Eastern Europe Trip – Day 18 – Tallinn, Estonia & Helsinki, Finland

Today I slept in until 8:30am. After getting dressed I walked a few minutes away to Cafe Rotermann and had a coffee and a traditional Estonian breakfast.

First stop of the day was Patarei Prison, a former sea fortress and prison, located on the shore of Tallinn Bay. The fort was built between 1830 and 1837 as part of the fortifications for the tsarist Russian state. In 1863, Tallinn was removed from the Russian Empire’s list of fortressses due to Russia’s defeat in the Crimean War, and the fort was converted into a barracks. After the Republic of Estonia declared independence in 1918 it was reconstructed into a prison, and was used until 2005. Patarei is one of the most prominent symbols of Soviet and Nazi political terror. The prison was closed and is currently planned to open as a museum in 2025. I was able to sneak a few photos of the site, due to poor security. I had to be careful as there was barbed wire everywhere. What a special treat it was to explore this place!

Second stop was the Town Hall Pharmacy, which is Tallinn’s oldest pharmacy, of Europe’s oldest pharmacies, dating back to the early 15th century.

Close by is St. Catherine’s Passage, also known as Monk’s Alley, winds its way from Vene Street to Müürivahe Street. The alley is lined with buildings that were built between the 15th and 17th centuries. The alley retains its medieval charms and was last restored in 1995.

When you exit St. Catherine’s Passage you can see Hellemann Tower and the Town Wall Walkway. Hellemann’s Tower, a three-story tower, dates back to the 14th century, and is integrated into the Town Wall.

It was time to grab some lunch, and I didn’t feel like sitting down at a restaurant, so I just grabbed a cheeseburger from McDonald’s.

My final stop in Tallinn was the KGB Museum at the top of Hotel Viru. Hotel Viru was completed in 1972. The building was the first high-rise building in Estonia. The Soviet Union hired a Finnish construction company (Repo Oy) to build the hotel. Construction started in July 1969, however the construction company went bankrupt in the middle of the project in 1971 due to a fire breaking out on the top floors in December 1970. Finland found another company to finish the project, and the hotel was opened on May 5th 1972. During the Soviet era, the 23rd floor of the hotel housed a KGB radio centre, which was used to eavesdrop on hotel guests. 60 of the ~500 rooms had concealed espionage devices, as well as some of the tables at the hotel restaurant. They were even clever enough to hide espionage devices in cigarette trays.

The KGB, known as the Committee for State Security, was the main security agency for the Soviet Union from 1954 to 1991. It was the chief government agency of “union-republican jurisdiction”, carrying out internal security, intelligence and secret police functions. The KGB was officially dissolved on December 3rd 1991 when the USSR fell apart.

The KGB left in a hurry in August 1991 when Estonia gained independence, and the secret rooms were not found until 1994! The former radio centre is now a museum, and is left virtually untouched from how it was found. The hotel is still in use today, with 516 rooms.

Once I arrived at the airport I went through security. I made a mistake at security and forgot to drink all my water in my water bottle, so I was pulled aside to check my bags. While my bags were being checked there was this elderly Russian lady who was also getting her bags checked. The security guard unzipped her bag and pulled out two containers. Container #1 had some weird dark brown frothy liquids, however was under 100ml. He asked her some questions in Estonian, and she responded in Russian and used a lot of gestures. He placed the container back in the bag. Container #2 was a re-used gummy vitamin container (~250ml) that had a clear frothy liquid in it, with… a bunch of leeches! He pulled her aside and they went into a private room with the bottle. I’d love to know the discussion that occured in that room. Upon returning he placed the bottle back in her bag, and zipped it up. It appears she was likely using the leaches for some old wives tale treatment…

After going through security I had a beer, and a croissant with ham and cheese while I waited for my flight. My flight to Helsinki was on a NORRA (on behalf of Finnair) ATR-72. This was my first time flying on an ATR-72, and it was really neat to watch the de-icing boots work on the short 30 minute snowy flight.

Once I arrived in Helsinki I took the train into the city, which took about 45 minutes. Once I arrived at the central station I took a short walk to Friends & Brgrs, and had an absolutely scrumptious cheeseburger, while overlooking the busy street below.

Next door was a liquor store, where I picked up a few IPA’s, before heading to my hotel to check in. Alcohol in Finland is by far the most expensive of all the European Union countries.

It was time to check-in to my hotel; Noli Studios Katajanokka. The room was $115/night which was actually a steal for Finland, which is one of the most expensive countries in the European Union to visit, besides Norway. The room was very well appointed, with a small kitchen, a gorgeous bathroom, a small living room area, and a bed on a raised part at the back. After checking in I went downstairs and spent a few hours in the spa.

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Eastern Europe Trip – Day 3 – Ljubljana, Zagreb & Belgrade

Today I woke up around 7am and had breakfast at my hotel. There was a continental breakfast available so I had a coffee and made a sandwich out of the bread, salami, and cheese. After breakfast I checked out of the hotel and drove into Zagreb, parked my car, and started exploring.

Ljubljana, Slovakia

While I was in the beautiful city of Ljubljana, Slovakia I explored Robba Fountain, Tromostovje (Triple Bridge), Ljubljana Cathedral, Butchers Bridge, Dragon Bridge, and S2 Office Tower (Telemach POP Tivolska).

Robba Fountain, also known as the Fountain of the Three Carniolan Rivers is a fountain that stands in front of Ljubljana Town Hall. It was completed in 1751 by Italian sculptor Francesco Robba, and is one of the city’s most recognizable symbols. The fountain was modelled after Fontana del Pantheon, the fountain by Filippo Barigioni at Piazza della Rotonda. In 2006, the fountain was renovated and moved into the National Gallery, and the Town Square original was replaced by a replica.

