It’s less than a hundred miles from Helsinki to Tallinn, although during the Soviet occupation of Estonia it might as well have been a thousand – the invaders burned the fishing boats. Now there’s plenty of choice, although I didn’t pay much attention to the fastest, the Linda Line’s catamarans, as the service is cancelled in rough weather.
Between them, the other ferry companies offer an array of choices, with the price varying according to the time of day and the day of the week you choose to travel. The price from Helsinki to Tallinn goes up the closer you get to the weekend, when partying (and shopping) Finns head for the cheaper alcohol across the water. I opted for the mid-day Viking boat, although I would have saved money by leaving on Wednesday instead of Thursday. I would also have saved money if I hadn’t bought the buffet lunch, as there were other options available on board. Along with plenty of opportunity to buy alcohol, and to gamble.
Perhaps the rave reviews for the buffets on the ferries in this part of the world really apply to overnight boats? I wasn’t overly impressed with this one, although as usual with buffets I ate too much. The appetizers were the best part: I tucked into lots of salmon and shrimp. I appreciated the notably tender beef, and the cheese I ate for desert, but the veggies were very uninspiring. Maybe if you drink enough of the unlimited wine or beer on offer, you may not notice any deficiency in the food. I thought I drank plenty, although not as much as the partying twenty-somethings at the next table, but I still noticed.
I was lucky enough to score a seat on the free bus to the eastern edge of the old town, but unfortunately my hotel was on the western edge and I had to haul my bag across a lot of cobbles to get there. Even the sidewalks were a bit of a problem as they had channels cut across at regular intervals – presumably for snow melt..
The Baltic Imperial had received some good write-ups, but I was less impressed than I expected. I’ve posted a review on tripadvisor, so I’ll just say I had issues with the location, the dim lighting, the shower, the lack of wifi in my room…. I did find the staff friendly, and I indulged in an excellent (and needed) massage. A warning to future guests: the small bottle of water on the desk that is NOT in the minibar? They will charge you one euro per bottle on check out. I consider that a scam.
I had arrived early enough to be able to spend an the afternoon following the lower town section of a guidebook’s recommended walk. Tallinn is divided between the government section up the (steep) hill, and the commercial section at the bottom. Commerce used to be the preserve of German merchant guilds, but these days consists of lots of souvenir shops. Luckily the medieval buildings, including parts of the wall and towers, can stilll be admired.
My second day I took in the upper town, which I found less interesting. The view points were worthwhile, and the interior of the Orthodox cathedral was more impressive than the one in Helsinki. Heavy rain drove me indoors that afternoon, to the Museum of Foreign Occupations. Unfortunately, the main sights here were videos, and I had trouble with the audio on most of them. It was pretty clear that the Soviets made themselves so hated during their first brief occupation in 1940, that the Nazis were initially regarded as liberators.
While alcohol was undoubtedly cheaper in Estonia than in Finland, food seemed to be just about as expensive, at least in tourist territory. I tried one recommended place for “local” food, and thought it way overpriced. I don’t mind paying gourmet prices for gourmet food, but “Grandma’s Place” offered pretty undistinguished fare. On the other hand, the high prices at Bocca, an Italian place out of the center, were largely justified. I would have preferred my zabaglione without the almonds though, they spoiled the usually lucious texture.