15 March 2016
A WEEKEND INTO DIFFERENT AGES
´What are you doing on this ship?’
´I wanted to see the Baltic Sea’
´Why, what is it about?’
´According to sailors, is the most beatiful of all.’
Baltic Souls – Jan Brokken
Tallinn is the capital of Estonia, separated from Helsinki by 80 km of the Baltic sea.
Tallin had always a Germanic track, it has been under siege first by the Danish starting from13th century, then under the Swedish kingdom. Lately it was occupied by the Soviet Union and then the Nazi troops.
The city became part of the UNESCO in 1997, and is not so hard to guess why. This unique city of Europe, can represent anything except Europe nowadays. In fact, Tallinn is one of the best preserved Medieval cities of Europe, and, as you go a little bit outside the old town, you can find Soviet remnants and old wooden houses.
Tallin may be reached easily by plane, as there are different airlines which operates on this route, such as Finnair, Air Baltic, SAS, Ryan Air and EasyJet. The airport is only 5 km far from the city, and the taxi is REALLY cheap.
Day 1 – Friday, 26th February
As we were leaving from Helsinki, we chose to reach Tallin by boat. Is really one of the easiest way and I will personally recommend it especially for those who are roaming the world and have a little more time to enjoy beautiful landscapes from the ships. There are many companies which connect Tallinn to Stockholm, Helsinki or St. Petersburg.
We travelled with Eckerö Line which has often the cheapest fares. We left at 15:30 and it took us one hour and half to get to Tallinn. I must say that it was my first boat trip on a “snow storm” and it was really enchanting. At first we were a little bit scared and bored as we couldn’t go out to take some pictures, the ground was so slippery and the wind was so strong that could make us fly away. Finally, the boat didn’t shake us at all, it looked like being inside a rock in the rough seas. We then shot few pictures of the snowy ship as we found a semi covered terrace bar on the highest floor. I was totally amazed by the strength of the wind and by the fog created by the storm which couldn’t make us realize that we were on the open sea. We arrived on late noon, around 17:45, and it was pretty dark outside, as during winter in the Baltic and Nordic countries the light lasts for just a few hours.
On the harbor there was a total mess because of the heavy snowfall, so, if before we were thinking to have a walk to get to the city, as it is at 15/20 mins. walking distance, then we decided to grab a cab, like many did too, but, as I said before, to get to the city is very cheap, we didn’t pay more than 7 Euros.
Finally we arrived at Cru Hotel, located in Viru, one of the main street of the old town, mainly full of shops. Here came Silry the hotel receptionist, to greet us at the door, the check-in procedures went really smooth, she was really precise with guiding us through the hotel basic information, always smiling. This small boutique hotel let us found what we’ve expected. Cru is a little hotel with only 15 rooms, but all of them are unique and different from each other. The architecture and design of the hotel is nothing of these days, with its wooden beams, the limestone walls, and the old wooden floor, catapulting you in a 15th century authentic merchant’s house, still with all the luxuries. In fact we had a delicious breakfast in the room, with local fresh ingredients as the typical Estonian ham and dark bread. I liked the meticulous cleanliness of the rooms and the spacious bathroom and bath tub with natural and locally made bath products.
The hotel inner courtyard is a secret gem of Tallinn, part of the Cru Restaurant which can host 30 seats. Even if it was not in use because of the winter, it was still charming us, as many of the rooms are facing it. We have been delighted with a beautiful dinner at Cru Restaurant.
We had a nice table facing the inner courtyard, and the atmosphere was magical, as it was snowing. We wanted to try the restaurant as it’s known for its balance between classic and modern natural cuisine and for its chefs who are award winning characters. Marko was the brilliant waiter serving us, he introduced us to the culinary history of Estonia. We had the best dark bread ever, stuffed with fruit and nuts, which we were told being baked every morning for six hours. As main courses we ordered the Jerusalem Artichoke and elk fillet which was really tender, with truffle jus, homemade sausage and winter jam, to go with a glass of Spanish Coto De Hayas Garnacha and the organic Veal and Smoked Beets. It was impossible not to share the desserts. We took the chocolate cake with hot caramel sauce poured right in front of my eyes, the effect was really curious, while the chocolate lid was melting creating a hole in the cake; I wanted to scream “nooooo don’t eat my cake”. It was really good while sipping some ten years old tawny Taylor’s. The Burned Meringue with currant sorbet and crème anglais, to go with a shot glass of Vana Tallin Liqueur. Cru restaurant is known for its famous chefs Dmitri Hajukov who was on Chef´s Olympic 2015 in Lyon and gained the 14th place, and the Sous Chef Pavel Gurjanov, Chef of the year 2013.
Day 2 – Saturday, 27th February
Saturday morning we decided to have a tour of the old town of Tallinn, starting from the City Hall located on the main square.
On top of the city hall late gothic building there is a weathervane on which “Vana Toomas” ( the old Thomas) is represented, i.e. the guardian of Tallinn. In one of the square’s corners there is the oldest pharmacy in Europe, nowadays selling modern medicines, but in the next room still survive ancient medieval prescriptions, medicines, ampoule ad animals in formalin.
