TALLINN: TOO MUCH WHIMSY?

I mean – just look at this place.

Tallinn Whimsy 4 Tallinn Whimsy 3 Tallinn Whimsy 2 Tallinn castle whimsy 1Where have I seen this before…?

Hi, Belle!

Hi, Belle!

Even their souvenirs looks like they were taken straight from Elsa’s and Anna’s wardrobes (that’s a “Frozen” reference for you heathens).

Welcome to the most fashionable boutique in Arendelle.

Welcome to the most fashionable boutique in Arendelle.

I never thought any place in the world could have too much whimsy for my liking, but Tallinn came close to pushing even my whimsy-loving limits. Here is why I am torn up about it: on the one hand, Tallinn fits brilliantly into my magical land filled with unicorns and owls that deliver school letters. On the other hand, Tallinn is such a ridiculously storybook place that I cannot suspend my disbelief: it looks far too much like a Disney stage set than a REAL magical town. It’s like the entirety of the Old Town is “themed.” Even John Oliver joked on Last Week Tonight that “Estonia, [is] a country were from the look of it, they still worry about Shrek attacks.”

Here be dragons

Here be dragons

I have felt something similar when I visited Venice and Bruges. They too seemed consumed with trying to exist primarily as tourist backdrops, with souvenir peddlers on every corner, and more foreign speech than local.

While walking the streets of Tallinn, in my mind I kept comparing it to Riga. Many parts of Riga’s Old Town look like a medieval movie set too, though they felt less artificial, like if you were to shoot a realistic historical movie, you’d do it in Riga, but come to Tallinn for the “reimagining of a classic fairy tale”. I think the reason for this is because Riga’s historical center is, comparatively-speaking, rather sprawling, and its Renaissance-era old town is interspersed with Art Nouveau and entirely modern buildings – and modern businesses, and international shopping chains – whereas Tallinn’s old center is spatially concentrated and very homogenous.

By the way, I am aware that I sound like a culture-commodifying brat when harping on about wanting my travel destinations to be equal parts magical/whimsical and real/authentic at the same time. But hey, if Florence and Budapest can do it, why not….ok, I’ll stop now.

Anyhoo, despite whatever ideas the above musings might give you, I actually really liked Tallinn. The old town is absolutely gorgeous and charming. The restaurant and shopping scenes are very diverse, though I had quite a sticker shock – Tallinn, as least its touristy parts, is pretty expensive, especially compared to Riga.

Also, Tallinn was the place where I saw “stag parties” for the first time in my life. While walking around town in the evening I passed countless large groups of young, sometimes absurdly costumed, men in various stages of inebriation. Some of them were so drunk that they had to be supported or outright carried by their friends because they could not stand up on their own – and that was at 8 pm! As I was told, lots of Scandinavians come to Tallinn by ferry on weekends to enjoy cheap booze. I wont begrudge anyone that 🙂

Would you like to see more of whimsical Tallinn? I thought so.

Here is Raeapteek — one of the oldest continuously-running apothecaries (pharmacies) in Europe. It first opened its doors — of the exact same building — in the early 1400’s. Today you can buy all modern medicines there, but in the much more fun olden days the assortment included “mummy juice (powder made of oversea mummies mixed with liquid), burnt hedgehogs powder, burnt bees, bat powder, snakeskin potion and unicorn horn powder” (per Wiki). Is this where Severus Snape went to re-stock when Slug & Jiggers ran out of potions ingredients?

I think I saw more medieval-themed restaurants in Tallinn than in any other place ever. Olde Hansa, just around the corner from the central square, seems rule them all, with spacious indoor and outdoor seating, expansive menu and lively atmosphere. All dishes are prepared using authentic 15th century methods. The name of the restaurant is derived from Hanseatic League, a trade and defense association formed in the 1200’s to protect commercial interests of Northern European towns, including Tallinn.

Another cute cafe in Tallinn's medieval quarter.

Another cute cafe in Tallinn’s medieval quarter.

How great are these shop signs? There were so many throughout Old Tallinn.

Tallinn Shop and Resaturant signs And finally, some more photos of Tallinn’s charming historic center.

 Tallinn 1

Tallinn 3

Tallinn 5

Tallinn 2

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46 thoughts on “TALLINN: TOO MUCH WHIMSY?

  1. That’s a really interesting thought actually – that Tallinn could become the next Venice or Bruges. I guess it doesn’t help that it’s so small and well-preserved – it’s unlikely to see many changes or modernisation.

    P.s. I’ve been listening to the Frozen soundtrack in Russian (old University habit) and I just cannot understand how “Холод всегда мне был по душе” fits into the same time as “the cold never bothered me anyway”… Too many syllables!

    • Tallinn certainly has the qualifications for it – all the magic of an encapsulated space with the resources of the proper city. Its only disadvantage – comparatively to Bruges and Venice – is the distance to other in-demand destinations.

      PS – phonetically that “Frozen” line has the same line of syllables in english and russian 😉

  2. It does look beautiful. On my list to do soon. In fact I would have done it this year but the flight schedules didn’t fit with my free dates whereas Ljubljana’s did. I think with these places it just takes a lot longer to get under their skin because the magical bit is so captivating. I thought the same about Venice but this year I spent a week there, much of it alone, and after walking the place to death, and finding litter and even a bit of graffiti, I loved it!

    • Have you done Riga? As you seem to be a fan of the outdoors, I’d recommend taking a week to do Riga & Tallinn, and making a point to go to the countryside in Latvia and Estonia as well. I have a post on the gorgeous nature of that area coming later this week.

  3. Oh, I’m looking. I feel like I would enjoy Tallinn, for a couple of days, then it would be too much medieval stuff for me and I’d have to go home. With an empty wallet, probably. 🙂

  4. So that’s what it looks like in the summer! It has quite a different feel in the winter, much more convincingly medieval. Talking to the Doctor Wife apparently this is one of the spots that the Soviet era film companies used to come too to shoot their ‘european’ period locations. She was quite excited when they got a school excursion here. I spent the day counting watch towers, as you do, apparently a whole lot of watching was needed, back in the day.

    • I bet it looks magical.
      Interestingly enough, during the Riga tour the guide pointed out many places where iconic Soviet films were shot (17 moments of spring, Sherlock series), but the Tallinn guide didnt point to any. **goes to Google…**

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