My second day in Tallinn was for exploring my immediate surroundings. It was a full, cold but fun day. As my hotel was just outside the walls of old town Tallinn, those cobblestone streets seemed my most likely destination. I passed through one of the main gates to the old castle wall, and commenced what originally began as a day of café-hopping. I would shuffle about ten blocks or so, and duck in somewhere for a coffee. Another ten blocks later, a tea. (Or a pepper vodka, but more about that in a minute.) I criss-crossed the entirety of old town Tallinn in this fashion, in snowfall at times so thick it was blinding.
I eventually ended up at the southern wall of the old town, and was enjoying a heavily-laced cup of coffee at a café off of Freedom Square (all to ward off the cold, I assure you), when a young English couple struck up a conversation with me. The guy said they had just come from the Occupation Museum and how I’d be daft (daft? Hasn’t that word been axed yet? And if not, do people still just put “daft” out there in conversation?) if I didn’t go and see it. I didn’t let on that I’d already planned to go. It might have been a bit mean of me, but it was just too much fun pretending I didn’t think it was worth checking out. Really, some line was crossed at one point, where fellow-tourist advice became sputtering sentences. I might have kept it going a bit longer if not for the part where the girl looked ready to leave from sheer embarrassment.
I’m noticing that many of the former Soviet countries have museums dedicated to when they were occupied. This one in Tallinn is somewhat understated. Like the Stalin museum in Georgia was, this museum is not completely dedicated to “bad-mouthing” the Russians, or out-and-out flaying the Soviet regime. Instead, one can see some of the items that Estonia produced (they were and are very good at making electronics-goods) while under Moscow’s thumb. There are some aspects of the museum which give a sinister undertone to the whole place. Like the rows of suitcases used by escapees from the regime. The big boat prominently displayed in the room and which was used by escapees to cross the Baltic Sea. Or the video-booths, where each clip is roughly 30 minutes. The videos take up a bit of time but are mandatory watching, if you want to get a flavor of how bad things were under the Soviets, then the Nazis, and then the Soviets once again.
The snow let up some, for my walk back to the hotel. I took the long way around the perimeter wall, going ¾ around the old stone structure instead of the short ¼ back. I was on my way to doing a complete circle (no, I wasn’t lost… I was enjoying the walk) when I discovered a really good restaurant called “Kaljas” just inside the old town wall. The interior of this restaurant is like that of a bark – those tall sailing ships used in ocean-going commerce of bygone centuries. Up “topside” you sit among rigging and masts. It’s pretty well-done, and the food is out of this world. I had a white fish soup, stuffed chicken breast and some ale (Saku Originaal).
For those of you keeping score, the vodka-trail does not peter out in Estonia. Not in the least. There are some 100 different types of vodka produced here, and I am grateful that my limited time in the country has effectively forced me to narrow down my sampling. Turi Vodka and Viru Valge Pepper Vodka are my two picks.
A small country, 100 different vodkas… now that’s what I’ll be thinking of, the next time someone uses the word “daft” around me again.