Tallinn is not the best place to a begin a month-long backpacking trip across Europe.
Not because Tallinn is not beautiful, but rather it sets the expectation too high and nothing else looks more beautiful easily. Tallinn is like a picturesque canvas. Every nook and corner, line and lane is more beautiful than the other. It is Estonia’s capital on the Baltic Sea and a perfect holiday destination if one wants to combine the comforts of modern world, versatile nightlife and luxurious adventures with rich cultural scene in the local historical setting. Tallinn retains its walled, cobble-stoned Old Town and is home to cafes and shops. Tallinn has become one of the most visited cities in Europe. Tallinn’s old town has been inscribed on UNESCO World Heritage List.
As per records, Tallinn is also the most-populous city/ town in Estonia by population. But coming from India, it felt like there is a curfew in the city because we could hardly see any people on road till we reached Town Hall Square where it felt that the city has got some life.
Our plane landed in Tallinn on the right time in the morning, but the waiting for air bridge to connect and deboarding the plane was never-ending. After almost 15 minutes, we finally came out of the plane and entered the Tallinn airport.
And imagine what was the first thing we did when we were inside the building? Clicked selfie – no! Called up home – no! Got our passports stamped for entry – no! Well, we used the WC, as the washroom is called in Europe. There was a huge queue at the passport control counter and we were in no hurry, so we decided to make use of the time. After all, our trip had just begun.
Once we had all used the WC, fixed our faces and clothes, we finally got in the queue. We were the last ones to join the queue. And that’s when the biggest shock of our life happened.
Will We Or Will We… Not
We had only seen it in movies, heard from others but it was our turn to experience it.
As soon as our turn came, the officers on duty took all our passports, got out of their respective cubicles and started discussing. Then we were called in for questioning. Raji, the most experienced of us all, went in first. We thought it would be routine questioning but she wasn’t coming out only. In the meanwhile, we started revising our itinerary and hotel stays. After all we were visiting multiple places and so our list of hotels/ hostels was also quite long.
After an eternity, as it felt then, the curtain to the cabin opened and an officer came out – a stern looking man. He spoke to the officers in the cubicles. In the meanwhile, we tried talking to her and find out what was asked but she didn’t answer properly. How were we to know that there were more officers sitting inside the interrogation cabin opposite her.
Sigh of Relief
We all heaved a sigh of relief when they asked us to come and collect our passports. Thankfully we were not interrogated. As soon as we all got our passports and were out of sight of the officers, we bombarded her with questions. And when she told us that they had checked all hotel accommodation, currency bill and other trip details, we were only relieved that we didn’t go in first. Had we gone in first, we may have become nervous by interrogation. The thought of deportation or long interrogation brings shivers down even now and the thought that the trip could have ended even before it began.
Well, no such thing happened but this is an experience I will never forget… those 20 minutes! Those 20 minutes that could have changed the fate of our trip!
As soon as we reached the conveyor belt, we found our luggage kept on ground off the belt. After collecting our luggage, we clicked our first group-selfie of Tallinn, and then proceeded towards airport’s exit.
Oh and how can I forget… when I had left India, my forex card was not yet loaded and so the executive at Currency kart had given me a spare card and had promised that my card will be active by the time I reach Tallinn but it didn’t so during the entire episode in the passport line, I was trying to get the card activated too… thankfully the airport internet and my matrix sim card was working so I could communicate with the Forex Card Agent. The learning is to never leave the country before activated cards and services.
The feeling sets in… The Trip begins
Finally, I had an active phone, an active Forex card and a great group of friends by the time I came out of airport… the trip was finally beginning and the feeling of being in foreign land was settling in.
Our hostel was 4 km away from the airport and we were debating if we should walk it or cab it. Cab would have been expensive as we may have to take two cabs because of our bags. After debating for a while, we decided to check with a cab driver there. He told us 10 euro approximately and all our luggage fitted in his car’s boot. So we all sat in the cab and set off to the Old House Hostel, our hostel, in one cab. The difference between left hand drive and right-hand drive and road sensibilities due to that always boggles me and the driving suddenly starts seeming a tough task.
We were just amazed at the beauty of Tallinn and big broad roads which were spick and span. As soon as we reached our hostel, the first thing we noticed was the area around it which was extremely clean and peaceful… it was a little too much to handle for us.
Our Hostel – The Old House Hostel
The girl at the hostel’s reception showed us our room in next building and explained everything. It was cozy and colourful room with 4 single beds.
It was just nice to be able to just lie down after the long journey but since we didn’t want to waste time, we all got ready quickly, had lunch in the hostel of parathas, yogurt, homemade savouries, flight sandwich and different types of dry chutneys to add some spice to the food. Finally showered and fed, we set out to explore the city.
By the way – our quickly getting ready is a two-hour process… after all 4 women to get ready and one washroom to share!
