Robert Hampton

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5th May 2011

Tallinn you all about Estonia
Posted by at 7.15pm | 2 responses | Out and About

View of the Estonian capital city, TallinnI’m something of an international travel virgin – and I’ve never been abroad either.

Actually that’s not quite true; I went with my family to Toronto when I was little. However that doesn’t count because despite being there for two weeks (I think) I can remember only three things about it: a day excursion to Niagara Falls, riding into the city centre on a double-decker GO train and travelling on a streetcar which broke down.

Fast forward twenty or so years and the only other countries I’ve visited since then have been Scotland and Wales. Which apparently don’t count either.

Regular readers of this blog (all three of you) will remember that one of my New Year Resolutions was to travel abroad. I did some initial planning and toyed with the idea of going to Berlin, but true to form I never did anything about it beyond buying a guide book.

Then, a couple of months ago, my friend (and renowned international jetsetter) Andrew Bromage mentioned that he had booked an easyJet flight to Tallinn. The flight prices were cheap and the hotel would cost the same for one or two people, so did I want to come along?

Yes. Yes I did.

Andrew BromageOf course, after agreeing to go, I then did my usual thing of working myself into a lather over stuff that most people would consider trivial: getting travel insurance (I spent hours searching for a good quote before going with the first place I looked at: the Post Office), getting Euro currency (I spent hours searching for a good rate before going with the first place I looked at: Marks and Spencer), obtaining an EHIC (which I then forgot to take with me).

A jittery first-time traveller could not ask for a better travel companion than Andrew, who has surely clocked up more miles in planes than some cabin crew. He cheerily informed me that the journey to Tallinn and back would be his 199th and 200th flights respectively (yes, he counts them).

And I was extremely glad to have him there, because when I arrived at Liverpool Airport on Tuesday morning, there was absolutely no indication of what I should do next. There were rows of desks marked “check in” and “bag drop”, but neither of those were applicable to me. Where do I go? Andrew, being an old hand at this sort of thing, was effortlessly able to navigate me through the maze of security and duty-free shops that you have to walk through to get anywhere near a plane.

We took our seats and prepared for take off. I will admit to being a little apprehensive. I know aeroplanes are statistically one of the safest methods of travel, and that easyJet have an excellent safety record. It didn’t help however that the news seemed full of plane-related disaster: first, the killing of Bin Laden gave the news channels an excuse to rerun that footage of hijacked plans slamming into buildings; then reports came through of fresh leads in the investigation of the mysterious disappearance of an Air France jet in 2008, meaning I got to see people fishing plane wreckage out of the sea.

View from the window of the planeI put these doubts to the back of my mind as much as possible, and sat back as we accelerated and then were up and away into the sky. I had consciously made an effort to bag a window seat. Unfortunately the weather was cloudy and views of miniature towns and villages beneath us soon gave way to a sea of white as we climbed. By the time gaps started to appear in the cloud layer, we were over the sea anyway. The majority of the journey was over water, in fact, so there was little to see – not even other planes, much to Andrew’s disappointment.

About three hours later we touched down (in what Andrew said was his bumpiest landing for some time) at Tallinn Airport. A quick stroll through passport control and we were in a taxi heading for the city centre. The airport is close to the town (just under three miles away) so it was a quick – and slightly hair-raising – journey weaving through heavy traffic.

It was fascinating to note the contrast between the outskirts of the city, where dour 1960s tower blocks still dominate, and the centre, where futuristic, glass-fronted high-rise buildings are starting to appear.

We soon arrived at the Go Hotel Shnelli, which was to be our base for the next two days. The hotel was built as part of a recent redevelopment of Tallinn’s main railway station (Balti jaam, literally “Baltic Station”) and is owned by Go, one of the rail companies operating services from Tallinn.

A railway theme pervades throughout, from the hotel’s conference room which uses parts from an old railway carriage, right down to the hallway carpets, which carry a familiar pattern. Even better was the view from our room, which overlooked the station platforms themselves, giving me an excellent view of the comings and goings.

Railway-themed carpeting in Go Hotel Shnelli Balti jaam platforms

A little after-the-event research reveals that the top two trains in the picture above are Latvian-built ER2 Electric trains, used on the Elektriraudtee suburban network serving Tallinn and its surrounding area. These quaint-looking trains date from the 1970s and are due for replacement within the next few years. The train peeping out at the bottom right corner is an Edelaraudtee diesel train.

GoRail sleeper train in Tallinn Balti jaamShortly afterwards a much longer diesel-hauled train was shunted into the platforms. This, we later discovered, is the GoRail overnight sleeper train to Moscow.

The recent history of Russia and Estonia is – ahem – “interesting”, so in my head this train is the setting for all sorts of intrigue – mysterious assassinations, undercover operatives and microfilm hidden in various body cavities. The reality is probably slightly more mundane, so I’m sticking with my own imagination, thanks.

There was plenty of interest on Tallinn’s streets too, with a procession of lovely trams rattling up and down. There was also that most curious of vehicles: the trolleybus. Not quite a bus, not quite a tram, they always struck me as an unhappy compromise, but they seemed quite popular with the locals. The trolleybuses were a mixture of modern vehicles and slightly archaic-looking examples like the one shown below.

Tallinn tram Tallinn trolleybus

In the end we never used any public transport, as everywhere we wanted to visit was within walking distance. Yes, we did a lot of visiting and a lot of walking. More on that in the next instalment, coming tomorrow.

To be continued…

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2 Responses
  1. Comment by Nuno
    8th May 2011 at 12:09 am

    As always I really enjoy your “after the event” digests with humorous insights and enthusaism for the details so many of us overlook. Needless to say, you make me look at things differently, and am looking forward to the next instalment…who chose the hotel? 🙂 Love the carpet…almost expect Thomas to come choo-chooing through.


  2. Comment by Robert
    8th May 2011 at 5:05 pm

    To be honest I was slightly worried I’d gone into too much detail! Thanks Nuno, glad you’re enjoying it! 🙂