Here are some random interesting bits from Tallinn.

A Tale of Two Churches

The Soviet Union was not kind to organized religion of any stripe, and thousands of churches were outright destroyed or re-purposed for other needs of the people. Old Town Tallinn has two remarkable examples of ecclesiastic architecture with equally fascinating histories. The Russian Orthodox Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is named after Russian folk hero, commander and Saint Alexander Nevsky, who in 1243 defeated German, Swedish and Lithuanian invaders of the Russian duchies. Built in the very end of the 19th century, the cathedral is a beautiful showcase of the ornate Russian Revival style. Even the Soviet leadership liked it so much that it spared it in the bombing raids, though little respect was shown to the building thereafter — it was used for horse stables / cavalry headquarters. The Gothic, Catholic Church of Saint Nicholas was founded right around the time Saint Alexander was fighting its battle, and went through several renovations and modernization to take on its present-day form. In the meantime it was heavily damaged by the Soviet bombing of Tallinn during World War 2, but reconstructed since. The church houses a creepy, early-Renaissance “Dance of Death” painting and many other important Northern European artworks. Any guesses as to the creative way that the USSR authorities re-purposed the building? It became the Museum of Atheism.

The Embrace

I am not a fan of modern art. Nor do I particularly enjoy sculpture, of any period or style. Yet, there was just something about this piece that really touched me. I spotted “A Moment Before the Kiss”, by Estonian sculptor Tauno Kangro, in new (modern) central Tallinn — one of the many parts of the city that seem really worth exploring if you’re in Estonia for more than just a couple of days.

The sculpture feels so light and ephemeral, so touching and almost intrusively intimate — despite being rendered in heavy granite, its cubism-approaching expressionism being anything but delicate in style. I became immediately intrigued by the author, and have enjoyed discovering his other work online since my return to Russia.

Thanks to Yeltsin

Even our tour guide (that’s her in the photo) was like, I don’t know what this is all about. This really rather unflattering and kind of grotesque portrait affixed on a side of an old fortification wall is a tribute to Russia’s first President, Boris Yeltsin, under whom the dissolution of the USSR took place. Yeltsin years were some of the worst that Russia has experienced since WW2, so he is far from a beloved figure here, but neither is he a sufficiently popular one in Estonia for this memorial to go up more than two decades after the transition and six years after Yeltsin’s death, according to the guide. We were all a little befuddled by the strange tribute — and its somewhat random location.

Tallinn Yeltsin memorialSpeaking of Presidents…

…the place where Estonia’s president lives and works is, um, quaint? It’s certainly a respectable-looking palace, no issues there. BUT. First of all, it’s kind of in the middle of nowhere, hidden away in the far end of most serene urban park I have ever had the pleasure of visiting. Secondly, it has NO SECURITY. Ok, it has these two guards you see in the photo below. That is IT. But come on, the dudes are barely more than ornamental! And there is nothing between you and them. Not even a fence! Or a gate! Or puppies! Just some grass and some trees and sunshine. I have so many  obvious jokes about the Baltics’ security just bubbling up inside me, but I am going to push down my most base urges for the sake of political correctness.

Russian Rusalka

Tallinn Russalka memorialI thought for sure a monument this heroic and grand and winged would be commemorating valiant Estonian resistance to Soviet or Russian or German (but come on… has to be Soviet or Russian) invaders. Turns out it is actually a memorial for the sunken Russian ship “Rusalka,” which is translated into English as “mermaid.” Yes, there is an extra “S” in the Estonian version of the name, for some reason.

So… this lady-angel with actual feet, no fish-tale, no scales and holding an Orthodox cross is a memorial representation of a vessel named after a pagan mythical underwater creature. Fascinating.

By the way, I have heard that in Russian popular discourse Estonians are the most anti-Russian of the three Balts. Yet I encountered remarkable preservation of the country’s Russia-related heritage — churches, palaces, monuments, memorials, museums and so forth — far more so than I had in Riga. Very interesting. In the best way possible.

