OK, I’m impressed. I am on a laptop. I am online. I am on a ferry. And it’s free.

I feel like firing up Skype, calling someone loudly and shouting “I… AM ON… THE FERRY!!!” down the line like that not very funny guy on TV.

Seriously. Free wi-fi on a ferry. How cool is that?

My only problem is trying to figure out how I’m going to carry all the booze I intend to buy when the shop opens. For a start, I have to wander around the store with three rucksacks. Then I have to get it all off the ship when I arrive. I have a car waiting (thank you Tiina!) but I still need to make my way through customs etc with a few boxes, bags and bottles.

Should be a giggle.

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Leaving Estonia

It was only a brief trip, but I did enjoy my stay. Made all the more pleasant by my wonderful Couchsurfing hosts Johnny and Lena. Thank you both so much!

I’m currently sat in the waiting lounge before hopping onto my ferry to Helsinki, where I should arrive in about 2 1/2 hours. Bizarrely, simply because it’s common sense, the wi-fi here is free while the supplied PCs cost money to use. Having said that, there are two wi-fi signals – one of which is charged!

Well, boarding is in two minutes so I best hurry. Next post from Finland!

Tip: Tallinn and Estonia

Location of Tallinn municipality in Estonia

I didn’t do a massive amount today, really just a stroll around, but I’m glad to say the weather was a lot better. A bit breezy, but with a warm sun. Much improved on the rain from yesterday.

As I didn’t do too much I thought I’d fill up the space on today’s post with a bunch of tips. A lot of these will hold for other cities and countries (and I’ve possibly mentioned them before) but they’re just things to let you know about Tallinn and Estonia.

The currency in Estonia is currently the Estonian Crown, or Kroon (EEK). At the time of writing it’s pretty much 20 EEK to 1 Pound Sterling, so a Kroon is 5p. However, it’s linked to the Euro (you’ll see some things priced in Euros, though I’m not sure if they’re readily accepted yet) and all signs are that Estonia will be making “the switch” soon. It also means that Estonia would have been cheaper to visit last year when the point was stronger against the Euro.

Shop around for souvenirs and so on. In the Old Town, expect to pay 10EEK (50p, 1 US dollar) for a postcard. Slightly further out, some stalls do them for 7EEK and a shop in the Post Office (Eesti Post) on Narva mnt. has some for only 4EEK. I did see some girls in the street wearing red jackets and selling cards and guidebooks. I have no idea how much they were charging, but I’d bet they weren’t cheap. The cost of sending a postcard back to the UK is 9EEK (€0.58) – both prices are on the stamp.

Traffic is OK around Tallin. It’s busy, but generally speaking quite safe. Crossings are common and even at the non-lit ones, traffic seems to stop politely. Except public buses and trams. If you’re crossing past a stationary tram, then check when you get past it that there’s not another coming the other way.

English is commonplace in Tallinn, as is the obvious Estonian language. Many people also seem to still speak Russian and a few signs are dotted around in Cyrillic. I was surprised in one shop to find that the younger assistant didn’t speak English, but her much older colleague did! In almost every other country, it’s the other way around.

Food varies in price a lot. You can pay hundreds of EEK for a mail in one of the medieval restaurants on Vana turg, or as little as 20 EEK for a burger from one of the kiosks. These are usually dribbling with a pink sauce, kind of similar to the sauce used in a Big Mac. But with much, much more of it. There is a McD’s in Tallinn, but I didn’t go on – I popped into Hesburger (a Finnish chain) just down from it and had one of their chicken tortillas. It wasn’t bad, though the sauce was kind of curry-ish. Strange. It cost me 60EEK for a regular sized meal.

Public transport is pretty good, though I chose to walk everywhere as I needed the exercise! Buses are frequent and the tram system’s good. A journey costs 20EEK if you buy the ticket from the driver. I believe they’re slightly cheaper if you get them from the kiosks.

The airport in Tallinn is a short journey from the city. The bus is the same price as anywhere else, no artificial fees for being at an airport as you get in other countries. 20EEK will get you to the bus station on the outskirts. A taxi will set you back 60-80 EEK, probably more.

The other main transport method around here is the ferry with boats heading out frequently. Prices vary depending on so may factors I can’t give you a list, but generally it’s cheaper to book in advance and get a slow boat. I’d also recommend, if possible, booking direct with the ferry company as you’ll not have a travel agent fee (around 60 EEK) added.

Or if you want to be flash, you could get on Copterline and fly to Helsinki in 18 minutes – the fastest regular “capital to capital” trip anywhere in the world. According to them anyway. It’s not cheap, though this summer they’re doing a 1-way for €99.

Right, I’m waiting for my kind hosts to come in so we can warm up some pizza and share a bottle of plonk! Next stop, Helsinki…

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Tervist Eesti!

Somehow I survived the living hell of Stansted (again) – I am so not looking forward to flying back in again after Graspop. It has the worst queues for passport control of any airport I have ever been in. Madness.

