Part 3 of the Baltics series (May 2015).
After enduring a five-hour bus ride from Riga with a raging hangover (entirely my own fault, and so much appreciation to Lux Express for having free tea, coffee and hot chocolate on board), I arrived in Tallinn — the impossibly twee capital of Estonia, and Finnish gateway to cheap booze.
There’s lots to love about Estonia. It prides itself as being ahead of most countries when it comes to public wi-fi access. Anyone in the world can join Estonia’s digital society and become an e-resident of this tiny Baltic state. Its greatest success story is Skype — a must for any traveller keeping in touch with home.
Given the Estonian government’s visionary approach to technology, Tallinn’s historic centre (Old Town) seems to have been frozen in time.
It’s one of the best-preserved historic towns in Europe, and officially recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s also a tourist nightmare, with large groups being herded around the city by loud tour guides with massive signs or flags — check. The upside is that the Old Town is fairly compact, and you can easily hit up most of the attractions within a day.
However, venture out of the Old Town and you’ll find a lively and bustling (and painfully hip) side of Tallinn in Telliskivi Loomelinnak.
Telliskivi is a former industrial complex-turned-creative mecca with public art, flea markets, craft beer bars, and boutiques boasting upcycled lace dresses and handpainted pianos.
While guided tours are available for 7-10€, the area is incredibly walkable and you can easily spend half a day wandering around on your own.
Of course, no visit to Estonia is complete without a visit to a traditional sauna. Kalma saun is the oldest public sauna in Tallinn, and a twenty-minute walk from Telliskivi Loomenlinnak. Saunas are a key part of Estonian life — people of all ages visit saunas and socialize while bathing and relaxing.
I’ve never considered myself to be particularly uncomfortable about the naked body, but I was definitely self-conscious about hanging out in the nude with complete strangers because I simply wasn’t used to it. However, it was such a relaxing and welcoming atmosphere that I soon forgot about my nudity and simply enjoyed getting a good sweat and working out all the knots in my back (backpacking can be exhausting!). I especially loved that the sauna was a place where women of all ages, shapes and sizes could feel confident and comfortable about their bodies, and I think saunas could go a long way for us in North America to re-think our ideas around nudity and body image.
Alur Hostel, right in the heart of Tallinn Old Town: 9€/night in a 10-bed dorm
Public transit (buses, trolleys, trams): 1.10€ for 1 hour / 5€ for a three-day pass
Lunch in the Old Town: 6€ at Kolmas Draakon
Entrance fee for Kalma saun: 9-10€ for men / 7.50-9€ for women