Monday, 25 April 2011

Getting around in Tallinn

Say what you like, they certainly are cheap!
Being a capital city, you generally expect good transportation and Tallinn certainly provides that. Unlike some places, the airport is centrally located and taking a bus from there to the city centre only takes 5 stops and is both cheap and quick. The airport itself is quite a decent size and Ryanair have recently opened up routes there making it pretty easy to fly there.

Have you ever seen such lovely tickets?
The bus system in Tallinn seems really good, although we only used it for getting to/from the airport and when we visited the Open Air Museum. You are generally meant to buy tickets in advance although it is possible to buy them from the driver, it's just more expensive and takes a while trying to explain that you want a ticket. One of the things I liked most about the buses was the fact that the tickets are some of the most beautiful tickets that I have ever seen. Seriously, you don't expect much effort to go into a bus ticket and so I was pleasantly surprised when I was handed such a lovely ticket.

Getting lost is now a challenge
Since the old town is so small, it makes it really easy to get around simply by walking which lets you really explore the place and it's signposted really well making it very difficult to actually get lost as you just keep going until you reach another signpost - when trying to find the train station to visit the Russian Market we didn't need to consult our map at all as we just kept following the signs.

Finally, there are plenty of buses and ferries allowing easy and cheap access to all the neighbouring countries and so not only is Tallinn a wonderful city and easy to navigate, but it would also make an excellent base for exploring the rest of that small corner of Europe which is certainly something I plan on doing in the future.


Thursday, 21 April 2011

Eating, Drinking and Sleeping in Tallinn

As I'm a very poor, unemployed student it means that at the moment while travelling I can't really afford to spend lots of money and so while in Tallinn we tried to keep on a tight budget.

Sleeping

While in Tallinn, we chose Tallinn Backpackers as our hostel since it was both really cheap and also had the best reviews I could find. The reviews certainly didn't lie as the hostel was amazing - we'd willingly go back just to stay at the Hostel. It had a 24-hour reception and so we were able to check in quite late when we arrived and after giving us a short tour, we were even given a map where they marked on several important places (like the supermarket) and places that would be worth a visit.

My bed

Our room was basic but comfortable and luckily right beside my bed there were a few stone shelves jutting out of the wall where I was able to store the locker key and my phone (which I use as an alarm) and so I didn't have to worry about keeping my belongings safe (I didn't need to anyway, everybody was lovely and friendly). Unfortunately the three guys in our room all snored in unison which made it awkward for sleeping but we managed.

The view from my window
It was a really friendly place and we met a heap of people that ended up being on the same flight back as us, one girl even offered us a lift home because she was from the same city but we already had plans so we had to decline. One night there was also a group of German guys and so I was able to test out a little of my German with one of them and although I only said basic things, I was able to understand some of their conversations which made me quite proud.

On the first night there, they managed to convince us to come on the pub crawl which I mentioned in an earlier post and each night afterwords they tried to convince us. On the Thursday, after checking out and going on the walking tour we then headed back to the hostel to shelter from the rain and spent the rest of the day chilling and watching movies on the projector as the weather was too horrible to go outside.

Eating

Useful phrases in several languages
For eating, we were unfortunately not able to eat at any of the restaurants or cafes and so got all our food from the supermarket. This was nice though in that we had the fun of shopping in an Estonian supermarket and we did try to eat things that were a bit more "traditional" such as bread and ham. Being a huge lover of cheese, I couldn't help myself from trying a blue cheese they had on offer and I also spotted a Brie with walnuts in it which I couldn't resist. We also ate quite a lot of fruit as it was pretty cheap to buy. Hopefully we can go back another time though and eat at some of the restaurants. We also saw quite a few interesting things at the duty-free in the airport like bear in a tin, unfortunately was too expensive to be worth buying as a souvenir.



  
Drinking

The flavoured beer
One of the first things I was told when I mentioned my plans to visit Estonia was "they have really cheap alcohol" and that's certainly true. It's not quite the case when drinking out, as we discovered on the pub crawl, but buying drinks in supermarkets certainly is pretty cheap. We both tried A Le Coq, one of the traditional Estonian beers then Luci also tried Saku (I tried a little bit of it, but was too strong for my tastes). While shopping we also discovered at one point a Lemon beer and a Pomegrate beer and so we each got one to try. I had the pomegranate one which turned out to be extremely nice (and was only 70 cents too).


