Arriving for breakfast and the receptionist stood to attention and offered me a little bow. I’m not in Japan, but in Estonia – positively surprising as the tourist board describes it, and indeed I find it is.
Tallinn was European City of Culture in 2011 and Estonia is now president of the Council of the European Union. The country welcomes more tourists than its population every year – which may explain why in the capital city public transport is free to residents. Although you may not need to use it because the city is small – everything is 10 minutes apart, including the tram from the airport to the city centre.
There are two parts to the city – the UNESCO world heritage site of the Old Town and everything outside the walls. Within the Old Town there are a lot of cobbles, many churches and quite a few hills. Its pretty in all directions from the pastel coloured buildings to the red roofs and spires of various shapes and sizes. The Town Square provides a useful navigation point. En route to my hotel I went past the KGB prison cells, a number of cosy looking cafes, bars and restaurants and a good proportion of souvenir shops. Along Pikk Street there are also a number of historical buildings with useful information boards outside in both Estonian and English.
Food and drink is important in an Estonian winter. We started one evening in the Beer House micro-brewery. We followed this at Pegasus restaurant where, on the surface the menu consisted standard food, but digging deeper into the menu you find yourself experiencing a mixture of uniquely Estonian tastes – the tangy sea buckthornberry being one. We finished our meal with a dessert that grandma would make: rye cream jelly with a cranberry sauce.
Our waitress said that Estonian food would make us feel fulfilled and it certainly did; enough to face the cold air on the walk home. The following evening was just as good – starting with speciality, home-baked bread and continuing with reasonably-priced, high-quality food. The service everywhere is exceptional.
Even in November, when it’s cold by UK standards, it’s well worth a visit. The Old Town is beautiful and contrasts with the modern city. Walking around is reward in itself, but if you need more the gastronomy speaks for itself and you won’t be disappointed.