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Falling in love with Tallinn
Exploring the magic of Estonia's capital city
When it comes to travel, so many times we make excuses as to why we shouldn’t visit a destination. It’s too expensive. It’s too far. It’s too dangerous. For us the best experiences have come from ignoring all the reasons why we shouldn’t go, and instead embracing the glorious adventure and unknown. Some examples: Watching the border-closing ceremony between India and Pakistan, sleeping under the stars in a desert in Dubai, and getting magical tattoos in Thailand. It’s hard to believe that we even considered missing out on these life changing experiences.
Our trip to Tallinn, in Estonia, was no exception. Estonia never really was a country we had considered visiting, but after spending a week in Finland, we realized we had some extra time. We talked with some locals and learned Estonia’s capital city of Tallinn was a short two-hour ferry ride from Helsinki.
We weighed our options. We were pretty exhausted from the previous week in Helsinki and our funds were running low. Staying in Finland meant we would have some much-needed downtime. It also meant we could save money by not traveling for a few days, and that we could explore more of Helsinki on our own. Still, visiting Estonia was a chance to see a new country! And it was only a two-hour ferry ride away!
Knowing this opportunity might not present itself again, we thought, “Let’s do it!” Before we knew it, we were aboard our Viking Line ferry bound for Estonia.
After our quick ride over the Gulf of Finland, our ferry pulled into Tallinn. It was approaching midnight, but we used the Expedia app to book our hotel and scored the same room for three consecutive nights. Knowing relatively nothing about Tallinn, we chose Hotel Bern for its proximity to historic Old Town, free WiFi, and amazing price.
The five-minute taxi ride from the ferry terminal to our hotel had us falling in love with the Tallinn. Even though it was dark, we could still make out the shadows of the city’s stunning architecture. The following two days were full of adventures around Old Town.
Our first meal certainly was quite the experience. We stumbled upon III Draakon and were attracted to the wooden sign out front that declared the restaurant served “a decent bowl of elk soup.” Not being ones to turn down a decent bowl of anything, we cautiously entered the candlelit tavern.
Our first meal at III Draakon
Inside, the place looked like something out of Middle Earth. Medieval music played in the background while patrons lingered in dimly lit corners and finished clay mugs of ale and elk soup. There was no menu, just a few signs scattered throughout the room with words such as, “dragon’s blood,” “sausages,” and “dark ale.”
We approached the woman behind the bar and asked her for two ales, a meat pie, and an elk soup. With an array of meat pies available, the only way to differentiate the pies was to look at the hand-drawn picture of which animal’s meat was inside. I pointed to the one that was clearly a cow. Playing the Medieval theme to the hilt, the server somehow persuaded us to add sausages and pickles to our meal.
We sat down with our bounty (all for less than US$20) and enjoyed one of the best meals we’ve ever had. The elk soup was better than decent; if I wasn’t scared of the sassy serving wench, I would have asked her for the recipe. The Ill Draakon experience also was one of the more interactive meals we ever have had; the server gave us each a set of spears that we used to pierce the pickles of our choosing from a big wooden barrel. I enjoyed spearing pickles more than I thought I would.
That incredible first meal aside, we decided to spend most of the rest of our time in Tallinn strolling around Old Town. It was the first time in a while we didn’t have an itinerary to follow, and we relished in being able to explore at our own pace. A few of our favorite stops were the lookout point at Toompea Hill, the colorful and historic Town Hall Square, and the flower market of Viru Square.
Viewfinder Tip: If you’re planning to have a meal at Olde Hansa, talk to one of the costumed characters out front; this person will hand you a coin that’s good for one free welcome drink.
Our last night in town was marked by another glorious meal at a local haunt: Olde Hansa. This restaurant was recommended to us by a number of our followers on Instagram. After stumbling upon it a few times during our walkabouts, we decided it would be the perfect place for our last meal in town.
Like III Draakon, Olde Hansa clings to the city’s medieval theme. Yes, it seemed a bit touristy, but that was fine with us. History came to life as our server walked us through the menu. Ultimately, we ordered thick meat soup and a wild boar plate. As we dined, the ambiance was enhanced by minstrels playing live music in the grand hall, the intimate candlelight, and the ornate decorations throughout the room.
We went to Tallinn not knowing what to expect and left with it being one of our favorite cities of all time. This experience proves that sometimes, even if you don’t want to travel someplace new, you need to just take that leap. There might never be a “perfect” time to travel to a specific spot, but if the opportunity arises, you should embrace it with open arms.
If you could go anywhere on Earth, where would you go and why?
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Chris and Tawny have had articles and videos published on USA TODAY TRAVEL, BBC Travel, Matador Network, as well as appeared as guest stars on TLC Asia's Fun Taiwan television series. When not on the road, you can find Chris and Tawny nestled in their home in Tacoma, Washington fueling up on coffee and cat cuddles while planning their future adventures. You can follow their travels on their blog, Instagram, and YouTube