Lost & Found: Tallinn
5-7 September 2008

Tallinn is famous for its well-preserved walled old town, beautiful blonde women and drunken stag parties. I didn't encounter any #3, couldn't spot any #2, so here are some tips for a saunter around #1.

Eat at:

Travelling alone means that you are free to conduct your own casual cafe-crawl, with a good book for company.

Chocolats de Pierre. Apparently the best hot choc in Tallinn, and with prices to match (though still only 55 EEK). I had mine laced with chilli and luxuriated under the sunshine in the ivy-twined Meistrite Hoovi Suurtoetaja (Masters Courtyard). The drink was made with proper chocolate and I liked the cinnamon stick as a stirrer, but I prefer the thick Italian variety. In winter it'd be a cosy place to linger, as the interior was decorated in opulent scarlet velvet and inviting curved Louis XIV chairs.

Maiasmokk. My favourite resting place in Tallinn was an old-school cafe (Tallinn's oldest) which has retained its pre-war mahogany and mirror decor and snail-pace service. Diving away from the rain, I settled myself into the corner table, sipped my delicious Gurman's tea (25 EEK) while reading my book and surreptiously inspecting other diners' rock-solid cream cakes. Linked to the cafe is a marzipan room where you can watch artists handpaint almond and sugar paste sweets - apparently invented in Estonia.

Bonaparte Deli. This French-style bakery and patisserie sold the most delectable chocolate and almond biscuits. I happily devoured my selection and congratulated myself on only spending 31 EEK on a dozen biscuits.

Reval Cafe Vene. It was only a matter of time before I got hit with some Soviet style fare. This cafe looked like a comfortable space for chilling out and the soup was a bargain for 55 EEK. However, when I tasted the 'cream of mushroom', my first thought was 'this is very salty' followed quickly by 'hang on, are these congealed stock cubes??'. Further investigation revealed that my soup was probably of the nasty Continental Cup-a-soup variety, and not even the sort with croutons. If you're going to this cafe, stick to drinks, and make sure you bag the bay window table which is hidden behind a curtain on the upper level. It has clear views of the street and is perfect for a secret tete-a-tete or a quiet read with a good book.

Tristan ja Isolde. A little cave which flickered atmospherically with candlelight against bare stone and plumped with inviting red cushions. The huge chocolate mousse cake was delicious (50 EEK) and the window seats carved into the wall were perfect for quiet contemplation.

Saiakang. A cheap and simple cafe just off the babble of the town square, which serves Gurman's tea (25 EEK) and a surprisingly good almond pastry (20 EEK). Sit on the high bench next to the long window and watch the world go by.

Matilda. A flower-bower with some deep comfortable couches. I recommend the cowberry meringe tart (30 EEK) - an enticing mixture of high delicate meringue combined with almond flakes,  jam-like base of cowberries (a bit like tiny raspberries) and shortcrust casing.

Kuldse Notsu Korts. I didn't have a chance to try out the garlic restaurant Balthazar, or the pepper restaurant Karl Friedrich, so I thought I should at least try this pork restaurant for authentic Estonian food. Considering many of Tallinn's restaurants seemed to specialise in gloomy medieval interiors, the whitewashed brick and cream-coloured wooden furniture (not a boar head or moose antlers in sight) was a welcome respite. My spicy spare ribs (210 EEK) could hardly be called spicy, with not even a hint of pepper, and the garlic potatoes were just potatoes. It was stodgy, uninspiring fare which promptly turned me into a post-prandial zombie.

Kompressor. A no-nonsense, poker-faced cafe serving ulta-cheap (55 EEK) Estonian style pancakes with a range of fillings. No delicate French style crepes here, but enormous thick, doughy pancakes with smoked cheese and bacon and a big pot of sour cream. Even with my large appetite it defeated me - luckily I was getting a body wrap later to leech out all of the toxins. I defy anyone to have a dessert pancake as well.

Shop at:

Maestrogalerii. This art gallery, located in picturesque Katariina Kaik, first caught my attention because the emo guy lounging outside shouted 'Konichiwa' as I walked past. I discovered that he was the nephew of the artist, Anatolie Triboi, and while constantly flicking away his long dark fringe, he proceeded to tell me at great length and with great enthusiasm about his uncle's metal etchings and the stories behind each of the typical scenes of Tallin, including a complete whopper about the naming of St Olaf's Church. Now I have to find a place to hang my small, limited edition print of Tallinn's skyline.