As we stepped out, we thought of giving room keys to the girl at reception and ask her for recommendations in Tallinn. But all she helped us with were various brochures and the map of Tallinn. She herself was not from the city. Unfortunately, our internet services were also not working properly. Anyways as we came out we saw a few groups of travellers all walking to one side, so we also started walking in the same direction.
There is fun of exploring a place from the scratch– you don’t know where to go, what to see, so you just follow your instinct. And that’s what we also did, and we reached the Gate of Freedom… what a beginning! This was also going to our gate of freedom from structured style of living for a month.
Being the first city and first day, we were clicking more pictures and selfies than walking. We walked around the Old Town, saw Gate of Freedom, Kiek in de Kök, a 15th century defensive tower, Borsi Passage providing a quick, quirky history of Estonia on paving stones and many other monuments, as every building in Old Town seems historic.
We also went to St. Olaf’s church and decided to the top of the church. And so, after buying tickets, we started climbing up stairs and they just didn’t seem to end.
I was panting and was tired but kept going up… after all I had spent my hard-earned money (3 euros) on the ticket.
Even though I almost died climbing those 5 floors, but the view of Tallinn’s old city from there was marvellous. That made the climbing up journey worthwhile.
Town Hall Square
After coming down as we were walking we finally reached the Town Hall square – a place full of restaurants or restoran as it’s called there, souvenir shops, ATMs and people. It seemed a lively place despite being a little cold and damp from rains. It was nice to see enough groups of youngsters and couples walking around with small kids in prams. For the first time, Tallinn felt like a place where people lived too and not just come for tourism.
Once there, we looked around the restaurants. We had two criteria for selecting a place – vegetarian food and Wi-Fi. So, we walked around the Town Hall Square looking at souvenirs and checking menus. We also asked for recommendations at local shops, but all the places suggested were primarily non-vegetarian’s delight.
Lunch at Tule Estonia
Then we went by our next criteria of free Wi-Fi and sat at Tule Estonia restaurant. As we were sitting there, weather started cooling down and that’s when we realised that all the seats had blankets and lights were more like heaters – both things, firsts for us.
The place had an interesting menu and it had symbols to specify veg, non-veg, vegan, sea-food etc. Though there were limited options for vegetarians, but the symbols helped in understanding different types of foods. We still asked the server for recommendations and clarifications. I have to say the female servers were quite rude, but the male servers were more accessible and helpful. After going through the entire menu, we ordered a bruschetta and vegiterina pizza. We ordered wine and virgin mojito the teetotallers.
And what a better way to celebrate the beginning of the trip – prosecco rose wine.
The food was nice, and the weather was also nice… it started drizzling and was breezy. Lots of people were walking around. It was lovely to just sit and enjoy the place. The blankets and heater too helped in making the ambiance cozy.
Mystery of Tudengimaja
There was a building in front called Tudengimaja, which means student house. It’s easy to say it now but it took us very long to decipher what was written because of calligraphic font and then find out the meaning. Finally, after trying many permutation and combinations on google translate, we got the meaning.
Lots of noise was coming from there. It seemed like some match was going on and finally the Estonian team or their favourite team won as there was loud cheer and then it went quiet. The liveliness of the place had caught our attention.
Interestingly all cafes and restaurants have similar outdoor seating with umbrellas and Saku written on them all. Later we found out it was the local brewery of Estonia.
Time for Local Shopping
Our hostel was not very far from Town Hall, so we decided to go back for a while and rest. on the way, we decide to pick up some fruits, milk and bread. We didn’t want to tire ourselves too much after long journey but wanted to come back in evening to experience the nightlife of Tallinn.
We asked around for supermarket but such a simple thing took us very long and we kept going in circles. language barrier was one, inaccessible and cold people was another, but the biggest hurdle was everyone’s dependence on internet. It was amazing to see the looks people gave on being asked for directions as if we belonged to another planet and were not introduced to internet. For a country thriving on tourism, I found the attitude a little strange. After going in circles for almost 20 minutes, we finally Rimi, one of the largest supermarket chain of Baltic region.
Later in the hostel, we couldn’t stop laughing as we decided to make milk-tea and realised that we had got sour milk instead of regular milk, all because of not understanding what was written and similar symbol. We had to live with milk-less tea and coffee along with early dinner at the hostel.
There were two runners amongst us and had decided that they will try to run once in every city we went to, so they went for a run on day one itself in Tallinn. Two of us decided to take it easy and just soak in the beauty of Tallinn.
Time to call it a Day
After resting for a while dinner and run, we had decided to go for a walk at night. We were waiting for the sun to set which happened around 9 pm. We went for a walk around 9.30-10 pm but came back early as roads were getting deserted. There were proper street lights, it was drizzling. Initially there were people but slowly they became lesser and lesser, so we didn’t go too far away from our hostel and came back to hostel and chatted sharing our experiences and observations with each other.
It was an eventful day. In the last 24 hours, we had crossed continents and finally our dream was becoming a reality. We were continuously exploring and discovering the city as well as ourselves.
And the time had come to rejuvenate and prepare for the next day… next adventure.