Tallinn: The Curse of the Terrible T’s Continues…

Posted by in Culture, Travel

The clouds harbouring a storm ahead and arrival in Tallinn

Today’s workshop is brought to you by the letter T, which as you will see is not good luck for me…


On a map, any given feature looks the same in 2D, however seeing it in reality from either a plane or in this case a large sailing vessel is all very different. Do ships really navigate that slender channel? Does that peninsular really jut out that far? Is that Finland, Sweden or some Baltic shoreline? Oh, the TV tower is further out than I thought.

The voyage itself was mercifully calm (I’m not a sailor man), the storm is coming from my destination, possibly that silhouette on the horizon and worse it may be my fault. My integrity with my intended hostel to look for accommodation in the city centre first was not a wise move and with my admission they sell my (maybe) bed to someone else.


Great but not too surprising, so where to start? With all three bags the task of trying to find accommodation on a Saturday in Tallinn is hard work. Shunted from one to another to hear ‘full… full… full,’ or ‘yes but it’s €250’ you get the idea.

A fellow British journalist called Tallinn a pocket sized Prague. I call it a pocket sized Hong Kong – there is simply not enough budget accommodation to cope with demand. It’s either plush hotel or pub crawling hostel. There doesn’t seem to be an in-between and despite some exemplary customer service from two of Tallinn’s finest hoteliers no magic wand can find a solution.

Tallinn’s modern trams and retro buses


Having run myself raw from pillar to post on the hotels, I give myself a breather at a tram stop where lies another problem… the trams don’t seem to be running. Staring at a sign (Hobujaama) for over an hour is not much fun. The only positive was I was still alive and it was room temperature.

What I didn’t know was the nearby Rotermann Quarter is home to a new hostel which would have been perfect. Just as well they were also at capacity. My intended destination is near the airport in a hotel which is somewhere between Crossroads and an American B-Movie horror flick (the hotelier could be the Estonian Norman Bates with his deadpan persona).

The only thing going for it was a free breakfast and its proximity to the coach station… at least on the map. Yes, on a map things can be deceiving and with a full load to carry there’s no way I could do the journey without the tram (whenever that is they decide to run).

Note to foreigners – you’ll need to have a ready supply of €2 euro coins to pay the driver through a small slot in the drivers cab, a bit like crossing someone’s palm with silver or paying the ferryman to get you to the other side. All in all I pay nearly twice as much for half the time in Tallinn than I had in Helsinki; ok two things going for it, the beds are soft as any given pile of feathers and I’m asleep in no time.

Hotel curtains and the architecture of Tallinn


Like its Scandinavian neighbours, Estonia is big on design and architecture so my first point of interest is the cities Architecture Museum housed in a stand alone building sandwiched between two busy roads near the port. The woman on reception is both friendly and helpful, it’s a good start to the day.

Only the ground floor holds much interest for me with models of buildings built or planned throughout Estonia. Some have the addition of ambient music (if you like the kind of incidental sound design on Erik Honore, Jan Bang and David Sylvian’s Uncommon Deities you should be at home here).

The old town


Next up is the Telliskivi art quarter which is a little like REDTORY in Guangzhou with a modelling photoshoot in full swing. Sadly it’s the only thing that is so I venture to what looks like an old fort, now blitzed by graffiti artists, to gaze at the blue Baltic, who knows it may be the last time I ever see it.

Two of Tallinn’s most prominent landmarks are visible from the arriving ferry; one is the TV Tower which I won’t have time to see and the other is the old town’s main church St Olav’s. Inside there is a service in session and I am hurriedly approached to take off my baseball cap.

I am not entirely sure why this caused offence. Nonetheless I oblige to keep the peace and exit shortly thereafter for a lengthy amble through the cobbled lanes. Grateful my bags are having a well deserved break from being wheeled around town the previous day.

Houses and Spires


The Photography Museum doubles as the old jail! With one floor hosting an array of old cameras. I’d say it isn’t for the claustrophobic with its steep and narrow stairwells reminiscent of Edinburgh’s Royal Mile and strangely enough a commentary from Fife adorns the guestbooks open page.

It’s an ok museum to see and like Helsinki my duel ticket includes entry to the City Museum, if only I could find it! There are plenty of restaurants, pointed spires, a little red house and a rather nice mint one, beyond which the street layout foxes me completely – it is very easy to become disorientated in old towns and this would also occur in Riga and Vilnius.

Eventually the challenging streets reveal their hidden interests with Saints Peter and Paul leading the way (one wonders what happened to Mary, maybe she got lost in the old town). The City Museum is reliable in its duty, for me the top floor is best with extensive video footage of how Estonia regained its independence in the early 1990s and the struggles that lead to it.

Kadriorg and the Black Russian in a Blue Sky


Seeking something distinctly Estonian to munch results in failure, with an Italian place I’d spotted replacing it. Vapiano is unusual in that the chefs make the meal to order in front of you and there are airport style check-in lines only instead of checking in bags you’re checking in your order for pizza or pasta.

With my feet a little rested I put them into assault mode again and set off toward Kadriorg, there I find a lush expanse of parkland with a Japanese garden and an art gallery (just two of the features nestled within). Nothing is holding my attention so to the coast, and the same greenery viewed from the ferry beckons.

A particularly arresting black Russian monument whose static wings and golden cross prelude an unexpected beach! As I am not what you would call a beach bunny I merely indulge in a little paddle giving my feet a much earned airing!

My white feet meet the heat on the beach


Tallinn has plenty of cool factor The Naked and Famous (New Zealand again – see Helsinki blog), Hurts and Sting are all stacked up ready to play, there’s a modern mall and architecture, quirky posters and public art, but somehow something is missing.

As the hotel is near the airport I decide on an evening promenade. Again, it’s much further than the map suggests and its elongated shipping container terminal resembles something like East Midlands meets Palmerston North (NZ).

The woman who sells me a hot dog looks as forlorn as I feel. The woman at the adjacent coffee place is much more upbeat and other than the architecture museum it’s as good a conversation as I get. As the clock ticks round to 9pm she says ‘…and I’m closed’ pulling the shutters down on her stall.

After treacherous encounters with Turkey, Thailand, Taiwan and now Tallinn I can’t wait to catch my coach onto Riga.

*of course this does not bode well for Tel Aviv, Tokyo, Toronto and Turin. Tanzania, Takijistan, Togo, Tunisia etc… I can only hope I’m wrong!


Thanks for reading here. Should anyone be interested in my work; principally writing, photography, and teaching, please contact me for a FREE Overview PDF. Meanwhile, stay tuned with Kulture Kiosk via The Atlas or on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram where you can see some of my photos from around the world. Playlist and credits follow…

The God of Tiny Islands – Jan Bang, Erik Honore and David Sylvian
The Lamb – John Tavener
Right Here, Right Now – Jesus Jones
Dream Beach – Michael Hedges
Eyes – The Naked and Famous
Valparaiso – Sting
Slender Frame – A-ha
*The original playlist was just the Sting and A-ha songs, I have no idea why these two came to mind but as Neil Finn says, songs also have mysterious pathways.