ESTONIA - Old town in Tallinn and garlic beer

Trip Start Aug 15, 2012
Trip End Jan 10, 2013

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Flag of Estonia  , Tallinn,
Monday, August 13, 2012

Wow. Tallinn is a beautiful, beautiful medieval city and of course we are here at the best time of year, summer. The temperature feels the same as it did in Sydney 15-20 degrees. The best part though... clear blue days, every day!

Cobblestone streets make up the old part of town (built in the 15-17 th centuries) where we stayed and I think our calf muscles have been getting a work out because of them. We spent a very quiet 6 days in Tallinn which were lovely after the craziness of India and much more relaxed than the pace in India. Not having to pack our bags for a few days was bliss.

We were really looking forward to the architecture here in Tallinn. The pictures made it look quite magical and the real thing did not disappoint. We stumbled across a museum called "Estonian Museum of Occupations" and at the time I naively thought it sounded a little odd having a museum about jobs people did. I later read it was about the history of when Estonia was occupied by the Soviet Union, Germany, and by the Soviet Union again. Sweden and Denmark also occupied Estonia at different times way back in the real old days so it is no wonder the architecture is so mixed and amazing.

Our first night here we opted for a modern/traditional Estonian restaurant for dinner. We chose to sit outside and were the only patrons out there. It was pretty chilly so the Waiter bought us out some blankets to cover up with which was lovely. He then went on to suggest a local shot "it's better than blanket" he suggested. Leigh and I looked at each other thinking "oh my gosh what could it be" but decided when in Rome... so we braved a shot of clear alcoholic liquid and it certainly did warm us up but we stopped at one shot for fear of not knowing the alcohol content. We are still not exactly sure what it was but assume it was some kind of vodka. Happy days!

I told just about everyone we were going to try out the Garlic Restaurant in Tallinn and boy did we try it! The Balthasar restaurant has been around since our marriage, 1999, and is Estonia's first garlic restaurant (does such a small country need more than one?). It was on the first floor with lovely views over the old town square and towards the beautiful Town Hall. It felt like being in a country manor dining room with heavy ornate chairs, fresh white linen table cloths, exposed wooden beams and flooring, subdued and subtle lighting

The menu had garlic bulb weighting system, 3 bulbs = lots of garlic. I took the all the options with garlic... the most interesting being the Garlic Beer! It was a little hard to understand whether the garlic was added during fermentation or not because our waiter had a strong accent but it certainly came with small pellets of garlic running up and down the glass (see the video). It was actually quite nice even though the beer was a lager... I do prefer ales over a lager any day. The garlic flavour was subtle and delicious.

The food was delightful and garlicky as you can imagine but the experience was very sophisticated despite it's touristy location and garlic theme. The garlic ice-cream did not steal the show, it was okay. Needless to say the vampires stayed away the night we ate at Balthasar.

The old town was FULL of tourists! We tried to stay away from them but we found ourselves running into them time and time again on our many walks. One day we walked out of town on a 3 hour round trip to the National Art Museum, KUMU. It was a great museum and well worth the walk back through the Kadriorg Palace grounds, an imperial Russian summer residence built in 1718 and the beach.

After our big walk we decided on a nice early night in our room so off we went to the supermarket which was really interesting.  We ended up spending almost an hour choosing our ingredients for a simple antipasto platter. The Estonians do pre packaged meals really well! They looked and smelt delicious. It was here we discovered Vana Tallinn (Estonian for Old Tallinn) a delicious sweet liqueur with a hint of rum, flavoured by natural spices, including citrus oil, cinnamon and vanilla. It comes in 40%, 45% and 50% alcohol varieties, they keep you warm too.

We attempted to watch some TV but it wasn't much fun! It went like this:

English language being spoken softly;
Russian subtitles; and
Estonian voice-overs.

all in the same show. It was so mind bending an experience the TV stayed off. We did pick up some BBC so we did know what was going on in the world.

Back in June we booked our helicopter flight from Tallinn to Helsinki, an 18 minute flight I'd been wanting to do since 2005!  There is only one company that operates and I daresay only one helicopter. Two days prior to our flight we received an email from the company saying our flight had been cancelled due to their maintenance window needing to be extended and there would be no further flights in August. So we needed to find an alternative... a 1.5 hour ferry ride.

We were disappointed of course but have already decided on an alternative, perhaps a better one. A 45 minute sunset flight out to the Grand Canyon for a picnic dinner and back again to Las Vegas... I think we'll be okay with this change of plan.

So we boarded the ferry which was a 6th of the price of the helicopter flight and went the long way to Helsinki!
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