Friday, June 12, 2020

Baltic treats abound with history, art in beautiful Tallin, Estonia

 Tallinn's Old Town is one of the best preserved of any city in the world. Tourism opens up there this week.
A stunning 19th Century Church, Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, stands as a proud 
beacon to the Russian Orthodox religion in Tallin, Estonia, with travel returning.


Editor's Note: On June 1, travel restrictions resulting from Covid19 were eased and travel opened up with caution and new rules in many countries, including the Baltic Republics. We bring our story and photos, taken on our most recent international trip before the world of travel changed. We highly recommend Estonia. 


STROLLING FROM the ship in Tallinn, Estonia's modern harbor is a trip back in time, from contemporary 21st Century architecture, to centuries old churches, squares and monuments.
Arriving by ship, one walks past a modern harbor into the Old Town.
One enjoys the 20-minute walk to the picturesque Old Town, past modern sculpture and hundreds of welcoming marigolds. Slowly, the pavement shifts to cobblestone and the time travel begins.  One is greeted by lively cafes, bustling shops and kiosks with eye-catching folk art. Embroidery, lace-making, woodwork and knitwear are proudly displayed, all practiced for generations by the people. The blue cornflower, "rukkilill," is the national flower and you'll see it in beautiful scarves, tablecloths and wall hangings.
The Old Town of Tallinn is one of the world's best
preserved medieval cities, clean and bright.
IF YOU FANCY a bite or a drink, you'll find tasty beer and vodka, rye bread, potato rolls and ham sandwiches. Estonia is firmly part of Europe's "pork belt" and is also famous for its candy, with many flavors including liquor laced delicacies.
We'd arrived in Estonia’s capital on a 16-day cruise to ports on the beautiful Baltic Sea.
Tallinn is a blend of  old and new, with many influences
from its time as part of the Russian Empire. 

We were excited to visit Estonia because it has so recently emerged from Soviet control, and we had long anticipated photographing this Unesco World Heritage site.
THE HISTORIC old town of Tallinn is known for its wonderfully preserved medieval architecture and its part in the "Struve Geodetic Arc," which Estonia shares with nine other countries: Belarus, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Moldova, Russia, Sweden and Ukraine.
Its charming walled  Old Town is also home to a 15th-century defensive tower, a  Gothic Town Hall and impressive places of worship which withstood Communist control.
Bruce Keller poses near
an Estonian knight's armor.
St. Nicholas Church is a 13th-century landmark exhibiting ecclesiastical art. The newer Alexander Nevsky Cathedral with its obvious Russian influence reminds of the time Estonia was part of the Russian Empire then controlled by the Communist Party which had quite a run, from 1940 to 1990. While blockish apartments and offices are a result of that 50-year period, the grand 1894 Nevsky Cathedral reflects the ornate Russian Revival style one sees in Moscow and St. Petersburg.
A grand bronze of Estonia's most famous musician, Gustav Ernesaks, 
attracted Cookie, also a musician. Ernesaks is revered by his countrymen.
This stately cathedral is Tallinn's largest orthodox cupola cathedral, dedicated to Saint Alexander Nevsky who in 1242 won the Battle of the Ice on Lake Peipus, in the territorial waters of present-day Estonia.
ONLY 43 MILES south of Helsinki, Estonia has long been a destination for Finns in search of a bargain, but our guide said she and other Estonians now find many goods cheaper to acquire in Helsinki than in Tallinn.
While convents, museums, theaters, parks and a bustling market are part of Tallinn's charms, this musician's favorite spot is the Tallinn Song Festival Grounds, on which a giant choral festival is staged every five years.
Bruce Keller and Christene "Cookie" Meyers in Tallin.
 A huge bronze monument to Estonia's beloved composer and choral director Gustav Ernesaks is a highlight of the huge park. Ernesaks lived from 1908 to 1993 and played an integral role in the country's famous non-violent "Singing Revolution" which led to Estonian independence in 1991.
He also helped engineer the Estonian Song Festival and helped establish the country's world renowned vocal tradition.
The Festival Grounds is a beautifully located outdoor venue, resting on a gentle hill near the sea offering lovely breezes and gorgeous views.
The enterprise has hosted a mix of global stars, ranging from Tina Turner and the Rolling Stones, to Elton John, Snoop Dogg and Metallica. The Michael Jackson concert there in 1997 broke records with 200,000 star-struck spectators.
Beautiful sounds come from this Tallinn busker, playing his kannel for euros.
Choral singers the world over praise the acoustics of the space which resounds with the sounds of Ernesaks' Song Festival which attracts thousands of singers. 
ESTONIANS LOVE music, and host dozens of world class festivals for the organ, female vocal groups opera, ballet, theater and even Oriental dance. We were thrilled to find a young student playing Estonia's oldest string instrument, the kannel. It's plucked and played with a bow, and has the sound of a zither.
Check individual cruise lines and get on their mailing lists if you want to cruise the Baltic. Many cruises are resuming in July-August. Risk is still a consideration with no vaccine yet. Many changes are in store.

St. Petersburg is up next, a must for arts loving travelers. 
UP NEXT: With travel opening up in Europe and the Baltic Republics, we're happy to note that Russia is cautiously resuming tourism, too. So St. Petersburg beckons.  Come with us to explore this magnificent city, founded in 1703 by Peter the Great, subject of the city's iconic “Bronze Horseman” statue and much more. St. Petersburg is Russia's cultural center, with venues including the Mariinsky Theatre and ballet, and the world famous Hermitage, the State Russian Museum. Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us Fridays for a fresh look at travel, nature, the arts, family and more:


  1. Exciting news and good advice to check individual cruise lines, which differ widely as to when they're resuming. One of iur regular lines said July!!!

  2. Mendocino Water BoysJune 14, 2020 at 1:47 PM

    This is wonderful. We jave been waiting for any cruise line to resume operations. European ones are back in business. Our U.S. based ones are exercising more caution.

  3. Baltimore Baltic FansJune 15, 2020 at 2:37 PM

    Fine reporting on the highlights of a peaceful, artistic country. We enjoyed our visit, too, and hope to return.

  4. Watching the cruise lines, rrqdy to set sail again. Lovely photos.

  5. Been planning for a trip to Estonia for years. You have reignited the fires!