St. Catherine’s Passage, a little romantic walkway connects Vene and Müürivahe streets. It combines master craftsmen’ workshops with a medieval atmosphere,taking the name from the remaining portions of St. Catherine’s Church in the northern part of the passage. Going through Vene streets, it will be a little tricky to find the Master Courtyard, as it has a little sign as guide, but once you find it, you’ll fall in love with the place which offers small shops and studio-galleries of Estonian artisans, and the toothsome Pierre Chocolaterie, a small café where you can enjoy handmade chocolates. I was really tempted to reply to the sign on the back door of the cafe “for voluntary dishwashers”, but this time we had unfortunately too little
time. Hope you will get the chance to know a little guy who comes from “Monaco” sitting on red pillows in the courtyard.
I remember few years ago when I first visited Tallinn, a woman kindly pointed out the fact that I needed to cover my head with a scarf before entering the Orthodox cathedral of Alexander Nevsky, while men needed to take away their hats. This time in front of the cathedral there were two really old woman begging for some food or money, and,while I was enchanted by the pathos that this two really old ladies were transmitting to us, a young guy came and put in their plastic bags some dark bread.
There are some good spots in Tallin from where you can have a good view of the city, like the viewing platform of Patkuli and Kohtu. You can find many street musicians around, but one of them is playing always in the same place from since my first visit to Tallinn in 2011, with his funny hat, always under a tree in Lossiplats.
Falling in love with Estonian gastronomy is not so hard, even if usually we prefer to stay comfortable on lunch time if we are travelling, this time we couldn’t say no to try one of the well-known restaurant of the city, located in the main town hall square Kaerajaan Restaurant. Kaerajaan is divided in two floors, the dining in the upper and lunch on ground floor. The first thing you notice if you try this restaurant on daytime, is that is really bright. Its interiors recall the Estonian folklore with lively colors and wooden beams. The name refers to a folk dance of a mocking song from 1889. We had a nice table overlooking the square. Starting from the name of the place to its design and menu, everything remembered to us the historical roots and customs of Tallinn. The food was delicious, the venison fillet I had was really juicy and I could have had thousand of their chocolate fondant with sorbet and honey-mustard. It was fun to see how beautiful our courses looked like.
It showed us how essential was the arrangement of the dishes and its visual preparation. Kaerajaan is one of those restaurants who take care of the details, and my personal point of view is that they even have a really cute website, not so usual for restaurants. After this experience we really needed a nap, but no time for that. Our target was to see the district of Kalamaja, starting from Telliskivi to the harbor. Is 10 minutes walking from the old town, but this means that you will be outside of the old town. To get to Telliskivi by foot, you need to reach the central railway station “Balti Jaam”, and flank the Russian market or second hand market “Balti Jaama Turg”. Well, this was one of our spots to visit, but it looked close for some reason. An old man was standing at the entrance, the only human by that street, and we attempted asking if the market was still there. Now, luckily, I speak Finnish because of my mum, the old man didn’t speak English. Finnish language is really similar to Estonian maybe like Spanish-Italian or Danish and Norwegian, something like that (hopefully he was not annoyed by my Finnish, as I know it happens sometimes between other similar languages). We got that the market was under renovation until 5th of March, and that it temporarily moved, but still we didn’t find the temporary market.
Hopefully we found Telliskivi Loomelinnak (the creative city), located on an industrial area. This place is known for its emerging and well-known, Estonian designers’ products, for the cute shops and secondhand, café, ateliers, studios, creative companies, offices of artists and NGOs. Is amazing to see that new generations chose such historical place and left alone to build the future of Estonia. From Homeart you can find Nordic furnishing, lamps and other lifestyle products. Don’t miss Coffe Angels coffee shop, the espresso was so delicious.
From there we reached the wooden architecture area in the district of Kalamaja, one of the most bohémien places of Tallinn. As its name suggests (Kala=Fish and Maja=house), this neighborhood was once populated by fishermen. Here the houses are all made in wooden, painted in many different vanishing colors. One of the most esteemed meeting places is the Boheem Kohvik, a really cozy place where you can feel as home and release your mind and body from the cold winter with a warm drink , or enjoying a delicious breakfast or lunch on the terrace outside in summer. Not far from the wooden district, on the Kotzebue tänav street 33, there is the pretty spacious and well furnished Estonian Design Shop Tali, with rather unusual, not to say original, handmade toys, leather goods, jewelry and clothes which can be real artworks. When Kotzebue street meets the Põhja puiestee, is impossible not to lift your head up to the sky to admire this giant untamed building, the Rauaniit factory by the architect Eugen Habermann.
