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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Smart Travel Tips 2.0

I’ve been asked by quite a few people on how I’m always able to get such a good deal on flights, and how I can afford to fly Business/First class or get so much leg room. It’s actually not too hard with a bit of planning and a bit of work. I’ll do my best to explain and if anyone has any questions they can just message me. This Smart Travel Tips 2.0 section has been updated for 2019 and includes multiple new additions since my original 2017 post so be sure to read.

Good Deals on Flights

1. I tend to travel off season, so flights usually cost about half as much as they usually would peak season. I have the flexibility at my work place to be able to travel during slow times, or ask for permission to take time off at a specific time. I usually schedule my trips around these slow times, and on the shoulder seasons where I’m travelling to. For example, this next trip I’m going to France in March… when very few travel there, but its still warm enough to be able to enjoy my trip.

2. I use a multitude of different websites in my flight selection process, but I usually start with Google Flights to get a general idea of the path I’m going to take, or the airline I’m going to take. Expedia, which most people use, is actually typically the most expensive, and sometimes by quite a long shot. I usually get the best deal from the airline itself, or on Google Flights. The advantage to booking with the airline itself is that if for some reason you have any issues, or you need to cancel they can usually take care of it for you for free, or for a very minimal cost. Places like Expedia are way less forgiving. One such example of a good deal was when I travelled to Australia in 2016; Expedia wanted $1750, and I paid $900 with Air Canada on their website.

3. Another way of getting good deals on flights is to book one way tickets with Skiplagged. Skiplagged works by finding loopholes in airfare pricing, such as hidden-cities, to find deals that you won’t get elsewhere. So how does it work? Let’s say if I want to travel from Calgary to Toronto on August 18th and the cheapest direct flight I can find is $375… Skiplagged found a flight to Atlanta via Toronto for $240. I have saved $135. I just get off in Toronto and throw away the Atlanta portion of the ticket. There are some caveats here; you have to travel carryon only, and you can’t use your frequent flyer points because when they figure out you’ve done this they can garnish your points.

4. A few websites that I use to obtain killer deals on economy and business class seats are www.momondo.com and www.expertflyer.com. Momondo functions similar to Google Flights but provides different alternatives than Google does. Expert Flyer essentially is an elite travel hack of how to obtain the cheapest economy, business, or first class seat on a given airline for a given route. A premium membership offers you the most customizability and only costs $10 USD/mth or $100 USD/year and is highly worth it. I recently flew Calgary to Santiago, and then Sao Paulo to Calgary on Business Class for a tick above $2000 CDN. My fellow aviator Sam Chui has a fantastic explanation of how Expertflyer and Momondo works on this YouTube video.

5. If you are traveling long-term or without a fixed plan using one-way tickets, you may be required to show proof of onward travel in order to obtain a visa or even to board your plane. Many countries require that you show a ticket for onward travel at immigration, or even before boarding your arriving flight, showing that you will leave their country within the required time limits. In some cases, travelers have been denied access to their flight or had to buy a very expensive last-minute return ticket which they might never use, to show this proof. Another option is to buy a refundable ticket and then cash it in, but this can be an expensive hassle, and must be done quickly. This is where https://bestonwardticket.com/ comes into play. You can book a refundable onward travel ticket for as low as $12 USD.

Legroom in Economy

I use a wonderful website called http://www.seatguru.com to help me with my selection. I select the airline and type of plane that I’m going to be flying on (be careful if the airline has 2 or more configurations for the same type of plane!). I usually pick a seat in emergency exit rows, or at bulkhead areas because they allow the most leg room by far. You’re not allowed to store anything under the seat in front of you during takeoff and landing, and the first row of emergency exit seats doesn’t recline, but the back row does, so always select the back row if there are two emergency exit rows.

Business/First Class Seats

I never ever pay full price for business/first class seats. There are a few ways of obtaining these highly sought after seats while only paying a fraction of the cost, and in some cases getting it for free.

1. You can actually get the seats for free sometimes if the flight isn’t too full and you just ask the front desk very politely. You’ll have more a chance of success if you’re dressed to impressed, and not in sweat pants and wearing a shirt saying Budweiser. They want to try to keep the caliber of clientele up there to a reasonably high level, but I guess if you’re paying $5000-10000 for a seat and want to wear a Budweiser shirt then that’s your own choice and they can’t stop you.

2. There’s something most airlines offer called Bidding Upgrades, where you can actually bid a value that you’d be willing to pay for a Business/First class seat if it is still available 48-72 hours before the flight is scheduled to leave. There is always a minimum low value, and a max value. I always select the lowest value which can be as low as $200ish. If I don’t get the upgrade at that lowest bid price, then so be it, but to date I’ve always been upgraded at the lowest value. I’ve used this bidding with Air Canada, Lufthansa, Icelandair, Thai Airways, United, and Westjet (Economy Plus only of Westjet).

Travel Light

I travel exceptional light, which saves hundreds of dollars every year because I’m not having to pay for baggage fees. It also allows me to just grab my bag, get off the plane, and start my adventure. There’s no waiting for your bag… if it ever even arrives. The last 3 times I’ve checked my bag it has not shown up… I always use Osprey bags because they have a lifetime warranty, are super comfortable, and are extremely practical. My last blog post I went into detail of how I pack, and what bag I use, so I’ll refer you back to that blog post.

