Tag Archives: Tallinn

Tallinn and Russian Railways

Tallinn Russian Railway Engine

We needed some beers and a bottle of wine but we didn’t pass any shops so as it was still early Mike S and I walked around the city ring road in search of a mini market.  The route we chose took us towards the railway station and this wasn’t any real surprise because is a railway man by profession and enthusiasm and after about a kilometre or so we were outside the ticket office and an impressive Soviet Steam Engine, the L2317, a 2-10-0 locomotive built in 1953 in Russia at a factory in the Moscow railway suburb city of Kolomna.

The Russian L-series locomotives were one of the more advanced steam locomotives built in the former Soviet Union. They used stocker to feed coal and had a relatively low axle load of eighteen  tonnes to be compatible with the clapped-out railroads of post war Eastern Europe.  It was a mighty black iron beast with red wheels of almost ninety tonnes that really deserved a name rather than just a number, which during its working life pulled mostly freight trains between Russia and Estonia and after it was decommissioned was rather ignominiously used as a static boiler to heat nearby houses.  It has been externally restored now and sits tall and proud outside the railway station, which was where we went next.

We were now in the working part of the city and a long way from the Christmas market and the students dressed in medieval costumes and the overpriced restaurants.  The station felt tired and past its best and next to it was a tram station that conjured up images of the old days of the Soviet Empire and what was surprising was that the passengers on board looked grey and tired and firmly locked permanently into a 1960s Tallinn time warp.  The trams whirred and screeched and sounded bells to warn of their approach as they drew up and pulled off, setting down and picking up and clattering away again between the rows of old wooden houses and out towards the proletarian flats of the city suburbs.

Ice Skating

After a drink in the bar for courage we prepared to go out again and we were excited about this because some of us were going ice skating.  Christine can’t go on the ice of course because she is too accident prone even under perfect walking conditions and neither Sue of Mike S felt confident about taking to the ice but the rest of us were all keen to give it a try so we paid our entrance fee and strapped on the excruciatingly painful bright orange boots and carefully took to the ice.

The strange thing about ice skating is that it is a lot more difficult than it looks and instead of gliding elegantly around the outdoor arena we were stumbling gracelessly across the frozen surface just being thankful to remain vertical.  Kim quickly abandoned any attempt at proper skating and went around clutching on to a sort of ice rink zimmer frame, Mike W quickly got cold feet and abandoned the ice almost as soon as he had started but after a shaky start Helene was lapping faster and faster and Margaret was a complete natural with lashings of grace and poise.

I managed to stay upright through a dozen or so circuits but although I was beginning to feel like Christopher Dean and was humming Bolero to myself as inspiration I am fairly sure it wasn’t pretty to look at for those spectating.  For a start I found it impossible to skate with both feet so quickly established an awkward style of keeping my left foot in constant contact with the ice and pushing myself along with nervous little stabs of the right foot and then sliding for as long as possible before starting over again.  I found that stopping was especially difficult and the only really confident way of coming to a standstill was to plot a course for the side of the rink and then crash into the wooden fences surrounding the ice and it is difficult to make that look in any way stylish!

The entrance fee and boot hire was for a full hour but after twenty minutes without anyone injuring themselves we decided that this was probably quite long enough and to stay longer might increase the risk of broken bones and lacerations so we returned the boots and left in search of a restaurant and an application for ‘dancing on ice’ will almost certainly have to wait until after quite a bit more practice.

Andrew on Ice

Tallinn Christmas Market

On account of the grey skies we wrapped up in an appropriate way to tackle the bleak weather and set off for the old town and we retraced our steps from the previous night and repeated our visits to the viewing platforms overlooking the Baltic and the islands.

With one of the most completely preserved medieval cities in Europe, the seacoast capital of  Tallinn is a rare jewel in the north of Europe and a precious city on the UNESCO World Heritage List.  It was once a medieval Hanseatic town and for long periods in history dominated by the Germans, the Swedes and the Russians and even today contains lots of influence from those days but as we walked we could tell that there was a uniqueness to the place, reminiscent of Riga but at only roughly half the size certainly very different.

Tallinn is a city with a long and proud tradition dating back to the medieval times and it was first recorded on a world map in 1154, although the first fortress was built on Toompea in 1050. In 1219, Valdemar II of Denmark conquered the city, but it was soon sold to the Hanseatic League in 1285. After joining the League Tallinn enjoyed unprecedented prosperity because its position as a port, a link between mainland Europe and Russia, enabled it to grow rapidly in size and wealth and many of the City’s finest buildings were constructed during this period.  This lasted until the sixteenth century when Sweden moved in and claimed the city and during this time of Swedish rule more fortifications were added and the architecture took on the baroque style of the times.

Just like the previous evening we were confused about how to find our way to the centre of the city not least because where we were was an elevated spot with limited access to the streets of the old town.  We wandered about and corrected ourselves a couple of times before finally walking through a medieval entrance to the city and descending steps behind the city walls before finding ourselves finally at the Raekoja Plats, the Town Hall Square.

