Today we wandered the Old Town of Tallinn.
The Navigator thought hard about where to stay here and eventually settled on Hotel Telegraaf. As the name suggests, the hotel is set in the old central Post Office and is right in the centre of the Old Town. It is just 70 steps away from the medieval town square and 500 meters from Freedom Square where The Pope held Mass yesterday. It is about 5 minutes walk away from anywhere in the Old Town.
We started our day at St Olaf's Church. At 125m high, this was reportedly the tallest building in Europe during the 1500's. This seems a bold and controversial claim but a quick check of Google seems to confirm it. St Peter's in Rome wasn't completed until 1626.
This building has served as a Roman Catholic, Lutheran and now as a Baptist church. Accordingly inside it is relatively undecorated. Our challenge for the day was the 258 steps up the staircase of death to the narrow, one person wide viewing platform on the edge of the copper roof. This only gets one halfway up the building but the view was spectacular. Fortunately there were places to stop and rest on the way up. There is only one way up or down, so we gave plenty of encouragement to the people climbing up.
"Thank you. You give us hope," said one puffing climber. "We are no longer hopeless."
As you can see, the weather was not the best. The Pope took the sun with him. Up on the viewing platform the wind was howling and the rain was starting.
Back on ground, we dodged the tour groups from the NCL cruise boat docked in the harbour and headed to the other end of the Old Town to tour the tunnels underneath the bastions. Here we had an almost Russian-like experience of misunderstanding.
"Two tickets, please."
"Towers or tunnels?"
“Two for towers, then.”
We will put this first misunderstanding down to accents. When we went to go the tunnels, the ticket lady rushed up to us.
"You don't have ticket to tunnels."
"But that's what we paid for."
"No, you paid for towers."
"Ok, we will pay the extra four Euros for the tunnels."
"But you bought tickets for towers."
"Yes but we will pay extra to go into the tunnels."
"But you only have tickets to towers."
This Monty Python style this isn't an argument, yes it is, no it isn't, yes it is continued for another minute or so until the ticket lady gave up in frustration and took our money.
Despite this, the tunnels were very interesting. Originally built in the 17th century to shift troops and ammunition underneath the bastions to defend the town, they were abandoned when after only 100 years the bastions were no longer effective in defending the city against more modern warfare. Since then they were used as air raid shelters during W.W.2, when more than 20 % of the town was destroyed and more than 20,000 people were made homeless. During the 50's and 60's under the Soviets they were used as possible nuclear shelters and then the homeless moved in after the fall of Communism. The homeless were moved out in the early 2000's when the city restored the tunnels. Many of the tunnels were full of water and a whole section is given over to rare bats and spiders who moved in and our now protected. Some of the tunnels are still blocked off and no-one knows where they go. Our tour guide said he used to play in the tunnels when he was a child. At the very end of the tour is a collection of limestone carvings which have been recovered from around the Old Town. It was very interesting to see how the different types of limestone were more or less suitable for carving. Indeed, some Tallinn limestone crafts were such high quality it was sent to all over Europe.
After the tunnels, we toured the towers. The view would have been spectacular but by now the rain had set it. Instead we tried on the armour. We had lunch and struck up a conversation with a lady from Munich who among other things had come to Estonia to see the bears.
We wandered the cobbled streets early in the evening observing a much calmer town than last night after the Pope. We returned to the cafe we ate in last night and sat in the tiny upstairs bay window for two to continue people watching. The Navigator is happy - he had Estonian food. Roasted duck borscht and then lamb dumplings, both with hapakoor (sour cream). Yum.
Tallinn is a beautiful old city, restored after the devastation of W.W.2, yet with many buildings untouched from the 1400's. There are many artisans with studios and a feel of a renaissance of the hand made now out weighing the mass produced souvenirs for the cruise ship day crowds.
Medieval square in the Old Town