Rather than fly, we took the Viking ferry from Helsinki to Tallinn, about a 2.5-hour ride across the Baltic Sea. The ride was good and the ferry provides lots of entertainment in bars, night club – not so much on Monday morning with a ship full of old people! One ferry worker told us the ship is rocking on weekends when it’s full of younger people heading to Tallinn for a cheap weekend. The drinking starts BEFORE they even board the ship. On our sailing, coffee was the drink of choice for most people.
The highlight of the ship for many was obviously the duty-free shop full of wine and alcohol. Given the prices in Helsinki, we understood the attraction. All we bought was a bag of licorice and pepper candy that Juhis and Noora turned us on to in Finland.
The Old Town part of Tallinn is beautiful, full of stone walls, old buildings, churches, cobblestones everywhere on the street and the sidewalks. We needed to kill some time before we could get into our AirBnb so we opted for lunch and picked the Texas Honky Tonk for some Mexican food. Surprise! The Mexican food was the best we’ve had outside of the U.S. by far and better than a lot we’ve had IN the U.S. Turns out the Estonian owner visited Austin, loved Mexican food and opened this restaurant. We ate there twice! We also ate at Vaike with great service and better food. It’s a partner restaurant to Rataskaevu 16 that was recommended by several friends and TripAdvisor! We didn’t plan ahead so couldn’t get a last minute reservation at Rataskaevu 16 but could get into Vaike – around the corner and serving the same menu.
One thing we’ve noticed in both Estonia and Latvia – smiling must not come naturally to almost anyone, including people in the service industry. Being grumpy or dour is the modus operandi in coffee shops, bars, restaurants, shops. The service people who smile definitely stand out!
One note – For those who wonder how we can travel at “such a pace”, we are NOT traveling at the Tour group pace! We spent at least 4 nights in Bergen, Stockholm, Tallinn, Riga, and, soon, Warsaw. Our typical day is:
- Sleep until we wake up unless we have a train, bus or plane to catch and have to set the alarm
- Eat breakfast and drink coffee
- Sightsee – try to walk at least 10,000 steps and that’s not hard!
- Around 4 PM, come back to the apartment and rest, nap, read, work on blog, pictures, etc.
- Find dinner about 7 PM or eat in the apartment if we ate lunch out
- Go to bed whenever
Most of Estonia is either Lutheran or Orthodox. There’s one Roman Catholic Church in Tallinn (population of about 500,000) and it’s the Cathedral, about the size of a small parish church in the U.S. There’s also one Ukrainian Orthodox Church and we visited that, too. Pope Francis is visiting the Baltic countries at the end of the month, including Tallinn on Sept. 25. Posters hang everywhere and the Ukrainians are hoping he will make a visit to their church when he’s in town. The schedule seems to be in flux.
So far, we’ve with stayed in AirBnbs or with friends. When we pick an Airbnb, we always find an entire apartment so we can eat breakfast and one other meal in AND make coffee AND do our laundry. Prices vary, of course, from about $90 U.S. dollars per night in Stockholm to about $35 U.S. per night in Riga. We’ve had great places so far and have seen all sorts of little showers built into renovated bathrooms, washing machines in all languages (This trip has had all English language machines.), walked up flights of steps to apartments, used elevators to get up to the 3rd floor, etc. We’ve picked up keys in lock boxes, met the owners to get keys, used key pads to get in the buildings and apartments, etc. The one in Tallinn had the most interesting entrance. The 4 floors of apartments shared a building entrance with a strip club – Gentleman’s Club.