Back in the USSR….

Well you may think me crazy, but last weekend which was a long weekend for juhannus (Mid-summer’s longest day), so in true Finnish style we fled the city and headed to Tallinn with the kids.   Seems that as summer is so short here whenever there is a chance the Finns will either head to their summer houses (by the lakes for the Finns, and the sea for the Swedes) or off to Estonia, where they can also stock up on cheap alcohol, so as my supplies had run dry we sold the kids on the idea of a medieval adventure in Tallinn.   I booked the tickets the day before we were due to leave, got home from work and found I had booked them for that night, so quickly got onto the computer and tried to amend them to the right day, in the process completely cancelling them, which also meant no refund as they were cancelled within 24 hours of sailing (not the sailing I wanted to go on but the one I had actually booked on), so a phone call to the Viking Line and they told me to call back tomorrow when someone was in the office.  Luckily I found a refund application form on line and filed that with the result being that they would give me a refund, so I could comfortably book new tickets for the right day.

We took the evening sailing which arrived in Tallinn around midnight.   Once we were off the boat and waiting for our host to pick us up we watched as a couple of boozed up boof heads had a go at each other in the carpark, finally resulting in one of them picking up his bottle of duty free spirits and heaving it at the other guy, missing him completely, with the resulting broken debris sliding narrowly past the kids, welcome back to the USSR.

Buying some nuts from the street venders

It is funny how comforting it is to travel from clean cut, orderly, pure as the driven snow Helsinki to the grimy, unorganised, unmaintained, Soviet feeling Tallinn.   As much as I enjoy living in Helsinki it is much like living in New Zealand, which is not what we left for, we wanted to go on an adventure and experience life in places that aren’t like home, adapt to their cultures, learn their languages and see life from their eyes.   This is hard in Helsinki as the moment someone knows that you don’t speak Finnish (or Swedish) they convert to perfect English, so immersion is more difficult.   Tallinn has a mix of languages with a fair proportion of Estonian and Russian along with lesser amounts of Finnish (from what I have observed anyway) and most people can also speak English, so doing anything outside of the retail stores and restaurants becomes a real linguistic melting pot, with our limited Russian becoming the lingua franca.   On many occassions it would be Jimmy who would work out first what had been said and that they were speaking Russian so we knew what was going on, so very handy having a clever 6 year old near by.

We were lucky enough to find a nice apartment on Pik Jaelg right in the heart of the old City via Airbnb which had as one of it’s walls part of the old city wall.   Tallinn’s Old City would have to be one of our favourite places so far in Europe, with its medieval history, narrow cobbled streets, centuries old buildings and a fair smattering of great places to eat and see you can spend days wandering around here just soaking in the atmosphere without feeling like you have been overexposed.   Even the kids enjoyed just being in the Old City, which I guess was more enhanced by their ability to savour authentic Estonian cuisine, like Bear and Elk Sausages, Elk Pate, Duck and Rose Petal Dessert.   We got a Tallinn Card and made the most of the sightseeing on offer, doing the hop-on, hop-off bus circuit, zoo, seaplane harbour, etc.   We even managed to get ourselves lost in some dodgy looking neighbourhood after taking the regular bus to the Seaplane Harbour instead of the sightseeing bus.

Pik Jaelg, where we stayed

As a former Soviet republic, Tallinn still has a lot of the Soviet baggage much like Moscow, once again you felt you were taking your life into your own hands by stepping on to an uncontrolled crossing, the zoo while rather roomy had that same run down, unmaintained fell that Moscow Zoo had (and interestingly enough Tallinn Zoo is the first zoo I have been to where they had trees growing between the viewing fences and the animals enclosure which completely obscured your view of the animal within…), and the infrastructure while efficient was run down.   It is funny how riding on a bus that is constantly threatening to stall while sitting at an intersection actually makes you feel like you have gone home (that is home to Moscow not home home…).   Generally it is a lot cheaper than Helsinki, so is a good place to get haircuts and stock up on essential clothing items at affordable prices and don’t forget the duty free booze of course.

Town Hall Square
Typical Old City Street

On the way home we checked in and Angela and Molly headed on up to find a comfortable seat for the cruise home while Jimmy and I grabbed our trolley headed to the nearest duty free market to stock up on beer, long drinks and lemonade for the kids.   So in Finnish style we stack everything on the trolley, secure it well with the bungy cord and drag it back to the boat, where we take it with us wherever we go for fear of someone knicking it…..

If you are ever in this part of the world, I can’t recommend Tallinn highly enough, it is an absolutely beautiful city, full of an amazing history and atmosphere and at the right times you may even find knights in shining armour and fair maidens, and I am led to believe an amazing amount of modern Estonian maidens in the nightclubs……. (oh to be 20 again…).

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Tony Fitzpatrick
Architect, Dad, Traveller & Head Rover at Around Rock 3
After a brief flirtation with Japan in the early '90's, and some occasional trips to Australia since, I have had an unrequited love affair with Japan and general desire to explore the world for the next 20 years while reality prevailed and I found myself pretty much stuck in my home country of New Zealand (not that is an entirely bad thing...).After a chance opportunity arose in mid 2012 to relocate our family to Moscow, Russian Federation I finally set off on my OE with my family in tow. It has been an amazing journey that has seen us experience life in Russia, Japan and now Finland, as well as visiting around a dozen countries so far in our adventure to date.While my family situation has changed along the way, I am continuing to explore the world with my tri-lingual son and enjoy sharing the adventures we have had with my followers.


  1. I first visited Tallinn when Estonia was part of Soviet Union or USSR. Then I also visited the Tallinn TV station which had all Russian Secam TV system electronics!
    Now, Estonia being independent country, the cityscape has changed quite a bit but the buildings are still the same and cobblestones at the Old Town remain to slow down anyone who uses a bicycle 😉
    I visited Tallinn last year from Helsinki and enjoyed the cheap prices and and slightly different cuisine like in my old home country Finland.
    Some day I will explore the Estonian countryside on my holiday from New Zealand.
    Again, good to hear about your travels Tony and family.
    Have a Lonkero on my behalf,

  2. Hi Henry, it sure is a beautiful country and we too would also like to visit the countryside. Is great to be up here in your part of the world, would never have imagined when I took you to Ward that night that I would actually get up here and see it for real. Is really awesome to actually spend some quality time up here as well rather than just passing through as a tourist.
    Hope your travels are going well too.

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