On Wednesday night, I was also given a shot for free from the hostel although they didn't tell us what it was but I later found a strawberry liquor which I think it was and so I bought a tiny bottle as a souvenir to use of some of my change.

Beer Pong Rules
Not only was the alcohol cheap, the hostel also taught us some fun drinking games. On Tuesday we finally learnt how to play Beer Pong and lost our very first game (although one of our opponents was an American so it was rather obvious they would have an advantage). On Wednesday night they had a game where you have to drink your height in beer. I would have loved to take part in that game but as we were leaving on Thursday we figured there was no point buying enough beer as we probably wouldn't finish it all and so it would be a waste of money and buying from the hostel would have been even more expensive. However, it's certainly something we're going to try out now that we're back home! 





  

Monday, 18 April 2011

Free Walking Tour in Tallinn

Freedom Square
We had to get up early on Thursday in order to check out by 11am and so since we were already up we decided it would be the perfect day for going on the free walking tour and would also be the best way to say goodbye to Tallinn before we left. We'd already seen most of the places on our wanders and so we thought it would be really nice to learn a bit more about everything we saw.

Once everybody had gathered at the meeting point, we met our tour guide who was a young Estonian student who also worked during summer as a paid guide and so knew the route really well. Since it was a free tour, it was also a lot more informal than most tours which was really nice as the guy just chatted away to everybody and would also tell us amusing things that he couldn't say on the "official tours".


Alexander Nevsky Cathedral
Our very first stop was a church right beside the starting point where he told us an interesting story about how guys used to bring girls there who would then get scared by a "mummy" which they could protect them from. After that, we headed on to Freedom Square with the giant monument where he told us about how just after it was build, some sort of red mould started growing on the glass causing peope to start saying it was a bad omen about the "red terror" returning.


We then headed on up to the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral and had a look inside, it was amazing and very ornate and just gave you a feeling of awe standing there even though it wasn't actually that large inside, certainly felt a lot smaller after seeing the huge outside. On our way there, we had passed the Kiek in the Kok tower which means "Peek in the kitchen" because you used to be able to see into the kitchens of houses nearby. Outside the Cathedral our tour guide took lots of pleasure in showing us the most expensive toilet in Estonia - a small public toilet which cost around 100,000 euros to build. It's also the cheapest hotel as if you go into it 5 minutes before it automatically locks, you can stay in there all night and not be disturbed until the morning.

Tallinn Old Town

By this point in the tour, it had started to get quite rainy but it was still light enough to not bother us too much although one other member of the group decided to head back to her hotel at that point. We now went to have a look at St Mary's Cathedral which is the oldest church in Tallinn and from then headed to a viewpoint where we got a wonderful panoramic view of the old town. Unfortunately by this point the rain was getting worse so the view wasn't that great but luckily we'd already been earlier so we had some nice photos already.


Town Square
Now we just had one location left which was the town square, firstly we went to visit the Pharmacy which is one of the oldest Pharmacies in Europe that is still running and we were able to go into a small museum section showing all the ancient recipes and ingredients.

However, the tour wasn't finished yet - before we could leave our guide took us into the centre of the square and proceeded to teach us a small traditional Estonian dance which we then had to perform as the finale of the tour. It was pretty simple and pretty fun and luckily the rain wasn't too bad when we did that.

It was definitely one of the best tours I've been on and I'd highly recommend it to anybody visiting as after all it's completely free and is both very fun and very informative.

The Viru gates (weren't part of the tour)


Tallinn Old Town

St Mary's Cathedral
Kiek in de Kok Museum

Friday, 15 April 2011

The Occupation Museum and failed trip to Riga

On Wednesday we woke up extremely early in order to get to the bus station in plenty of time for the bus at 6:30, it was too early to get public transport and we didn't really like the idea of getting a taxi and so we just walked. Turned out that it didn't take us that long and we arrived with plenty of time to spare.