Pack Your Own Food

If I am travelling on economy I always pack my own food. Who in their right mind would pay $12 for a club sandwich? I usually bring protein bars, banana’s, a collapsible refillable water bottle, and if it’s a long flight I’ll make a sandwich, or if I’m feeling lazy pickup Subway for $5.

If you like the content that I produce and want to donate money towards the upkeep of my site, my travel, or buy me a cup of coffee please feel free to contribute towards it. I really appreciate it.

Donate By Clicking Here

Smart Travel Tips

I’ve been asked by quite a few people on how I’m always able to get such a good deal on flights, and how I can afford to fly Business/First class or get so much leg room. It’s actually not too hard with a bit of planning and a bit of work. I’ll do my best to explain and if anyone has any questions they can just message me. I’ve thrown in a few bonus pieces of information too.

Good Deals on Flights

1. I tend to travel off season, so flights usually cost about half as much as they usually would peak season. I have the flexibility at my work place to be able to travel during slow times, or ask for permission to take time off at a specific time. I usually schedule my trips around these slow times, and on the shoulder seasons where I’m travelling to. For example, this next trip I’m going to France in March… when very few travel there, but its still warm enough to be able to enjoy my trip.

2. I use a multitude of different websites in my flight selection process, but I usually start with Google Flights to get a general idea of the path I’m going to take, or the airline I’m going to take. Expedia, which most people use, is actually typically the most expensive, and sometimes by quite a long shot. I usually get the best deal from the airline itself, or on Google Flights. The advantage to booking with the airline itself is that if for some reason you have any issues, or you need to cancel they can usually take care of it for you for free, or for a very minimal cost. Places like Expedia are way less forgiving. One such example of a good deal was when I travelled to Australia in 2016; Expedia wanted $1750, and I paid $900 with Air Canada on their website.

3. Another way of getting good deals on flights is to book one way tickets with Skiplagged. Skiplagged works by finding loopholes in airfare pricing, such as hidden-cities, to find deals that you won’t get elsewhere. So how does it work? Let’s say if I want to travel from Calgary to Toronto on August 18th and the cheapest direct flight I can find is $375… Skiplagged found a flight to Atlanta via Toronto for $240. I have saved $135. I just get off in Toronto and throw away the Atlanta portion of the ticket. There are some caveats here; you have to travel carryon only, and you can’t use your frequent flyer points because when they figure out you’ve done this they can garnish your points.

Legroom in Economy

I use a wonderful website called http://www.seatguru.com to help me with my selection. I select the airline and type of plane that I’m going to be flying on (be careful if the airline has 2 or more configurations for the same type of plane!). I usually pick a seat in emergency exit rows, or at bulkhead areas because they allow the most leg room by far. You’re not allowed to store anything under the seat in front of you during takeoff and landing, and the first row of emergency exit seats doesn’t recline, but the back row does, so always select the back row if there are two emergency exit rows.

Business/First Class Seats

I never ever pay full price for business/first class seats. There are a few ways of obtaining these highly sought after seats while only paying a fraction of the cost, and in some cases getting it for free.

1. You can actually get the seats for free sometimes if the flight isn’t too full and you just ask the front desk very politely. You’ll have more a chance of success if you’re dressed to impressed, and not in sweat pants and wearing a shirt saying Budweiser. They want to try to keep the caliber of clientele up there to a reasonably high level, but I guess if you’re paying $5000-10000 for a seat and want to wear a Budweiser shirt then that’s your own choice and they can’t stop you.

2. There’s something most airlines offer called Bidding Upgrades, where you can actually bid a value that you’d be willing to pay for a Business/First class seat if it is still available 48-72 hours before the flight is scheduled to leave. There is always a minimum low value, and a max value. I always select the lowest value which can be as low as $200ish. If I don’t get the upgrade at that lowest bid price, then so be it, but to date I’ve always been upgraded at the lowest value. I’ve used this bidding with Air Canada, Lufthansa, Icelandair, Thai Airways, United, and Westjet (Economy Plus only of Westjet).

Travel Light

I travel exceptional light, which saves hundreds of dollars every year because I’m not having to pay for baggage fees. It also allows me to just grab my bag, get off the plane, and start my adventure. There’s no waiting for your bag… if it ever even arrives. The last 3 times I’ve checked my bag it has not shown up… I always use Osprey bags because they have a lifetime warranty, are super comfortable, and are extremely practical. My last blog post I went into detail of how I pack, and what bag I use, so I’ll refer you back to that blog post.

Pack Your Own Food

If I am travelling on economy I always pack my own food. Who in their right mind would pay $12 for a club sandwich? I usually bring protein bars, banana’s, a collapsible refillable water bottle, and if it’s a long flight I’ll make a sandwich, or if I’m feeling lazy pickup Subway for $5.

If you like the content that I produce and want to donate money towards my travel, or buy me a cup of coffee please feel free to contribute towards it. I really appreciate it.

Donate By Clicking Here