Here, in the middle of the town we had reached our objective because since 2001, from December through to the end of the first week in January, Tallinn hosts a traditional Christmas market.  This is appropriate because (although this is disputed, especially in Northern Germany) the picturesque Town Hall Square is claimed to be the site of the world’s first Christmas tree, which formed part of a ritual begun in 1441, when unmarried merchants sang and danced with the town’s girls around a tree, which, when they had had enough fun and drink they then burned down.

This would be rather like any town in the United Kingdom on New Year’s Eve if the tree wasn’t taken down as a precaution in the afternoon before.

Today the market is included in the Times newspaper top twenty European Christmas markets and here in the square there were more than fifty wooden huts and stalls where visitors and locals were being tempted by (traditional? well maybe) artisan products from all over Estonia. Surrounding an enormous Christmas tree hung with lights and decorations, the vendors were selling a variety of original products including woollens, felted wool hats and slippers, buckwheat pillows, wooden bowls, wickerwork, elaborate quilts, ceramic and glassware, home-made candles, wreaths and other decorations.  Traditional Estonian holiday food was also on the menu such as sauerkraut and blood sausages, hot soups, stir-fries and other seasonal treats such as gingerbread, marzipan, various local honeys, cookies and, best of all, hot mulled wine poured from copious wooden barrels.

It was approaching lunchtime and therefore, because of the nervousness of finding somewhere that Sue and Christine would approve of, a potential crisis time in a new country with unfamiliar cuisine.  Without Micky the anxiety was all mine and weighed heavily because traditional Estonian Cuisine has developed over centuries with Germanic and Scandinavian influences and some of it is not for the faint hearted and certainly wouldn’t suit Sue’s delicate dining preferences.  For a girl who turned her nose up at a plain fish salad in Portugal I was certain that she wouldn’t like sült, a sort of jellied meat dish made from pork bones, trotters and heads, or the marinated eel, Baltic sprats, sauerkraut stew or even the Christmas speciality of verivorst or blood sausage.

There was no real need to worry however because although Estonians speak fondly of their traditional food they are no more likely to eat it on a regular basis than in England we are to order pease pudding, jellied eels or brawn and the according to the menu boards displayed outside the pubs and restaurants had a good selection of acceptable offerings.

A Life in a Year – 18th December, Tallinn and Russian Railways

Tallinn Russian Railway Engine Soviet Steam Engine L2317

We needed some beers and a bottle of wine but we didn’t pass any shops so as it was still early Mike S and I walked around the city ring road in search of a mini market.  The route we chose took us towards the railway station and this wasn’t any real surprise because is a railway man by profession and enthusiasm and after about a kilometre or so we were outside the ticket office and an impressive Soviet Steam Engine, the L2317, a 2-10-0 locomotive built in 1953 in Russia at a factory in the Moscow railway suburb city of Kolomna.

The Russian L-series locomotives were one of the more advanced steam locomotives built in the former Soviet Union. They used stocker to feed coal and had a relatively low axle load of eighteen  tonnes to be compatible with the clapped-out railroads of post war Eastern Europe.  It was a mighty black iron beast with red wheels of almost ninety tonnes that really deserved a name rather than just a number, which during its working life pulled mostly freight trains between Russia and Estonia and after it was decommissioned was rather ignominiously used as a static boiler to heat nearby houses.  It has been externally restored now and sits tall and proud outside the railway station, which was where we went next.

We were now in the working part of the city and a long way from the Christmas market and the students dressed in medieval costumes and the overpriced restaurants.  The station felt tired and past its best and next to it was a tram station that conjured up images of the old days of the Soviet Empire and what was surprising was that the passengers on board looked grey and tired and firmly locked permanently into a 1960s Tallinn time warp.  The trams whirred and screeched and sounded bells to warn of their approach as they drew up and pulled off, setting down and picking up and clattering away again between the rows of old wooden houses and out towards the proletarian flats of the city suburbs.

A Life in a Year – 7th December, Ice Skating

After a drink in the bar for courage we prepared to go out again and we were excited about this because some of us were going ice skating.  Christine can’t go on the ice of course because she is too accident prone even under perfect walking conditions and neither Sue of Mike S felt confident about taking to the ice but the rest of us were all keen to give it a try so we paid our entrance fee and strapped on the excruciatingly painful bright orange boots and carefully took to the ice.

The strange thing about ice skating is that it is a lot more difficult than it looks and instead of gliding elegantly around the outdoor arena we were stumbling gracelessly across the frozen surface just being thankful to remain vertical.  Kim quickly abandoned any attempt at proper skating and went around clutching on to a sort of ice rink zimmer frame, Mike W quickly got cold feet and abandoned the ice almost as soon as he had started but after a shaky start Helene was lapping faster and faster and Margaret was a complete natural with lashings of grace and poise.