We reached the Fish Market (kalaturg) by the docks, which was closed because of winter time, but still we tried to hear the noise of the fishermen pulling up and selling their morning catch and the smell of fish, Baltic herrings, salmon alongside smoked and cured fishes. Something we will not miss next time. Next to the fish market there is a historical limestone building on the right side, which is the Design House, a place accommodating the studios of different designers, shop/showroom and the Estonian Association of Designers. From here, is only five minutes walking distance from one of the open air monument Linnahall. Before coming here we passed the Contemporary Art Museum of Estonia (EKKM), located in an old boiler house: from outside it looks like a complex that survived an apocalypse, like most of the buildings mentioned previously, but the inside is something magical and that definitely worth a visit. On the same spot of the museum, there is even a bookshop and publisher called Lugemik, which means reader, founded by the graphic designer Indrek Sirkel and artist Anu Vahtra.
After this unexpected stop, we finally got at the feet of the huge ruin Linnahall, resembling an ancient Mayan temple. It was completed for the Moscow Olympics’regatta in 1980 during the Soviet Union age, and it used to be a former concert/and sports venue. The architect, Raine Karp, wanted to create a connection between the sea and the city without obstructing the view of the medieval old town. Nowadays it’s really popular among youth, who love to enjoy the sunset grabbing a beer or a glass of wine during the weekend. It is really tricky to climb all those steps during winter with all that slippery snow, but when you’re up there the view is amazing.
There are many different opinions about this building, some people consider it as an historical gem of Europe, some would like to demolish it. Personally I was really amazed by the view and it makes you appreciate more the value of the place we live in and how we will need to take care of it more than we are doing, because our earth has a heart too.
Lately that evening, we had an amazing evening at Restaurant Neh, located near the harbor. Neh comes from the Muhu Island and is the place where the Pädaste Manor, a five-star small luxury resort and spa, is located. The ingredients are products of local farmers and fishermen, and fully represent the innovative Nordic gastronomy. We had the chance to meet the extremely talented chef Matthias Diether. Born in Berlin but raised in southern Germany Diether, since 2009, earned eight times a Michelin star for the restaurants he led. It was a pleasure watching him in his kingdom, the kitchen, while he was telling us that he totally fell in love with the nature and the beauty of the Estonian culture. We could really see and taste what he meant. At Neh there is the possibility to choose between the Neh’ Degustation, a 7-course menu (may be reduced to 5- or 4-course dinner) or the Chef’s Choice (3-course menu), and we went for this last one. The staff was really friendly and dedicated in their job. We have been welcomed with a glass of Langloise prosecco.
The veal tongue and prawn tail soup was lovely and mild. As main course we had some salmon which was incredibly tasty, and the beetroot sauce was a perfect combination for it. Be ready to employ all your senses, the colors and the arrangement of the courses is something really captivating and wild.
Day 3 – Sunday, 28th February
Unfortunately, we had so little time to live this beautiful city, but I must say that we tried our best to visit everything we were interested for. As this was our last day we deserved a few shopaholic hours.
Tallinn is full of interesting design shops as Nu Nordik, Sfäär (which is even a really cute restaurant) and Oma Asi, but my favorite are and always will be the second hand clothes shop Fankadelik, located on the 2nd floor of Vana-Viru 6, here you can find some good selection of vintage clothes handpicked meticulously by the owners. There is a comfy couch right in the middle of the shop, with few biscuits and tea, for those poor bored boys. The first vintage clothes shop I found in Tallinn was Annimari Vintage, and I will recommend this one especially if you are looking for unique ’50 – ’60 – ’70 dresses.
We went to discover the Rotermann Quarter, close to the old town of Tallinn. Rotermann was the old industrial area during the xx century, now this place gained a new life and the old building got new functions and stand next to modern architecture. The Rotermann Salt Store has been placed under heritage protection and is currently home to the Estonian Architecture Museum. Here we found lot of shops and restaurants. Every city we visited had something really sweet, its people, hidden places and parks, here I found some swetness at Kalev Chocolate Shop, located on the left building on Väljak Square. This two floor shop offers handmade chocolate candy, and marzipan figures that are hand-painted on site, while the second floor take place various Confectionery Workshops.
On Sunday we strongly wanted to have a good homemade hamburger filled with fresh local ingredients for lunch, and we knew one guy who could probably grant us all this. He is Derek the master of the burgers, born in Canada.
The place is called Dereku Burger indeed, and it is located in a cozy cellar type establishment in limestone wall with a cute terrace on the roof. We had a wonderful juicy 100% beef burger from farms in Saaremaa, with red barbecue sauce, gouda cheese, mustard, cucumber, onion, tomatoes, salad and white sauce, with some French fries with skin. At first he thought we wanted to steal his recipes, (I understand why, as it was the best burger I’ve ever had), but he realized soon that we were only there to try this legendary burger. You can even find some homemade spices and barbecue sauce for sale. Derek is one of the sunniest person I’ve ever met, and cheered us on our blogging adventure: he was the right cherry on top of this beautiful Tallin that we discovered, full of history, wrinkles, youth and will to grow and keep own culture and customs.
For more infos: Vist Tallinn
Check the video we made about Tallinn on The Two Sights Youtube page: