Penne Cole's thoughts on food, travel and more
“A typical Estonian summer is grey and rainy but you seem to have brought the sun with you,” commented my friend.
We are lounging in the sun, admiring the view from the RadissonBlue’s rooftop cafe. Estonia’s capital, Tallinn, sprawls before us, its austere, Soviet-era blocks juxtaposed against the orange and red rooftops of the Medieval Old Town.
We have spent the past week in Tartu, a university town and Estonia’s second largest city. It has been uncharacteristically warm; I am greeted by cloudless blue skies every morning, and the temperature soars rapidly into the mid to high 20s. The only thing that keeps me cool is sips of Kali, a traditional non-alcoholic drink that is reminiscent of a sweet, slightly fizzy, fruity beer.
Today, we have taken a 2.5-hour bus ride to the capital, and we start our exploration at the Viru Gate. The Medieval Old Town sprawls beyond the gate; its cobblestone streets and charming buildings dating as far back as the 11th century are perfectly preserved, and represent the main tourist attraction in Tallinn.
The Unesco World Heritage Site is filled with colourful buildings in the Hanseatic tradition. Wikipedia tells me that the Hanseatic League was a confederation of merchants that dominated trade on the coasts of Northern Europe. Today, the trading history is visible if you look up and find the hooks in the attic doors that were used to haul goods up for storage.
We spend the better part of the afternoon wandering around the Old Town. It is dotted with various eye-catching tourist attractions, including the cotton candy-pink parliament house. But my favourite is the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in the Russian Orthodox style. Perched high on the hill opposite the pink Parliament, the cathedral is certainly eye-catching, and has become a symbol of tourism in Tallinn, much to the annoyance of the Estonians, some of whom still harbour bitter memories of the Soviet occupation.
The next day, we head towards the Song Festival Grounds. Singing is an integral part of Estonian culture, with the country having one of the largest collections of folk songs in the world. Every five years, Estonia holds a massive Song Festival, where singers from all over Estonia gather here to form a massive choir featuring more than 30,000 singers and dancers. The Song Festival Grounds was also where Estonian independence from the Soviets was won in 1991 via peaceful nightly singing demonstrations.
Kadrioru Park is a short walk away. One of the park’s highlights is a beautiful Japanese garden, but I am more interested in Kadriorg Palace. Built in the early 18th century by Russia’s Peter the Great, the palace was a monument to his love for Catherine I. Unfortunately, after Peter’s death, Catherine never showed any interest in the palace. Today, the building houses the Kadriorg Art Museum, showcasing foreign works from the 16th to the 20th centuries. Farther up the hill, the KUMU museum houses Estonian art from the 18th century.
The skies have been gradually becoming more and more ominous as the day wears on. Just as I board my home-bound plane, the skies open and it starts to rain heavily. Maybe my friend was right. Maybe I did bring the sun with me…
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