City Guide: Beautiful Tallinn, Estonia Part 1 of 3
PHOTO: View of Old Town Tallinn, Estonia from the Balcony of the Prime Minister (c) Sery Kim
One of the most surprising places I have visited on my travels is Tallinn, Estonia. Located literally right next to Russia, a quick two hour flight from Amsterdam and a one hour ferry to Helsinki, Finland, is the 1.3 million resident strong Estonia.
Formerly apart of the Soviet Union, Estonia has a gorgeous, nearly untouched terrain with over 1,500 islands (most of which are uninhabited). Of late, Estonia has become a tech hub for Europe and has been a, surprisingly frequent, cruise ship destination.
Tallinn is Estonia's capital with a storied medieval history and a charming "Old Town." I absolutely fell in love with Old Town Tallinn during my week in Estonia, mostly because the weather was perfect, the people were so friendly and kind, and the food was interestingly delicious.
PHOTO: Charming Old Town Tallin (c) Sery Kim
First, the food. Estonia has a strong Nordic history -- as its proximity geographically would indicate. One of the most fun restaurants to visit in Old Town Tallin is DRAAKAN directly off of Old Town Tallin's Main Square. The interior of what is essentially a pub is dark with lighting only provided by candles in a real throwback to the era of the Vikings. Nothing is modern except for the sole convenience of running water in the bathroom. The hostess are not only dressed in the fashion of the similar era, but they have the attitude to go with it as well, making ordering a real, laugh-filled experience since there isn't a printed menu and only items scattered throughout the front hostess stands -- failure to timely order results in yelling, "Hurry up!" "Why don't you know what you want?" "Men!" Pickles are skewered directly from a barrel, various pies (fruit, vegetable and meat) are in a tiny-tiered stand and cider is plentiful.
PHOTO: Happy Hour at DRAAKAN (c) Sery Kim
Other restaurants around the square also have a similar "time" feel where the entire dining experience harkens to an evening at the theatre. One such place, where the outdoor patio seating is always full, is Olde Hansa, Tallinn's Medieval restaurant.
PHOTO: Salmon platter at Olde Hansa (c) Sery Kim
The food is inspired by food solely available in the 14th century. Gamey and interesting meats such as bear, wild boar and elk make repeated appearances as does simple fish such as salmon. The menu does change a little bit but dining at Olde Hansa is for hearty, adventurous eaters and not for the faint of heart. Additionally, to stay true to the Medieval theme, the silver is wooden and not silver.
PHOTO: Menu at Olde Hansa (c) Sery Kim
While the restaurant scene is plentiful, the real reason to visit Tallinn is for its stunning Old Town.
Looking as if it fell off the soundstage of MGM in the Hollywood hey-days of the 1950's, Old Town Tallinn is full of quaint charms. On alternating days of the week, not typically regular and sometimes hard to trace, the center square in Old Town Tallinn is filled with vendors selling the most charming wares. I bought the most adorable, hand-stitched, wool shoes for my 13-month-old nephew Jackson Parker (aka the most gorgeous baby in the world).
PHOTO: Hand-made woolen shoes for my 13 month-old nephew Jackson Parker Kim
Additional tremendous finds in Tallin are the sheepskin throw rugs so thick they could fill a small pond. It broke my heart when I realized I bought a skinny yet genuine version of this rug years ago at Crate-and-Barrel for almost $400 when in Tallinn I could have bought an authentic, thicker version for a mere $75. Ugh. The things I wish I would have known before I became a full time food-and-travel writer.
Tallinn also has a lot of Russian influences due to its proximity to Russia. I found this hilarious Russian Babushka dolls which I knew I had to buy. Such a great deal at $50.
PHOTO: My Russian Babushka dolls purchased in Tallinn, Estonia (c) Sery Kim
Finally, when it comes to shopping, I really lucked out in finding the most fantastic, television-perfect dress in the local mall. Tallinn really doesn't do a lot of high-end boutique shopping like you would find in Milan, Paris or London. The local culture doesn't support the look. However, they do have great treasures if you search out. After a week in Tallinn, I went to the local mall and found this Lakesh dress. Brightly yellow with a great brocade pattern, the dress looked perfect on television. Very happy about that.
PHOTO: My Lakesh dress purchased in Tallinn, Estonia (c) Sery Kim
More on Tallinn to come including my favorite restaurant as well as the best hotel to stay at!