Another all night session from our neighbours, with their stateroom door slamming approximately every ten minutes between 12.15 am and 4.30am. This is like some sort of sleep deprivation torture and I reach the stage of not wanting to go to sleep because I know as soon as I do doze off, there will be a rude awakening. We are beginning to regret handing back all Master Christopher’s tools. By morning and after approximately three hours broken sleep, I am far from my usually tolerant self. We complain (again) to the lovely Emma on Guest Relations – words will be had!
We foregather in the theatre prior to our tour of ‘Tallinn Town and Country’ and join ‘Pink 8’ group, led by Tanel, who is a university lecturer earning extra holiday money. The Old Town of Tallinn was granted UNESCO World Heritage status in 1997 and its Medieval importance was as a key port of the Hanseatic League. Country first though and we head out of Tallinn, learning about Estonia as we go. There are signs of Neolithic settlement in Tallinn, which was then a fishing village. Changes in sea level mean that the site of this area is now inland. In 1246, the King of Denmark gave city status to Tallinn and the limestone fortifications were built, making Tallinn a walled city until the middle of the C19th, when building outside the walls began. By this time, Tallinn had lost its military importance, so defence was not so vital. The original wall was 3km long and incorporated 60 watch towers. Now only 1km of wall and fourteen towers remain, including ‘Fat Margaret’.
The Estonian language is very different from most European languages, bearing the closest resemblance to Finnish. Some German vocabulary found its way into Estonian, as German was the language of the upper classes, Estonian being spoken only by the peasants in Medieval times. We are reminded that Estonia is a similar latitude to Alaska and the Shetland Islands.
We arrive at Esko Farm, which is a dairy farm that produces its own products for sale rather than selling the milk. They also have some beef cattle and we notice that most of these retain their horns. For Esko, diversification has included becoming involved in tourism and also providing the location for a famous long-running Estonian soap opera – not famous enough for it to have been heard of outside Estonia but famous nonetheless. We sample some of the produce – yoghurt and strawberry jam, Gouda and Feta-like cheese (you can’t call it Feta as it is not produced in Greece). There is also a drink called Kama powder, which is a mixture of rye, wheat, oats, peas, yoghurt and sugar and is singularly revolting – resembling a concoction of Complan and bran flakes. A hero of the Estonian soap narrates a video explaining how Saku cheese is made on this farm; it takes 10 litres of milk to make 1kg of cheese.
Leaving the farm, we drive through Saku, which is also well-known for its beer and vodka production. Hunting has become an important aspect of tourism, predominantly bear, wolves and lynx. We are taken to visit a typical, ordinary Estonian home, although my guess is that ‘typical comfortably-off Estonian home’ might be a better description. Peter, the owner, has obviously learnt how to cash in on the tourists and who can blame him. Mind you, I would not want a coach load of tourists traipsing round every room in my home. Apart from the library on the large landing, this is sparsely furnished and décor is reminiscent of the 1960s. The building itself is clad in plastic, wood-effect sheets.
We move on to the Old Town of Tallinn itself and visit the Cathedral of Saint Mary the Virgin, also known as the Dome Church, which contains many heraldic carvings. We also see the church of St. Olaf, whose spire was once the highest building in the world at 159 metres. Following numerous lightening strikes it is now reduced to 123 metres. Formerly a Catholic cathedral, it is now a Baptist congregation. We pass the Danish Crusaders’ Castle, Toompea Loss and the impressive, Russian Orthodox Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, built in 1900 as a sign of Russian domination. There have been suggestions that this should be pulled down because of what it symbolises. With a population of 400,000, 25% of whom are Russian, Tallinn is the largest city in Estonia. Traditionally Lutheran in belief, the religious landscape includes, Russian Orthodoxy, Baptists and Catholics.
Most of the tourist shops are selling amber jewellery and Matryoshka or ‘Russian’ dolls. I pass on one and succumb to the other. As we leave Tallinn to return to the ship, someone lies down in the road in front of the coach. Is this some sort of anti-tourist protest we wonder? Our driver manhandles said individual to one side – apparently he has just imbibed too much vodka.
The evening session is another entertaining one from Cyndi Ingle, on Google Maps.