Monday, April 1, 2013

Weekend Visit to Tallinn

In Finland, workers have holiday on Good Friday and the Monday after Easter.  With a four day weekend, often people make mini vacations.  With its proximity and cheap booze, many Finns find Tallinn a popular vacation spot not only at Easter but all year round.  My boyfriend and I followed suit this past weekend and too did a little sight seeing.

Tallinn is the capital of Estonia which is located to the south of Finland.  It's official language is Estonian, but many of the natives interacting with tourists on an everyday basis easily speak English, Finnish, and Russian.  At restaurants, my boyfriend would sometimes order in Finnish, then I would order in English.  Estonia most recently belonged to Russia.  However, it declared its independence in 1991, making the country only 21 years old!

Here are a few fun facts about Estonia according to the Academic Express blog.
  • Estonia is the least religious country in the world with only 14% of the population claiming any religious beliefs.

  • Estonia has a population of 1.3 million and one of the most sparsely populated countries in Europe.
  • Estonia is the homeland of Skype and Hotmail.
  • Out of the nearly 200 countries in the world, Estonia ranks in the second place with a literacy rate of 99.8%.
  • In 1994, Estonia became the first country to institute the flat income tax.
  • Estonia has the highest number of meteorite craters per land area in the world.
As you can see from the map above, Tallinn is located just across the water from Helsinki, from which you travel by a ferry much like this one. There are many things to do on the ferry to pass the time: gambling, bars, snack bars, and shops.  One of the biggest reasons that Finns find Estonia so attractive is because of the cheap alcohol.  In Finland, all alcohol (expect beer) sales are monopolized by the government.  To discourage drinking, alcohol carries a large sales tax.  This is not the case is less strict Estonia, meaning Finns often go there to stock up where they can find products at nearly have price or better.  Some people carry their cars on the ferry and fill it with booze. Others bring grocery carts or some sort of dolly, so they can by more than they can carry with their own two hands.

We stayed at a spa hotel just near the port operated by Tallink, the same company that owns the ferries.  The hotel had two pool areas with two Jacuzzis and a swim up bar, a range of saunas (Finnish, Hamam, and Turkish), a steam room, beauty salon services, massage services, several bars, and a restaurant.  On the first day, I had to go in search for a swim suit because I had forgotten mine in Finland.  Miraculously, I bought one in Russian sizes at a sort of flee market, which fit and was somewhat fashionable.  I was able to still use the pool area with a broken arm, bu using the trash bag and duck tape method. It wasn't pretty, but it kept me dry.  I also was able to try the saunas for a short period of time (I didn't want to sweat!) with the bag.  Of course, the cast did not prevent me from getting a much overdue massage either.
You could spend all your time with activities at the hotel, but we didn't.  Luckily, Tallinn was not destroyed during war times so much of the old European style architecture remains intact.  I was particularly excited about this because Finland does not have any.  In Old Tallinn, you could still see the town's protective walls and tours, the old style of the buildings, and winding cobblestone streets.  Many restaurants, clubs, and shops could be found in cellar like atmospheres.  Walking through the streets, you could just feel like you were walking through a page in history.

Like many old European towns, there was a central square.  It looked very Medieval-like with the cobblestones and the large church-like building. Today, it's lined with mostly restaurants and a few tourist shops. We took advantage of some free time on a sunny day, by sitting on the patio of one of the cafes, drinking coffee, and watching the people go by.

My boyfriend and I liked Old Tallinn so much we spent all of our time there.  We walked through streets admiring the look and the feel of the aged and colorful buildings.  In the picture below, you can see an example of what I mean. You will not find anything like this in Finland or the USA.  

The streets of Old Tallinn were filled with tiny restaurants, cafes, bars, museums, and tourist shops. Naturally, we also did a lot of eating.  Here are some of the restaurants we tried that I recommend.

1.  Georgian Tavern Tbilisi.  This was by far our favorite restaurant even though it was only rated #100 of 320 on Tripadvisor.  When my boyfriend first suggested we try "Caucasian" food, my reaction was "What do you mean you want white people food?" Caution, I'm about to show my culture ignorance.  To me, Georgia was just a state in the southern US. I didn't know it was also a country, and Caucasian cuisine was the traditional food of Georgia and its surrounding countries. I was pleasantly surprised. It was delicious. We were stuffed and our bill came to less than 35 euros! 
2.  Leib Resto ja Aed.  It was ranked #11 of 320, and rightly so.  The menu was limited, but offered something for everyone.  What they lacked in food offering, they made up for in wine and other alcohol. The servers were extremely well trained and friendly and could pair your meal with any wine or beer that would complement the taste.  The scenery was gorgeous in the wintertime, but obviously did not look like its picture here. My boyfriend and I are hoping to revisit during warmer months so we can get the full aesthetic experience. 

3. Restoran Bollywood.  I actually chose this restaurant because what I looked like inside. The food was good, but did not have as much wow factor as the first two.  It was my first time at an Indian food restaurant.  I did try Oolong tea for the first time, which was delicious. 

Honestly, I think my favorite part of the restaurant was the window seat, which is where I requested to sit as soon as I walked in the door.  We had a nice relaxing time there just sitting and talking after we were finished with our meal.  One very interesting thing I found was that all the walls and the ceiling in the bathroom were covered in mirrors. It was pretty, but maybe better suited for a dressing room, not a bathroom.

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