EU Travelling 2018 - Baltic States Part 2 - Tallinn, Estonia

27/02/2018 Tallinn, Estonia

Procrastination, work/life and general case of the 'CBA's has lead me to putting off writing this post up until now, which I'm more than a little annoyed at myself with, as I really had hoped to have all three parts of my blog posts covering my Journey throughout the Baltic States done by now. Be sure to check out the first blog post of my journey, here. Here goes, without further procrastination, join me as I go over our experience of Tallinn, Estonia!

Tallinn, Estonia

Up bright and early with a forty-five minute flight from Riga, I was barely able to smash out one episode of Peaky Blinders before the plane was landing in Tallinn. A smooth flight and painless trip to the hotel to check in and drop our bags off left us with the majority of the day left for us to explore the capital of Estonia. Some wrong turns, google maps deciding to put everything in reverse and poor navigation skilled directions later, we found our way to the city centre. Jon was quick to point out that it felt like we were back in Bratislava again, perhaps due to there not being many people out in the streets or the windy cobbled roads that do give a distinct tone along the lines of "If I take a wrong turn here, I will definitely be stabbed down a dark alleyway." We found our way to the main city square and came across an Irish Pub, 'Murphy's' (could they have gone with a more stereotypical name?) which we figured would be a good stopping point to check online for things to do in the city over a local beer and some grub.

Some time had passed in the pub and it soon became early evening. As we ventured back out into the now very cosily lit city centre with many a Christmas decoration, we decided to take a leisurely stroll around the various viewing areas of the city which were nestled higher up in the hills which overlooked the city, leading around to the other side of the city walls which lead onto the more commercial and modern side of town, filled with a large shopping centre and all your usual fast food chains and restaurants. 

One thing that I do love about being away in Europe during Christmas time is how the streets are all lit up and emphasise on the character of the architecture styles. It's great to see a lot of people out in the streets late in the evening too, such as buskers, street performers and just general public also enjoying the surroundings. After exploring much of the main city centre and finding our bearings, we decided to make our way back towards the main square, stopping off for coffee on the way to look online for recommendations on where to get some good traditional Estonian food for our first evening in the city. Being one for wanting to try traditional food whilst I'm away, the online reviews and recommendations of 'The Draakon' were second to none, claiming to be a traditional style and aesthetic with great food and ale. We decided to make tracks and head there.

Just off of the main square, underneath what appeared to be a main church or cathedral was a large wooden door nestled underneath the towering church building, with a sign hanging overhead which bore the name 'The Draakon' in a distinct medieval style, accompanied by a plaque on the wall which detailed their menu and current offers in a quirky, quite Tolkien-esc style with winding script type, floral patterns on aged wood. We headed inside, where we had to head down a small set of stairs into a kind of open plan cellar which gave off a distinctly homely feel with candle lit tables, stone walls and open roaring fires whilst traditional medieval music filled the background, giving the setting a great ambience.

I headed through to find a table whilst Adam and Jon went to the main counter where they were greeted by a woman dressed in traditional robes and linen of the time and apparently, according to those two, was in character and gave off a very dead pan/sarcastic style of service as Jon soon found out as her response to his enquiry for a free table was "You don't eat a table, you need food." and Adam's order of a glass of water leading to her hilarious response of "Are you a boy? Boys drink water, men have ale, you have ale, yes?" (which we later looked on the reviews that was all part of the act and character of the restaurant). Gutted that I'd missed out on the waitress dishing out the stellar banter to those two whilst I found us a table, Adam and Jon joined me at the table where they had brought across a round of ale, a kind of pastie/pie filled with beef and a bowl of Elk soup each; all in traditional style bowls, ceramics and jugs. The food was absolutely to die for and went down a right treat, the whole ambience and traditional style and character of the surroundings made the experience a complete 10/10 for me.

Pleased with our evening and appetites sufficiently sated, we decided to head on back to the hotel, where upon entering our room it was like walking into solid musk of sewage and drainage stink. It was absolutely rancid. We checked the toilet, sink to which I then found that the smell was emanating from the shower. It made me feel instantly sick. Jon wasn't looking so certain on our room choice either. Adam was clearly unaffected as he was already tucked up in bed smashing out his iPad games. I wasn't having it though, Jon and I decided to head out to the reception and raise the issue, to which we were given the worst customer service we'd ever received. To cut a long story short, which included porter inspections of the room and a receptionist who couldn't have given any less fucks about our situation if she tried -- we checked out early, left extremely sour reviews on the hotel and after a brief hour or so of standing in the snowy Estonian streets at around midnight, trying to find another hotel nearby whilst on the phones to our families, we were able to book into a far superior hotel, just a few miles outside of the city centre.

