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 15 – Melk Abbey & Vienna

Today I woke up around 7:00am to catch a 7:55am train to Melk Abbey, a Benedictine Abbey, located about 1.25 hours West of Vienna. I had breakfast the same McDonald’s as yesterday, since that was the train station I was departing from.

Melk Abbey is located in the town of Melk, on a rocky outcrop overlooking the Danube river, adjoining the Wachau valley. The abbey contains the tomb of Saint Coloman of Stockerau, as well as the remains of several members of the House of Babenberg, Austria’s first ruling dynasty. The abbey was first founded in 1089 when Leopold II, gave one of his castles to Benedictine monks from Lambach Abbey. A monastic school, the Stiftsgymnasium Melk, was founded shortly after, and the monastic library soon became recognized for its extensive manuscript collection.

The current Baroque style abbey, designed by Jakob Prandtauer, was built between 1702 and 1736. The frescos on the roof were designed by Johann Rottmayr. The abbey somehow escaped dissolution under Emperor Joseph II, when many other Austrian abbeys were seized and destroyed between 1780 and 1790. The abbey also survived the Napoleonic Wars and World War 2. After World War 2 the school returned to the abbey, where currently 900 pupils attend. There are approximately 30 monks that currently serve the Monastery. Unfortunately I was unable to take any photos inside the abbey, so I have just a few photos of the exterior of the abbey.

After exploring the abbey I ate lunch at Rathauskeller, one of the oldest restaurants in Melk. It’s been serving customers for over 350 years. I had a wonderful Veal dish and a local beer.

After lunch took a train back to Vienna. When I arrived in Vienna I had some time to check out Wotrubakirche Church, before heading for dinner.

Wotrubakirche Church, also known as the Church of the Most Holy Trinity, was built between 1974 and 1976 on a model designed by Fritz Wotruba. Sadly Fritz died before the completion of the church. At first glance this church represents a piece of abstract architecture or sculpture. This brutalist style building is comprised of 152 asymmetrically arranged concrete blocks that weigh 1.8 to 141 tons. During the Third Reich in World War 2 the church houses German Wehrmacht barracks.

It was now time to head to dinner at Brasserie Palmenhaus, a neo-classical greenhouse that was built between 1823 and 1826 according to the plans of Ludwig Gabriel von Remy, raking from the designs of the greenhouse at Schönbrunn Palace. The rear wall of the building is part of the old city walls of Vienna. It was later demolished to make way for a new Art-Nouveau building, built between 1902 and 1906, designed by Friedrich Ohmann. The building was renovated between 1996 and 1998. The central part of the building houses the restaurant, the left wing houses a butterfly garden, and the right wing serves as a greenhouse. I chose to have a wonderful mushroom ravioli, and a few beers.

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