Next morning it was an early start as we set off for Tallinn, in Estonia, a 3.5 hour ferry ride away. Now Estonia is a fascinating country, as are many of the far Eastern European countries. Filled with culture, myths and history, often with a fine selection of well-preserved medieval walled towns. Tallinn is one such town, dating back to the 13th Century it’s earliest name was in Russian, but in 1219, after the Danish conquest it became known in German, Danish and Swedish languages as ‘Reval’.
A name it kept until 1918, then changing back again from 1941 – 1944 when it fell under Nazi occupation of Estonia during WWII. The only indication of Nazi (and later Soviet) rule is at at the ferry port where a large concrete shell of a former shopping mall now displays the local graffiti, and homes what looks to be an underground club.
But once we’re through the gates and into Old Town Tallinn then we’re in a different time zone all together – the cobbled meandering streets lined with medieval merchants houses, churches, hidden alleyways and wonky doors, and, to my delight, several chocolate shops. The first of which; Kohvik Maiasmokk housed a marzipan museum – marzipan is hot property over here, and a marzipan artist is considered a skilled role! The museum contained all manner of marzipan-related artifacts, and even held marzipan making and decorating (yes, you can paint your marzipan creations in edible food colour) workshops. Wandering through to the next part of the store and you have the main cafe with a fine selection of traditional Estonian cakes and beautiful styled eating area, similar to Fazer Cafe in Helsinki.
Now, with hot chocolate in hand, we began our church adventure. Tallinn has a surprising abundance – and variety – of Churches in addition to its multitude of chocolate shops. Our first stop was St Olaf’s church – at the entrance to Tallinn – built in the 12th Century, its 405 foot tower has survived several lightning strikes and two world wars and from it’s summit you get a wonderful view all over Old Town. The first two images below detail the tight steepness of the tower’s stairs. Next up, and straight opposite Kohvik we found the Church of the Holy Spirit, built in the 14th Century – like many buildings in Tallinn it has a wonderful off kilter appearance to it. Even the beautiful clock outside has been there a fair time and has been keeping time since the 17th Century. It was now time to take a wander up Toompea hill to poke our noses in what seems to be a staple for many Eastern European cities – a Russian Orthodox church – with the ever familiar domes and gold filigree detailing both inside and out. As we were walking the walls of Old Town, we could see a warm glwo of light coming from a little door leaning slightly ajar and leading to a courtyard, back down at street level we ambled over and stepped into a magical little place and down some more stone steps into what appeared to be a studio for various artists. This was the Dominican Monestary Claustrum, the oldest building in Tallinn; at over 500 years old it was built in 1246 and still houses a library, chapter house, dormitory, prior’s room and part of the cloister. Below ground you can find the rooms dedicated to local Estonian artists.
Moving away from ancient Estonian churches and back to chocolate, and coffee at Kehrwieder – a tiny shop round the back of the Church of the Holy Spirit with a delectable range of small bars paired with unusual ingredients. They also grind and sell coffee, and are the only place to do so in Tallinn, their shop being full of beautiful antique machinery, still in full working order! After stocking up on some fresh ground pumpkin coffee, chocolate & coffee and chocolate & bee pollen bars it’s now time to make a move, slowly, back to the ferry port. But not before stopping at our final chocolate shop, full of delicious creations by Anneli Viik. Two delicious chocolates – a white chocolate truffle and a Romeo and Juliet with a delicious almond and cinnamon cream filling, washed down with a hot chocolate to go. It was hard leaving Tallinn, I’d felt like I had entered an Estonian version of that quaint little village in Chocolat and I didn’t want to leave. Until next time.
*Tickets for the ferry can be bought from a variety of vendors, at a variety of prices – the higher the price the speedier the ferry, although to be honest, there’s not really that much in it. We bought ours, a return each, from the vendor at the ferry port, setting us back about 45 Euro each.