Friday, September 09, 2016

Charming Old Tallinn and The Prodigy night out

Tallinn is to Finnish what JB is to Singaporean - a cheap fast weekend getaway. A 2.5h ferry ride away to cheap and good food and stuff (beauty treatment, wine etc). Cost of ferry ride varies according to season and demand/supply principle. I got mine at €23 per ride which is kind of the peak season price. Was told you could get a return at €16! The ferry is not just your normal Bintan/Batam ferry - it is a full size cruiseship! Complete with cabins and restaurants! Indoor seating is sparse and very difficult to find, except for those cabin style seat back near doors (4 per section). Otherwise it's brace the cold for outdoor seating or find a place in a restaurant (almost impossible).


I arrived in Tallinn to amazing 25 degrees of sunshine! The walk from ferry terminal to old town is pleasant and easy and even from afar you can already see the churches and the remaining walls. Checked into my hostel - Tabinoya (amazing hostel and if you like quiet and peace I highly recommend this!) They are located right in the middle of the action but still at a quiet corner. They have all the information you need for exploring Estonia/Tallinn. Met Katrina, an aussie who has been travelling around the world for a year, upon arrival and immediately we hooked up to spend our time in Tallinn! First stop the free walking tour offered by the Information Center. It starts at 12 noon and I highly recommend this! This tour is very informative, the guides are funny and they give you plenty of time to take pictures and even to enter the church! The tour was 2 hours in total and we got a lot of information. Then it's off to the pancake house! It's a popular pancake house Kompressor that serves really delicious pancakes (savoury and sweet) for €5 and under. Go there!!!
We also signed up for the prison tour (€10) and that is also a good one! You can of course go to the prison and explore yourself for much less but the tour gives very good insight and information about the history of the prison and Victor is a very good guide. We also get access to private part of the prison not open to public - like the execution chambers. The tour is about 1hour and is walking distance from the old town.

So old and charming

Not as easy as it looks
We got a good tip for a very medieval restaurant for authentic experience - III Draakon - walk into the tavern and you feel like you are in Game of Thrones! Everything is so old fashioned and authentic. There's no lights and you fish your own pickle the old fashioned way - with a spear out of a barrel. Their menu is limited - oxtail soup, ribs, 6 kinds of pies (delicious!), cider and beer. And they are cheap! The pies are only €1 each and really really good! Cider was €2. Really enjoyed it!
The next day we booked ourselves on a trip to visit the Lahemaa National Park. Initially was to go with another hostel-arranged tour at a cheaper rate (€40) but they canceled this trip so we went with the Information Center (€55). The great weather helped in us enjoying the tour. The tour runs in size of 8 people max in each car with own guide. So if the group is larger, they split up into separate groups that will run separately and then meeting for lunch. During our whole trip, we didn't see the other group except during lunch.
Largest waterfall in Estonia

The drive was not too long and we visited the famous waterfall (was too small as there was no rain) and also a small walk in the forest. We learnt that the Estonians invented the game of swinging - where you stand on the HUGE swing and start to go around. It can be pretty scary when you are directly above but upside down on the pole.

Lunch was not included in the price but it seems to be obligatory that you take the lunch (€15) Lunch is smoked salmon with potatoes and cheesecake. We only knew about this at the start of the tour so had no other option. If you are vegetarian, you pay the same price but you only get vegetables which were eventually shared with the others - doesn't seem fair though. If I had known, I'll choose NOT to have lunch and bring my own. €15 is not terribly expensive for salmon but I would have brought my own to save a little more money. Lunch was in the home of an old couple who bought the place and they have a museum of many old shipping artefacts. The good thing about this museum is you are really up close and personal and you can touch them!!

After lunch we went to an abandon secret Soviet site by the sea - the place was so secret that nobody really knows what the base was used for! Then we had a walk in the bog which was really nice and that ended our wonderful day out in nature!

The bog
The night was an impromptu decision by me - Katrina asked if I wanted to go to a Prodigy concert and I said YES! For €20 we got 90mins full on Prodigy concert even though I know nothing much about them. But the atmosphere and the live music was infectious that I just started dancing along! Everyone was crazy there. I had my first mosh pit experience - for whatever reason I will NEVER understand instead of standing and enjoying the performance which you paid for, these people prefer to bump into each other, totally oblivious about what's going on! Crazy!
The remaining walls

The next day it was a rainy day - not so nice but luckily we chose to activities that are indoors. We went to the Kiek in de Kok and Bastion tunnels. I recommend doing the Bastion tunnels tour - call ahead to ask about the tour timing. If you are not interested in the museum then just get the ticket for the tunnels (I think it is €9). We got a combo ticket and did both. The tunnels are a little chilly so bring a jacket. It was a very nice and informative tour where the guide will explain the history of the tunnels and the use over the years. Really enjoyed it. After we went into Kiek in de Kok museum - so called because you can see into people's kitchen from the tower. It is a 4 level museum so be prepared to climb! The only disappointment is that you don't really get a true panoramic view of the city at the top. All that climb for nothing! If you like to walk along the walls, that a separate fee and you can enter from the museum or the café on the wall.

