Thursday, 28 February 2008

Freezing in Tallinn

View of the medieval old town of Tallinn, Estonia.

So we left Germany and landed in Helsinki, Finland for a two day stopover. This was a great chance to meet up with some of our Delhi-based Finnish friends, who were also home for the holidays. We stayed with the parents of our good friend Juho, who graciously gave up his room for us. Nitoli was also delighted for the opportunity to shop with Mirva. We also went out for a happy night on the town. But as always I neglected to take pictures of any of these social events.

However, having already seen Helsinki I decided to take the ferry across the Bay of Finland to visit Tallinn, the beautiful capital of Estonia. It was an extremely cold and for that same reason Nitoli decided to stay back in Helsinki with Mirva. Morning temperatures were a chilling -15° Celsius (5°F), but it was a beautiful day with a clear blue sky.

Pre-dawn picture from the ferry to Tallinn. Thick layers of ice have formed over a lamp giving it a nice and weird light.

Being on my own, I took the opportunity to spent the day just walking around the town, taking in the sights and taking lots of pictures. I spent most of my time walking around the medieval old town, which is filled with old buildings and lots of atmosphere. However, I would like to come back there in the summer, as I think it would be much more lively at that time. Despite a lot of Russian tourists, there was a certain deserted feel to the place.

Tallinn has a very rich historical heritage mostly stemming back to its days as a powerful member of the Hanseatic League. There are, however, also a few remnants from the days of Danish rule over Estonia in the 13th century.

Tallinn (which allegedly means "Danish Castle") holds a very special place in Danish history as legend tells us that our national flag, Dannebrog, fell from the sky here during a mighty battle on June 15, 1219, making it by far the oldest national flag in the world still in use. The Danish forces under King Valdemar II were on a crusade to Christianise the Estonians. The Danes were attacked by Estonian forces and were being beaten badly. But just as the battle appeared lost Dannebrog came floating down from the sky causing the Danish forces to rally around it and defeat the enemy. How much truth there is to the story is hard to say and given today's morals its hard to really see the imperialistic, crusading Danes as the good guys of that story. But it was still fun to see a foreign place so thoroughly ingrained in national Danish myth.

First rays of the morning sun fall on the elegant buildings of the lower old town.

The city slowly waking up from the winter night. Most of the people in the street are tourists though.

Stall keepers at the Town Square (Raekoja Plats) of Tallinn in warm, medieval dress.

As any medieval town should old Tallinn is surrounded on most sides by walls and charming guard towers with orange roofs.

Many interesting little details to look at all over the town.

Santa on his way to visit a local family.

More guard towers.

Nice city gate over a cobble stone street.

The Russian-Orthodox Alexander Nevsky Cathedral at Lossi Plats.

A couple in the cold and deserted upper old town of Toompea walk under the national flag of Estonia, which the people here have had to struggle hard to get to fly openly.

Over the whole day I must have walked 10 to 15 kilometres. I mostly covered the old town, but on the recommendation of my guide book I also went to the south to find the restaurant Eesti Maja, which makes authentic Estonian food. I also made it to the area around the main train station, which is incredibly run down and reminded me that until 17 years ago this was part of the Soviet Union.

My lunch at Eesti Maja: Mashed potatoes, which on the menu was called potato pudding, with bacon sauce. It is hearty fare, which isn't very different from food you could get back in Denmark. Filling and nice - especially for winter - but not higher culinary art.

An old abandoned, run-down industrial building near the railway station. I feel certain this must be a remnant of the unhappy Soviet Union days.

Not all of Tallinn is medieval or run down. Looking past on the of the town's church spires, modern buildings are shooting up to the east of the old town. In fact Estonia has managed its transition from communism to capitalism well and is flourishing economically.

After just 8 or so hours in Tallinn I took the ferry back to Helsinki, where Mirva and Juho showed us the night-life of the Finnish capital. The next day we flew back to India. Although this trip to Europe was too short, it was still weird to experience how coming back to Delhi now feels like I'm coming home. I guess that until recently I was just a long-term visitor in India. But recently it has dawned on me that this is my home now. I wonder how long I will remain a resident of India?

As we flew back to India my beloved old Europe bid us farewell with an indescribably beautiful sunset covering the entire eastern horizon with amazing colours. This picture really doesn't do it justice.

Close-up of the sun sinking into the horizon. It looks almost as if the earth was being consumed by floating lava.


oreneta said...

The Santas in Spain use the same odd.

Esben said...

Maybe the chimneys of Spain and Estonia are too narrow for Santa to fit. I hear he has been putting on weight for the last few decades :)