After waiting around for a while, we thought we should check which stand our bus would be at, this was when the trouble started. I noticed there was no bus listed for the time we had ours booked and it was at this point I noticed the wrong date on our tickets. I still don't know how the wrong day was booked but never mind, because our tickets were so cheap we decided that it wasn't that much of a loss (plus we weren't particularly looking forward to spending 6+ hours on a bus) and went back to the hostel to get some more sleep, but not before a creepy Russian guy stopped us to tell us what beautiful girls we were... It certainly has made us want to visit Riga now as it's our "city that got away", but I guess we can leave it for another time, when we'll be there long enough to get some of the local currency.

One scary statue
After having a delightful lie-in, with no disturbance from the trio of snorers in our room, we realised we had absolutely no plans for that day and after a little discussion, we decided to visit the Estonian Museum of Occupations as it looked quite interesting and I do enjoy learning about History. I planned our route so that on the way, we'd be able to walk past Freedom Square and the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral.

After a lovely scenic walk, we arrived at the museum which was extremely cheap. It was quite small, but was full of interesting things and they had 7 informative videos you could watch for different time periods. They lasted around 45 minutes for each one though, so we only watched three as it was getting late and although it was really interesting, I think we would have got bored watching more. We were also able to wander downstairs where they had a collection of large soviet statues or busts which were very imposing and felt slightly creepy, especially as we were in quite a small room.
 

If you're interested in History then it's definitely worth a visit and I should also point out that you don't need to worry about watching all the videos as they're also available to view online for free on the museum website which can be found by clicking here

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Estonian Open Air Museum

On our first day in Tallinn, we spent a while just exploring the city and went to find the Russian Market. After walking round it, we decided to visit the Open Air museum as I'd read good things about it and it seemed relatively cheap, that and we happened to be right beside the bus stop for it.

Some of the buildings
After waiting for ages and trying to figure out what side of the street we were on, we finally got on the bus. In Tallinn, most people buy their tickets in advance so it was a little difficult with the few phrases I had learnt but managed to get a ticket from the driver (for the record, the bus tickets in Tallinn are some of the loveliest bus tickets I've seen) and then we were off!


It was about a 20 minute ride until we reached the stop and the closer we got, the more snow there seemed to be. As we discovered a few days later, there had recently been a lot of snow and so it hadn't melted as much on the outskirts. The entrance fee to the museum was extremely cheap and so we splurged extra Euro for a map (even though there was a mini one on the back of our tickets)

The windmill

As it was winter, most of the buildings were actually closed, but we were still able to read the signs and it was nice to just wander around and look at them all. It was really peaceful with hardly anybody there except for a few people in the distance. At one point we even saw a squirrel on the path, but it ran away as soon as we got close.


At one small group of farm buildings, we decided to trek through the snow to get a closer look at some (in particular one house that looked tiny) but that turned out to be a huge mistake as the snow was a lot deeper than it looked and our feet kept sinking. I spent the rest of the day with cold, wet feet as a result of that.

My small venture onto the ice
We made our way to the village swing via a lovely wooden windmill and attempted to swing on it although it was rather awkward, but from there we were able to see the frozen sea and so after consulting our map, we made our way along to the fisherman cottage where we were able to scramble down to the beach and I was able to actually walk on the frozen sea. I must say, that was an incredible experience although I didn't venture out too far out since I wasn't sure how solid the ice was.
 

After our little "miracle", we made our way to the old schoolhouse which was one of the few buildings still open during winter and so were able to have a look at what a traditional school looked like, seemed quite cosy which I suppose it needed to be since they mainly went to school in the Winter as in Summer they would be too busy working on farms.
Inside the old schoolhouse

By now, we were quite cold, tired and hungry so we decided to head back to the hostel, although finding the bus stop proved to be a slight problem so we just got the bus at the stop we got off at and rode it to the end where it circled back and we discovered that the "bus stop" for the opposite direction was actually just a pole with an image of a bus on it.

It was a great experience, although would be nicer to visit during summer when more things are open although the snow did make it feel lovely and peaceful.

