Baltic cruise aboard Windstar Cruises’ Wind Surf: Tallinn, Estonia

A section of Tallinn's imposing 14th century town wall still stands at the entrance to the city's Old Town.
A section of Tallinn’s imposing 14th century town wall still stands at the entrance to the city’s Old Town.

ONBOARD WIND SURF- ­Onboard Wind Surf ­ Having absorbed all the hype surrounding its medieval
Old Town, said to be the best preserved in all of Europe, Tallinn was for us the most anticipated destination of the voyage.

On our way into the historic center, we caught glimpses of a gleaming modern side of the capital city of 440,000, replete with glassy high rises housing the headquarters of thriving industries including chemicals, electronics and information technology. By all appearances, a robust economy seems to have
blossomed here in the relatively short period of time since 1991 when Estonia finally escaped the yoke of 50 years of Soviet occupation.

Wanting to see as much of the historic Old Town as possible, we booked Windstar’s 5-hour Tallinn Highlights excursion, well priced at $89pp.  Our guided walking tour got underway in style as we entered through a stone archway in a restored section of the 14th century Town Wall, flanked by tile-topped towers.  It was an appropriate introduction to the fairytale charm of Old Town.

Our cobblestone course led first to the Cathedral of St Mary the Virgin, also known as the Dome Church.  Originally a Catholic cathedral, the 15th century Lutheran Evangelical church is Tallinn¹s oldest and it was one of the few structures in the area to survive a 17th century fire.

The talented classical ensemble Tallinn Oopra Kvartet featuring 11-year-old singer/violinist Annabel Soode provided an evening of onboard entertainment during Wind Surf's visit to the Estonian capital.
The talented classical ensemble Tallinn Oopra Kvartet featuring 11-year-old singer/violinist Annabel Soode provided an evening of onboard entertainment during Wind Surf’s visit to the Estonian capital.

Owing to an early start on this Sunday morning, the narrow lanes leading to Town Hall Square were not yet crowded, giving us a good, unobstructed view of the Gothic-style Town Hall and the colorful guild houses surrounding the square.  Completed in 1404, the Town Hall is the oldest of its kind in
northern Europe. Next, we walked along St. Catherine’s Passage with its collection of workshops where artists create traditional glassware, ceramics, quilts and jewelry.

Since my home already resembles a museum, cluttered with a collection of curios from the four corners of the world, I resist all temptations to shop. So I parted with the group for a few moments, pausing at a small bakery beneath the Town Hall, to try out a flaky local pastry oozing with honey, washing down the tasty treat with a stiff double espresso.

Back on the coach, we were shuttled to Kadriorg Park, often described as the most outstanding and palatial urban park in Estonia. Construction of the 172-acre park began during a period of Russian rule in 1718 on the orders of Tsar Peter 1 (Peter the Great) and it was further developed by his successor
Catherine 1.  Kadriorg, in fact, translates to Catherine¹s Valley. Centerpiece of the park is the magnificent Baroque Kadriorg Palace that once served as a summer residence of the ruling Romanovs.  The palace now houses an art museum.

What normally would have been a placid Sunday morning walk in the park turned out to be anything but that ­ as we’d strolled into the midst of the World Masters Orienteering Championship.  An event like none of us had ever witnessed, it pits several hundred runners, of both sexes, dashing madly about, GPS devices in hand, between check stations scattered around the park.  Winners are apparently those with the fastest times around the course.

Visitors explore the medieval Old Town center of Tallinn, Estonia.
Visitors explore the medieval Old Town center of Tallinn, Estonia.

It was great fun observing the action but we really had to watch our step to avoid being mowed down by galloping participants.  Picking our way through the competition, we paid a brief visit to the House Museum of Peter 1, containing a collection of the Tsar’s objets d’art and personal effects.

Our tour concluded with a visit to the nearby Song Festival Grounds, a sprawling event venue featuring a massive bowl-like arched stage with a capacity for several thousand performers.  It was built in the 1960s to host the Tallinn Songfest, a musical extravaganza staged every five years, attracting an audience of more than 125,000 people.

The Grounds are dear to the hearts of Estonians as the site of the famous Singing Revolution of the late 1980s, when citizens amassed there by the thousands to sing in peaceful protest of Soviet occupation.

This evening¹s lounge entertainment featured some of Tallinn’s musical talent with a stirring performance by Tallinn Oopra Kvartet, a classical string ensemble, highlighted by the extraordinary voice of an 11-year-old girl named Annabel Soode.  If there happened to be such a TV show as Estonia’s Got Talent, Annabel would win it hands down.

August 28, 2016

Photos by Dave Houser

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