I very much enjoyed the hostel I stayed in when I visited Tallinn. The name of the place was “Viru Backpackers”, it was within walking distance from the Viru gates and in the centre of the old town. It took me roughly 5 minutes in a taxi from the Ferry terminal to the Viru Gates, and then a short walk from the Viru gates to Viru Backpackers. It was exemplary after the chaos that I’d previously experienced trying to catch the Helsinki-Tallinn ferry (refer to Tallinn article).
I took this picture of a wall inside the hostel; it allowed visitors to mark where they were traveling from, either their hometown or previous location. It became apparent, that there were lots of international visitors staying at the hostel. Throughout the duration of my stay, I only met a small group of Australian’s, older male brits and a young British family. The hostel was full of people, but I didn’t get to see them all as I was rarely in my room. I only used my room to sleep, so I was coming back very late at night meaning most were already in bed. There were a variety of those little quirky doodles around the hostel, they were always pleasant to see, both morning and night. Sometimes, I’d even find new ones I’d not seen in places I’d least expect, like while taking a shower for example. It was awesome!
I wanted to see everything the city had to offer, I wanted to explore every inch of its culture and history. It was highly unique, its medieval roots were obvious as you walked through the old cobbled streets. However, there was a big difference between Tallinn and Riga, I couldn’t pick a favourite from the two because they were both great in totally different ways. Being a bit of a history nerd, I admired how the historical roots of the Old Town could be experienced from just a walk in the streets, you didn’t need to actively seek for historical aspects. It felt like I was walking through a real-life living and breathing museum. It didn’t surprise me when I discovered that Tallinn’s old town had been marked as a world heritage site by UNESCO. If you have ever visited the Black Country Museum, in the United Kingdom; I’m talking something like that but on a much larger, and more impressive scale. Imagine if London city, had been restored to its Medieval roots, I don’t mean just a few actors standing around the Tower of London and Buckingham palace, I mean the whole city restored to the days of old. That was Tallinn. In case you didn’t know, Tallinn is the capital of Estonia. It has an “Old Town” just like Riga, and a more modern new town, with a shopping
In case you didn’t know, Tallinn is the capital of Estonia. It has an “Old Town” just like Riga, and a more modern new town, with a shopping centre and a few big name hotels. It was like, if you stood at the Viru gates (the edge of the old town) and looked across the dual-carriage way ahead, passed the trams; you could see the new town. The 12-storey hotels and the shopping centre, right there. Almost in touching distance of the Old Town. It really was like stepping back in time.
Whenever I plan a weekend trip away, I often make a list of all the sights I want to see before going. This helps me make the most of my time away and I can tick off the places I’ve been. Once I had acquired a map of the “Old Town” I began exploring.
I saw; the Danish King’s Garden, the short leg, the long leg, St Mary’s cathedral (the dome church), Toompea castle, Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, St Olaf’s church, the cat’s well, Raekoja plats, Tallinn Town Hall, Viru Gates, The church of the holy spirit, St Nicholas church, Freedom square, St Peter’s church, Fat Margaret, The great guild and the Estonian History museum just to name a few. I read every single plaque on the wall, which gave a detailed description of the building it sat upon, revealing its history and previous owners.
It was a thrilling experience, to be able to delve so far back in time. To be able to walk the same streets as the people of the past, which were untouched by modern traffic. Additionally, people in cosplay helped to guide you to historical tourist attractions and local cuisine restaurants. Hooded figures coaxed you into the darkness of the torture museum or down the spiral steps of the Tallinn dungeons, eager to give you an experience like no other.
I first went out to tick everything off my “to-see” list, once I had accomplished this, I then began to pay attention to what the hooded figures had for me to see. I followed one, who took me down a spiral staircase into a small room underground. It was a dungeon experience based on the “Legends of Tallinn”. The staff were incredibly helpful with explaining this to me, although it must have been a challenge for them. In Tallinn, there were a lot of Finnish people, the Estonian’s were expected to know; Estonian, Finnish, English and even some knew Russian, it was understandable that sometimes they might accidentally switch languages mid-sentence, and they were very apologetic if this happened.
The Legends of Tallinn Experience took me through the main legends of the city. I will post the link to the promotional video here, so you can watch it and gather more information if you require. The themes were as listed below;
- The Middle Ages
- The Plague
- The Mermaid
- The Baron
- St Olaf’s Church
- The Alchemist
- Maiden’s Tower
Each of these themes was portrayed by a live actor in a room, based on a certain feature of Tallinn’s Old town. I will briefly share the outline of each theme that I experienced, unfortunately, pictures were not allowed.
The Middle Ages
This focused on the development of the “middle ages” in Tallinn and how the construction work for the city begun. It spoke of how new discoveries were made and the knowledge of the citizens started to grow. Businesses began to flourish and there was finally becoming a better functional economy in the old town.
