Category Archives: Estonia

On This Day – Tallinn Christmas Market

Continuing with my early December theme of Christmas Markets on 7th December 2009 I was in the Estonian capital of Tallinn..

It is claimed (although this is disputed, especially in Northern Germany) that the picturesque Town Hall Square in Tallinn is the site of the world’s first Christmas tree. It was part of a ritual begun in 1441 when unmarried merchants sang and danced with the girls of the town around a tree, which, when they had had enough fun and drink they then burned down.

Read The Full Story Here…

European Capital of Culture 2011 – Tallinn

tallinn-unesco-08-08-2013

Before dining however we walked through to the opposite side of town and along the ‘wall of woolens’, so called because here there were more market stalls cut into the arches of the original city wall and then we were tempted to part with thirty Eeks each to climb to the top of the tower for a two hundred metre elevated walk looking down over the rooftops and the narrow medieval streets below.

Back at street level we wandered down the delightful St Catherine’s Passage in between fifteenth, sixteenth and seventeenth century buildings where artisans and craftsmen and women were preserving medieval crafts such as glass blowing, intricate iron work, jewellery and leather work.  At  the end of the passage was a basement restaurant where we stopped for a bowl of soup and a glass of beer and we successfully negotiated the potential crisis moment when Sue and Christine both found something on the menu that they could order with confidence and enjoy.

Tallinn Estonia Old Town

By mid afternoon when we left the subterranean restaurant it was already starting to get dark because thanks to the ‘polar night’ phenomenon, in the Winter, Tallinn, on the same line of latitude as the Shetland Isles, enjoys only a few short hours of daylight. It has late sunrises and early sunsets, which creates incredibly short days and endlessly long nights.  On an overcast day like today the effect was even worse and it is little wonder that Tallinners have been known to have a tendency toward seasonal depression as a result.

We needed some beers and a bottle of wine but we didn’t pass any shops so as it was still early Mike and I walked around the city ring road in search of a mini market.  The route we chose took us towards the railway station and this wasn’t any real surprise because is a railway man by profession and enthusiasm and after about a kilometre or so we were outside the ticket office and an impressive Soviet Steam Engine, the L2317, a 2-10-0 locomotive built in 1953 in Russia at a factory in the Moscow railway suburb city of Kolomna.

The Russian L-series locomotives were one of the more advanced steam locomotives built in the former Soviet Union.   It was a mighty black iron beast with red wheels of almost ninety tonnes that really deserved a name rather than just a number, which during its working life pulled mostly freight trains between Russia and Estonia and after it was decommissioned was rather ignominiously used as a static boiler to heat nearby houses.

It has been externally restored now and sits tall and proud outside the railway station, which was where we went next.

Tallinn Russian Railway Engine Soviet Steam Engine L2317

We were now in the working part of the city and a long way from the Christmas market and the students dressed in medieval costumes and the overpriced restaurants.

The station felt tired and past its best and next to it was a tram station that conjured up dreary images of the old days of the Soviet Empire and what was surprising was that the passengers on board looked grey and tired and firmly locked permanently into a 1960s Tallinn time warp.  The trams whirred and screeched and sounded bells to warn of their approach as they drew up and pulled off, setting down and picking up and clattering away again between the rows of old wooden houses and out towards the proletarian flats of the city suburbs.

Next to the station in an ugly 1970s concrete shopping mall we came across a two-story traditional food market selling fish, meat, vegetables and everything for the working class weekly shop.  Everything that is apart from alcohol so we were about to give up when we came across a small kiosk with cans of Estonian beer in the fridge and a screw cap bottle of blossom hill red wine.  Not exactly traditional but without a corkscrew we were severely limited for choice.

Later we all met up in reception and wrapped up in hats, scarves and thermal gloves walked back into town making our way past the skating rink that we decided to leave until tomorrow, towards the Raekoja Plats where we were surprised to find the market closed.  It was only eight o’clock and I would have thought a Times listed top twenty Christmas market would still be open in the evening.

We dealt with the disappointment as best we could and then began the search for a suitable eating establishment.  We didn’t take too long over this and agreed upon one of the medieval banquet houses, the Peppersack, that was located in an old building not far from the Town Hall Square.  There was a good menu of hearty food and we enjoyed meat skewers and fillets and best of all plenty of Estonian beer and wine to wash it all down.

All we needed now was some snow but sadly there was none as we left the restaurant and walked back to the hotel with the objective of a final nightcap.  There was no hope of that at the Von Stackleberg because the bar was closed so we wandered across the road instead to a modern glitzy hotel that was still open, and our final drink and made our day one assessment of Tallinn, which we agreed we all liked, before calling it a day and agreeing to meet at nine o’clock in the morning for breakfast.

Tallinn Christmas

Tallinn Christmas Market

Tallinn Estonia Old Town

On account of the grey skies we wrapped up in an appropriate way to tackle the bleak weather and set off for the old town and we retraced our steps from the previous night and repeated our visits to the viewing platforms overlooking the Baltic and the islands.

