Travel Journal

Medieval Estonia

(Friday 11 July 2014) by Mariken
The towers of Tallinn
The towers of Tallinn
Tere everyone, we are in Estonia! It took some doing to properly visit Tallinn, our initial destination, though. The ferry ride from Helsinki was quite uneventful, but when we arrived in Tallinn it turned out to be overwhelmingly crowded. Stupidly enough I had forgotten about the Song Festival which is held every five years, and which is a big, big happening. And I had read somewhere that the 'next' Song Festival would be held in July 2014. Major oops. According to the Tallinn tourist board, more than 153,000 people attended the event. For your information: Tallinn only has 431,184 inhabitants, so you can imagine it was quite busy on the streets. And we were in the midst of this! As the only campsite Tallinn has is situated right next to the Song Festival Grounds, it is needless to say that it was impossible to reach; and even if we would have reached it, it would have been completely full anyway. After some mindless driving in circles in the centre of Tallinn (many roads were closed for motorised traffic), we decided to call it a day and head to Lahemaa National Park, some 70 kilometres east of Tallinn. A wise decision, and we spent some very relaxing days sightseeing and hiking around Kansu and Altja. The only drawback was that we were eaten alive by endless hordes of mosquitoes.

Last Monday we returned to Tallinn, and this time we reached the campsite without any troubles. However, this turned out to be a major deception. Tallinn boosts some high quality accommodation, quite divers and in large numbers, but this campsite was a complete hellhole. Enclosed between concrete flats, it consisted of one slab of concrete, a shack which served as a reception, shower and toilet and a grassy patch the size of a stamp with an open cesspit (seriously!) in the middle of it. And they honestly charged 22 euros for this. We left.

Longing for freedom...
Longing for freedom...
It is not all drama though. In the end, we found a nice place to stay (clean, friendly) and we spent three nice days wandering through the fairytale streets of Tallinn Old Town. Even though we have seen it twice already, it remains a beautiful place and there are still interesting sights to visit that we have not yet seen. Last Wednesday we visited Patarei Prison and Sea Fortress, which was built in 1840 by order of Emperor Nicholas I and which was turned into a prison in 1919. It ceased to operate as such in 2004 (!) and is now 'maintained' (if that is the word) by an artists' collective. It was interesting, impressive and chilling to see, although the building is nowadays very dilapidated and mouldy. Besides that I have to admit to a different point of view concerning preservation of historical buildings than the artist way, meaning that while I appreciate all creative efforts (amongst other things redecorating old cells), I am afraid the historical value of the remains still standing is diminishing by the minute. Of course 10 years of decay do not help either. Nevertheless, it was interesting and the realisation that fellow human beings until quite recently lived in conditions displayed in that building really hit a nerve. Maybe I have a lively imagination, or maybe I am just a weakling, but seeing those cells really gave me the chills.

Yesterday was again the start of a big happening: the first day of the Medieval Days in Tallinn and something we were eagerly looking forward to. Even though Tallinn is a lot more than just the Old Town, for us Tallinn is synonymous with a medieval atmosphere, something we love. It was another day of wandering through the Old Town and enjoying all the beautiful and atmospheric places Tallinn has to offer. Additionally, we visited the Museum of Occupations (apparently every now and than I have to satisfy my 'cravings' for global horrors), which focuses on the three recent occupations of Estonia: 1940-1941 by the Soviet Union, 1941-1944 by Nazi-Germany and from 1944 until the independence in 1991 again by the Soviet Union. Needless to say that while museums of this kind in western Europe mostly focus on the occupation by the Nazis and the Second World War, in Estonia the atrocities committed by the USSR are understandably more upfront in the collective memory. It was a bit of a side track during a sunny day which was otherwise dedicated to the Middle Ages. To top it off - and the be honest, I would go to Tallinn just for this! - we had an extremely decadent splurge dinner at our favourite restaurant in the world: Olde Hansa. Fresh bread, cream cheese, claret, dark honey beer, wild boar, dried elk meat, wild berries, spelt, onion jam... it doesn't really matter what you order at this place, everything tastes divine. Not for vegetarians though (or turn your hat just for one day)!

Real-life storks!
Real-life storks!
And now we have arrived in Tartu, the second town of Estonia (do not think too much of it) and guess what: upon arrival we learned that today the Hanseatic Days start! Three days with music, dance, medieval shows, an arts and crafts market and... an Olde Hansa village in the centre of town! Honestly, we did not plan this. :-p Tomorrow geht's los! :-D

PS. Pics will follow soon, we took tons!

Edit: Pics have been uploaded!

  • Enjoy the medieval times! by Marije
  • onderweg by Jac en Marianne
  • lekker/vreselijk by mama
    • mensen en vuiligheid by Mariken

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