There's also a old pharmacy right in the townhall area where they showcase some old remedies - not as extensive as we would like it to be but it is pretty cold and it's free! Oh, and if you like you can try the almond marzipan which is said to cure all heartaches (for €2 - an expensive remedy). I got one but forgot I hate the almond taste when it's cooked in other things.

Another thing from Tallinn you could buy is chocolate - you can get them in supermarket - try the white chocolate with  berries!

That was my last day in Tallinn and I took the evening ferry back to Helsinki. Of course not before I got a hair treatment! Almost missed my ferry cos the treatment took longer than promised.

All in all, really like Tallinn - for the colour, history and good food. I truly can understand why Finnish people like to go there - so convenient and everything is so much cheaper! If you have more time, I would also suggest taking the other tour to the west of Estonia - heard it is really nice there too! All these tours are easily arranged either via your hostels or the Information Center.

Finnish Surprise - Summer in Finland

Everyone in my department looked at me weird and laughed when I told them I'm going to spend my summer holiday in Finland - not a typical European summer vacation AT ALL! Just when people head to the south for warmth, I'm the rebel who heads to the North. Afterall, what better time to visit the North than in the warmer months of summer. Plus, my Finnish friends were enticing me with the summer lake cottage. Was really looking forward to this trip as the last time I met Mikko and Hanna they were newly weds travelling around S.E.A 3 years ago! Now they have a cute little girl.
Summer cottage by the lake
A good start to the wonderful week - landed in Helsinki with the sun shining bright and feeling overdressed in my jeans and sweater. Then it was off to the summer lake cottage where we spent the weekend with Mikko's mum and her husband. It was a lovely weekend we had - lovely weather, food and people. The kind of experience you don't get as a visiting tourist. I fished my first fish (a really small one), went for a spin in the lake and had my Finnish sauna experience! Which means sauna - then jump into the lake - back to sauna. Not forgetting the beer! I can't even remember how many different types of beers I've had in a week! Food was fantastic - home cooked and prepared in a very Finnish way.

Super small fish I caught


Hot tub in nature!

These people and the little one
A little background about Finnish/Finland - they invented the wife-carrying competition (no idea why), Nokia is Finnish and a really good phone (too bad they tanked now), sauna is an essential in almost everyone's apartment/home, Naked run also comes from Finland!!!

Aulanko viewpoint
After a great weekend, we head back towards the city. I spent a day in Hameenlinna basically just relaxing and visiting nature. The town is really really small with nothing much going on - not even a hostel there. I booked myself into the only affordable AirBnB (about €46/night) and rented a bicycle from one of the hotel (€10/day) to explore the really tiny town. The castle is one of the main highlights and they do offer an English guided tour which unfortunately I missed (think it starts at 1030am). It's also good to explore on your own as they provide a map and some written history. It's a small and quite rundown castle (€9 entrance). A quick ride through the town and I went on to Aulang National Park. This park is really beautiful. With the bike it's possible to follow the road into the park - there are some elevation in many parts so not entirely smooth sailing. The highlight is the viewpoint - where you see fantastic view of the whole park. I took my bike on a spin in the trail - not recommended if you have no experience and with that city bike really not the best idea. A couple hours later, I was done with the city and went back to rest. The next day back to Helsinki with the train. Do use this website (click HERE) to check for all kinds of trains and buses within Finland - they are great source of information and also has discounts for certain timings if you book early!

My trip to Helsinki began with a short ferry ride to Suomenlinna (€5 per ride) The ferry departs quite regularly so don't have to worry! The small island is amazing and really beautiful. Suggest to spend about 1.5-2h there. They have a guided tour at certain times (check the website costs €11 per pax) but I preferred to explore on my own. The most scenic area is at King's gate where you see the surrounding waters and the fortress. Try the beer at the local brewery right at the visitor center!

Back in Helsinki I spent some time taking in the sights of Helsinki - the market, the churches and walking along the streets. I recommend the rock church - it's an underground church that looks like a lump of rock from the outside. It's really beautiful inside and so does not look like a church from outside. This day was spent mainly just walking and walking - public transport though not overly expensive is not cheap either within Helsinki - a single tram ride costs about €2 and up.
More of my Finnish experience follows after I spent 3 days in Tallinn (up on another separate post). Took the bus (€5 discounted fare from the website link I shared above) to Porvoo in bad weather - raining whole morning when I was there. Didn't get to fully enjoy the experience due to weather but the town has a nice vibe - calm, charming and quiet. Once back in Helsinki, I took a walk to Kaivopuisto area to enjoy the nice sea breeze. Also took a walk to the newly opened public spa - you can see people half clothed coming out from the sauna and sitting outside cooling off. It was a lovely walk and great weather.
Mikko gave me a ride in his ultra cool motorbike to the city where I explored the hippy town of Kallio - surprisingly on a sat afternoon of great weather the place was pretty quiet.

Salmon fish soup

Fried fish - a finnish meal

My last night - BBQ
And herein ends my trip to Finland - good memories and good fun! Mikko and Hanna were great hosts and gave me lots of tips to exploring Helsinki and insights into Finnish life.
Cheers to a great week!