With one of the most completely preserved medieval cities in Europe, the seacoast capital of Tallinn is a rare jewel in the north of Europe and a city fully worthy of being on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

It was once a medieval Hanseatic town and for long periods in history dominated by the Germans, the Swedes and the Russians and even today contains lots of influence from those days but as we walked we could tell that there was a uniqueness to the place, a bit like Riga but at only roughly half the size certainly very different.

Coffee Shop in Tallinn

Tallinn is a city with a long and proud tradition dating back to the medieval times and it was first recorded on a world map in 1154, although the first fortress was built on Toompea in 1050. In 1219, Valdemar II of Denmark conquered the city, but it was soon sold to the Hanseatic League in 1285.

After joining the League Tallinn enjoyed unprecedented prosperity because its position as a port, a link between mainland Europe and Russia, enabled it to grow rapidly in size and wealth and many of the City’s finest buildings were constructed during this period.  This lasted until the sixteenth century when Sweden moved in and claimed the city and during this time of Swedish rule more fortifications were added and the architecture took on the baroque style of the times.

Just like the previous evening we were confused about how to find our way to the centre of the city not least because where we were was an elevated spot with limited access to the streets of the old town.  We wandered about and corrected ourselves a couple of times before finally walking through a medieval entrance to the city and descending steps behind the city walls before finding ourselves finally at the Raekoja Plats, the Town Hall Square.

tallinn-christmas-market

Here, in the middle of the town we had reached our objective because since 2001, from December through to the end of the first week in January, Tallinn hosts a traditional Christmas market.  This is appropriate because (although this is disputed, especially in Northern Germany) the picturesque Town Hall Square is claimed to be the site of the world’s first Christmas tree, which formed part of a ritual begun in 1441, when unmarried merchants sang and danced with the town’s girls around a tree, which, when they had had enough fun and drink they then burned down. 

This would be a bit like any town in England on New Year’s Eve if the tree wasn’t taken down in advance during the afternoon.

Today the market is included in the Times newspaper top twenty European Christmas markets and here in the square there were more than fifty wooden huts and stalls where visitors and locals were being tempted by (traditional? well maybe) artisan products from all over Estonia.

Tallinn Christmas Market

Surrounding an enormous Christmas tree hung with lights and decorations, the vendors were selling a variety of original products including woolens, felted wool hats and slippers, buckwheat pillows, wooden bowls, wickerwork, elaborate quilts, ceramic and glassware, homemade candles, wreaths and other decorations.  Traditional Estonian holiday food was also on the menu such as sauerkraut and blood sausages, hot soups, stir-fries and other seasonal treats such as gingerbread, marzipan, various local honeys, cookies and, best of all, hot mulled wine poured from copious wooden barrels.

Christmas Past

We stopped for a coffee and paid over the odds in a restaurant on the edge of the square and then left and walked through the market towards the south side of town.  Here there were men and women dressed in medieval costume handing out lucky coins and trying to encourage us to dine in this or that particular restaurant.  Some of us thought there must be a twist involved and fearing an obligation refused to accept the coins for fear of ending up in the Estonian Navy, but Kim and I took a chance on a con and took ours and it was all completely innocent of course.

Actually it was approaching lunchtime and therefore, because of the nervousness of finding somewhere that Sue and Christine would approve of, a potential crisis time in a new country with unfamiliar cuisine. 

Without Micky the anxiety was all mine and weighed heavily because traditional Estonian Cuisine has developed over centuries with Germanic and Scandinavian influences and some of it is not for the faint hearted and certainly wouldn’t suit Sue’s delicate dining preferences.  For someone who turned her nose up at a plain fish salad in Portugal I was certain that she wouldn’t like sült, a sort of jellied meat dish made from pork bones, trotters and heads, or the marinated eel, Baltic sprats, sauerkraut stew or even the Christmas specialty of verivorst or blood sausage.

There was no real need to worry however because although Estonians speak fondly of their traditional food they are no more likely to eat it on a regular basis than in England we are to order pease pudding, jellied eels or brawn and the according to the menu boards displayed outside the pubs and restaurants had a good selection of acceptable offerings.

Christmas market

__________________________________________________

Other Market stories:

La Rochelle

Pula, Croatia

Alghero, Sardinia

Palermo, Sicily

Ljubljana, Slovenia

Varvakios Agora, Athens

__________________________________________________

Malta, Religion

Valletta Malta

Malta is the most religious country in Europe.

In a survey in 2010 95% of the population said that they were practising Catholics.  Nearby Italy (where the Pope lives) only registered 74%.  The least religious countries are all in the north where over 80% of respondents in Estonia, Norway, Denmark and Sweden all said that religion isn’t important!

Interestingly this survey didn’t seem to include the Vatican State where I imagine the response would have been 100% religious.

There have been four Papal visits to Malta the last in April 2010 to celebrate the 19,50th anniversary of the shipwreck of St Paul on the island.  His ship ran aground in St Paul’s Bay (obviously) and I am not making this up but in 1997 I too suffered the same fate.  Taking a speed boat ride with Tony Oki Koki ‘Mr Crazy’ Banis the boat broke down and we were stranded on the rock for twenty minutes or so until rescued.

