When my boyfriend suggested we go to Finland, I knew I also wanted to squeeze in a stop in Estonia as well, as I had heard great things. My boyfriend hadn’t heard these things, so thought it was just weird. But there were better flight connections using Skymiles out of Tallinn than Helsinki, so we compromised on spending one night in Tallinn on the way home. Of course, as we got closer to the trip and people started telling my boyfriend how awesome Estonia was, he got a bit more excited. It was definitely one of my favorite cities of the trip, though we only scratched the surface. But what we saw was beautiful, and a lot cheaper than Finland, and an easy (and fun) ferry ride from Helsinki.
We hailed a taxi to the West Harbor, for a quick 14 Euro taxi ride. A number of different boat companies operate on the Helsinki-Tallinn route, on a variety of different kinds of boats. The high-speed catamaran we wanted had sold out when I went to book it about three weeks ahead. So instead we had a huge cruise ship-style ferry boat that took a little longer, about 2.5 hours, and left in the early morning.
Boarding was pretty straightforward, helped by the fact it was an intra-EU journey, although my boyfriend was pulled for a random security check. When we got on, we didn’t see a lot of people with large luggage. We saw some luggage lockers, and paid 4 euros each to store our suitcases. What we didn’t see was was a free luggage storage room around the corner. You could rent a cabin, but that seemed unnecessary. The only other places to sit, though, were restaurants and bars. I was scolded by a waiter for falling asleep in one of the booths. The boat was pretty full, and there really weren’t a lot of seats.
Although it was 9:15 am, we were some of the only folks who weren’t drinking booze…heavily. There really wasn’t much else to do on the ship, but two duty free shops, a cafeteria and a buffet restaurant, and dancing. That’s right, there was dancing along with a live band, playing a range of Finnish or Estonian classics and American 50s/60s pops. Somehow, it appeared that all Finns or Estonians know how to dance very well, as many 40/50 year old couples tried to one up each other. When a couple next to us left their teenage kids to do the Finnish Lindy, the kids were smiling, not embarrassed- clearly not American.
It was only a seven Euro taxi ride from the ferry terminal to the Radisson Blu, one of two Radisson Blus in Tallinn, and a modern, tall glass building. Our room wasn’t ready yet, but the friendly desk clerk took our bags and told us that he’d have the room ready in an hour.
We set out on foot, as the hotel was pretty close to all of the sights of Old Town. Our first stop was Hesburger, a Finnish hamburger chain that we’d seen all over Finland and had been wanting to try all week. Alas there was no English menu, and all the pictures looked the same, so we just guessed at what ordering. They were fine fast food burgers, but nothing to write home about.
Next we headed to the Museum of Occupations, a small museum chronicling the various “occupations” of Estonia from 1940 through 1991. It was interesting, but there wasn’t a lot there. From there we headed into the Old Town of Tallinn, which was packed with tourists from cruise ships. We were a bit shocked by just how crowded it was, given the rest of the city had been kind of sleepy. There were tons of buskers trying to steer you towards their restaurants. The crowds really detracted from the charm, although we were able to get some souvenir shopping done.
After a quick walkthrough the Town Hall Square, we headed back to the Radisson, where we checked into our room and, to my shock and awe, we were upgraded as Club Carlson members for the first time in four stays on the trip! Our room was an awesome corner Business Class room on the 15th floor, with huge wraparound windows with views of the Old Town and the water. And not only was there an upgrade, but a welcome amenity, as there was supposed to be – a tower of cookies. The room had been very newly renovated, with a minimalist Scandinavian quality, and was just great. The gym at the hotel was minimal, as well, but adequate.
When we went back out in the Old Town before dinner, it was like another world. There were still buskers, but the crowds were gone, and we found ourselves on little sidestreets, enjoying the charm of the city.
We also lucked out and, despite not having reservations, were able to get a table at Leib, which was the best meal of our trip. A few blocks outside the main hubbub of the Old Town, you walk up a few steps and are immediately in a huge beautiful garden with dining tables. When we arrived, they said they had one table, but we had to be done in 90 minutes. Easy. For our meal on the terrace overlooking the garden, the food (Modern Scandinavian) and the service were both phenomenal, at prices that were super-reasonable, particularly after Helsinki. Oddly, though, the garden includes a bust of Sean Connery. Little did we realize, it was quite the news item when the bust was unveiled by the Scottish Club of Estonia in 2011, being covered in the international media.
We had a nice evening exploring the gay scene in Tallinn, which was small but vivid, before heading to bed. In the morning, we partook in the Radisson’s free breakfast buffet, which was solid but not exceptional. Then it was off to the airport for our journey home on Aeroflot….
I definitely recommend both Tallinn and the Radisson Blu there.