Part of a
Cox & Kings' trip to Russia and the Baltic States
Friday 24th June
We landed in Tallinn at about 5.30 p.m. following a heavy rain storm and arrived at our hotel just a few moments before the other members of the Cox and Kings party that we were joining. Initially we were told that they had no note of us at the hotel but the problem was resolved fairly quickly and after briefly unpacking, we then went out for an evening meal in an adjoining hotel. We went with Linda and Jean, two widowed ladies from the group and thoroughly enjoyed our meal – albeit that there was a surfeit of garlic!
Saturday 25th June
The morning was occupied by a walking tour of the old town of Tallinn led by our Estonian guide who will also accompany us to Riga.
We remembered the main square from our previous visit more than 10 years ago and also the general appearance of the walls of the city. However, much of the rest of Tallinn came to us as though new.
We had lunch in a traditional Estonian restaurant before walking back to our hotel. We purchased two small souvenirs – a glass cube commemorating Tallinn’s foundation in 1154 and also a glass sprig in a vase destined for our mantelpiece.
Our guide told us of the many nations that have occupied Estonia. The whole country has only 1.5 million people and 400,000 of those live in Tallinn. It probably proved an attractive proposition for invasion in offering access to the sea.
Our guide’s grandmother and mother had been imprisoned in Soviet times but had taught her, by example, not to hold a grudge against Russians as a people as distinct from the Soviets.
Taxes are higher than in Britain but education remains free even to university level. Health is dealt with on an insurance basis with relatively nominal contributions when visiting the doctor or hospital. There is social security.
We just had coffee and a light meal in the evening at the hotel opposite ours.
Sunday 26th June
We were awoken early by someone knocking on our door before 6.00 a.m. – we can only presume that a member of the departing German party thought one of his group lurked within!
After breakfast, we left at about 10.30 a.m. and visited the Museum of Estonian History in the Guild Hall – a splendid building dating back to the 14th century. The museum was very well laid-out with display boards posing pertinent questions and giving the answers. There were also very interesting audio visual presentations – one even taking our own photograph and then featuring us as characters in the story!
At 1.00 p.m. we took a pre-booked tour in English of a series of tunnels in the bastions surrounding the town walls. These tunnels had been built of limestone in the 17th century and then covered with earth to create the bastions. Our tour reflected the different uses to which the tunnels had been put over the centuries. Although built by the Swedes to protect them in the event of a Russian invasion, they were never used for this purpose as a plague decimated the Swedish troops and the Russians secured an easy victory. Later they were used as air-raid shelters in the Second World War and were prepared for use as places of refuge for important Soviets in the event of nuclear war. Until 2004 homeless people were living there and had to be evicted when they were turned into a tourist attraction.
The town square was less crowded than yesterday but there was a handbell ringing competition for which a special stage had been constructed overnight.
We lunched in a Garlic Restaurant for the experience – in the old building of which the 1422 pharmacy occupied the ground floor. The food was good and we even had garlic icecream!
We then walked to the port to try and remember parts of our earlier visit. On walking back through the old town we couldn’t resist purchasing a small painting of part of the town walls.
Monday 27th June
We were up early as we had to leave our Tallinn hotel at 8.00 a.m. Breakfast started at 7.00 and there was just time afterwards to upload the cropped composite photo of Zac and Ava that Jill had worked out how to do the night before.
There was no porter to carry our bags out to the waiting coach – he was not due to come on duty until 10.00 !! However, with the help of the driver and Adie and some of the other men, the cases were manhandled down the steep hotel steps and into the full-sized coach. As there are only 16 in our party, we had plenty of room to spread out.
It took some time to journey through the outskirts of Tallinn and its wooded, more rural neighbour which became part of the main town only in the last century. Police in large numbers were breathalysing drivers after the Mid-Summer National Holiday which has taken place over the last few days. Today is the first day back at work.
We then drove through many miles of pine and other wooded areas which are virtually devoid of housing. Estonia is very sparsely populated and this is very evident. There is little cultivated land – probably because of the lack of people needed to farm it.
On the coach journey from Tallinn, we watched a general travel film on Estonia but, more memorably, we also saw a second dealing with the “Singing Revolution”. The latter told the story of the fall of the Russian occupation without significant rise to arms by the Estonians. This quiet revolution was credited with bringing about the end of communism in Estonia, although clearly other factors in the international scene also played their part. In our time in Estonia, we learned that they had only about 40 years of independence in many centuries. The first was for 22 years beginning in 1918 and the second commenced in 1991.
On route to Latvia, we made an hour’s stop at Parnu which is the “Summer Capital” of Estonia and where all Estonians seek to own a second home or at least make regular visits. We walked along the beach but the area had the rather dejected appearance of many of our seaside resorts when off-season – although this should have been “high season”. Margit, our Estonian guide, told us that it was “too cold” for people to be on the beach – even though it struck us as being particularly warm. School holidays had begun at the beginning of June and last until 1st September.
Eventually we found a rather deserted looking hotel and went inside (where the only activity was someone busy vacuuming). However, they seemed to be happy to serve us some coffee which we drank outside in the sunshine.
We then returned to our waiting coach but found that we had “lost” one of our party – Harold from Lavenham in Suffolk. He finally arrived having got lost in the park as he sort to find the rest of us.
We then set off again and passed the border from Estonia into Latvia at around mid-day. This diary therefore continues separately under the heading of “Latvia”.