Updated: Nov 7, 2018
I posted a throwback picture of Tallinn on my Instagram today because it is truly one of the most beautiful places that I have ever been and it reminded me that I hadn't continued on with my blogging about the cruise! I can't wait to talk about Estonia because it was Jonathan and my favourite place to explore!
In the morning we went to the theatre to meet up with our tour group and there were so many less people there than our day in Copenhagen. We were told that out of all of the places we were visiting, it wouldn't make sense to book an excursion in Tallinn because it was a short walk into the city centre. As we scanned our Sea Pass cards and walked onto deck, I saw the beautiful skyline of Tallinn and wondered if the excursion guide was actually right. Had we wasted our money booking a tour in this city?
Those thoughts continued as we inched our way into Old Town. The traffic was absolutely ridiculous and we watched hundreds of people walk past our bus at 20x the speed that the bus was moving. Our tour guide was starting to panic that we would get bored and ask for a refund, so she started cracking jokes in her delightful accent and telling us history about every single building that we passed. Jonathan and I were amazed that she knew so much about everything in Tallinn. This is also the time that she gave us a bit of information on the history of the the Soviet Rule of Estonia and provided some insight on what a new country it was in regards to ruling despite the medieval architecture that we were driving past. It was at that time that I realised it was worth it to pay for our walking tour because we had learned more in that 15 minute traffic jam than most people would during their entire time in Tallinn.
Our bus parked right next to Toompea Castle (the new parliament building) and the Alexander Nevsky cathedral. We walked up the hill, took a left, and the cathedral was right in sight. It was absolutely breathtaking. It was built in the late 1800's and is a Russian Orthodox cathedral based off of traditional Russian architecture. A service had just ended and people were coming out without making eye contact with the large mob of tourists. Our tour guide gave us 15 minutes or so to go inside and have a look around, reminding us that photography was strictly forbidden. There was a very strict man that went around barking at people with their cameras out and cornering people to take off their hats or to leave if their knees were not covered. I have been in some traditional cathedrals during my European travels, but nothing like this. It was a beautiful place, but it certainly did not take 15 minutes to see the altar and walk back out. Jonathan and I wandered over to the pink pastel parliament building to snap a few pictures and then looked at some of the stunning alleyways. Everything was so colourful and I felt like I couldn't soak it all up. I knew immediately just how much I was going to love this stunning city.
We then walked a bit and our tour guide, Aasa, spoke into our little ear pieces and said "Now for the best destination of all..." we waited impatiently for the rest of the phrase as she stopped in front of a souvenir shop with a restroom we could use "... the Estonian toilet". Seriously, what a gem this woman was. We all filed in to use the bathroom and I looked at the Estonian wooden dolls and other stunning souvenirs, and then we headed to both of the viewing platforms where you get to see over the beautiful red rooftops of Tallinn and all the way out to sea. It was so hard not to take 15,000 photos of those views, let me tell you. They are packed with tourists, but it is completely worth it to see that skyline.
We also went back to St. Mary's Cathedral which is the oldest cathedral in mainland Estonia. It was built in the 13th century by the Danes! It's not the most magnificent looking cathedral, but there is something really magical about being in a place that has such a long and rich history. We also ran into the couple that complained with us in Copenhagen, Denmark here which was amazing. I know that there was a lot of us on that cruise ship wandering around, but what is the likelihood that we would be in that cathedral at the same time that they were? Sometimes the world feels extra small to me.
We headed down into the city centre, passing through a stone archway and dipping through little alleyways with flower boxes and sweet souvenir shops, where the buildings became even more beautiful. I have a video of me walking down these stone steps with pastel buildings surrounding me and it makes me nostalgic every time I watch it. We walked past the old town well and into the city centre we went, where there was a bunch of stalls set up with amazing homemade souvenirs. Jonathan went to hunt down an ATM where he had to blindly press buttons and hope for the best because it was all in Estonian. While he was doing that, I wandered around the buildings in the square and found a medieval pharmacy where they still sell Estonian herbal remedies today- how amazing is that! We went around and got Baltic amber bracelets and magnets for our loved ones at the market and then met Aasa. We had gotten her a tip because we had learned so much during our tour and she was also absolutely hilarious and completely in love with her job. I even asked her to take a picture with me because she had made such an impression on us. She was so shocked to get it that she tried to give part of it back, but we wouldn't let her. Please people, if your tour guide made your trip more worthwhile than it would have been if you went at it yourself, please give them a tip. It doesn't even have to be a big one, just let them know that you appreciated the fact that they made your trip that much more memorable.
She took us through bread alley, showed us a restaurant that had been there for ages (and even had the original pulley system for bringing ingredients upstairs), and we also walked past some of the original city walls. They have been kept in tact exceptionally well, and most of the main part of the city is still contained within the walls which makes it a lot more doable as a weekend trip, and made me feel like I didn't miss that many tourist attractions despite only being there for a few hours. We then headed back to the ship, and I felt a little emotional that we didn't get to explore much more of Estonia as we thanked Aasa one last time and got back on boat. Tallinn was an absolute fairytale city, and I would go back in an absolute heartbeat. Eastern Europe as a whole are now on my bucket list.