My partner Graham and I love our travels, but due to our anti-social dislike of crowds or any form of busyness, we generally like to venture where others don’t. Or at least at a time of year when few other fools would visit certain places. Hence many a frighteningly freezing trip to eastern Europe in winter. And the first of those that set off the eastern city series – a trip to Tallinn, Estonia in 2012. It did not disappoint.
I worked in education at the time and could only venture afield in the dreaded school holidays where you need to remortgage just to get an overnight stay in most European cities. Plus as my birthday is usually in February half term I like to use this as a reason to escape. So off I went on my frantic Googling and price comparison hunt much to Graham’s groans of me ‘being at it again’. (Though as this was the early days of our coupledom, I don’t think he knew the full extent of my restlessness and what this was going to cost him long term at this point).
We picked this trip to the ‘city of towers’ for 3 reasons – because it was somewhere neither of us had been before, I was sure a friend had been and recommended it to me (she later said she’d never even heard of it) and mostly, I admit, because it was ridiculously cheap. I stumbled across a deal for £140 for 3 nights – hotel, breakfast, and flight included. I figured, even if the hotel was horrendous we wouldn’t be spending a lot of time in it. Let’s give it a bash! Luckily, all was good. If we ignore the breakfast of stinky fish and claggy meatballs. I’ll stick to toast thanks.
A frosty winter wonderland
For a second admission – we had not quite fully researched the weather in our excitement to get it booked. A quick Google before booking let me believe it would be, at worst, -5℃. Further research after booking gave me the heart-stopping truth that it would be more like the artic realms of -15℃ to -25℃. The dawning realisation of why it was so cheap hit home. But having both been skiers in a previous life we (well, I) were not overly daunted and figured we can cope with ‘a bit of cold’. I dug out the thermal ski pants, used the excuse to buy myself a new ski jacket, selected a couple of my most funky woolly hats (there are many), got sternly told to put the craziest hats back in a dark cupboard, and off we went.
The city captured us immediately. From the beautiful stone walls and towers surrounding the city to the winding path up to the beautiful viewpoint and church at the summit. The view out was unlike any city I had been to before, and a glorious Winterland of tiled rooftops and church spires.
At times it felt like we were the only non-locals there, wandering the cobbled streets, covered with a dusting of snow which swirled around in the gentle winds, with barely another person to be seen. A quick venture out of the old city walls showed us where the people were – in the new town. But we shuddered at the glass buildings and very routine humdrum of daily life and escaped back into our olde gated sanctuary, never to emerge for 3 days.
The sheer beauty of wandering the cobbled streets of an old city purely by gaslight and candlelight is mesmerising and so incredibly calming. For two travellers who generally plough the streets from dawn until dusk until we have seen every inch of a city, this particular city had a totally different effect on us. It calmed our usual attitude of non-stop action and walking and we took the time to enjoy it, to soak in the truly medieval atmosphere and behave like a local – drinking cinnamon beer in a huge clay tankard that requires 2 hands to lift, eating wild boar stew and being entertained by a sword fight taking place on the table over our heads. Add to that some medieval musicians tinkering away on their violin-esque mandolin things and you have yourself a veritable Estonian festival of fun. Beer, food, and violence… no wonder the man loved this holiday.
And the people are just utterly gorgeous. It is one of the very few places in the world where you can drop your purse with your currency and passport in, only realising 30 minutes later, having to a Usain inspired bolt back to the bar, whilst having visions of having to plea at an embassy for a new passport, only to find a guy sat at the table where we had been, with it sat on the table. He was patiently waiting for me to come back for it, whilst his friends had gone on ahead. The man well and truly deserved a few beers from us. And this was not a random act of kindness. The Estonians are lovely, friendly, polite people who I could happily live amongst. Even if I had to dress in medieval garb. Oooooh, now there’s an idea.
We’ll meet again
Tallinn is a place that will be forever etched in our memories as a firm favourite, but one that we dare not go back to. We are unsure whether will it live up to the same experience and place of magical beauty a second time. So we want to leave it as the cherished memory it is. Though I do think one day I will cave. Plus I dread to think that some of the stag parties that venture there for the cheap prices (but thankfully stay in the new city, outside the walls) may have ruined it since. The cold certainly did not scare us off as we have since visited Copenhagen, Riga, and Russia at the same time of year with temperatures ranging down to -25℃ (damn those Copenhagen winds and their chill factor). The peace and tranquility that comes with these cities in the depths of winter when blanketed in snow is magic. I highly recommend it. Just, please, don’t take your stag/hen dos there. The city is worth more than that.
Theme: A few of my favourite things