Showing the role of the Pope Gregory IX and Dominican churches within Tallinn, it demonstrated how people would record the every move and word of their neighbours, their brothers, and their own spouses as the Pope had passed a “brutal” tribunal as the punishment of gossip and many other things. The city became paranoid as many people were captured and imprisoned on the grounds of “hearsay”. This was also, the introduction to the witch-hunts in Tallinn, known for the use of unbelievable torture, this left a very “bloody mark” on the city’s reputation.
When the plague arrived in Tallinn, it took the city a little by surprise. You were taught how the people in Tallinn lived amongst the plague and what they did to protect themselves and their families from catching the deadly disease. It was told how, some turned to religion, praying to god for his help and protection but the plague victims and many others would say, “there is no point in waiting on god for his help”. Some called the plague doctor, but the doctors often also lay dying next to their victims or would easily infect new people accidentally. Some helped to keep the city functioning, removing the infectious, dead bodies to the outskirts and setting them alight. Some simply refused to let death intimidate them, they “indulged in sin”, drank and were merry in the streets. But the question that Tallinn Legends posed to us was, “death doesn’t care if you fear it or not. So what would you do when death appears at your doorstep?”
In all honesty, I don’t know.
This story was based upon a strange girl who lived in Tallinn, she would often be caught singing deep down the “the cats well” ( a well in the Old Town, where people sacrificed cats to ward off bad spirits from the city”. The girl was considered delusional as she would always be found leaving the house at night to sit near the well, looking longingly into it. The people of the town thought her odd, yet knew she had a special talent. Rather than banishing her, as they did with many other strange folk, they kept her in the town. They thought she protected Tallinn from something bad, but they did not know what. One day, the girl disappeared, and she was never to be seen again. Sailors would often say they could hear her singing at the docks of the Baltic sea, and would listen to her lovely voice as it charmed them. Legend has it, she returned to the Baltic Sea where she belonged, her singing at the well was her longing to be back in the ocean. It is common belief amongst many people, that Mermaids live in the Baltic sea, and if your lucky enough you may catch a glimpse of one.
The Baron Johann von Uexkull was arrested and beheaded for killing his escaped peasants. The law had stated that it would guarantee freedom to any peasant who could escape, outrun their landowners without being caught and remain inside the city walls. Johann felt betrayed at this, he believed his peasants were his and he had complete control over their lives. He told stories of how his family had previously treated their peasants and how they were only fit for his good. He tried to bribe himself out of his execution sentence however, it didn’t work.
St Olaf’s Church
St Olaf’s church once stood as Tallinn’s highest building. This enabled sailors to see Tallinn from the Baltic sea and encouraged them to stop and visit. The construction of the church though, however, was very costly and time-consuming. There are a variety of different legends about how St Olaf’s got its name, but I shall tell you the one I experienced at the dungeons.
The tower of St Olaf’s church needed a cross. Many men had fallen to their death trying to complete the church by placing the cross, but until the cross the placed the church would remain unfinished. A strange man who nobody had seen before came to the town and told its people “I shall place the cross on top the church for a large fee, unless you guess can guess my name before I reach the top”. The people of the town agreed and soon everybody was trying to discover the man’s name, as he made preparations to climb the mighty tower. Upon the day of the great climb, the townsfolk made numerous guesses at the man’s as he climbed the church tower effortlessly. Not a single person had managed to guess correctly up until he had reached the top and was about to place the golden cross.
“Make sure you get it straight Olaf” one town’s man shouted up
In shock, and possibly knowing he wouldn’t be getting his large sum of money. Olaf placed the cross and then fell from the tower of the church, onto the cobbled streets below. The church had been completed and was then, the tallest building in the whole of the capital. The townsfolk decided they would name the church after the man who had completed, therefore calling it “St Olaf’s Church”.
It was said that, the man who guessed Olaf’s name had followed him home one night and saw Olaf’s wife singing to their child.
“Olaf’s going to bring us home some money tomorrow night”
This was the most difficult story for me to understand as it involved a lot of Finnish/Estonian singing. It spoke about the days when war came to Tallinn, but I am unsure exactly what was covered in this room.
The Alchemist was a strange looking man who mysteriously turned up in Tallinn after the plague. He claimed he could re-create the formula for the Philosopher’s stone for the decreasing population after the effects of the plague. Of course, the townspeople were overjoyed by his proposal, they could finally restore the decreasing population of Tallinn.However, the high authorities were skeptical. The strange, young man locked himself away in his house and began creating and experimenting with various things. One morning, the alchemist disappeared from his room, leaving behind only a long and complicated formula. They turned to the town’s druggist and asked him to recreate what they believed would be the Philosopher’s stone, but in fact, it turned out to be the recipe for Marzipan. One of the best-selling, easily-accessible sweets to get in Estonia, even to today.