The informative signs at each building

More buildings

On the village swing



A lovely little wooden signpost
The frozen sea







Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Pub Crawl in Tallinn

Luci and I arrived around 10:30 pm on Monday night at our hostel and minutes after arriving we were told about the pub crawl that was just leaving and asked if we wanted to join. After spending the entire day travelling and waiting and stations, we politerly declined as we wanted to settle in. Several other people stayed behind and were chilling with their beers until 11pm when the common room closes, and so when they were kicked out they decided to go on another pub crawl. This time, we were tempted along by the promise of Karaoke.

Our first stop in Estonia


Amusingly enough, the very first place we visit in Estonia is an Irish bar. After checking out the prices (after all, we're both very poor students) we settled on ordering a local Estonian beer by the name of A Le Coq. I had the light version and it was extremely nice and was enough to us courage to sing a song.



I'd certainly recommend this
After much deliberation and constant persuasion from the rest of the group, we finally settled on singing "Livin on a Prayer" by Bon Jovi since it's one of the only songs we felt confident enough in singing. As luck would have it, a group of guys we were with had chosen the same song and so we ended up being a group of five which really helped boost our confidence. The Karaoke was really good and since there were so many of us, you couldn't hear how terrible my singing was.

We stayed for a few more songs, the final one before we left was sung by the bar staff and was some popular Russian song (at least I assume it was Russian, it was certainly in Cyrillic and I know Tallinn has a large Russian population)

Our next destination was a cocktail and shot bar that seemed to have a particular fondness for drinks that you set on fire. We were told that we had to try "Cocaine" which looked like a cheaper, but stronger, version of a drink we have back home so I was definitely willing to try it. After setting the shot on fire, we had to collect the fumes in another glass and once the flame went out you had to down it immediately. After that, you had to inhale the fumes and then tip the remains of the shot on top of the upside down glass (used for the fumes) and then snort the remains. It really is something you need to try if you ever get the chance. The first time you do it, you usually don't get the full effect because you're not 100% sure how to do it so I'd suggest coming back another night (as after all, there's plenty of other drinks there and you'll want to try as many as possible.


The ingredients in Cocaine
After Luci tried another shot that you had to drink through a straw while it was still on fire, we headed off to our final destination. This was a lot more popular than the Irish pub (where the hostel group was the only people there) and also a lot more expensive. There wasn't much room but we managed to find a small space and get to know some more people from the hostel - one was even from the same city as us and she offered us a lift home.

Finally, once we all felt tired and everybody else had drunk enough, we managed to find our way back to the hostel and collapse into bed. Certainly was a great first night in Estonia!

Luci's drink that you have to drink while it's on fire
You drink the glass while pouring in the shot

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

An Estonian Adventure

I spend the majority of my time on the internet reading travel blogs and looking up the prices of flights and dream about flying off somewhere nice. I noticed that Ryanair had just opened up a new route to Tallinn in Estonia and was really cheap. Since my passport runs out in May, I wanted to use it one last time before then and so asked around to try and find somebody who both could afford it and had a working passport. My friend Luci had both, but unfortunately her holidays start a week later and so wasn't able to go. I wasn't seriously expecting it to happen so wasn't too disappointed, until two weeks later when the deals changed and suddenly it was cheap enough to go during her holidays and so I quickly booked the flights before we could change our minds. We could only take hand-luggage (much cheaper that way) but we were easily able to fit everything into our backpacks as it was only for 3 days.

After booking the flights, the next stop was to find a Hostel. I found one that looked good and sent off an e-mail but two weeks later I still hadn't recieved a reply and so gave up and went looking and found another one, Talllinn Backpackers, and it turned out to be the best choice I made as it was an amazing experience and I'd go back just to stay in that Hostel again.

Unfortunately, we had planned on spending a day in Riga but there was a mix-up with the booking and turns out the bus there was booked for the wrong day (not sure how since I was really careful, especially as it was just a day trip) and so that never happened but it was extremely cheap so wasn't too bad and we went and visited a nice museum instead.

Finally, I spent a while researching Tallinn and trying to learn some basic Estonian (after all, any excuse to learn more of a language) and so although we weren't sure what we would do while we were there, we had a rough idea.
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