I managed to stay upright through a dozen or so circuits but although I was beginning to feel like Christopher Dean and was humming Bolero to myself as inspiration I am fairly sure it wasn’t pretty to look at for those spectating.  For a start I found it impossible to skate with both feet so quickly established an awkward style of keeping my left foot in constant contact with the ice and pushing myself along with nervous little stabs of the right foot and then sliding for as long as possible before starting over again.  I found that stopping was especially difficult and the only really confident way of coming to a standstill was to plot a course for the side of the rink and then crash into the wooden fences surrounding the ice and it is difficult to make that look in any way stylish!

The entrance fee and boot hire was for a full hour but after twenty minutes without anyone injuring themselves we decided that this was probably quite long enough and to stay longer might increase the risk of broken bones and lacerations so we returned the boots and left in search of a restaurant and an application for ‘dancing on ice’ will almost certainly have to wait until after quite a bit more practice.

Andrew on Ice

A Life in a Year – 4th December, Tallinn Christmas Market

On account of the grey skies we wrapped up in an appropriate way to tackle the bleak weather and set off for the old town and we retraced our steps from the previous night and repeated our visits to the viewing platforms overlooking the Baltic and the islands.

With one of the most completely preserved medieval cities in Europe, the seacoast capital of  Tallinn is a rare jewel in the north of Europe and a precious city on the UNESCO World Heritage List.  It was once a medieval Hanseatic town and for long periods in history dominated by the Germans, the Swedes and the Russians and even today contains lots of influence from those days but as we walked we could tell that there was a uniqueness to the place, reminiscent of Riga but at only roughly half the size certainly very different.

Tallinn is a city with a long and proud tradition dating back to the medieval times and it was first recorded on a world map in 1154, although the first fortress was built on Toompea in 1050. In 1219, Valdemar II of Denmark conquered the city, but it was soon sold to the Hanseatic League in 1285. After joining the League Tallinn enjoyed unprecedented prosperity because its position as a port, a link between mainland Europe and Russia, enabled it to grow rapidly in size and wealth and many of the City’s finest buildings were constructed during this period.  This lasted until the sixteenth century when Sweden moved in and claimed the city and during this time of Swedish rule more fortifications were added and the architecture took on the baroque style of the times.

Just like the previous evening we were confused about how to find our way to the centre of the city not least because where we were was an elevated spot with limited access to the streets of the old town.  We wandered about and corrected ourselves a couple of times before finally walking through a medieval entrance to the city and descending steps behind the city walls before finding ourselves finally at the Raekoja Plats, the Town Hall Square.

Here, in the middle of the town we had reached our objective because since 2001, from December through to the end of the first week in January, Tallinn hosts a traditional Christmas market.  This is appropriate because (although this is disputed, especially in Northern Germany) the picturesque Town Hall Square is claimed to be the site of the world’s first Christmas tree, which formed part of a ritual begun in 1441, when unmarried merchants sang and danced with the town’s girls around a tree, which, when they had had enough fun and drink they then burned down.

This would be rather like any town in the United Kingdom on New Year’s Eve if the tree wasn’t taken down as a precaution in the afternoon before.

Today the market is included in the Times newspaper top twenty European Christmas markets and here in the square there were more than fifty wooden huts and stalls where visitors and locals were being tempted by (traditional? well maybe) artisan products from all over Estonia. Surrounding an enormous Christmas tree hung with lights and decorations, the vendors were selling a variety of original products including woollens, felted wool hats and slippers, buckwheat pillows, wooden bowls, wickerwork, elaborate quilts, ceramic and glassware, home-made candles, wreaths and other decorations.  Traditional Estonian holiday food was also on the menu such as sauerkraut and blood sausages, hot soups, stir-fries and other seasonal treats such as gingerbread, marzipan, various local honeys, cookies and, best of all, hot mulled wine poured from copious wooden barrels.

It was approaching lunchtime and therefore, because of the nervousness of finding somewhere that Sue and Christine would approve of, a potential crisis time in a new country with unfamiliar cuisine.  Without Micky the anxiety was all mine and weighed heavily because traditional Estonian Cuisine has developed over centuries with Germanic and Scandinavian influences and some of it is not for the faint hearted and certainly wouldn’t suit Sue’s delicate dining preferences.  For a girl who turned her nose up at a plain fish salad in Portugal I was certain that she wouldn’t like sült, a sort of jellied meat dish made from pork bones, trotters and heads, or the marinated eel, Baltic sprats, sauerkraut stew or even the Christmas speciality of verivorst or blood sausage.

There was no real need to worry however because although Estonians speak fondly of their traditional food they are no more likely to eat it on a regular basis than in England we are to order pease pudding, jellied eels or brawn and the according to the menu boards displayed outside the pubs and restaurants had a good selection of acceptable offerings.