Eastern Europe Trip – Day 17 – Tallinn, Estonia

Today I woke up at 530am to catch the train to Vienna International Airport to board a flight to Tallinn, Estonia. I flew on a Lauda Europe (on behalf of Ryanair) Airbus A320. Lauda Europe was having financial difficulties a few years ago, so Ryanair purchased them. It’s interesting because the plane is still painting in the Lauda Europe livery, and the staff still wear Lauda Europe uniforms.

It was raining when I arrived in Tallinn. The airport is very close to the city center, and just a 10 minute tram ride away. I boarded the tram and took it to my hotel; Hotel Metropol, where I checked in around 11:00am. I dropped off my bags and went out to explore the sleepy city of Talllinn.

It was approaching lunch time so I stopped in at Pizza Grande for pizza and a diet coke. Food in Estonia is very inexpensive; I believe the pizza and coke were only about $10.

Close to the Pizza Grande is Viru Gate, two ivy-covered watchtowers, built in the 1300’s, that mark the entrance to Tallinn’s Old Town. The main road that enters the Old Town is also quite stunning!

After a short walk through the Old Town I arrived at Freedom Square, a plaza on the South end of the Old Town. It was created by Tiit Trummal, Veljo Kaasik, and Andres Alver. It was a parking lot prior to 2010. The War of Independence Victory Column is located in the square. The column, which stands 24 metres high and consists of 143 glass plates, commemorates all those who had fought for freedom and independence during the Estonian War of Independence (1918-1920).

Nearby is Kiek in de Kök Museum and the Tallinn Bastion Tunnels. The artillery tower was built in 1475 and stands 38 metres (125 feet) high, with walls 4 metres (13 feet thick). Over the years the tower was renovated multiple times, until it became obsolete in 1760. It is now home to archives, and some floors were even converted to apartments. The Bastion Tunnels date back to the 17th and 18th centuries. The town was constantly worried that it was going to be attacked, so they constructed high bastion walls around the outside of the city, as well as tunnels under the base of the walls so they could safely move around soldiers and ammunition. The tunnels eventually became forgotten, and were not found again until 2003 when workers digging a foundation near the Vabamu Meseum of Occupations and Freedom found them. During World War 2 some of the tunnel were used as bomb shelters. During the Soviet occupation the tunnels were modernized by adding electricity, running water, ventilation and phone lines.

Close by is Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, a Bulgarian Orthodox cathedral that was built in Neo-Byzantine style. Construction started in 1882, and was completed in 1912. The church has the capacity for 5000 people!

Next to the cathedral is Toompea, also known as Cathedral Hill. Toompea Castle is situated on the hill, and is topped by Tall Hermann tower. Toompea is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

I then walked about 15 minutes to Telliskivi Creative City, an art focused venue that features studios, cafes, bars, and restaurants. There were some buses and trains close by at a place called DEPOO, that were converted to restaurants.

After visiting Telliskivi Creative City I walked to Towers Square, which gets its name from the Town Wall towers that border one of its sides, and the fact that numerous church spires can be seen from there.

One of those churches is St Olaf’s church, which was was originally built sometime in the 12th century. It was believed that it was the town center for old Tallinn’s Scandinavian community before Denmark captured the town in 1219. The church was originally Roman Catholic, then became Lutheran during the European Reformation, before becoming Baptist in the 1950’s. From 1944 until 1991 the Soviet KGB used St. Olaf’s spire as a radio tower and surveillance point. You’ll learn a lot more about the KGB in my next blog post.

Final stop before heading back to the hotel was Linnahall, also known as Tallinn City Hall, or originally Lenin Palace of Culture and Sports. The building is situated in the harbour, just beyond the walls of the Old Town, and was completed in 1980. The 1980 Summer Olympics were held in Moscow, however since Moscow wasn’t by the ocean and didn’t have a suitable venue to stage the sailing event, it was decided that Tallinn, the capital of the then Estonian SSR, would be the perfect place to host it. The building was built to host the event, along with the Pirita Yachting Center, and a few other sports and entertainment facilities. Unfortunately the building has now fallen into disarray. The skating ring was closed in 2009, and the concert hall in 2010.

