Imagine spending 12 days in a city and having only one single day of winter time daylight to explore it to your heart’s content. That’s only about 7 hours. The rest, darkness and finding the best settings on your camera to capture anything in a non blurry frame.
My first impression of the capital of Estonia during the end of November can be put into one phrase: The day is so short the light is gone by the time you explain to people where Tallinn is. This has nothing to do with the quiet Estonian people or the “lack of culture” but only with the fact that, along with the other two Baltic countries, Estonia is touristically quite unknown; the country is not “big” enough or “popular” enough to entice more people to spend time and money when they could go to much better known Helsinki and Instagram the instagrammable spots guaranteed to get you more likes. Don’t get me wrong, I spent a day in Helsinki and it was very beautiful; I took loads of photos and wished I had more time for some things, but if you ask me, I prefer the “shy maiden” that is Tallinn. Estonia,
Latvia and Lithuania are seen and known as the old USSR countries, poor and full of fallen remnants of socialism. Disclaimer here – I am not saying this is everyone’s opinion, just the impression I got when I tried to talk to people about Tallinn before the trip. This was of course after explaining where Tallinn was, and, to some people, where Estonia was -.- The whole situation reminds me a little bit of Romania, ex USSR country with so much to offer but often overlooked. Enough about politics and fashionable destinations, let’s get on with my first ever business trip!!!
First things first – if flying from UK, try your best and get a window seat on the right side of the plane. This is the side from where you will see all the beauty and glory of symmetrical socialist architecture. I am aware a lot of people find it megalomanic, ugly and cold, too blocky, and with too much concrete, but as a child from an ex socialist country, I find the familiarity of it beautiful. I love the symmetry and the sky view shows it in its best light. With a bit of restoration, old socialist buildings can be turned into the cultural heritage of the country. And those who do not learn from the past are destined to repeat it, right?
Once we had landed, I noticed that the airport is very child friendly. Passengers flying in go through the glass passageways that go above the departure lounge so I could see all the kids areas that looked much better than at any other airport I have been. To be honest, I don’t remember seeing any kid’s play areas at London airports…
The airport is very well connected to the centre, all you have to do is walk through the tiny photo gallery that was set up on the way out of the airport (this is past border control), get out and sit on the tram number 4 which will get you to the centre of the city in 20 minutes. Tram tickets are available in R kiosks (one at the airport) and they have cheap offers for longer periods (3, 5 days etc). As I was here on business and the office was literally across from the airport in the cute and fast growing Ulemiste business centre, I was put in the hotel 5 minutes away on foot (also called Ulemiste :D). The business centre is full of new office buildings but they have some older repurposed brick ones that fit really well in between the new builds. There are two big shopping centres (closer to the hotel) if that is anyone’s cup of tea.
When roaming around Tallinn (day or night) you will hear both Estonian and Russian. In some parts of the city, the Russian population predominates. I have had mostly positive experiences with the locals, they were always willing to help and sometimes even gave advice, like showing you a quicker, more sightseeing tour than the one in the tour guide book. The only negative experience I had was with one bus driver; it was when I came back from Helsinki and was getting the last bus towards the hotel. I did not know the bus was only going a couple of stops after the ferry terminal and, since no one had told me it was the last stop nor had the bus driver told me to get off, I stayed on the bus. The driver just turned off the lights and drove the damn thing all the way to the depot. When we arrived I asked him in English (I do not speak Estonian or Russian) why he hadn’t told me or motioned for me to get off to which he had said something in Russian and actually smirked.
It was the type of “stupid tourist” face which proved he knew perfectly well I was on the bus and did not care. My phone battery was on 9%, the cold in Helsinki had killed it and I barely managed to get Google maps going to tell me where the hell I was and how to get back. I was extremely lucky, I managed to catch the last bus going back to the town centre and then the second to last tram to take me to the airport. Getting into the warm bed in the hotel never felt better!
This was my only bad experience; I just want to point out to stay alert if taking last public transport of the day 🙂 I was really pissed off then, I was tired and cold and wanted a hot shower and my bed. Now, I see it as an unwanted adventure that had taught me a lesson – if the driver turns off the lights, shout if you have to, to get out as soon as possible!
My working hours were 8.30 to 17.00 and I usually ended up staying longer as there was a lot to do so during the weekdays (9 of them in total) I only got to see Tallinn centre during night time. The Saturday I spent in Helsinki and then I had one glorious day seeing Tallinn bathe in sunlight. I had quite a lot of “dark time” on my hands so I decided to take it easy and see the town bit by bit. This way I did not get too cold. If you are from a country with tepid winter like the UK, you will find the cold crisp air very unpleasant. There was one positive thing to all these night excursions – I got to know the town well so my pigeon instinct was perfect for Sunday.