Tallinn, Estonia & Finnish Karaoke
Today was the day trip to Estonia.
We woke to clear blue skies in Helsinki and the forecast of rain in Tallinn so the trip was in doubt right from the start as the prospect of giving up on a sunny day in a city we’d only just started to get to know to travel for 2.5hrs only to get rained on in an unknown town didn’t quite seem as appealing as it had done when the trip was first being planned.
Thankfully, we decided to brave it anyway and the trip to Estonia became one of the best days we’ve had in Finland!
We were sailing on the Viking Line express from Helsinki, which despite being what is essentially an international ferry crossing costs only €14 return per person.
The ferry is huge, 10 decks, 6 of which are full of bars, cafes, restaurants, duty free shops and entertainment. Not to mention 2 decks of external viewing spaces.
The ferry departed exactly on time and made its way slowly out past the small islands we’d passed on our way to Suomenlinna the other day. Its route slips between the fortress and another nearby island before entering open sea (Baltic Sea / Gulf of Finland) and the captain hits whatever the accelerator is called on a ferry and the ship lunges forward on its 50 mile trip to Tallinn.
As the speed picks up, the wind increases and chill factor drops so as soon as we’d passed Suomenlinna it was time to retreat indoors to find some shelter…
The Viking Bar on deck 6 seemed the best spot to relax on the journey so we settled down with a nice Finnish beer (and a shot of a Finnish liqueur called Valhala – in hindsight perhaps not the best idea at 12 noon!)
The crossing is remarkably smooth and fast and in no time we were docking in Tallinn. We only had 4hrs in Tallinn and a few people had advised spending it all in the old town so as soon as we’d disembarked we set off towards what is described as one of the best preserved medieval cities in Europe.
It’s only a 10 minute walk to the walls of the old town, and the stroll through the ferry port and out to the city gates was very pleasant in the early afternoon sun (rain?! What rain?!)
We entered the city through one of the gates and made our way along old cobbled streets past buildings, brightly painted, each of which felt like it had a long story to tell. We followed a route called Pikk down to Town Hall Square, an impressive area flanked on 3 sides by restaurants of all kinds from traditional Estonian, through Russian, Chinese, Italian, Spanish, Indian and Finnish.
We decided to do some sightseeing before lunch so, continued down from the square until we reached a path which climbed up a small hill towards a large church which seemed to have a great view of the city.
After an hour of wandering aimlessly through the back streets, photographing everything and anything, we headed over to a view point which sits high above the medieval town to grab some more shots before packing the camera away and heading off for lunch.
I’ll share one impressive event I witnessed at the viewpoint before continuing with the day tour:
As we arrived a street musician was playing some traditional Estonian music on a guitar but shortly behind us came a large party of Japanese tourists on a guided walk. Seeing the group the musician immediately asked the guide “Nihon?” And when the guide confirmed that they were Japanese, the guy seamlessly switched from Estonian folk songs to Japanese! Including singing in Japanese! The tour group loved it and were soon singing along and dancing a traditional dance – complete with elaborate hand gestures and fans. We left to the sounds of them all singing the Japanese national anthem! A great touch from the musician I thought. I hope after they’d all finished getting selfies with him they remembered to reward him!
From the viewpoint we returned to Town Hall Square.
Tallinn, like many cities around the world, has a Scottish themed bar so I wanted to pay a visit and have a photo taken but unfortunately it was closed until 5pm, but next door there was a lovely little Estonian restaurant so we decided to eat there.
Thankfully this place didn’t have the traditional Estonian dish which we saw on sale at most of the other places on Town Hall Square… bear meat.
The grilled salmon and roasted vegetables in a white wine sauce was beautiful and as we sipped a glass of Italian wine we agreed that a longer visit to Estonia was needed to do the place justice. I may well be blogging about another Estonian trip in the near future!
After lunch we had time for another wander around the narrow lanes and winding cobbled streets of Tallinn before reluctantly returning to Pikk and retracing our steps back to the ferry port.
When we arrived, the ferry was already boarding so we headed on board and back to the Viking Bar.
I feel I should halt here and explain something. Whenever we mentioned to anyone about our intention to take the ferry to Estonia for the day, every single person said the same thing to us… go to the Karaoke on the return trip…
So. Here we were. Stage side seats in the Viking Bar, the place was packed and everyone seemed in quite buoyant mood as the ferry slipped from the port, slowly turned then accelerated back towards Finland (no islands to negotiate on the way back)
Sure enough, a crew member soon appeared, note pads and song lists were placed neatly on a table before INSTANTLY disappearing into the crowd and they were off… it was a race to see who could select a song, write it down – no easy task with a language where 30 letter words aren’t unusual – then get their entry up and accepted first. I’ve got to say it was a close call as 2 men and a woman bolted for the stage but a winner was selected and he immediately broke into a traditional Finnish song. The audience sang along, hands were clapped, and everyone had a great time. There were even some tears shed as every song was greeted with enthusiastic applause.
The crossing seemed much quicker on the return and the imminent docking back in Helsinki was viewed with some disappointment in certain quarters as rehearsed songs went unsung for another trip.
I’ve been impressed by the Finnish people from the moment I arrived here. They are polite, tolerant and clearly have a little quirky independent streak when it comes to style, art and architecture but those 2hrs spent sailing across the Baltic with them serenading each other confirmed to me that they are a great people.
From this point onwards if anyone ever asks me to recommend something to do in Helsinki, I’ll be recommending they leave as soon as they can and get the boat to Tallinn, if only so they can sail back again!