Aside from some pole dancing and some drinking til 2 in the morning with randoms and my couchsurfing host, I kept things pretty tame. Even those can’t be considered being very wild.

My first real stop (Frankfurt was just an overnight layover in which I did nothing) was in Tallinn, Estonia. After about 2 days in transit I finally made it. Woohoo! I met up with my lovely couchsurfing host, had a quiet dinner getting to know each other and then very rudely buggered off for a pole dance class with the beautiful and amazing Natalja at Euphoria Dance Studio. That was Friday. It is now Tuesday. I’m still sore. I hadn’t actually done any pole for about a week so I was guaranteed to be sore as it was, but holy buckets was it painful. There is a reason Eastern Europeans have a reputation when it comes to sport. I was in sooooo much pain by the end of class!

Learned a lot of awesome new moves, but my goodness did they hurt. I woke up the next day with bruises on and around my armpits, on my stomach, my thighs, top of my feet, bottom of my feet, shins, etc. Like I said though, I learned lots of really cool new moves. They definitely have a different style of dance here and Natalja was an amazing instructor. She didn’t speak much English, but there were a couple of other girls who were able to help translate for us. Alternatively, she would point to a body part and say “What is that called?” If you are looking to do dance classes in Eastern Europe, I highly recommend Euphoria Dance Studio. They do all sorts of Latin American, ballroom and Pole dance classes.

Anyway, enough of dance, back to Tallinn. My hosts unit was less than a 10 minute walk to Old Town, which is where most of the action happens. The most difficult part is figuring out how to get into Old Town. The streets in Tallinn aren’t planned and you kind of end up all over the place. When I did get to the main entrance with the old stone gate though I noticed the lovely view of it…which was completely ruined by the big McDonald’s on the other side of it. Seriously, only Macca’s could spoil a view like that. Maybe an Apple store would have as well though. No bias here.

I spent the day meandering through Old Town in the FREEZING (6 degree celcius/42 farenheit) weather. The wind was absolutely biting, coming directly off the baltic sea. However, I layered up and braved it. I’m pretty sure I spent most of the day wandering in circles as well. It’s okay though because there were pretty much no tourists around in that weather. I started out going to Raekoja Plats, which is the town square and has been since about the 11th century. I very briefly gazed upon the oldest remaining gothic town hall in Europe before deciding it was time to go find a warm cup of tea. I was warned not to order at any of the restaurants/cafe’s around raekoja plats unless I wanted to pay 4 euro for a cup of tea. Fair warning.

So I started wandering along one of the many winding cobbled streets leading away from the town square until I came upon a lovely old church which is now the Niguliste museum. I didn’t go into the museum as it houses artwork from medieval Estonian churches adn I wasn’t feeling it. Plus I didn’t want to pay the 2 euro museum fee. So I kept wandering, taking pictures and checking out the exteriors of all the little medeival houses until I came upon the other side of the old town bastions (guarding walls). Along this wall I found a wonderfully cozy little cafe with decent prices (for Old Town) and went to have myself some tea and breakfast. I think I ended up sitting there for nearly 2 hours it was so cozy, filled with big, squashy red armchairs and allowing the use of free wireless internet.

After a couple hours I once again braved the wind and cold to wander the twisting walkways. I ended up visiting the Tallinn City Museum, which was pretty cool. It’s a museum housing the the history of Tallinn in the residence of a former merchant. I find it interesting to walk through these places and see the dimensions and how they compare to what we would consider large today. The ballroom, for instance, was smaller than my living room in Sydney. That being said, I had a massive living room, but most people today would look at it as a really nice, sort of large, dining room.

I also visited St Olav’s church, which used to be the tallest building in Europe, at 123.7 metres high. As a tourist you can climb about 60 metres to view all of Tallinn from the roof. That was one of the scariest experiences of my life, and I’ve been bungee jumping.First I had to climb 258 steps just to get to the roof, and you technically could double that as the stairs were so steep and high that you could have halved them to make normal steps. Each step was about a foot high and if you fell you were screwed. I am very proud to say that I made it all the way to the top without stopping and resting, despite the fact that halfway up they had a rest area with benches. Once I climbed out onto the roof I truly feared for my life though. The roof was very precarious looking aluminium and at a very steep angle and the only thing keeping you from falling to your death is some wooden slats nailed to the roof to walk on and a chain link fence surrounding you. It’s amazing the church has survived in the wind that was up there. On 2 sides of the roof the wind was so strong I had to lean into it to avoid being thrown over. I imagine it was about -20 with the wind chill up there.

