Exploring Estonia: Part I: Tallinn

Old Town in Tallinn, Estonia

About Estonia: Located on a peninsula jutting out into the Baltic Sea, Estonia is a small country in the Baltic Region of Northern Europe. The capital and largest city is Tallinn. After years of domination by foreign cultures (the Germans, the Danes, the Soviets), Estonia is independent and prospering again. 
Tallinn is charming. Yet another cobble-stoned European “old town” peppered with beautiful old buildings and even a medieval wall. I stroll streets and alleys, arm-in-arm with Oihana, my Basque friend. 
Her petite frame is swathed in a heavy winter coat, thick leggings, knee-high boots and a wool scarf against the crisp air. In the wind wisps of her thick dark hair escape her hair-pins to tangle in intricate silver earrings. She’s catching me up on her life since I last saw her (some months ago as she lives some hours from Barcelona, in Bilbao) in her rapid-fire Spanish. 
Mid-sentence, she stops, shivers and points to a small chalkboard announcing something in Estonian, with its English translation, “hot wine 3 euros,” below.  I nod my agreement and we walk towards the small café. There’s a terrace with mosaicked tables, and blankets for those patrons willing to brave the chill, and a funny drain-pipe shaped like a cowboy boot, complete with spurs.

Café in Tallinn
It’s not much warmer inside, so we pay and take our paper cups to go. “It’s kind of like hot Sangria” I tell her, peering somewhat suspiciously through the deep purple drink at an orange slice. She smiles and gestures with her head up the hill towards a large church. Judging from its curvy cross-topped domes, I deem it to be Eastern Orthodox, and a nearby plaque reading Alexander Nevsky Cathedral confirms my suspicions
Oihana, Mulled Wine and Alexander Nevsky Cathedral
In some ways, traveling with Oihana is a relief, as she, like myself (and unlike my husband, the list-maker) is content to wander and shop. Before long we come to Tallinn’s medieval city wall. Since, I am immediately attracted to any and all structures even remotely castle-like, I whip out my camera and begin to snap shots of the wall, and Oihana with it, for posterity.
Tallinn Old Town City Walls

Tallinn’s City Walls
Eventually we end up in Katariina käik, or St. Catherine’s Passage, home to St. Catherine’s Guild. We tour workshops housed in 15th, 16th, and 17th century rooms where artisans use traditional methods to make glassware,  wool felt, silk, jewelry and art. Valiantly, I fight the urge to purchase an amazing hand-made felt scarf. Somehow frothing with movement in multicolored hues, the scarf is like a watercolor dream translated into fabric. I am only barely saved by the knowledge that at over 300 euros (more than my plane ticket and accommodations combined), I simply cannot afford or excuse the expense. But I leave it reluctantly, adding it to my list of amazing hand-made things I will purchase at some later date when I have excessive amounts of cash to spare… I distract myself with a glass-maker’s inexpensive reject pile,  three and four-inch shards of textured glass in blues and purples, framed in silver, 1 euro a piece, probably intended as sun-catchers. I purchase two, promising myself gigantic blue earrings when I get home. Later I buy hand-made wooden buttons to make earrings for my mom, my aunts and myself, of course. When we finally work our way back around to the town square, I take a few pictures of the Church-like 1404 Town Hall, and it’s time to meet up with Leonore, Oihana’s Estonian friend.
Tallinn City Hall
Leonore is tall and lithe with the clear blue eyes and milky complexion of a china doll, her puffy red jacket competing for attention with her flaming candy floss hair. She smiles, slips a glove off a slender white hand and extends it in greeting. Good thing I didn’t lean in for the Spanish two kisses. I stand to one side observing as she and Oihana chatter and make plans for tonight and the next few days in their common language (English).
At dinner that evening, we meet up with Leonore, and her boyfriend, Lauri—quiet, wiry and very Teutonic-looking.  Having requested the Spanish requisite, wine, Oihana and myself are much entertained when the two Ls, as I’ve already begun to think of them, both order a vodka shot to start the meal (purportedly to warm up). Leonore has invited us apple-picking tomorrow, and when sleep-deprived I’m much more likely to fall off ladders…so after a few drinks around town, it’s time to get back to home-sweet-hostel.

Copyright 2010-2012 Chris Ciolli. All Rights Reserved. Do not reproduce images or text without written consent. First Published in the Tipton Times unless otherwise noted.

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