8am Friday in the country’s capital city. One would expect streets to be bumper to bumper with businesswomen on their way to work. Men in suits and ties should be scurrying about with morning newspaper in one hand and coffee in the other. Visitors would be tucked under their bedsheets, minds running wild as the final night’s dream is coming to an end.

Instead, Tallinn’s city streets and sidewalks were void of local traffic. The busy city streets and quiet passages of Old Town I’d expected were reversed, businessmen and women few and far between. In their place were other tourists as eager as I to embark on a day of sightseeing. Empty coach buses sat nearby while their passengers donned head sets and followed guides holding bright orange flags. Couples stopped every five meters to take the perfect shot of the church, the street, the flowers. I joined them, surprised at how lively the crowd was at this time.


Click on a photo to view Old Town Tallin Estonia Up-Close:

 

Stopping for a chai tea latte and a marzipan-filled croissant, I asked the local shop owner if he knew why so many tourists were in town.

“It is always like this,” he told me, “from March until November, everybody loves Tallinn.”

Between bites of a ridiculously sweet and perfectly flaky breakfast, I was able to rationalize Tallinn’s continuous stream of outsiders. To the East is Russia. Saint Petersburg is only five hours away with frequent bus and train connections between the two. To the North, Finland. Ferries run daily to and from Helsinki, with journeys taking as little as two hours. To the south are the Baltic States and essentially, the rest of Europe. Tallinn is a meeting point. A crossroads of North East and South. And to make matters even better, it is a handsome town.

The Medieval Old Town dates back to the 14th century. Red roofs, stone buildings and secret passageways with heavy wooden doors make for visual delights around every corner. Twists and turns and dead ends helped me to get lost on various occasions, but I quickly found top spots easily identifiable by following those orange flags and flocks of tourists. The most crowded space was at the edge of town. Literally, an edge of the old fort several stories high, a large plaza offers views to the city below. Weaving under selfie sticks and through a mob gathered with their own personal photographer, I made my way to the iron railing. Looking out over the edge, I found that past churches, trees and homes is the calmly waving Baltic Sea.

Saying goodbye to my fellow tourists I followed my nose to a stand of roasting almonds. Taking in a big whiff of their powerful cinnamon scent, I decided I needed no more sugar for the day and resisted their sweet temptation. Instead, I continued past and found a grand set of winding stone stairs leading out of Old Town and into the city streets below.
Click on a photo to view the Baltic Sea and Tallinn Estonia’s Wooden Homes Up-Close:


Positioning myself in the direction of the water, I meandered through parks and past streets of old wooden houses, and sat down for lunch at the coast. Remembering the water reaches 17 degrees on a good day, I decided to keep my feet dry and people watch instead. This is where the locals spend their time. A pair of gray-haired women walked side by side, another enjoyed their books on a wooden bench, and a group of friends joked around with a casual game of seaside volleyball. It was this group which I spent most of my time gawking at. All seeming to be around my age, they were like Abercrombie and Fitch models: tall, blonde hair, tanned and toned. Usually I am not shy to take pictures of people, but this group was too attractive. Really. Too attractive. Come to find out Estonia has the highest number of international models per capita. So when the most striking of them all approached me and asked if I could take a photo of their group, I should have accidentally used my own camera rather than his phone. Or at least asked to touch his rock hard abs or squeeze his prominent biceps. Or for his number.
Hindsight’s twenty-twenty.

Instead, I snapped the photo, returned the cell phone to its rightful lust-worthy owner, and went to church.
I went to church not for any sort of religious-wash-your-sins-away reason. I went to this particular church because of its curious location. Only a couple blocks from shore, it is surrounded by one of the city’s busiest streets, tall glass buildings and a bright yellow gas station. Its bizarre surroundings went unnoticed once inside, and it was quickly added to the list of must-see religious monuments that I’d found throughout the city, next to the black-dome topped Alexander Nevsky Russian Orthodox Church and the shield-yielding Saint Mary’s Cathedral, both in Old Town.

Toward the edge of town, this final stop seems to be the place where locals and visitors intersect. A large garden with walking paths, creative sculptures and a central pond, Kadriorg Park serves as a gathering place for groups of friends and couples enjoying a lazy afternoon. And just a minute’s walk from the park’s center is a broad salmon colored building with sea foam roof: A final stopping place for those excited groups to hop off their coach buses before leaving town, as well as for the cycling tour I’d spotted earlier to once again stretch their legs.

 

Click on a photo to view the churches of Tallinn, Estonia up close:

After finding the church empty and enjoying the view of locals at the seaside, I’d nearly forgotten about the stream of tourists which apparently overtake the town three-quarters of the year. But as I stepped outside and breathed in what is said to be the cleanest air in the world, I was soon reminded of another trait that makes the Baltic States attractive to outsiders.

With the highest point just topping 300 meters, the entire area of the Baltics is ideal for cycling. At the exact moment I stepped outside, a group of eight cyclists in full gear swept past me at cruising speed. They stopped at the gas station nearby for what I assume was refueling in the food form rather than with petrol. As they did this, I walked by and continued across town to my final stop for the day.

Toward the edge of town, this final stop seems to be the place where locals and visitors intersect. A large garden with walking paths, creative sculptures and a central pond, Kadriorg Park serves as a gathering place for groups of friends and couples enjoying a lazy afternoon. And just a minute’s walk from the park’s center is a broad salmon colored building with sea foam roof: A final stopping place for those excited groups to hop off their coach buses before leaving town, as well as for the cycling tour I’d spotted earlier to once again stretch their legs.

Click on a photo to view Tallinn’s Kadriorg Park up-close:

 

While Tallinn’s high ratio of tourists to locals initially caught my attention, it was soon apparent why. It’s location is remarkably convenient, prices are more expensive than the other Baltics but substantially less than Scandinavia to the North, the Old Town is in pristine condition and offers never-ending views, and locals you do get to meet are kind and, well… very, very good looking.

6 Comments

  1. You’re so lucky to see all these places! The Baltics look great, I’ll have to get there sometime. What’s this I inferred from your tweet that you will be heading of to Burma for 6 months? Some teaching gig? Also this might be interesting to you:
    http://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/watch-a-groovy-synchronized-swimming-routine-from-the-1960s?utm_source=Boomtrain&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=20160817&bt_email=chrisnolga@yahoo.com&bt_ts=1471441857398
    Good luck with whatever is coming up and keep up the blogging! Love, Dad

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    1. Thank you for the compliment! You should get up there – and be sure to stop by Latvia and Lithuania as well!! (there are other posts about travels there if you’re interested!)

      Like

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