In Estonia We Traveled from Modern to Medieval
As seen in gypsynester.com, by David and Veronica
Estonia is filled with contrasts, and nowhere is that more on display than the capital city of Tallinn.
Evidence shows that people have been living in Estonia for over five thousand years, establishing it as one of the oldest seats of power in Northern Europe, while it has only officially been the capital of the Republic since 1991, making one of the youngest.
Passing through the modern business district, we easily understood why this has become known as the Silicon Valley of Europe.
Seems like we should have Skyped the folks back home, since this is where the Internet video chat app was invented.
Moving beyond the glass and steel towers, we discovered they only tell half of the story of the city’s skyline.
The other half belongs to the UNESCO World Heritage Site that has been called one of the best preserved medieval cities in Europe, Tallinn’s Old Town.
The ancient settlement is divided into two distinct areas. Toompea, or Dome Hill, is the original fortified city on a hill, which overlooks All-linn, the lower town below. Even though this high ground is home to Toompea Castle, the name is derived from the domed churches of St. Alexander Nevsky and St. Mary’s Cathedral.
The hilltop site of the castle has been a military stronghold for well over a thousand years, but now provides political protection for the people of Estonia as the home of the Parliament, the bright pink painted Riigikogu.
In a small park just a few steps from the refurbished palace we noticed a small crowd peering over a stone wall.
From this stunning hilltop overlook we got a great view of the three prominent pinnacles of St. Nicholas’ Church, the Town Hall or Raekoda, and St. Olaf’s Church, that form the medieval skyline of the town below. Even long ago this city was cutting edge, since the tower of St. Olaf’s is thought to have been the tallest building in the world between 1549 and 1625.
Eating Wild Game
After exploring the cobblestone streets, we stopped off for an unusual snack of beaver and bear at Raekoja Plats, the main square in the heart of the Old City.
Afterwards, we ducked through the dark and narrow ancient St. Catherine’s Passage that leads to a section of Tallinn’s old defensive walls and climbed up for a walk along the top of the ancient ramparts.
Wait a minute, beaver and bear?
Yup, that’s what we said.
Estonians have a long tradition of eating what we might consider exotic game, and many of the restaurants are more than happy to accommodate adventurous patrons willing to partake.
I guess we fell into that category.
Escaping the Urban
Escaping from the urban area we entered the lush, green scenery of Kadriorg Park.
Hidden away inside is a small, by czar standards, palace built by Peter the Great for his wife Catherine the First in 1718.
The park is only the beginning of the unspoiled natural beauty that extends throughout Estonia’s countryside.
With five National Parks, and dozens more protected Nature Reserves, the array of outdoor exploration possibilities can be anything from island hopping among the thousands of isles that dot the Baltic coastline, to a day at the beach, to hiking through ancient forests, or paddling through bogs.
Little did we know Estonia had been declared Lonely Planet’s best value destination for 2016 when we visited, but we certainly learned why it won the honor.