Our interest in Estonia was sparked back in 2012 when we did a 3-day trek out of Chiang Mai in Thailand. We shared the trek with 4 great guys from Estonia: Marko, Kalle, Asko and Tanel. During the 3 days of the trek, we were convinced by them that Estonia would be an interesting place to visit. So we put it on our list for 2014, as part of a tour of the Baltics, also a first.
And we were glad we did. Tallinn is a wonderful city, with stunning architecture and a great vibe. It is just one of many hidden treasures in Europe, which are starting to be discovered by tourists. I think over the next few years that many places like Tallinn, Riga (Latvia) and Vilnius (Lithuania) will gain in popularity while the most popular European cities like Paris, Rome and Athens will level off in tourist numbers, or even fall.
There were many highlights of our stay in Tallinn. Highlight number one was catching up with 3 of our 4 buddies from the Thailand trek. Tanel was out of town but Marko, Kalle and Asko looked after us royally. We visited Marko and Kalle’s homes just out of Tallinn. Both of them have done an amazing job developing their homes and we were very impressed.
Even more impressive however, was the job Marko has done developing his guest house just out of Tallinn. About 30 minutes on the main road south out of town, The Ruunawere Post Station Hotel is quite stunning. It used to be an old post office. Marko has kept many of the historical aspects of the buildings but added modern touches like bathrooms and saunas to the rooms and suites. Out in the yard he has re-established an old well and built a giant teepee-like structure 10 metres high. He deserves to do well.
During our stay in Tallinn, the Estonian Song and Dance Festival was on. It used to be held annually but is now so huge that it is only presented every 5 years. Incredibly, our visit coincided with the weekend it was on. It was a massive event and the locals were right into it. Singing and dancing were always a huge part of Estonian culture and took on extra meaning during the years of Soviet occupation.
They claim that they sang their way to freedom back in 1991. Being part of a 100,000 strong crowd at such a cultural event is a stirring feeling. There was a stunning parade of performers through the streets of Old Town to the festival grounds. Many were in their national costumes and there was a lot of patriotism in the air.
We also attended the annual beer festival in Tallinn. This festival combined two of my great loves, beer and music. There were a number of stages throughout the park (the same park where the singing festival was held) featuring a range of music. There was one great band with a Jamaican front man, playing heaps of songs we knew from the 60′s and 70′s. Plus there were lots of stalls selling food and beverages, with a particularly large range of international and local beers, which all went down a treat.
We visited the Open Air Museum just out of Tallinn. This was very well presented and featured many historical buildings and even actors dressed in period costume who were working on arts, crafts and cooking. The café even sold authentic Estonian food and drinks.
But the place to hang out in Tallinn is Old Town. The atmosphere was even more amazing with all the visitors in town for the Estonian Song and Dance Festival. We climbed up on the old town walls and went to a couple of elevated points where you had great views over Tallinn. There are several squares throughout the city and they claim that the main square is the best preserved in Europe. Throughout Tallinn in summer there are many places you can simply hang out for a drink or a feed and watch the world go by!
Marko lent us a car for a couple of days and we also enjoyed checking out small towns and villages, coastal areas and rural Estonia. It’s an interesting country to visit.
Put Tallinn (and Estonia) high on your list for your next European vacation.