It has been six years since I spent a memorable few hours in the company of a couple of hundred drunken, karaoke singing, tango dancing Finns as our ferry cut its way through the ice encrusted sea between Helsinki and Tallinn (you can read about that trip here). In the intervening years a new, and rather beautiful, ferry terminal has been built in Helsinki and a new fleet of faster, shinier boats have been commissioned. As a result travel time has been reduced to around two hours and for a mere 20 Euros return it was an easy decision to make to take a day to see what the Estonian capital looks like without the snow.
The trip does involve some considerable time at sea but fortunately there is plenty onboard to keep you entertained with a choice of bars, places to eat, indoor and outdoor seating and a duty free shop big enough to get lost in. For the highly taxed Finns the Estonia’s cheaper alcohol prices are one of the main reasons for making the journey and the boat is well stocked. You can even buy a special trolley, the right width to hold beer crates, to carry your purchases home.
Once docked in Tallinn it is a short walk up hill from the port to the Old Town. The first thing I noticed was that the city felt significantly busier than on our previous visit, perhaps something to do with the 20 degree difference in temperature. The main sights remained as beautiful but just a little less magical as one of a crowd.
Time to re-evaluate our objectives. If everyone else was focused on the big, the viewpoints, the ornate cathedrals, the restaurants and the main square, we would seek out the small, the back alleys, the details, the over-looked. And once we started looking there was so much to see.
Let’s start with the doors. I could have filled an entire memory card with doors. From the grandest carving to the most modest flaking paint, every building we passed had a door worthy of recording. And it didn’t stop with the doors. Gates, ironwork, even mail boxes clamoured for attention.
I was also pleased to discover a rise in street art. In the right place I am a fan of graffiti and fortunately most that I saw in Tallinn was in the right place, supporting and enhancing not defacing.
I found the location of the piece above particularly appropriate. It is written on a wall at one of the most popular view points, a place where people are busily trying to capture the present it is fitting to be reminded of that memories are more than just our photographs; you cannot fix feelings on film.
At the market in the main square my eye was drawn not to the nesting dolls, fridge magnets and other souvenirs but to the wonderful milliners stand, not so much for the hats but for the models. We rounded off our visit with a fantastic (and incredibly cheap) meal in a bar full of locals, made the obligatory stop at the alcohol store to replenish my Finnish friend’s supplies and boarded the ferry back to Helsinki. As the sun set, rather dramatically, on a day well spent, I was thankful, as I so often find myself, for the little things.