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February 19, 2018

Chronicles 2: Across the Baltic sea to ancient but hi-tech city

The Viking Line is one of the oldest ferry lines in Finland and makes several return trips to Tallinn every day
The Viking Line is one of the oldest ferry lines in Finland and makes several return trips to Tallinn every day

I leave the hustle and bustle of modern Helsinki behind as I travel through space and time to enter the most beautifully preserved medieval city in the world! Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, is one of the oldest cities in the world, with its history tracing back 5,000 years. Inside the city, the Old Town remains standing in all its glory. An old stone wall, with towers and gates, forms the perimeter separating the old from the new. Although parts of the wall have been destroyed, the grandeur of its once majestic antiquity is not lost.

The Great Coastal Gate was once the main entry into the ancient town. As I walked through it, I couldn’t help but feel as though I was stepping through a thinly veiled time machine. The cobbled street from the gate leads to the town the quaint little town. The buildings’ architecture is from the 13th century, but they have been beautifully preserved and refurbished to be habitable. Seeing people create homes out of an old city watchtower was beyond cool. So, it’s a common site in this town to see a local man driving a posh car through the medieval gates of his archaic home. 

One of the first things you come across is the Maiasmokk café, known for its Marzipan — a delicious confection made from ground almond and a sweet infusion. The café doubles as a museum and has displays of marzipan art, history of marzipan and marzipan-moulded figures that are 100 years old. Other historic sites include the museum of the oldest pharmacy in Europe. It displays all sorts of ancient tools, medicines, preserved insects and doubles up as a pharmacy. The town has several other museums, quite a number of churches, squares, markets and parks. For an in-depth historical tour, I suggest getting on one of those guided walking tours, but be sure to book in advance. However, I did a quick research online before getting there, I used a map and recommendations on the map, but most of my trip was highlighted by the spontaneous moments. 

One of those moments was when I walked into a medieval tavern for lunch. Everything from the costumes to the décor and the food was set up to resemble the old times! The bar wench dressed in laced-up outfits handed me a hilarious menu written in an ancient language that I had fun reading in my fake barbaric voice. The highlight of this experience was when the French man sitting at the next table asked for French fries, and the poor wench looked genuinely confused at what that strange dish was! The medieval lunch of cured meats, cheeses, boiled quail eggs and breads is not so much for the taste but for the barbarian experience.

One of the things I would never forget is going up the old (I cannot stress how old it was) curved stone staircase of the Tower at St Olav’s church. The tower stands at a whopping 163m tall, and only 60m of the tower is accessible to the public. The dizzying spiral staircase is about 10min climb — depending on fitness — and has a small, square balcony, where tourists can have a panoramic view of the city. Like in most museums, you must pay to go up the tower, but with my student card, it only costs 2 euros. I suggest bringing a student card along if you have one, its always best to have a discount. 

Although the capital is home to one of the best medieval cities, the main (modern) city has a vibrant and contemporary nature. The architecture, the landscape and the technological advancements are better than most European cities. The city of Tallinn has access to free Wi-Fi in any part of the city. Can you imagine walking through a medieval town and being able to instantly upload your pictures? But I couldn’t expect any less from the home town of Skype. Oh, yes! Skype was developed in Tallinn. In fact, Tallinn’s technology industry is so advanced that the city is home to the EU’s IT agency headquarters. 

I might have spent most of the day in the old town, but Tallinn is more than just the old medieval city; it is a vibrant, cultural yet modern city that is very welcoming to visitors. Although the city has its own airport, I can safely assume that most people visit via Helsinki, judging by the number of ferries between the two capitals. A round trip ferry day-pass costs a little less than 40 euros. And the Schengen visa enables you to visit Tallinn freely, without having to go through immigration and border control. But don’t forget your passport!

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