We knew very little about any of the Baltic countries, and probably the least about Estonia. It turned out to be quite a surprise then, when I led us and some new cruise friends on a self-guided walking of the city of Tallin, and every turn brought a new beautiful sight. In the end it was one of the highlights of the cruise!
We were able to walk to the walled, Medieval town from the ship, and we entered through Fat Margaret’s Tower – the large, fortified gate that protected the city of Tallin from attacks that came via the harbor. Immediately inside on the curvy main road were three, skinny buildings that were homes to wealthy merchants in the 1500s.
The Church of the Holy Ghost dates to the 14th century, and features an incredibly detailed clock on the outside. Just past it, down “White Bread Lane” which was traditionally a baker’s street, an archway led us into Town Hall Square. The giant building that looks like a church is in fact the 15th century town hall.
Town Hall Square also sports a pharmacy that dates all the way back to 1422, and is still in service today. We had fun looking around at all the odd stuff in there.
Then it was time for the all-important stop for food! We found a beautiful lunch spot where we shared wine and snacks with our new friends.
Up a hill and through a gate, we reached the old city of Toompea. Tallin was originally two separate medieval cities that didn’t exactly get along with each other. Even though it’s one city now, the gate between the two was where the leaders of the towns would meet to conduct discussions. Just past the Danish King’s Garden is one of the old lookout towers with the (childishly amusing) name of “Kiek in de Kök.” It means “peek in the kitchen” – a reference to what the guards there would do. Nevertheless, I couldn’t resist cracking a grin every time the name came up.
Beyond the garden and the still-giggle-worthy tower is the stunning Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. This is the place you see on tourist brochures of Estonia.
The church is a functioning Russian Orthodox church, and was built intentionally facing the Estonian parliament building as a reminder by Russia that they were there. The parliament building itself is the pink Toompea castle. I’m sure being pink, it makes a statement, I’m just not sure what.
As if we hadn’t seen enough churches already, the Dome Church was next. It dates back to the 13th century and is filled with wooden coats of arms of wealthy merchant families. The smaller the coat of arms, the older the family.
There was one more amazing view of Tallin, before we exited the Old city through the Viru Gate and were back in the real world.
Apparently I had tired our friends out with my comprehensive tour, so Stephanie and I were now on our own. She wanted to explore the newer area of the city a bit, so we kept going once outside the gate.
Looking back, we paused at the sight of our favorite small city in the Baltics. Then there was only one thing left to do, of course…stock up on Estonian candy!