I also visited Toompea, which is still part of Old Town, but that was the part where the hoity-toity rich people lived. Understandably so, as the views were beautiful. There’s a Russian Orthodox Cathedral (Alexander Nevsky Cathedral) up there that I wanted to see and it did not disappoint. For the people who brought us soviet era concrete atrocities, they build some seriously beautiful structures. The guilding was EVERYWHERE! I don’t think there was a single surface that didn’t have some sort of gold or silver on it. That includes paintings and artwork. I had a look around there for a little bit and watched some people lighting the prayer candles and just as I was about to leave I saw a priest, or whatever they are called in the Orthodox church (don’t have internet at the moment to look it up) rushing past followed by a group of people. I found this rather intrigueing so I stuck around for a bit and was rewarded with the opportunity to watch an Orthodox baptism! It looked like one of the most confused and random ceremonies I have ever seen. One would think that after hundreds of years at least of ceremony they’d have it a bit smoothed out, but no. The priest was going in and out of doors, grabbing the baby and taking him in and out of a room, handing him to other people, blessing people, opening doors to what I think must have been the baptism room, closing them, taking the baby, giving it back, taking it again, blessing people again. I wish I could speak either Russian or Estonian (whatever they were speaking) so I could have followed along. Oh well.

From there I wandered down to Kiek in de Kok museum. Yes, it is really Kiek in de Kok and I am immature enough to find that absolutely hilarious. It’s low German for “Peep into the kitchen” apparently. They have a bunch of tunnels you can tour, but you have to book ahead. I would recommend booking online as I tried to book with the lady at the desk and she was an absolute witch. I’ve not met someone quite so rude since arriving here, and Estonians aren’t exactly the most open and welcoming people in the world. So I never got to see the tunnels, which was a shame. I did go up the tower though where they house an excellent little museum on the military and some torture history of Tallinn.

From there I went to go seek out one place in Old Town I really really wanted to see but had trouble finding, thanks to the labyrinthine walkways. I really wanted to see the former KGB headquarters of Tallinn! Apparently they sealed the basement windows (probably with concrete) to conceal the sounds of ‘interrogations’. I finally made it there and lo and behold, it’s under refurbishment or renovations or something so the entire outside of the building was completely covered in tarp! So devastated.

That night, my couchsurfing host, who is an assistant coach for the Estonian cricket team (possibly the most surreal thing I’ve heard on this trip), had a team dinner with all the teams who were there for the Baltic Cup that weekend so we went to an Indian restaurant that had an excellent fish curry and then headed out for the night to enjoy some drinks and chatting. Ended up not getting home until 2. Time really flew that night. Crazy stuff.

Kadriorg Park

My next day was even more tame. I spent the day walking up to Kadriorg Park (don’t bother taking the tram if the weather is nice). It was a lovely little 30 minute walk (if even) to the park where there were actually people sunbathing! it was about 12-13 degrees out! I meandered along the park until I came to the house (mansion) that was built for Catherine the Great. Kadriorg actually means “Catherine’s Valley” in Estonian. The house is in serious need of some touch up work. Despite being used as a museum, it has fallen into some disrepair. I walked around it until I came to the back gardens where I got to see tulips! I love me some tulips, in case you hadn’t gathered that from other blog posts. I will have to google photos of the garden in summer as I imagine it would have been spectacular, surrounded by green forest-like grounds as it was.

I decided to wander towards the Baltic Sea and this park is amazing. You feel like you are in the middle of a Disney forest. A nice one, not the freaky one from the beginning of Snow White. Everything is so vividly green. It was so hard to believe that it could be so vividly coloured after the previous days dreary and depressing greyness. I did eventually get to the sea and came out at a beautiful statue representing the deaths of those who died in a shipwreck in the late 19th century I believe. From there, I walked back to Old Town, hung out, uploaded photos and drank some seriously terrible wine that I hope to never drink again. Word of wisdom, don’t order the red wine at Reval Cafe. Great food, great tea, terrible wine. Needless to say, if you want to see all that Tallinn has to offer, you really only need 2 days to do it. I would recommend going in summer when it’s warmer, if you are willing to put up with tourists, but mid-may saw some nice days while I was there and I thought there were too many tourists as it was.

Off to Narva! Estonia and the EU’s easternmost town (or Russia’s Westernmost, you be the judge).

Check out photos here.

What I’m reading right now: Lonely Planet Guide to Eastern Europe

What I’m listening to now: Harry Potter and the Dealthy Hallows