[If you find yourself booking a trip to Tallinn, stay clear of City Hotel Tallinn!]

One fairly rotten evening later we woke up feeling refreshed and ready to put that minor hiccup behind us. We were just glad to have found another hotel room as I was certain that if I slept in that room with that god awful stink we would have only gotten ill from it and I wasn't about to willingly experience another illness similar to that which Jon and I had in Poland from food poisoning on our first EU trip. Heading into the city centre to see what the new day brought, we decided to check out a local walking tour again, similar to the one which we took in Riga with our main man Toms.

The tour took us throughout much of the city which we had seen the previous day, now learning what each of the buildings, landmarks and sights were and a whole lot of the history of Estonia. On the tour we learnt that Estonians, typically, hate one another and have little to no people skills -- that certainly explained our experience with the receptionist who clearly had no interest in any human interaction of any kind.

[The next time I get any kind of negative feedback in my working life for being slightly lacking in being a people person I'll direct whoever is giving me said feedback to take a trip to City Hotel, Tallinn and experience what shit customer service actually is!] 

The walking tour concluded back in the main square where we decided to head on toward the Kiek in de Kok and Bastion Passages Museum which was an old tower overlooking the city that was filled with a visual historical guide through the ages of Tallinn. Ascending, each floor had a different historical period within it, detailing notable pieces of history throughout the years, filled with all kinds of props, clothing, weapons, torture instruments and scripture -- great for any history lover, like myself to spend a great deal of time inside, taking in all the information and picturing the days long past of the city. We soon realised just how unfit we were when we had to descend the tower's winding original staircase, reaching the bottom jelly legged, ill and out of breath (okay the multiple pints at the Irish pub before the museum perhaps had something to do with it too).

Evening soon came around and we decided to search the streets for another place to sit and have a couple of beers in and see the rest of the night off. We ended up at 'Olde Hansa', which was another quite traditional, olde worlde style restaurant/bar, quite like that of The Draakon which we attended the night before. The setting inside was amazing, similar to that of The Draakon, the tables were candle lit, the warmth instantly hit you as you entered the building and all the waiting staff were in traditional robes and linen. The settings were great and our drinks came in the traditional style pot jugs again, except for a much steeper price than that of the previous night.

There, we spent the rest of the evening reminiscing on our time throughout Riga and Tallinn, comparing the two cities and planning our next steps for the next destination, Vilnius. All-in-all, Tallinn was a lovely place, your typical eastern European capital city with lots of medieval history, large impressive architecture and great local ales to taste! Despite our momentary problem with City Hotel Tallin, that didn't detract too much from the experience as we thoroughly enjoyed our time in the capital of Estonia. We all agreed that Tallinn feels like a capital city that our parents would probably love to visit as its a little more slower paced, lots of history and it just has a nice character about it, even if the people were generally quite rude.

Be sure to check out my various social media channels below to stay up to date with upcoming blog posts. Up next, I'll be detailing our final destination, Vilnius, Lithuania. For now though, this has been the second part of posts for our trip through Baltic States!

Read part one - Riga, Latvia here

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EU Travelling 2018 - Baltic States Part 1 - Riga, Latvia

11/02/2018 Riga, Latvia

The new year has started with adventure for me as I set out on my now somewhat, annual bit of travelling throughout Europe (this being the third year of travelling within the EU). This time, the destination was the Baltic States - Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania, travelling again with my good friend, Jon and this time joined by our old work colleague and friend, Adam. 

Riga, Latvia

First up on the route was Riga, Latvia's capital city. After an early 4:30AM start to drive up to Luton airport from Brighton, we were up and away on our roughly 2hr 30min flight to take us to Riga airport. After landing we grabbed some cash, got a lay of the land with the help of the airport tourism receptionist, caught a quick taxi ride to our hotel and donned our vests and long johns to survive the minus seventeen degree temperature which awaited us outside as we ventured into the city centre. Upon first sights, Latvia reminded both Jon and myself of our grim experience of Bratislava - not a lot going on, dull and cold surroundings with Soviet era statues and architecture looming over the landscape; our expectations were pretty low. Never the less, we pressed on into the city and found a T.G.I's to grab some food whilst we planned what to do with our time in Riga. Admittedly, whenever I go abroad, the last type of food I want to eat is T.G. fucking I's but in minus seventeen degree temperatures, you kind of get what you're given or become an ice cube.

Two distinctly average and Jon's apparently amazing burger and fries later, (we were unable to grab a Burger Brothers* before we set off travelling from Brighton, so clearly Jon had forgot what a decent burger actually tasted like, next time mate!) we had a plan of action for the rest of our day and following day and a half stay in Riga. We headed out and decided to spend the rest of the afternoon checking out the KGB museum at the other side of town. All three Baltic States had a really interesting past with the Soviet Union and we figured that would be a good starting point to learn about Latvia.

*[Burger Brothers is the best burger place in Brighton, perhaps the UK. Check it out if ever you're in Brighton.]

Heading to the KGB museum, everywhere you looked there were soviet monuments along with very communist era style architecture - I'll divulge more on these later on as we learnt what these monuments were erected for during our walking tour on our second day. Arriving at the museum, it looked like something out of a thriller, an inconspicuous building yet hidden in plain sight of which you'd expect to see the likes of Jason Bourne running towards to discover his true identity. Whilst I sadly didn't get any pictures of the building itself or much of its contents inside as the displays were mainly lines of text and a few pictures of KGB officers here and there; picture a large building on the corner of a block which, whilst looking like nothing out of the ordinary, once you stepped inside, it felt like you were instantly transported back in time to the 1940's as everything had remarkably been kept to its original style and standards.

Inside, the building was a plethora of information detailing the Latvians, Soviets and even Nazi Germans who had all occupied the building over the years, each under vastly different regimes and regulations. Going through a history which lasted right up until as recent as the 1990's, we soon learnt that the Latvian nation had endured a cruel history of oppression, having only regained their national independence very recently. Whilst it was saddening to learn, I thought the museum was a great first choice for our stay in Riga, as any European history of the 1900's greatly interests me, especially both wars and the cold war eras.

After finishing up at the museum it was soon getting around to mid evening and we knew we had a full day in Riga to make the most of ahead of us, so we decided to head back through the main city centre where we found all of the buildings we had previously passed on our way to the museum were now lit up, looking really prestigious and glorious at night; the European tradition of having Christmas trees up until late January also added to the lovely surroundings, lighting up the streets with a warm, homely glow. Later, we found ourselves at an English style pub where we tasted some samples of Latvian ales before deciding to have an early night so that we were ready for what Riga had to offer on our next day.

To kick off our second day in Riga, we decided to seek out expert knowledge of a local tour guide, Toms, who ran a two hour tour throughout Riga's city centre. Toms is one of those types of people who I could sit and listen to for hours on end, knowing that I'd walk away enriched and enlightened from what he'd have to share in conversation; his tour was excellent, giving us the history of Riga with some added personal anecdotes referencing his upbringing in the city amongst other things. He concluded the tour at a local bar where we were able to get some food and drinks in. Before leaving us Toms came across to Jon, Adam and myself and personally thanked us for being on the tour with him, he said that he could tell we really enjoyed it and it meant a lot to him. If you ever find yourself in Riga, take up the walking tour with Toms, seriously, you won't be disappointed! 

After finishing up our food and drinks at the bar we decided to head out to the Museum of Occupation in Latvia, where we could learn a little more about the history of the country, specifically how they fought for their independence on several times from under oppressors. The monument which I had mentioned earlier was detailed within this museum along with a whole bunch of information, props and even uniforms, weapons and miscellaneous objects from Latvia's past. One exhibit which stuck in my mind the most was the "Baltic Way" 600km human chain protest against the occupation of the three Baltic States in 1989. The chain of people stood hand-in-hand across 600km, going through Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania to stand up against the occupation and oppression and regain their independence is something that I'd never heard of before and was really interesting to learn about. It's amazing to learn about what we as humans can do. 

To finish off the evening we headed to 'Folkklubs Ala Pagrabs' - A olde worlde style restaurant which was in an underground cellar. The atmosphere in there was amazing, a live jazz band played in the corner next to a roaring open fire and the place was filled from front to back though we were lucky enough to get three seats at the bar. Jon and I opted for a traditional Latvian meal of 1 Kilo of Pork which came with chunky potato fries, sauerkraut and sour cream whilst Adam went for a traditional chicken dish. Let me tell you that this meal was probably one of the top five meals that I've ever had in my twenty-six years of living on this earth! Nursing a food baby, we headed back to the hotel for another early night as we had a flight to Estonia to catch first thing in the morning where we'd carry on our journey through the Baltic States!

All-in-all, Riga was a really lovely place, insanely cold, but great to experience never the less. The food was amazing, the beer tasted great and the sights were easy on the eyes, despite there being many a soviet and communist surroundings and history which was still quite the wound which was still healing. I'd mainly recommend Riga to travellers who are looking to learn about Soviet history and experience eastern Europe's culture, its great for foodies and travellers who don't mind donning their thermals to experience what's on offer!

In my next blog post I'll be going over our time spent in Tallinn, Estonia as a part of our trip through the three Baltic States so be sure to follow me on my social channels below to keep up to date with my adventures.

Adam loved the flight to Estonia's seating arrangement. 

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