Anyway, the good side is that I arrived in perfect time (10 minutes early, in fact) at Tallinn Airport in Estiona. This was a much nicer, quicker welcome than I got back into the UK and shortly after getting my bags I met up with Johnny. He and his wife Lena were to be my Couchsurfing hosts here in Estonia. I’d not expected an airport pickup, so it was a very pleasant surprise and we had a nice little natter on the way to their flat.

The area around the airport is nothing out of the ordinary as far as cities and urban areas go. It’s neither Gothic like Romania, or Communist like Belarus. It’s just… western Europe. I was surprised to see how expensive fuel was, though – around 80% of the UK price. I’d expected that to be lower.

Johnny dropped me off and gave me the front door key while he returned to work. I had a much-needed shower and got ready to go out… until the heavens started to rumble and rain bucketed down. I don’t recall the list time I could actually watch rain arriving the way it did here. You can see what I mean on this YouTube video.

The cat got a little scared, so I had a cuddly bundle in my arms as the rain powered down. I’m glad I’d taken the time for a shower indoors rather than suffer the deluge outside. Eventually it eased off somewhat, I grabbed my daybag and headed out.

Johnny had sorted me with a map and some points of interest to check out, as well as bus numbers. The distance didn’t seem too bad so I decided to walk it instead. By my reckoning, the Old Town was around 45 minutes away by foot. As I strolled, I walked past a few things of interest, some of which I had to check with Johnny afterwards as the detail on them was Cyrillic.

The Tallinn Song Festival Grounds are quite impressive with an enormous arch covering the amphitheatre. At a guess, I’d say it goes almost as high as the Millennium Bridge on Tyneside. Facing the stage is a statue of a man admiring the performance. I’m not sure who it’s meant to be, though!

Further down the road is a statue of an angel holding a cross. A quick Google got me the following information:

It’s for a Russian ship named Russalka, which sank in the Gulf of Finland in 1893. Well actually it’s for the 177 men who died there. It’s made by Amandus Adamason, an Estonian sculptor, in 1902.

The cross in her hand points in the direction of where the ship sank. It’s a great statue and you can climb up around the base for a view over the Gulf.

On I walked and made it to the outskirts of the Old Town on schedule. The map Johnny had given me wasn’t bad, but the streets in Tallinn meander in curves so it’s easy to lose track of where you are. I spent a good couple of hours stretching my legs – well-needed after the concrete floor I spelt on the previous night – and seeing the sights.

The Old Town area does have some fantastic old buildings, though they’re often mixed with more modern ones. The styles vary a lot from street to street to it’s an interesting mix. The grandest was without a doubt the Alexander Nevski Cathedral opposite Toompea Castle. You can tell it’s a Russian Orthodox church purely from the minarettes and turrets. It’s very well tended and looks 10 years old, not 200, if a little “blingy”.

There are a couple of viewpoints from the old city walls, though the only one worth checking out is Kohtuotsa. It provides a view over the rooftops of the Old Town. The other in the same area simply looks onto the train station – not much of a view any more!

I had lunch at a burger kiosk – these are eveywhere around the town but Johnny recommended this particular one. I should have taken a photo of the name as it’s definitely not one I’d remember! I do recall there being “ÖÖ” in the middle…

Taking his direction I also booked my ferry ticket to Helsinki for Thursday morning. It was a little more expensive than I thought, but still not bad at 497EEK (around £25) for the one-way crossing. My advice for anyone else is to book as early as possible and direct with the ferry company if you can. The travel agent’s fee wasn’t large by any account but every little helps. You do get cheaper fares booking early, though.

The best area for being a tourist and taking pictures is around the Town Hall Square (“Raekoja Plats”). The buildings here are pretty much all medieval and the restaurants on nearby Vana Turg try to theme themselves on this. Pride of them all is Olde Hansa, although it was far too expensive for me to even consider going in!

Anther interesting building I spotted was called “Kiek in de Kök”. Apparently it was the most powerful cannon tower in 16th century Northern Europe. I think it sounds more like a harsh way to disable an opponent in a fight.

Overall I spent around 3 or so hours walking around this small-ish area, just meandering and taking corners as I pleased. My feet were starting to ache and I was suffering from the lack of sleep so I decided it was time to head back to the flat, coincidentally as I got a text from Johnny saying that both he and Lena had returned.

I stopped off at a small supermarket to pick up some snacks and tried to aim for Estonian products, or at least something I’d not tried before. I ended up with some BBQ corn kernels, Estonian chocolate, a dark beer and some biscuits.

Back in the flat, I met Lena who’d prepared gazpacho soup (never tried it before, rather nice) and some 100% estonian fish and egg open sandwiches. Which is a problem as I don’t like fish… I did try, however! The fish was very salty and reminded me a little of the cod I tried when I stayed with with Jojo in Mons. We sat and chatted, I tried the beer (lovely) and munched way until bed-time. Despite “losing” two hours, I was shattered and my eyes were itching.

Overall, a hectic day and my feet still ache a little as I write this! I feel I’ve seen most of the city that I want to so tomorrow I’ll take it easy and run errands.

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