Ulve Kasitoo Handicraft. Everything sold in the 800 year old Masters Courtyard is Estonian made, and this adorable handicrafts store sells accessories and ornaments, mostly made by the young woman's mother. I bought a pair of knitted gloves with roses embroidered at the wrist (I dreamt of those gloves all day) and delicate candleholders with tiny dangling jewels.

Puu Ja Putukapood. A juniper-scented, cute little wood and felt design shop. I came away with a little Christmas tree ornament beautifully presented in a paper bag.  

Knitting Market along Viru Gate. I was distraught when I lost the handmade woolly hat that my parents bought back from Tallinn, so I was determined to find a replacement on this trip. The stalls presided by stout, knitting babushkas displayed a whole range of designs, and for 375 EEK I ended up with a pastel felt-lined beanie and a fun, bobbled Christmassy hat, perfect for zooming down the slopes.

Kalev. The most famous chocolates in Estonia have stores all around the Old Town, but I'm told that the store at Lai 1 is the cheapest.

To do:

The Old Town. There's no need for me to introduce the sights, as every tourist who visits Tallinn will visit the UNESCO World Heritage Old Town. My only definite recommendation is to get up to Toompea for a panoramic view of the city skyline and its famous towers.

Kalev Spa. "Please. Everything off. This." She unfolded a flimsy paper g-string. "For you. I come back." I had heard the thing to do in Tallinn (other than get wildly intoxicated and chase pretty women) was to luxuriate in a day spa. So here I was, dry-brushed and smothered in a sticky mineral mud concoction, then wrapped in plastic as I fell into a drowsy stupor. The price of removing toxins and residues, cleansing the skin and improving metabolism = 650 EEK.

Okupatsioonide Muuseum. For most of its history, Estonia has been occupied territory, and this museum explores the Soviet and German occupations of the last 60 years. By watching a series of extensive, informative videos dealing with different times of occupation, I learnt about the mass deportations of Estonians to Siberia in the 40s, and that Estonians were fighting for both the German and Russian armies during WW2, sometimes as forced conscripts. I met a middle-aged Swedish man who told me a little of his research on his absent Estonian father, who had fought for the Germans, passionately hated the Russians and had become mentally disturbed from his experiences of war and occupation.

Stay at:

Bed and Breakfast. I always like staying at B&Bs to see where real people live, and an agency found me a single room with Mrs Veera for only 325 EEK. Well, real people in Tallinn live in grim, concrete Communist-era tower blocks outside of the charming Old Town. Luckily, my room was clean, comfortable and surprisingly modern (cable TV!) and Mrs Veera was an amusingly authentic experience - a squat, dour landlady with a consumptive cough who did not provide breakfast and gave me a scratchy towel the size of a hand towel for my shower (limited to 5-10 minutes, please).

Getting around:

Chocolats de Pierre: Meistrite Hoovi Suurtoetaja

T: +372 641 8061

Maiasmokk: Pikk 16, Tallinn

T: +372 64 64 079

Kalev Marzipan Room: Pikk 14, Tallinn

T: +372 6464192

Bonaparte: Pikk 45/47, Tallinn

T: +372 646 4024

Reval Cafe Vene: Vene 1

T: +372 644 64 73

Tristan ja Isolde: Raekoja plats 1 (Town Hall)

t: +372 680 60 83

Saiakang: Saiakang 3/5

T: +372 644 30 55

Matilda: Luhike jalg 4

T: +372 6814 65 90

Kuldse Notsu Korts: Dunkri 8, 10123 Tallinn

T: +372 628 6567

Kompressor: Rataskaevu 3, Tallinn

T: +372 646 42 10

Maestrogalerii: Vene 12, Tallinn

T: +372 55 266 50

Ulve Kasitoo Handicraft: Meistrite Hoovi Suurtoetaja

T: +372 644 0128

Puu Ja Putukapood: Meistrite Hoovi Suurtoetaja

+372 644 0126

Kalev: Lai 1, Tallinn 10133

+372 667 9599

Kalev Spa: Aia 18, 10111 Tallinn

T: +372 6 493 350

Okupatsioonide Muuseum: Toompea 8, 10142 Tallinn

T: +372 6 680 250

Rasastra: Mere pst 4, 10111 Tallinn

T: +372 66 16291