Es­to­nia’s Tallinn a great place to take a break from sum­mer heat


TALLINN, Es­to­nia — With a mild cli­mate, conif­er­ous forests and cold north­ern seas, Es­to­nia sounds like the per­fect place to get away from the sum­mer heat. Once a part of the Soviet Union, to­day the coun­try fea­tures relics of its com­mu­nist past, me­dieval ar­chi­tec­ture and mod­ern in­no­va­tions.

Es­to­nia re­gained its in­de­pen­dence in 1991 af­ter the breakup of the Soviet Union, at the same time as Ukraine. How­ever, it has out­matched Ukraine, and all other for­mer Soviet re­publics, in terms of its de­vel­op­ment. Free pub­lic trans­port for lo­cals, on­line vot­ing in elections, easy ac­cess to res­i­dency per­mits for for­eign­ers — those are just some of the suc­cesses Es­to­ni­ans like to share. A mem­ber of the Euro­pean Union since 2003, the coun­try has the high­est gross do­mes­tic prod­uct per capita of the post-Soviet coun­tries.

As a small na­tion of 1.3 mil­lion peo­ple, Es­to­nia was long ruled by stronger neigh­bors — in­clud­ing Den­mark, Ger­many, Swe­den, and Rus­sia. All of the for­mer rulers have con­trib­uted to what Es­to­nia has be­come to­day.

Me­dieval Tallinn

The best place to start ex­plor­ing Es­to­nia is its cap­i­tal, the city of Tallinn. The small and cozy Tallinn air­port, lo­cated right in the city, is the main air gate to the coun­try. On ar­rival, take a tram or a bus to the city’s his­toric down­town.

The city was partly de­stroyed by the Nazis and then by the Sovi­ets, but man­aged to pre­serve some of its 12th-14th-cen­tury build­ings, and re­con­structed the rest. A UNESCO site, the Old Town is a mix of nar­row cob­ble­stone streets, tra­di­tional churches, craft stores, and hid­den cafes, bars, and restau­rants. The main at­trac­tions in the city cen­ter are all ac­ces­si­ble by foot.

To­day, the na­tion speaks mainly Es­to­nian, but Rus­sian is also widely used. Lo­cals in­creas­ingly have a de­cent knowl­edge of English, es­pe­cially among young peo­ple, as Rus­sian is not an oblig­a­tory lan­guage in schools any­more.

A free old-town walk­ing tour is a great way to ex­plore places for the price of a tip for the guide. A tour guide with a great sense of hu­mor breaks all of the stereo­types about the cold Nordic mood of Es­to­ni­ans. A two-and-a-half-hour tour starts ev­ery day at 12 p.m. from the cor­ner of Harju and Niguliste streets.

Af­ter get­ting a feel for the tan­gled streets in the cen­ter, it is worth stay­ing and ex­plor­ing down­town some more. Go to St. Olaf's church, a 12th-cen­tury place of wor­ship, and climb the wind­ing stair­case to the tower's ob­ser­va­tion plat­form for prob­a­bly the best view of thecity, in­clud­ing the Baltic Sea. The en­trance fee is 3 eu­ros.

For a great view out­side of the city, there is Tallinn TV Tower, which pro­vides a 360-de­gree view of the city and sur­round­ing area.

Next, take a walk around Toom­pea hill, a me­dieval fortress on a hill, with a tower and gov­ern­ment build­ings, which has two view­points from the walls. The nu­mer­ous local restau­rants there of­fer Euro­pean, Nordic, Es­to­nian and even some tra­di­tional Soviet food, in­clud­ing a lot of white fish, rye bread, and pork.

As Es­to­nia is al­most 60 de­grees north of the equa­tor, it has a "White Nights" sea­son dur­ing the sum­mer, when the nights never be­come fully dark around the sum­mer sol­stice on June 21.

Relics of the coun­try’s Soviet past can still be found in Tallinn, a prom­i­nent one be­ing the Viru Ho­tel. The first high-rise build­ing in the coun­try, the ho­tel was con­structed to host tourists from West­ern coun­tries in rooms equipped with spy­ing de­vices. The KGB Soviet se­cu­rity agency eaves­dropped on the guests from their of­fice on the 23rd floor, which is now a mu­seum.

In the north of down­town is Kala­maja district, with its col­or­ful two- and three-story houses. The district, which is lo­cated next to the sea, was once home to fish­er­men, but now is a pop­u­lar res­i­den­tial area for local hip­sters. A for­mer in­dus­trial com­plex on the bor­ders of the Old Town and Kala­maja, now called Tel­liskivi Cre­ative City, is the place to go to hang out with local pro­duc­ers, tech com­pany work­ers, as well as to try Es­to­nian craft beer and home­made ice-cream.

Although Es­to­nia is fa­mous for hav­ing cold, brac­ing weather, cli­mate change is mak­ing warm weather more fre­quent. To en­joy it, one should visit Pirita beach — if not for swim­ming, then for tak­ing wa­ter sports lessons.

Out­side the city

Es­to­ni­ans are proud of their re­la­tions with their neigh­bor across the sea, Fin­land. From Tallinn, it takes only two hours on a fast ferry to get to Helsinki. The fer­ries de­part from D-ter­mi­nal six times per day.

For ac­tive sports lovers, Es­to­nia of­fers a net­work of bi­cy­cle roads that lead through forests, around lakes, and through vil­lages. From Tallinn, take the EuroVelo 10 road be­tween the coast and wood­land to see white sandy beaches and to get to the coun­try’s large is­lands. On one of them, Saare­maa Is­land, boasts nine me­te­orite craters near the vil­lage of Kaali.

To see more of the coun­try, visit the stu­dents’ city of Tartu, fa­mous for its old univer­sity. An­other op­tion is to go to Narva, a city on the bor­der with Rus­sia, where the ma­jor­ity of lo­cals barely speak any Es­to­nian.

Where to eat in Tallinn: Cafe Grenka, 76 Pärnu High­way. Try farmer’s cheese pan­cakes syrnyky with sour cream or grilled bread grenka with duck fil­let and vegeta­bles.

F-hoone Res­tau­rant, 60A Tel­liskivi St. Try Pump­kin and chick­pea falafel with rocket-quinoa salad and cashew cream and a glass of local beer or cider.

For vege­tar­ian op­tions, go to Ve­gan Restoran V on 12 Rataskaevu St. Take beet­root ravi­oli with cashew cheese and a glass of wine.

How to get to Tallinn: Di­rect two-hour flights from Kyiv to Tallinn are op­er­ated by Wizz Air and LOT air­lines.

A view on Tallinn Old Town, called Vanalinn, fea­tures Me­dieval houses, churches, nar­row streets, the 15th cen­tury tower as well as some post-Soviet ar­chi­tec­ture and cold Baltic Sea. (Hi­iu­maa Mude­lik­lubi)

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