Tromostovje (Triple Bridge) was opened in 1842. It is a group of three bridges across the Ljubljana River, connecting the Ljubljana historical and medieval town on one side to the modern city on the other side. The central bridge is built partially of limestone, while other parts are built from concrete. The balustrades (vertical pillars) with 642 balusters are made of artificial concrete. The bridge was originally built from wood in 1280 but was replaced in 1657 after a fire. It was again replaced in 1842 by a new stone arch bridge designed by Giovani Picco, an Italian architect. In order to prevent the new bridge from being a bottleneck, the architect Jože Plečnik designed in 1929 the extension of the bridge with two footbridges at a slight angle on each side of it. Construction of these bridges took place between 1931 and 1932.

Ljubljana Cathedral, also known as St. Nicholas’s Cathedral, was completed in 1706 in a Baroque architectural style. The site where the current church is located dates back to 1262. A fire that occurred in 1362 ended up destroying the original building, and it was refurbished in Gothic style. Unfortunately, the building was burned down again in 1461 and was rebuilt as a cathedral. It was suspected that the building was set on fire deliberated by the Turks. The building was eventually rebuilt between 1701 and 1706 in its current Baroque architectural style.

Butchers Bridge is a pedestrian footbridge that crosses the River Ljubljana. It connects the Ljubljana Central Market and the Petkovšek Embankment. The currently bridge was built in 2010 and was modeled after the bridge that architect Jože Plečnik had planned in the 1930’s. The bridge features a staircase on the left entry, glass walkways on either side, and two fences with steel wires, and a wide top shelf. It was designed by Jurij Kobe and decorated with sculptures designed by Jakov Brdar. The main sculptures on the bridge include Adam and Eve, shamed and banished from Paradise after having been induced by the Serpent to taste from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil; Satyr, startled by the Serpent; and Prometheus, running and disemboweled. There are also some smaller statues of frogs and shellfish.

Dragon Bridge is a road bridge located close-by to Butchers Bridge. The bridge was opened in 1901 and features four large copper dragon statues on each of its four corners, and sixteen smaller dragon statues. The bridge was built as part of an urban renovation of the town. It replaced an old oak bridge which was destroyed a few years early by an earthquake. The bridge was built out of concrete.

S2 Office Tower (Telemach POP Tivolska) is the only part of the original urban design of the right side of the northern entry to the city center of Ljubljana. Architect Milan Mihelič planned to have two 15 story towers – S1 and S2, which would act as a “gate” to the entrance of the city. The building is designed as a combination of eccentric reinforced concrete core with vertical communications and two symmetrical steel volumes. The building is a very fine example of a combination of brutalism and modern architectural styles.

Here’s some pictures of some other interesting things that I saw.

Zagreb, Croatia

After exploring Ljubljana I drove the 1.5 hours back to Zagreb to finish exploring Zagreb. I took pictures of the Esplanade Zagreb Hotel, Art Gallery (Art Pavilion), and Cathedral of Zagreb, before having some Cevapi for dinner at Plac Kitchen & Grill.

Esplanade Zagreb Hotel is one of the most famous hotels in Zagreb. It was built in 1925 and originally attracted passengers of the famous Orient Express. The hotel took only 26 months to complete. Each of the 200 rooms originally featured running hot and cold water, a shared bathroom for each second room, a telephone in each room. The hotel also featured many suites and lounges, and a dining room.

Art Gallery (Art Pavilion) started back in 1896 when a Millennium Exhibition was held in Budapest to celebrate 1000 years of Hungarian statehood. The Budapest Pavillion was designed by Hungarian architects Flóris Korb and Kálmán Giergl and was constructed by the Danubius building company. After the exhibition had ended the building’s skeleton was transported to Zagreb, and Austrian architects Fellner & Helmer were hired to design a new version of the building based around the skeleton. Construction occurred between 1897 and 1898, and was officially inaugurated on December 15th 1898 with a large exhibition showcasing works of local artists. The exhibition was so popular that it attracted 1/6th of Zagreb’s population! In 2006 the glass roof was renovated and the lighting system was replaced.

Cathedral of Zagreb is a Roman Catholic cathedral church that started out in 1217 and consecrated by King Andrew II of Hungary. The building was destroyed by the Mongols in 1242 and rebuilt a few years later. At the end of the 15th century when the Ottoman Empire invaded Croatia, which contributed to the construction of fortified walls around the cathedral, of which some are still intact today. In the 17th century a watchtower was erected and used as a military observation point, because of the Ottoman threat. In 1880 the cathedral was severely damaged during an earthquake. The main nave collapsed and the tower was damaged beyond repair. The cathedral was repaired in Neo-Gothic style, which is its present architecture type. A fun fact is that the cathedral is depicted on the Croatian 1000 kuna banknote, which will soon be discontinued when the Euro banknote becomes standard currency next year.

For dinner I had Cevapi at Plac Kitchen & Grill. Cevapi is a grilled dish of minced meat served with a fluffy flatbread called Somun. It was recommended to me by a great friend, and I’m glad that she recommended it to me.

After having dinner I had a couple of meetings in the car, and sent some emails before heading to the airport. I was supposed to board a Air Serbia 840pm flight from Zagreb, Croatia to Belgrade, Serbia, however the plane that I was supposed to fly on had maintenance issues, so I was placed on an Airbus A319, instead of an ATR72. After the delay was announced people left, so I was the only one left in the airport, which was weird. I watched the security staff play catch, and I was the only one on the plane.

After arriving in Belgrade I was greeted by my drive, which the hotel sent for me. I’m staying at the Venati Suites, located right downtown. I grabbed my keycard from the front desk, checked myself in, had a shower, and went to bed since it was late.

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