We had a fun couple of days exploring Estonia. The Viking Line Ferry over from Helsinki went really smooth. After hustling on board we quickly found the kids play area and claimed a table there so Jie and I could relax while Walter played. We then spent about a day and a half in Tallinn and then rented a car and took a day trip out to a little town called Haapsalu on the western coast of Estonia.
The free shuttle from the ferry port drops you at Hotel Viru, right on the outskirts of the historic old town in Tallinn, the well-preserved medieval city that goes back at least until the 1200's. Indeed, you can easily get sucked into the wikipedia vortex by reading through the history of the region. Apparently Estonia and Latvia were the last European areas to resist Christianity and thus were the focus of the Northern Crusades which forcibly imposed Christianity on the local population. Doesn't seem like it took; per Rick Steves Estonia has the lowest rate of religious affiliation in Europe. Anywho, if you want to delve into Estonian history you can start with the wikipedia entry for Terra Mariana. It contains all the requisite elements of a good medieval story: pagans, papal decrees, crusades, Teutonic Knights, Knights Templar, German traders, etc.
Back to modern day Tallinn: the walk from Hotel Viru into the medieval old town is very impressive. As you walk past flower stalls you come upon two old watchtowers that formed a city gate in medieval times. Through the gates the crowds increase and so does the level of activity, as restaurants on both sides compete for customers (in a casual way, not with shouting and breaking of plates as in some parts of Europe). Then, just before you get to the town square you run right into the two biggest and best medieval-themed restaurants, Old Hansa and Peppersack. The outside of both restaurants are thoroughly decorated and Old Hansa has a stage with performers playing and singing period-accurate songs. Indeed, the enthusiasm and commitment of the staff as they sing and dance in character is a sight to see, especially when paired with the environment all around.
We spent a full day and a half exploring the Tallinn old town. Mostly this involved walking around and poking our heads in the various churches and old buildings in the town. Walter and I hiked up to the top of one church to get panoramic views and at another spot walked around a restored area of the medieval city walls. The food in Tallinn was good and generally more reasonable than the Nordics. We ate one night at Old Hansa, where for a small fortune we had the "Royal Feast", a set menu that included elk fillets and heavily-sauced bear meat. Another night we had Indian food that was very good. See below or on smugmug for pictures of Tallinn:
On our 2nd morning in Tallinn we got up and took the city bus to the airport to pick up a rental car. I booked through rentalcars.com and got some sketchy rental agency called addcar. They didn't appear to have a rental desk and when we went to airport information it turned out we needed to talk to the person at the Aeroflot information desk to get our rental. Then we had to walk 3 blocks from the airport to find the lot where they kept their cars. And then our VW Golf smelled strongly of body odor. But hey, I saved $40! (Not worth it.)
We drove about 90 minutes to the western coast and a little town called Haapsalu. Supposedly there was a beach, but all we found was a grassy area leading up to water. It was...not scenic. But Walter didn't seem to care and had fun collecting and stacking rocks. We did have a really good lunch in a cute little restaurant on the central street and had fun walking through the castle ruins (the castle was built to head a state of the Holy Roman Empire as part of the Pope's realm in the late 1200's). The castle had a pretty nice playground as well where we had some fun:
And it turns out our VW Golf had some magical engine, as we used less than 3 gallons of gas on the 120 mile round-trip. Or at least that's all it would take at the gas station...
And now we are on our Lux Express bus headed south to Riga, Latvia, for destination #2 in our Baltic tour!