After getting our gear and bikes organized in Helsinki, we boarded a ferry in the downtown harbour and departed for Tallinn, Estonia’s capital, a two-hours sailing across the Baltic Sea. Tallinn dates back to the 12th century but human settlement dates back much further.

Tallinn, and Estonia, have been occupied by Swedes, Danes, Germans, and most recently Russians when it was annexed by the Soviets following WW II. But in 1988, the so-called singing revolution resulted in Estonia regaining its independence in 1991. It joined the European Union and things have steadily moved forward in this country of 1.3 million people.

The old city of Tallinn is one of the best preserved medieval cities and a Unesco World Heritage Site. It is divided into the Upper Town, or Toompea, and the Lower Town, All-linn, and is a wonderful place to wander for a day or two. And wander is just what we did from our rented apartment on the edge of Toompea. Here is some of what we saw.



3 thoughts on “Tallinn

  1. Hey Paul and Jan,

    You have reawakened wonderful memories of my stay in Tallinn about this time of year in 2000.

    My elderly Estonian friend introduced me to a large circle of her friends including an opera singer, an architect, a computer programmer and a retired school principal. They had lived through the war and the Soviet period and gave me a deep appreciation of the changing culture over the decades. The soprano had been the lead artist for some decades in the Estonian National Opera Company. The opera BARBARA VON TIESENHAUSEN had been written for her. She came to visit my friend with her daughter, the wife of a conductor. When they discovered I loved opera, they asked if I would like a tour of the opera house. So the next day we trekked through the closed house with employees nodding respectfully to Raiisa as we went. My triumph was to sing a couple of Rodolfo’s lines from La Boheme on the stage of the Estonian Opera!!

    Another lovely memory was wending my way through the Raekoja Plats and the terrific handcrafter fair that filled the square. There was a woman who I found very, very attractive selling beautiful Estonian knitted clothing. I eventually got up my courage to talk to this lovely gal and made a few forays with halting Estonian tourist phrases. She said, we can speak English if you wish and it turned out she was born and raised in a Toronto based Estonian family. As we talked further she told me she was returning in September to the U of T’s School of Social Work – my own profession. It was certainly a moment one never wanted to pass.

    And the Estonian Puppet Theatre, an outdoor stage with explosions and fire and wild characters that moved from stage to trees and into the audience. It seemed the adults figured this was only for kids but it has a long tradition that appealed to everyone. As in other countries suffering through extremes of ideological government, (China for example), the European puppet tradition found many of its practitioners had disappeared after the war ended.

    And on the legacies of ideology; when I arrived at our retired school principal’s home, I noticed a strong smell of sewer gas at the front door of this converted Tallinn house. I asked Loora Raiste about it and here is her tale.

    The comfortable old house had about four families living there – a strata – in effect. During Soviet days the government was responsible for maintenance but after the wall fell, the tenants were able to claim title to the apartment they lived in. (as an aside, my friends said the same thing happened with factories and everyone wondered, “how did that guy come to own this factory?”) At any rate the newly liberated tenants in the house found the transition to participatory democracy difficult. Loora said she had repeatedly tried to get her neighbours together to pool their resources, dig up the leaking sewer connection and fix it. But the neighbours had balked at spending their own money to help others tenants. The people immediately next door had instead build a triple series of front doors to try to insulate themselves from the smell!!

    I heard so many stories from these old timers, some good but most bad, about Soviet times. Many of the stories could have been told by Franz Kafka, they were so bizarre and cruel. Yet the Canadian raised daughter of the opera singer told me, “my parents had a good life during Soviet days, Jim. My father was a conductor of the National Opera Orchestra and my mother was the leading soprano. We traveled all over the Soviet Union.

    When the Nazis left the Baltics and the Russians came in just before the end of the war, my friend successfully fled to Sweden by ship. Then she went to London as a nanny and eventually to Canada and a Bachelor of Social Work degree. She had a boy- friend in Tallinn who was a policeman. He stayed behind, planning to come after her on the next ship. I’m sure the ship was the German MV Wilhelm Gustloff which was sunk by a Soviet submarine. Very few people are aware of this wartime maritime disaster. Seems something like over 9000 people on board lost their lives – the greatest loss of life at sea in history. My friend never saw her man again and never did marry.


    1. Wow, Jim. Thanks for sharing your experiences. I remember you going to the Bsltics and that planted a seed. Time and opportunity did the rest. We love it here. The people, the countryside and the laid back feel of Estonia.

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