What We Did On Our 2018 Summer Vacation, Day 7 (Estonia)

By | December 24, 2018

Tuesday, August 21, was the seventh day of our vacation, and the fourth day of our nine-day Baltic Sea cruise. We would spend the next four days in the shallow waters of the Gulf of Finland, stopping off in Estonia’s capital Tallin, then spending two days in St. Petersburg, Russia, and then finishing with a day in Finland’s capital, Helsinki.

We didn’t know much about Estonia before stopping there, other than that it was one of the three Baltic republics illegally annexed by the Soviet Union after World War II and which declared independence in the first phase of the dissolution of the USSR. Oh, and that they’re culturally and linguistically related to the Finns to the north as opposed to the other Balts in Latvia and Lithuania to the south. Tallinn turned out to be a charming city, with an Old Town up on a hill overlooking the harbor, a massive concert venue for the every-five-years Estonian song festival, and lots of shopping and tourist-friendly restaurants to visit.

Ask us what our main memory of Tallinn is, though, and you’ll probably get “holy crap, the crowds”.

See, they let a lot of cruise ships come to town at the same time!

{insert look of stunned surprise here}

Long story short, Tallinn’s tourist spots were crowded. As in, there were at times over a dozen tour groups, each being led by a different tour guide carrying a pole with a number on top, all trying to cram into or navigate through the same space. Some groups were large, some were small. Ours was one of the small ones — we had, again, paid for the “exclusive” small-group tour that allowed a maximum of fifteen people. That sure saved time on roll calls as our guide checked to see if we’d lost anyone. But heavens help us, that didn’t mean we didn’t deal with crowds and thousands upon thousands of other tourists anyway. And yes, those other tourists had just as much right to be there as we did. But unfortunately, the upshot of it all was that it was hard to enjoy the city as much as we might’ve — everywhere you turned, there was another herd of tourists stampeding toward you — and we didn’t even get in to one of the major attractions, the Russian-constructed Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. We got in line with everyone else to fight our way up the steps into the cathedral and after a half hour, we were just on the doorstep when … it was time to turn around and go find our guide to move on to the next stop on our itinerary. (We hear it’s a nice cathedral.)

But we did see some nice things — the stadium for the song festival, the Old Town up on a hill, St Nicholas’s Church where they put on an organ concert every day for the tourists, the medieval walls of Old Town Tallinn, the fairytale quaintness of Town Hall Square… it was all very pretty and scenic. And crowded. We had excellent sunny, clear weather the day we were there, with highs in the mid-60s (Fahrenheit), and our tour guide was very competent with a pretty good command of English. So all in all, it was a good day.

We had lunch (chicken and potatoes, with beer) at a little restaurant off Town Hall Square and eventually wound up in the (crowded) shopping district, where Carole got a lovely hand-woven wool cape for a surprisingly low price. I know what you’re thinking; it was probably mass-produced in Korea and shipped in, right? We don’t think so. The woman we bought it from, in a little stall just off Müürivahe Street in the Old Town Tallinn, didn’t have any two of the same design and claimed she’d made it all herself and could answer questions about her technique. Prices in the places like Estonia, St Petersburg, and Finland were just low compared to what we’d pay for things back home in the USA.

We ended the day back on the ship, of course, and had dinner at the specialty restaurant called Teppanyaki. Teppanyaki (as you may know) is a style of Japanese grill cooking that focuses on entertainment with juggling and witty repartee between the chef and the diners. We’d done a Norwegian Cruise Lines teppanyaki restaurant once before, in Hawaii, and had been disappointed. Our chef was light on banter and basically just cooked. Not so on the Norwegian Breakaway. This guy was amazing. He was Filipino but had excellent English and even better juggling skills. He could toss an egg over his shoulder and catch it on the edge of a cleaver held behind his back — and not break the egg. (The food was good, too.)

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