The city had decided that it needed a young, pure, girl to be locked away and sacrificed for the protection of the city. This did not surprise many people, except for the young girl herself. She did not understand why the city did not need her life, yet needed her death. She was left, deep underground alone and hungry in the Maiden’s Tower.
That completed my journey through the dungeons of Tallinn. I thanked the actors for all their excellent performances and we were offered to write a message on the wall of the final room as we went outside. I wrote a big thank you and spoke of my delightful experience, making note of my travels from the UK.
When it came to eating in the Old Town, I decided to try two Vegan restaurants which were both very accommodating. The staff were very friendly and I even stuck up with a conversation with one waitress who told me, how her Estonian parents were in England when she was born, making her British. She was bubbly and her features were typical of that of Estonian, her hair was long and pure white. She shared her knowledge of England with me as I ate my food, this is what I enjoy most about dining alone. The possibilities are endless and you can meet some remarkably interesting people.
I had an absolutely amazing time in Tallinn, I have learned plenty of new information and I have so many stories to share. I could post millions of pictures from all around this beautiful historical city but I just don’t have enough space and want to keep it limited. I will be sure to share my photographs with close friends and family to spread the word of what a truly unique experience it was to visit this old town.
Amongst all the great souveniers I picked up, my favourite of them all is this little doll. Ink Splash.
On my list of places to see, I had marked down the Art House Doll Museum. It was a special, one of a kind, little doll making school situated in an old room just off Catherine’s Passage. I had trouble opening the large wooden door, as everything had been kept from the past exactly how it had been including, the heavy front door. Inside, there were young children who were being encouraged to explore their art skills. All around the outskirts of the room were beautiful dolls and teddys like Ink Splash made by a variety of designers. In the centre of the room, sat people and children, creating new teddy and dolls from a range of materials. Some were big and somewhere small, I saw a huge Alice in Wonderland ceramic doll which was unbelievably detailed. I was drawn to a section of small dolls where I found Ink Splash sitting in a dolls house for decoration and expression of character. There was another doll similar to Ink Splash, only she was Red and Black and her name was “Red Charcoal”. There was a small selection of different coloured dolls but Ink Splash and Red Charcoal had caught my attention the most. Ink Splash for the fact, her hair was so big (and much resembled myself!), and Red Charcoal for the contrast of her colours. Both dolls were labelled with a small tag from the designer. It told you the given name of the doll, the materials used, the height it stood at, the location of creation, the designer and a stamp of approval, as the dolls were usually collectibles. The dolls unique faces really captured my heart, the looked so grumpy. I loved it! I could see myself in them. I asked the staff who were creating the dolls “What happened to the money that they made from sales?”
They told me that, depending on the circumstances, the money would either go to funding the art school for the children (as some had special needs, like ADHD and struggled in everyday classrooms) or it would be donated to helping children in hospitals in Estonia. This ultimately sold me, and I purchased Ink Splash. I read her label and discovered she was a collectible that had been made by a famous designer in Riga, Latvia. This further made my heart melt and I instantly formed a connection with Ink Splash. I would have bought Red Charcoal too, however my trip was coming to an end and my funds were running low. I protected Ink Splash in my belongings all the way back to Helsinki, I can’t wait to put her in my bedroom and show her off to everybody!
Each doll that was in that doll museum was truly beautiful. They had each been made with such a high level of detail and effort gone into them. I was more than happy to spend my money on purchasing a doll, knowing I was benefitting the children I could see running around the exhibition, both upstairs and downstairs. I had witnessed how difficult it was for some of the children to stay focused, as I recall one boy running around the creators sitting at the table in the middle of the room, and then hiding behind the big wooden door blocking the entrance. Acting as a bit of a distraction to everybody else. A member of staff calmly, helped him to get back into what he was supposed to be doing and motivated him to continue his project. I am unsure whether the staff got paid, as I think the studio worked with different opening hours than the traditional business. I am also unsure, as to how many people know of that hidden gem in Catherine’s passage as I was the only person in the museum for my whole time there. Upon leaving, people would stare at me, slow down and read the sign on the door making me think they wouldn’t have noticed it otherwise.
I will insert a link here, to the Estonian Art Doll House museum as I strongly recommend that anybody who visits Tallinn should check it out.
I would like to thank Legends of Tallin for the information they supplied to me to write this article. This is completely unsponsored, I have written this based on the fact I had a great experience upon visiting. For more information you can visit; http://tallinnlegends.com/eng/
Thank you for reading, I hope you liked this article. Keep your eyes peeled for my next post.
Until then, keep an open mind!