Later that week I visited the town of Rabat to visit his grotto next to his church where he is supposed to have spent his time on Malta in hiding from the Roman soldiers who were searching for him – rather like Saddam Hussein, two thousand years later hiding from the American troops – also in a cave.

Mosta Cathedral 2St Paul's Grotto Malta

Weekly Photo Challenge: Blur

Tallinn Christmas Market

Here, in the middle of the town we had reached our objective because since 2001, from December through to the end of the first week in January, Tallinn hosts a traditional Christmas market.

This is appropriate because (although this is disputed, especially in Northern Germany) the picturesque Town Hall Square is claimed to be the site of the world’s first Christmas tree, which formed part of a ritual begun in 1441, when unmarried merchants sang and danced with the town’s girls around a tree, which, when they had had enough fun and drink they then burned down.  This would be a bit like any town in England on New Year’s Eve if the tree wasn’t taken down in advance during the afternoon as a sensible anti-vandalism precaution.

Read the full story…

Cities of Eastern Europe – Tallinn

Tallinn Estonia Old Town

Back at street level we wandered down the delightful St Catherine’s Passage in between fifteenth, sixteenth and seventeenth century buildings where artisans and craftsmen and women were preserving medieval crafts such as glass blowing, intricate iron work, jewellery and leather work.

At  the end of the passage was a basement restaurant where we stopped for a bowl of soup and a glass of beer and we successfully negotiated the potential crisis moment when Sue and Christine both found something on the menu that they could order with confidence and enjoy.

Read the full story…

 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Warmth – A Coffee Shop in Tallinn

Coffee Shop in Tallinn

It was snowing quite heavily by this time but it was still only tiny dry flakes and not nearly substantial enough to settle in the streets but there was already a gentle dusting on the gabled rooftops and on the Market Square Christmas tree and the town was beginning to assume a wintery appearance.  There was nothing in the market that we hadn’t already seen so we completed a quick circuit and then with the snow beginning to cling to our coats decided that it was time for a final drink in Tallinn.

In one corner of the square there was an archway and behind that a narrow lane where there was a little café/bar called the Kehrwieder Chocolaterie that had an inviting appearance so we went inside and discovered a most charming shabby/chic interior with rustic furniture and comfortable chairs, the crackle of a log fire and the smell of chocolate and seasonal spices.  With traditional Christmas decorations it was like a scene from a Yule tide picture postcard and we sat and chatted and enjoyed our drink and through the windows watched as the snow continued to fall.

Read the full story…

Freshly Pressed

gutenbergpress

WordPress seem to go to a lot of trouble to convince users that ‘Freshly Pressed’ is fair, impartial and based on critical selection.

Consider this then from a blog page I chanced upon…

“It has been interesting to look back over 2012 to see which posts were the most popular. Bagni di Lucca and Beyond has been Freshly Pressed twice this year, which has been great fun. Thank you WordPress for choosing.”

It is a nice blog but it isn’t brilliant (sorry).

I say no more…

Weekly Photo Challenge: Movement

After a drink in the bar we prepared to go out again and we were excited about this because some of us were going ice skating.  Christine can’t go on the ice of course because she is too accident prone even under perfect walking conditions and neither Sue or Mike S felt confident about taking to the ice but the rest of us were all keen to give it a try so we paid our entrance fee and strapped on the excruciatingly painful bright orange boots and carefully took to the ice.

The strange thing about ice skating is that it is a lot more difficult than it looks and instead of gliding elegantly around the outdoor arena we were stumbling gracelessly across the frozen surface just being thankful to remain vertical.  Kim quickly abandoned any attempt at proper skating and went around clutching on to a sort of ice rink zimmer frame, Mike W quickly got cold feet and abandoned the ice almost as soon as he had started but after a shaky start Helene was lapping faster and faster and Margaret was a complete natural with lashings of grace and poise.

I managed to stay upright through a dozen or so circuits but although I was beginning to feel like Christopher Dean and was humming Bolero to myself as inspiration I am fairly sure it wasn’t pretty to look at for those spectating.  For a start I found it impossible to skate with both feet so quickly established an awkward style of keeping my left foot in constant contact with the ice and pushing myself along with nervous little stabs of the right foot and then sliding for as long as possible before starting over again.  I found that stopping was especially difficult and the only really confident way of coming to a standstill was to plot a course for the side of the rink and then crash into the wooden fences surrounding the ice and it is difficult to make that look in any way stylish!

The entrance fee and boot hire was for a full hour but after twenty minutes without anyone injuring themselves we decided that this was probably quite long enough and to stay longer might increase the risk of broken bones and lacerations so we returned the boots and left in search of a restaurant.

Tallinn, Christmas Market

Christmas market

Here, in the middle of the town we had reached our objective because since 2001, from December through to the end of the first week in January, Tallinn hosts a traditional Christmas market.  This is appropriate because (although this is disputed, especially in Northern Germany) the picturesque Town Hall Square is claimed to be the site of the world’s first Christmas tree, which formed part of a ritual begun in 1441, when unmarried merchants sang and danced with the town’s girls around a tree, which, when they had had enough fun and drink they then burned down.

Read the full story…