The Baltics are just waiting for a tourist avalanche. Estonia, one of the three countries that make up this small and flat region, (the others being Latvia and Lithuania), is now not just known for its weightlifters, but for its beauty, friendly people, quaint pubs and delectable cakes. Situated in the Eastern part of Europe and to the north, Tallinn the capital is, I think, best in winter.
Fronting a bay that overlooks the Gulf of Finland, Tallinn is a mixture of old and new.
One of the best ways to get there is to fly from London to Helsinki, catch a hydrofoil across The Gulf, which will drop you one kilometer from the Old Town, otherwise known as Vanalinn to the locals. Strolling around the Old Town, which is encircled by medieval walls and snow-topped pastel-colored buildings, you can’t help but feel like Hansel or Gretel. The narrow streets are molded with caramel colored cobbled stones and in winter laced with icy snow, so wear good shoes and watch out for the chilly icicles that dislodge themselves from the buildings without any warning.
Tallin’s medieval beauty has remained well intact, earning itself a UNESCO Heritage Listing in 1997 and its buildings are an array of a mixed cultural past of Scandinavian, Russian, Germanic and Baltic architecture. All of this adds to the romantic feel of the city.
I am not a shopper, but I could not resist the temptation in Tallinn. The paved sidewalks lead to charming little shops that sell hand-painted Russian dolls, Estonian knit wear and intricate embroidered haberdashery. Eesti Kasitoo is a company that sells traditional handmade Estonian handicrafts and they have three shops in the Old Town. All products are made from natural materials and I bought a long red woolen shawl from the store in the main square. This came in handy, as it was snowing and I spent most of my time outside. The Russian dolls do come in their traditional costumes or you can choose a set that portrays anything from The Simpsons to the cast of Friends. After much deliberation, I settled on John, Paul, George and Ringo in their Sergeant Pepper gear!
As a person who loves anything old, the book and antique shops were alluring. I ended up buying a batch of worn Estonian women’s magazines depicting Soviet fashions, and a small chandelier, that was for all its exquisiteness, relatively cheap.
What is fantastic about Tallinn is that it nurtures local artists. There are so many art galleries to choose from, both in the old and new parts of town, and I could not go past without buying some pottery from Bogapott which also has a café. Make sure you visit The Katariina Passage, which has the best variety of artistic wares and where you can watch a blacksmith or potter at work.