Tallinn, Estonia and Helsinki, Finland

This entry is part 4 of 9 in the series Northeastern Europe:

  1. Northeastern Europe – Introduction and Our Route
  2. Gothenburg, Sweden
  3. Copenhagen, Denmark
  4. Tallinn, Estonia and Helsinki, Finland
  5. Vilnius, Lithuania
  6. Warsaw, Poland
  7. Krakow, Poland and Auschwitz
  8. Prague, Czech Republic
  9. Northeastern Europe Photos
Tallinn was a beautiful city to fly into

Tallinn was a beautiful city to fly into

We arrived in Tallinn, Estonia, a bit shaken up after two flights on a propeller plane on Latvia’s national carrier, Air Baltic. The second flight they reassigned everyone’s seats to “balance the weight of the plane”, which, coupled with the windy, turbulent landing, made us happy we were taking buses the rest of the trip! Getting to the airport was nice, as Tallinn has an app similar to Uber, where you can order taxis right from the app. We hopped on the free airport wifi, looked at the options (it gave their distance away + their rate, which was nice to see, as there was a surprisingly wide variance between companies), and ordered our cab. 15 minutes later we were knocking on the door of our friend John’s place.

This was actually our first time meeting John, who is the brother-in-law of a friend Sara went to college with. We are grateful he was willing to put us up. Our friends (Tony – John’s brother – and Michelle) were coming in that night so we spent the afternoon learning about John’s artist residency program, and then eventually getting some tasty food. That night we made our way over to a local ex-pat bar, where they were having stand-up comedy, but by the time we arrived it was too packed, so we just sat downstairs, tried a beer sampler of their drafts, and went back home to find our friends had arrived!

Learning about the Nazi and Soviet occupations

Learning about the Nazi and Soviet occupations

We only had a few days in Tallinn, and one of those days we were taking the ferry to Helsinki, Finland. So we spent our Tallinn day at a Georgian restaurant, and then we went to the Occupation Museum, which discussed the first Soviet occupation (1939-1941), the Nazi occupation (1941-1945), and the second Soviet occupation (1945-1989). Surprisingly, they were far more critical of the Soviets then they were of the Nazis. Estonia, along with Latvia, Lithuania, and part of Poland, were split up and given to the Soviets as part of a treaty with the Nazis in 1939. When the Nazis invaded in 1941, the Estonians were happy to be “liberated”, but were soon disappointed that they would not be free under that regime, either. Although that period was tough, the museum seemed to make a bigger point about the loss of cultural identity and population loss experienced under the Soviet regime. Regardless, it was quite interesting. The rest of the day we walked around the Old Town, which, although a little fake looking in how well it was restored, was blissfully quiet and peaceful due to the cold, rainy weather.

Beautiful views from the harbor

Beautiful views from the harbor

The next day we took the ferry across the Baltic Sea to Helsinki, Finland. We’ve been used to traveling on <100-person catamaran style ferries, where the only thing to do is sit and try not to get sick. This ferry was more like a cruise ship; it had casinos, several restaurants, and comfy couches to relax on. After the 2-hour journey, we hopped off at the pier and made our way into town.

You could definitely feel the "Soviet-ness" of Helsinki, like here at the train station

You could definitely feel the “Soviet-ness” of Helsinki, like here at the train station

Sara and I did a self-guided walking tour, while the rest of the group went to see some places John used to live. Our tour took us from Senate Square, passed several beautiful buildings and ships in the harbor, and through several residential neighborhoods and parks before returning us to the central station. Finland was beautiful, although you could definitely feel the Russian influence significantly more than in neighboring Sweden (indeed, a prominent architect from St. Petersburg also designed many of the buildings in Helsinki). That afternoon we all took a ferry to Suomenlinna, which is an old fort overlooking the sea. It was a beautiful place to walk around and enjoy the sunset before making our way back on the ferry.

The old town was quite nice, when it wasn't filled with obnoxious tourists!

The old town was quite nice, when it wasn’t filled with obnoxious tourists!

Returning to Tallinn, where the sun was now shining and the weather was warmer, the Old Town looked like an entirely different place. All the restaurants and bars were open, including bike taxis and restaurant workers hawking their menus in “authentic” costumes. This also meant hoards of drunk boys on bachelor parties and obnoxious tourists being unreasonably demanding and loud. It really lowered our opinion of Tallinn significantly, and we are glad we didn’t have to spend any more time there during prime tourist weather. Regardless, it was still great to be able to meet our friends from home all the way around the world in Tallinn, Estonia, and we wouldn’t trade the experience!

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