Savoy Boutique Hotel. Then wandered back to my hotel room, had a leisurely bath in my massive tub and then spent the late afternoon editing photographs and tanning in the hotels courtyard. My dinner reservation was a short walk outside of the Old Town. The sun was setting across the harbour as I passed by a carnival on my way to Restaurant Neh.
The following morning I woke up at the crack of dawn and took the public bus to Tallinn Tower. This 314 metre TV tower just opened a month prior to my arrival and is now a premiere tourist attraction. I arrived 20 minutes before the ticket office opened and there was already a long line of eager beavers. The tower offers panoramic views from its observation deck and cafe at the 170 metre level. As a patriotic Torontonian, Tallinn’s offering really can’t compete with our CN Tower but it is most certainly a great way to see beyond the city as well as the sprawling botanical gardens below. Which I do suggest visiting as it is a quick five minute walk from the tower. Located on the banks of the Pirita River, the extensive gardens are a plant lovers paradise. Its greenhouses display 2,400 species and its grounds offer up quiet ponds and colourful flower gardens.
Next stop The Estonian History Museum in Maarjamae Palace. The museum is home to a large scale exhibit devoted to the Republic of Estonia. It tells the story of the birth, development, occupation and regained independence of its people.I particularly enjoyed the war time posters and character sketches of some of Estonia’s most loathed political figures such as Hitler and Stalin.
Further down the boardwalk is Kadriorg Park which features a cluster of attractions. I started off at Kadriorg Art Museum located in a magnificent baroque palace, built by Peter the Great for his wife, Catherine I, in the early 18th century. The grandiose palace and surrounding manicured gardens are a humbling example of Tsarist extravagance. The building’s many ornate rooms are the home to the foreign art collection of the Art Museum of Estonia. At the very back of the park sits the magnificent KUMU Art Museum which opened its doors in 2006 to showcase classical Estonian art and contemporary works.
After a lovely afternoon spent wandering through Estonia’s artistic spaces I hopped on a tram for Old Town. I visited the cool and musky Dominican Monastery Claustrum which consists of a monks’ dormitory, library, refectory and prior’s living quarters all of which provide an interesting view into the lives of medieval monks. Last stop of the day was The Nuku Puppet Museum just down the street from The Three Sisters. The museum showcases the history of Estonian puppetry as well as highlights how this art form is celebrated around the world with an interesting global perspective exhibit. The Museum is a great place to visit with children or if you are young at heart and have an appreciation for the theatrics of puppetry and set design. After a rather arduous touring day I fell into the bath tub in my suite and had a quick nap surrounded by bubbles and floating bath beads. I enjoyed my final dinner in Tallinn at the cities famed Olde Hansa medieval restaurant located just beside City Hall. After a proper 13th century binge I danced and pranced my way back home.
The following morning I packed up my things and checked out of my room. My final restaurant review in Tallinn was at one of the cities favorites a fine dining experience at Chedi. I had the opportunity to enjoy my meal with the restaurants owner as well as Tiina the Marketing Manager from Tallinn Tourism Board who had helped facilitate my trip. It was such a pleasure to enjoy well prepared “foreign food” after several weeks of European classics. Oh how I had missed the tastes of sweet and sour! After lunch I hopped into a taxi bound for the harbour. I soon found myself aboard an overnight Scandinavian cruise bound for Stockholm Sweden. As my cruise pulled out of Tallinn harbour I closed my eyes and smiled. Seagulls screeched above and tumultuous waves broke on both sides of the stern. The sun set over the Old Town and the pitter patter of rain whisked itself over my last memory of the Baltics.