The story of TallinnNalynn Dolan Caine ▼ | Saturday August 3, 2013 6:01PM ET
But long before Soviet era, Estonia, the country in Northern Europe in the north-eastern part of the Baltic Sea region, and its capital Tallinn, have been ruled by the Russian tsars, Denmark, Sweden and Germany. They all left their marks on the history full of interesting characters and stories, architecture and cuisine. And if you visit it today you will see grandiose Medieval churches, baroque palaces and places offering a fascinating and rare glimpse of life of the former Soviet Union just a walking distance from a modern vibrant city with tall steel and glass buildings, large shopping malls and trendy hangouts.
The recent spying scandal evokes Cold War era during which the 23rd floor of Sokos Hotel Viru has played an important historical role. Back then the rumor was that the KGB had files on everyone and that they operated in the hotel. The story turned out to be true. The KGB left the hotel in 1991, but the secret room wasn't found until 1994. The former radio centre is now a museum. Today Tallin hosts NATO Cooperative Cyber Defense Center of Excellence. The state guarantees internet access free of charge as a basic right. After all, the country is homeland of Skype and so advanced in IT that it's called E-stonia.
Tallinn is a city of wonderful views, one of the best being from the Kohtuotsa and Patkuli platforms and the tower of the city's main landmark, St Olaf's Church from the 12th century. There is a legend how the church was built and it includes a strong man, the devil, a snake and a spy. It's quite a long story but the short one says that KGB used its tall, metal spire as a radio tower and Tallinn was the only place in the USSR where residents could pick up Western TV broadcasts.
With its 314 meters high, Tallinn's TV tower is now the tallest building in Estonia. On a clear day the coastline of Finland, more than 350 kilometers away, is visible from its observation platform.
The city's pride and joy is without a doubt its Medieval Old Town, the UNESCO World Heritage site, neatly situated within a mostly intact city walls and dotted with guard towers. Here sits Estonian Parliament and Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, Tallinn's largest and grandest orthodox cupola cathedral. Stroll through its twisting cobblestone lanes with romantic iron-scrolled street lamps, visit shops, galleries, and The Tallinn Town Hall.
The weather vane Old Thomas on its top has become one of the symbols of Tallinn. There you can also find a museum devoted entirely to explosive sea mines.
Talking about explosive devices, taste Millimallikas, a cocktail made of Vaccari Sambuca, Tequila and Tabasco sauce. Only Valli Baar serves it. After that grab an outside table that has a superb people-watching potential, order a coffee, or vodka (Viru Valge, if any) and ask for a menu. The line between "restaurant" and "cafe" here is somewhat blurred and many cafes offer extensive food menus. The most typical food here is black bread, pork, and potatoes. Finish the meal with some good cold beer.
A trip to Tallinn is not complete without visiting Tallinn's buzzing beaches and Kadriorg, its favourite walking spot known for its park, and Kadriorg palace built by Peter the Great for Catherine I of Russia. The palace hosts the Art Museum. Also the official Presidential Palace is situated in the park. Tallinn hosts more than 40 museums, try not to miss Estonian Open Air Museum and while there don't miss Rocca al Mare Centre, one of the largest shopping centres in the Baltic States.
If you are romantically inclined come at the end of June to experience white nights and take a slow hand-in-hand walk along the streets of Old Tallinn when dusk meets dawn. The ideal locations for walk and window shopping are the Old Town streets Viru, Müürivahe, Suur-Karja and Pikk. Want a harsh adventure? Cross the Baltic Sea by car in January/February when parts of the Baltic Sea are frozen and form ice roads between the mainland and western Estonian islands. Or just order Millimallikas, the effect is the same. ■