Surprise, surprise!!! When you are in Finland, Estonia is only a two-hour ferry ride away, and an absolutely amazing ferry ride at that. It was almost like a cruise-liner with a pub, really fantastic cafeteria food, lounge seating (and I’m talking velour club-chairs and sofas, here) and live music! Being the first leg of a discount journey to Tallinn, the ultimate destination for cheap alcohol according to the Finns, they want to make your experience as [truly] enjoyable as possible.
Part I: Roam the city. After checking in at the hotel, and searching for a no-longer-existing sushi restaurant, we settled on Popular Cafe for lunch. Great, light fare with enough variety…and inexpensive. Lunch for four with drinks was only 60 euros. Covered outdoor seating, check. Watching tourists navigate the cobblestone road, check. Toasting with some local brew, check. And getting some tips from the editor of the Tallinn tourist guide…double check. Make that triple check.
Part II: Sightseeing, shopping at the open market & pix.
I was surprised to learn (on the tour the next day) that Estonia was a convergence zone of conflict as a strong trading post between the Danish, the Germans and the Swedes. Part of the Hanseatic League, which was created to protect the economic interests of trading towns, “the league came to dominate Baltic maritime trade for three centuries.” However, Estonia itself struggled for independence from rulers throughout it’s history achieving it only briefly, for just a about a day, in 1918. The Manifesto reads that the peoples of Estonia, at that point, had lost their desire for independence. Sadly, they didn’t reach independence fully until 1990 after annexation by the Soviet Union which lasted for 50 years. Our tour guide characterized the Estonian people as having a flat demeanor little and tolerance for small-talk. Wouldn’t you after having been raised in a country that is historically without any sense of agency? Severely damaged in a March 1994 Soviet Air raid, Tallinn, Estonia today is a gorgeous city rich with history, dining and shopping boasting a tourist industry in which visitors outnumber locals 3:1.
There is a bounty of restaurants and shops that dot the outer walls of the old city, originally constructed to separate the often-revolting commoners from Tompou, the upper city where the oppressive governing body reigned. Not on the radar for most Americans traveling to Europe, Estonia is well-worth consideration as a two-day side trip.
Part III: But now to the shopping & food. The open market is really fun with vendors selling all the local specialties including linen, amber & wood products like butter & cheese knives.
Hearing out laments about the missing sushi restaurant, the tourist magazine editor sitting across from us at Popular Cafe suggested Tokumaru. Back at the hotel, we had the concierge make us reservations for 8:30, then visited the spa pool for a quick beer. When we arrived for our 8:30 reservation (having jumped into a cab and screamed over, fresh out of the shower), I was pretty disappointed to find the restaurant in a shopping mail. I generally have great disdain for ANY restaurants inside shopping malls, at home or abroad, but I was truly surprised with the service & quality of the sushi, here. While nothing particularly special (and frankly the Maguro Maki roll had very sparse portions of tuna), the fish tasted fresh, the choices standard and familiar, and the wine decent. Disappointments included the fact that restaurants there, while closing at 10:00 p.m., shut down the kitchen at 9:00 p.m.; the sake that I really wanted my friends to try with sushi was warm and had to be put on ice; AND the sushi arrived at least 30 minutes before the sake would be ready so we had to give up on sake and get a second bottle of Portuguese Vinho Verde. Still, we dipped and sipped and laughed, and it turned out to be a selling experience for our Finnish friends, who had really never tried sushi.
Part IV: Late night excursions on tourist-less streets. Tallinn at 10:30 p.m. continues to be as well-lit by the sun as Esbo & Helsinki, so walking in the evening with many fewer tourists is really fun. The sights are still easy to see and the pubs are beginning to hop with patio heaters warming the air and blankets awaiting late-night guests.
We made our way to the very festive, late-night atmostphere of Clayhills Gastropub, popular with expats and offering a great menu of spirits. While the owner was slightly annoying, quizzing a staff member about a patio heater installation (right next to us) for about 10 minutes, he moved along after I laughed and said that he was “harshing the mood.” We were left to our festivities, including trying Vana Tallinn, a local liquor that is mildly-sweet, sharp & delicious.
What a great side-tip with really fun people. And the murals aimed at tourists are equally fun…