Kadriorg Palace and Park

If I ever get married, this is the kind of gifts I’d like from my hubs, thankyouverymuch. Russian Emperor Peter the Great had this little cabin built for his wife (and later sovereign Empress of Russia) Catherine I. Relevant facts: 1) Peter actually bought the land and whatever constructions existed on it at that time from the local owner; 2) Catherine didn’t care for the place at all and it was abandoned for a while. Later on Kadriorg became a museum, which is the role the main building serves now. The Palace is situated in the middle of the beautiful, sprawling, hilly Kadriorg park  that comes complete with rose gardens, fountains, and wooded trails. Oh, and on one side it’s also bordered by the Baltic Sea! I don’t know what Catherine’s problem was, Kadriorg Palace and Park are AWESOME.

Kadriorg Palace 3

Which Tallinn bit or bob is your favorite? 


  1. I swear I read “bob” as “boob” both in the title and at the end. Anyway, that palace is gorgeous, is it too late to update my Christmas wishlist? 😀

    • OOF. That is seriously ambitious, to do 4 in one trip. Saint Petersburg requires at least 3 days if done in the winter, 4-5 if in the summer (Russia has some of the more magnificent royal estates and palaces, most of them neat StP – particularly Peterhoff and Tsarskoye Selo, and should definitely be done as day-trips); Helsinki is a day trip but everyone I read also recommends to add a day in the easily-accessible countryside; Riga and Tallinn both deserve a couple of days each as well. So if you get a couple of weeks off in a row – definitely workable. Within one week, I’d say a bit cramped :-/ [you can check out my St Pete’s recap from February here if interested: https://gohomeandaway.wordpress.com/tag/saint-petersburg/ ]

      • Yes yes I know… thats why we still haven’t done it, we want to stay as long as possible! But Im thinking that in the end we will do them separately, at least Rica and Talinn together its fine. St Petersburg I definitely want to stay longer… and I wanna go during summer 😀 its soooo beautiful!
        Thank you for the link, it will for sure help me out when planning the trip 😀

  2. yeltsins protrait is quite ugly and scary tbh. I wonder what they tried to achieve with that strange memorial to him. might as well have ignored him or if they wanted to express gratittude to him, they could have made a memorial board or smth. it looks like they mock him…

  3. The Kadriorg Palace and Park for def. I mean, what are we waiting for? If Queen Catherine didn’t want it, her loss. Give it to me. I’m sure I’ll cope! I can’t wait to experience Tallinn for myself. 🙂


  5. You wrote: “Yeltsin years were some of the worst that Russia has experienced since WW2…” This is unfair and wrong. Under Yeltsin, Russia has become a freedom country – for the first time in its 1,000-year history. He presided over demolition of the communism and courageously defended the newly-born free, democratic Russia. This was a great time, although everyday life was tough. Economically, this was a transition time from a centralized socialist state-run economy to a free market one. Every economist knows that any transition of this kind is described by a U-curve or “things get worse before they get better.” It did not help that oil price was <$20/barrel during the entire Gorbachev/Yeltsin era. By contrast, Putin just got lucky thanks to China's phenomenal growth and demand for commodities that drove the price of oil to over $100/barrel.
    Yet 15 years since Yeltsin, Russia is NOT FREE politically (www.freedomhouse.org) and MOSTLY NOT FREE economically (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Index_of_Economic_Freedom),
    and it remains a petrostate, which is collapsing before our eyes.
    Therefore blaming Yeltsin is myopic, using your favorite word.

    • Yes, it was so free, everyone was freely leaving in droves… including our own family. Paper freedom doesnt mean much amidst rampant corruption and crime, an economic black hole and complete infrastructure collapse. Oh, and the journalists were dying or disappearing in droves too… so much for all that freedom.

      • things are a lot worse now. the country I grew to love is trully collapsing and you seem to enjoy working for the channel that is funded by the very fashist people who drive Russia towards its own demise….

        the times of president Yeltsin were a breath of fresh air for Russian people. sadly they didnt use it to build a democracy but instead built a totalitarian state that will soon fall apart

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