When I arrived back at my hotel I decided to go into the hotel spa for 1.5 hours. The hotel had a swimming pool, four hot tubs, a steam room, and three sauna’s of various temperatures. It was a very delightful experience, for only $14! You can stay for a maximum of three hours.

It was time to have some dinner at Restaurant Olde Hansa, which was recommended to me. The restaurant gives an authentic medieval experience with dishes that are cooked according to recipe’s over 700 years old, as well as live music. I had three different kinds of game sausages (bear, wild boar, and elk), served with mashed turnip, cranberries, and something else I couldn’t recognize that was quite delicious. Desert was oven-baked herb and juniper cheese. Overall the total cost of my meal was a bit pricier, but not too bad, about $60.

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Boom Lake Hike

On May 29th 2020 my friend Sara and I completed the hike to Boom Lake. The 10.3 km long and 543 metre of elevation gain hike to boom lake is on a well maintained trail through a luscious forest. It took us about four hours return, but I imagine you could easily shave off 30-45 minutes in the summer when you don’t have the snow to deal with. The first 45 minutes into the hike there was no snow and it was pretty smooth sailing. The next 30-45 minutes was ankle deep snow, for which we put our crampons on. The last 30-45 minutes to the lake had knee deep snow. We decided to wear our gaiters for this, but my feet still ended up getting soaked.

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We saw some canine or cat footprints that were larger than a dog, but smaller than a bear. I am very glad that we had our bear spray with us. The views at the still lake were absolutely amazing! We had lunch at the lake, before returning back to our car.

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Glacier Lake Hike

On June 5th 2020 I completed my fifth hike of the year. This hike was to Glacier Lake. The 16.9 km long and 870 metre of elevation gain hike to boom lake is on a well maintained trail mostly through a luscious forest.

About 1 km along the trail there is a bridge that crossed the North Saskatchewan River. The waters are a beautiful turquoise blue. After another 1 km or so you come to a pair of red chairs with a beautiful overlook of the Howse River valley.

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After a quick break at the chairs the trail follows the river flat and then climbs up along a creek. There are numerous rivers crossings on privative log bridges.

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As you begin the descent from the summit watch for signs on the trees and look to your right to see a tree blazed to commemorate the 1928 Topographical Survey, which was completed by Morrison Bridgland.

At the lake there is a campsite with a historic hut, a place for a campfire, and some picnic benches. I had some lunch here before returning to my car. The hike took me a total of 4 hours to do the return trip. This area is prime bear territory between July and August, due to berries along the river, so be sure to bring bear spray, an air horn, and a knife.

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2017-11-05 Classic Canadian Tours – Polarbears in Churchill

Yesterday I had the opportunity to go on a trip of a lifetime with my mom. We took a chartered flight on a Canadian North Boeing 737-300 from Calgary to Churchill, Manitoba. The flight was 2 1/2 hours and during the flight we were served a hot breakfast and learned about Polarbears and what we would experience today. When we landed in Churchill we boarded school buses for a quick 15 minute drive to where the Tundra Buggy launch site was. We boarded the warm, cozy, and spacious Tundra Buggy’s and spent the rest of the day looking for Polarbears and other wildlife. We saw white, red, and silver foxes, a few bird species, and of course Polarbears. Lunch was served onboard the Tundra Buggies, a delicious home made vegetable soup with a selection of sandwiches; I chose Montreal smoked meat. It was starting to get dark at around 4pm, so we head back towards the Tundra Buggy launch site, boarded the school buses and drove into Churchill to explore the town for an hour before boarding the plane back home. On the flight home we were served chicken cordon bleu and a selection of spirits; I had red wine.

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Canadian Classic Tour – Grizzly Bears

A while back I had the amazing opportunity to go on a trip of a lifetime with my mom to Khutzeymateen, British Columbia. The tour is operated by Classic Canadian Tours (http://www.classiccanadiantours.com/). The tour involves taking a private chartered Boeing 737-300 on Canadian North to Prince Rupert where we boarded a beautiful 72 person catamaran and cruised up the inside passage into the Khutzeymateen grizzly sanctuary. Renowned Canadian Brian Keating was on the trip as one of the tour guides. We saw 28 grizzlies on this day, a new record according to Brian. We also saw some whales, and many different species of brids. The day was long, having woke up at 4am and returning at around 7pm, but was so worth it. Here’s a glimpse of some of my favorite photos.

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