by Anna-Cara Keim
Two weeks ago I returned from another trip to Estonia’s capital Tallinn. This small but beautiful city tucked away in a far-flung corner of North- Eastern Europe has become one of my favourite travel destinations. Tallinn, which began to appear on European maps in 12th century, is a true gem on the rim of the Baltic Sea. During the days of the USSR it enjoyed the reputation of being the most Western Soviet city. From the 1970s onwards Estonians were able to watch Finnish television and the city is home to the legendary Viru hotel that at the time was said to be the best spot for acquiring Jeans and other Western luxury goods from visiting Finns. (The top floor of the Viru hotel is now home to Tallinn’s KGB museum that is definitely worth a visit.) After the Estonian independence in 1991 Tallinn became mainly known for supplying the neighbouring Finns with cheap alcohol but since then it has undergone major changes.
In 2011 Tallinn, together with Turku, became the European capital of culture and the decision to completely restore Tallinn’s beautiful medieval Old Town might have significantly contributed to this.
Indeed, the European Union’s most Eastern outpost has been thriving in recent years: with attractive prices and its Mediterranean feel, especially during summer it has become a much-loved European tourist destination. Its rich history makes Tallinn an interesting subject of study for historians, post-Soviet geographers and political scientists alike. And Tallinn is home to Skype, the world’s biggest provider for voice-over-Internet Protocol service.
My personal favourite about Tallinn is its abundance of cafés. Some are old and well established places whereas other ones have only been around for a year or two. However, it is certain that Estonians have a very sweet tooth: the selection of cakes and confectionary is mouth-watering.
An excellent address for cake and coffee is the Café Mathilda at Lühike jalg and the best desserts in town are served at Van Krahli Aed, the self proclaimed embassy of pure food. (It is also rumoured to be the embassy of all things underground as it has an excellent music venue next door.)
But Tallinn is more than just coffee and cake. Please see for yourself…
To eat: Café Matilda, Lühike jalg
Van Krahli Aed, Rataskaevu 10/12
To see: Tallinn’s Old Town
Museum of Occupations, Toompea 8
Partarei Prison Museum, Kalaranna 2
KUMU Modern Art Museum, Weizenbergi 34
Jaama Turg, a market behind the Balti Jaam train station
To try: Handmade chocolates at Anneli Viik, Piik 30
To read: Andreas Kasekamp, “A History of the Baltic States”, Macmillan, 2010
Sofi Oksanen, “Purge”, Atlantic Books, 2010
Copyright for all the images © Anna-Cara Keim