Tuesday, 3 March 2009
An Introduction to Tallinn - Part One
I returned last weekend from a wonderful week's break in the Estonian capital, Tallinn, a city I had wanted to visit for a long time. In fact I had wanted to travel to one or more of the Baltic States ever since they gained their independence back in 1991, following fifty years of occupation and oppression by the former Soviet Union. Although most tourists visit Tallinn during the Spring or Summer, the idea of a late winter break in this unspoilt former Hanseatic trading port seemed to fit the bill perfectly, with the prospect of snow on the ground only adding to the appeal. I duly found a reasonably priced hotel, booked my flights and waited with eager anticipation for the last week in February to arrive.
From various sources on the Internet I discovered that whilst Estonians are copious beer drinkers, their beers are not exactly world classics. This notwithstanding I set off for Tallinn determined to enjoy a short break in this the most northerly of the Baltic States. The 7am Sunday morning Easy Jet flight from Stanstead saw me touching down in the Estonian capital three hours later. The pilot advised us before landing, that the outside temperature was a cool minus 4 Celsius, so he hoped we had brought some warm clothing with us! It certainly felt cold whilst waiting for the bus into town.
After locating my hotel and checking in, I set off to explore Tallinn old town. Without too much trouble I found the Beer House, just off the the main square in front of the Old Town Hall. I had read about this German-style brew-pub beforehand, and had looked at their web-site a couple of times. I found the place relatively quiet for a Sunday afternoon, and was soon seated at one of the wooden benches with a half-litre glass of their home-brewed Dunkel in front of me. I was joined by a visitor from Finland, who was killing time before catching the ferry back to Helsinki - a journey I would be making myself later on my trip.
We swapped tales and tried another beer each; this time it was the Marzen for me. Both beers were pleasantly drinkable, but I have to say that having sampled the entire range over the course of my visit, the Dunkel shone head and shoulders above the rest. All the beers are unfiltered, which perhaps gives them a more natural taste, but then they are brewed according to the German Rheinheitsgebot which is another big point in their favour.
With some of the best beer in Tallinn on tap it is a shame that the Beer House is somewhat of a fake designed to appeal to the tourist market. However, it is not a bad fake and is in fact a reasonable attempt at creating the surroundings and atmosphere of a typical Bavarian Bier Keller. My main gripe would have to be the piped "Bavarian/Tyrolean musak" from which there is no escape; it even follows one out onto the street outside, which is how I found the place in the first instance!
My Finnish visitor departed to catch his ferry. I decided it was high time I ate something - the Traditional English Breakfast I'd had at 5.45am in Wetherspoons at Stanstead airport by now seemed a distant memory. As the cut-price "Happy Hour" at the Beer House was over by now, I departed and made my way to a bar called "Kompressor" where I had read they served the traditional Estonian dish of pancakes (both savoury or sweet).
I had little difficulty in locating this establishment and after ordering a ham and cheese pancake at the bar, was soon settled down at a table enjoying the cosy warm atmosphere of the Kompressor whilst waiting for my meal to arrive. I tried a half litre of A. Le Coq's Premium lager, which was pleasant enough but nothing particularly special. A. Le Coq are Estonia's second largest brewery and are based in the country's second largest city, Tartu. They brew a renowned Porter, which I had sampled before in bottled form, along with a wide range of other beers. My pancake arrived and I duly tucked in. It was huge, and I had difficulty finishing it. I could see why the place was popular with students, as it offered excellent value. I was probably the oldest person there, but no-one seemed to bat an eyelid, and I was able to confirm for myself just how attractive Estonian women are!
Having eaten and drank my fill, I returned to my hotel to change and freshen up. Later on I hit the town again and this time found what became my favourite pub in Tallinn whilst I was there. The pub was called "Hell Hunt" and describes itself as "The First Estonian Pub". I was very impressed by its relaxed, comfortable and easy going atmosphere, and by its friendly, attractive waitresses. As well as a range of international beers, Hell Hunt offers two beers of its own; one light (Hele) and one dark (Tume). Both are brewed for the pub by the Puls Brewery in Parnu - Estonia's summer-time party capital, which overlooks the Gulf of Riga. Both beers were good, and reasonably priced at EEK 40 (roughly £2.35 at the time of my visit). The food was also good value and tasty to boot, as I discovered on subsequent visits to Hell Hunt.
I had had a very early start in order to get to the airport, and by now was starting to feel rather tired. I therefore decided to call it a day. I returned to my hotel noticing en route, from a display outside one of the shopping centres, that the temperature had fallen to minus 6 Celsius. It had been a good introduction to Tallinn and I felt I was going to enjoy the rest of my stay there.