Back on a boat, this time leaving Tallin. This one, the Baltic Queen, seems more upscale than the Victoria I rode away from Stockholm on, and accordingly the passengers seem more upscale! I have no idea how one could time it to take the Baltic Queen both ways but it would be a good idea! Some of the guys coming over looked and behaved like Barbarians, or maybe they fancied themselves Viking. Long blond unwashed hair and mustaches, dirty t-shirts and loud drunken roars when one of their kind encountered another. Maybe they were rock stars.
The hotel in Tallinn was part of the package deal with the boat fare, and it was very nice and within walking distance of the Old Town which is apparently the only place tourists or diplomats go. Tallinn is an old old city and many of the houses and the walls around the old town are from the twelfth to fifteenth centuries. But Estonia has only been a state for under a hundred years, a few before WW II and then since 1991, when they had the “singing revolution” and joined hands with those from Latvia and Lithuania, to urge for their freedom from Soviet rule.
So you have, in Tallinn, a fairly well preserved medieval town, with churches from various time periods and houses the same. It hasn’t been really ravaged by fire as Bergen was, or war, as so many capitals were. It has a lot of intact fortress wall around it. Its stucco walls take to replastering and repainting well. And now that free enterprise holds sway, it has been burnishing this image. Almost every house has its plaque, in English and Estonian, giving its history. Many souvenir shops and many restaurants, including many with terraces and outside dining, complete with sheepskins or shawls to put around cold shoulders.
And many tourists. Most of the visitors are in tour groups. I’m not sure how many people LIVE in these houses other than those in business there, but it IS the seat of Estonian government, and there are several embassies around.
So you don’t really have the feeling of being surrounded by ordinary people doing ordinary things. It is, by one point of view, a “tourist trap” filled with “schlock shops” as Lincoln used to call them. On the other hand, the houses ARE old, and the handicrafts ARE attractive. And probably Estonian kids know more about their history by visiting here than kids here do by going to… Sturbridge for instance.
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One of the largest restaurants, filling a granary and a merchant shop and the street outside, is Ole Hansa. Here they go all-out with not only the decor and dress of a medieval tavern but also the food. You can have an enormous many course meal there down to the “fish delight” which I ordered: several kinds of smoked or dried fish, anchovy, salmon, a couple of kinds of herring, some pickles, a big spoonful of farmer cheese with salmon roe atop, a couple of quail eggs and a couple of hunks of lovely bread. Oh, and an appetizer of lingonberry schnapps. Lingonberry is very popular and tasty everywhere. Rick Steve had called this place kitschy, and it is, but I finally realized what it reminded me of. A Renaissance Faire! Society for Creative Anachronism!! And given the average age of the tourists I saw there, a group of elderly package tourers, I figured it’s AARP meets SCA. And why not!