Tallinn

August 2021

Time for a new life. Six years of Japan and a three month stay in South Korea are over. Time to visit E-stonia, much vaunted for its technological advances, and to finally do an MA, appropriately enough in Educational Technology. The course is at the University of Tartu, but the adventure begins in Tallinn, the Estonian capital.

A previous visit

I had actually visited Tallinn on a day trip by boat from Helsinki back in 2012. A very early morning wake-up and the relatively compact nature of the city meant I was able to fit a surprising amount into a small window of time, including a walk along the coast, the legendary pancakes at Kompressor, and the inimitable Valli Baar, where I was challenged, and encouraged, to knock over the former Estonian boxing champion with a single finger to the nose. By whom? By the Estonian boxing champion himself of course. He had also circumnavigated the globe by ship, another feather to his unusual bow.

Both these places are true remnants of a bygone era. The service is gloriously grumpy and the welcome, if not overtly hostile, is certainly not affected. Indeed, a deliberate and pungent release of wind greeted my arrival to an empty Valli Baar, empty except for the barman who dealt it that is.

Back to 2021

Fast forward to 2021 and, after jumping through numerous Covid hoops to reach Estonia, there are zero checks at the airport, so my wife and I walk straight through the cosily decorated main hall and into a taxi that takes us to the leafy suburb of Nõmme. A week has been booked here in a spotless AirBnB cabin to acclimatise to Europe.

It was an excellent choice. Tallinn is by no means a big city, but in Nõmme you don’t really feel like you are in a city at all. After a good night’s rest, we made our way to the sleepy centre for a morning pastry at a local bakery and a little reverse culture shock. Everybody was so much bigger and blonder than people in East Asia.

No masks

Also, nobody was wearing masks. Almost in spite of ourselves, we discarded ours for the day as well. It must have been something to do with being free of the plane and travel stress and starting a new chapter. It would take rising cases and a government order to get (most) people wearing them again indoors. In Nõmme, we also passed a health centre offering vaccinations and, once we had applied for an ID number from the Estonian government, we were able to get the jabs that had eluded us in South Korea and Japan.

Vanalinn

The Vana (Old) Linn (Town) is the place most visitors to the Estonian capital flock. It is fairytale picturesque with its towering turrets, narrow lanes and historic architecture. A short walk up Toompea Hill takes you to a town above the town, which includes the Estonian parliament, the Nevsky Cathedral and two wonderful viewing spots to get your bird’s-eye view of the capital. A stroll down some nearby steps brings you to the excellent and reasonably priced Vegan Restoran V. Order a dark Valmiermuiza, a Latvian craft beer all the rage in Estonia at present, to wash your meal down with.

Telliskivi

Heading out of the Vanalinn past the main train station, you will find yourself in front of the Balti Jaam Market, which offers a variety of eating options. A little beyond that, you enter Telliskivi Creative City, the definition of a hipster’s paradise with breweries, wineries, craft markets and edgy street art aplenty in a nicely compact post-industrial space. There is also a falafel place serving very generous portions hidden down some back streets that we made use of twice for a cheap and tasty lunchtime snack.

Kadriorg

The main lung of Tallinn is the verdant Kadriorg Park, a haven for joggers and the host of Estonia’s famous singing festivals. Peter the Great constructed it after conquering Estonia. Places you can visit within it include the house he stayed in, the residence of the president (replete with beehives), Kadriorg Palace and KUMU. KUMU is a visually striking modern art museum well worth popping into. Unfortunately, we (unintentionally) got our tickets just a couple of hours before closing and so were forced to rush our visit to the top two floors.

The Seaside

Part of the reason Peter chose Kadriorg for his residence was its proximity to the sea. Tallinn is also a port and with its location come many beaches and coastal walks that you can enjoy when you want to get out of the (not so big) town. The water temperature may be a bit Baltic, but you can stick to sunbathing or a gentle jog if you prefer.

Nõmme and FC Nõmme United

Finally back to sleepy Nõmme, its beautiful wooden market and old wooden houses with leafy gardens…and its second division football side, FC Nõmme United! On our first day in town, we had spotted posters advertising an upcoming game in the Männiku Stadium, hidden in the forest. It was only 2 Euros (or free if you were wearing club colours) to attend, so we did.

They were taking on the youth team of Levadia Tallinn, a rather better known side (well, for European football fans anyway). Despite a dominant performance, they could only draw 1-1. To my great surprise, my wife (who normally is completely uninterested in football) was very keen to see them again, so we watched them play Flora Tallinn’s second string away (just 3 quick stops on the train) soon after; that match also ended up a draw, this time 2-2. There is just something about seeing a game live that a TV can never replicate!

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