We spent two weeks in Estonia when Tommy was 6 and Danny was 4. We spent time in Tallin, Haapsalu and Viljandi…
Is cheapish and has plenty for the kids, and the best thing for a capital city you can do everything with the kids on foot in the old town. We rented a small apartment right in the thick of the action and spent our days visiting museums and eating a lot… The apartment was brilliant because of its location and because it looked so cool. It had a big wheel in the middle of the roof which they used to use to winch goods up into what used to be a Hanseatic storehouse. There was room for us to cook and a little courtyard to kick to the kids into.
Other highlights were the medieval foodstuffs to be had like boar, deer and mead, and because we had an apartment we could also feed the kids one of three things they ate at the time, while we gorged ourselves. It was a bit gimmicky but not as much as it might have been and the food seemed pretty genuine as did the mead.
When we were having lunch we were able to leave the kids in the courtyard of the apartment across the road, we could see them and it was closed off, perfect…. what we didn’t see was Tommy getting through the back door of the bar next door, going in, sitting at the bar and asking for a beer….happily this turned into a friendship, I wandered in to the bar and got chatting to the girls there, who had brought their niece to work, so the boys got a play friend who we took out around town for a couple of hours on the little train that plies its trade around the town centre. People on the whole kept themselves to themselves but at least the boys managed to break the ice a bit but as you can see from the little girl’s face, she wasn’t too sure what to make of the boys.
The old is fantastic for kids as it largely pedestrianized. The cobbles are awkward for pushchairs but it’s small enough to be able to leave these at home. It’s enough to wander around and see where the day takes you, it really isn’t stressful like so many other capital cities. It is true that Tallin is a Stag party destination and walking around at night showed a different side to the city, but during the day there is not a whiff of anything unpleasant and I would really recommend it for families.
There are also plenty of museums in Tallin and some of them are pretty entertaining for kids, or at least boys (and dads), as they involve weapons. In the Old town we couldn’t resist a visit to the brilliantly named Kiek en de Kok which has blood and guts in a cool medieval tower.
And one day we stumbled across this atmospheric gem, no guns, but it was a bit spooky, the tower was also a good spot for a workout.
Outside the old town we also went to the Occupation Museum which had some great Soviet era stuff as well as enough guns to entertain the boys and like everything in Tallin is still walking distance away. On the way back into town there was also lots of green space and square near the BIG glass cross, where we stopped for a bit and the kids ran around some more.
Our only other attempts at doing much outside the old town were on a trip to the Russian Market. This gave the boys the chance to stock up on plastic guns and we also bought some fruit and veg. The other thing we noticed about the market was that we got STARED at A LOT. This may be because I’m so damn handsome, or because there are very full mixed race couples in Estonia (or indeed no-whites). Still the stares weren’t hostile and our liberal use of “spa-see-ba” elicited a few half-smiles. The other food shopping trip was to the supermarket in the basement of Viru Keskus Shopping Centre which again is walking distance from town and is to be recommended.
Talking of Russians, we also dropped into the Russian Orthodox Cathedral which is VERY ornate. The Lonely Planet link above says it all with the bit about visitors being quiet and demurely dressed, there were a couple of other tourists who were in their in shorts and it did NOT go down well with the headscarf wearing babushkas
Once the boys were armed and ready after the trip to the market, we found plenty of green spaces for them to play in like this one, in fact, coming from Abu Dhabi the city looked really really green.
We also had a day trip to Helsinki on the ferry which was fun on the way over and a bit tiring on the return journey. Still we had a nice day in the city, which reminded me of my hometown of Birmingham. Whilst not as walkable as Tallin, Helsinki was still walking friendly. The kids enjoyed the ferry ride, especially when they made some new buddies and then we found a park for them to play in during the afternoon. Mind you I was reminded that the pushchair is a double edged sword, it’s certainly great if you plan on doing a lot of walking even of the kids are ‘walking age’, but when they’ve had enough it can also help them to kick-off. Still the look on the little Finnish girls face made it all worthwhile.
After Tallinn we picked up a cheap rental car (at about EUR20 a day) and headed to the coast. The drive, like all driving in Estonia was super quiet and super green. I would go as far as to say that Estonia is my favourite place in the world for driving. You can’t get lost, there are no motorways and it’s quick to get everywhere, mind you of course this is in the Summer months. On this drive we stopped for lunch on the way and met up with a Syrian dude who had married a local girl. he was pleased to have someone try their shonky Arabic on him and we had a good chat. There was a garden for the kids to run around in and the food was plentiful, this is how a roadside stop is supposed to be.
In Haapsulu We stayed in a small apartment in a typical wooden house. In fact it was so small we had to kick the kids out when thinks boiled over, I can’t remember what happened in the picture below but at least Danny could vent without bursting any ear drums.
It was near the centre of town and just at the back of the castle with a great playground for the kids. Tommy and Danny are maybe a bit more boisterous than the typical Estonian kids and they did get a few wary looks but nothing more than that, but unlike other countries they never made friends either.
We were in town during the White Lady Festival so it was pretty busy. There were activities in the castle itself, although the only stand out one for the boys was the archery. Once Tommy realised he was quite good at it, there was no getting him off it but for Danny’s 4-year-old fine motor skills it was a bit much.
In the rest of the town there was quite a festive atmosphere, although again with this being Estonia it was all pretty low key. We saw some folk dancing, at ice cream, bought smoked fish and met a Peruvian. the last item provided us with an insight into the country. The guy was selling his jewellery during the festival and was really happy to meet other Latinos. So much so we met up a couple of times for some food and the low down on life, which can be summed up as nice, bloody cold with a weird and hard to learn language.
The town is of course a beach resort (kind of) it’s not exactly Benidorm, it had more an atmosphere of some New England fishing village and it was all the better for it. We had walks along the front including some more bird watching but not at lot else. Again for us coming from the heat and high rises of the Gulf this was great and the kids were small enough to be happy just hanging. if I were to take them as older kids I think they might need bit more stimulus, but happily this wasn’t the case.
Around Haapsalu, like pretty much everywhere in Estonia, you are close to some lovely FLAT countryside which is an ideal introduction to walking in the countryside with little ones. We found all the places we went for a walk in the Lonely Planet to Eastern Europe or the Estonia tourism website which was really comprehensive. The walk in the pictures ended in a bird watching platform, we took a picnic and stopped along the way to investigate plants, flowers and insects. We didn’t meet another soul on the walk and it was hot day. Both the boys had to be carried part of the way but they were both light enough for this to be not too sweaty.
Being there in the Summer the weather was perfect for us coming from the Gulf but the mosquitoes were biting, so remember to pack the repellent. We either walked in the woods like in the picture above or in open fields like in this shot. One day we found a lovely little lake Again I can’t remember where these spots were but I do know there are lots of easy places to find like this, just go for a slow drive a stop where it takes your fancy.
Is a bit off the tourist trail, but it was in the direction of Latvia where we were headed next and we found a nice campsite to stay on. To be honest with the kids this young they weren’t after any big sites, they enjoyed walks around the campsite, visiting a disused railroad depot, hunting frogs and striking up the BBQ.
The highlight of this part of Estonia was a weird military museum set up by some local Estonian militia. When four foreigners turned up they opened up the place for us and gave us military posters. We got to clamber on tanks and I looked pretty fine posing with this Estonian resistance gun…. oh and if they charged us to get in it was a couple of dollars at most. We also bought a couple of medals and to be honest I think for the right price the bloke would have flogged us a tank as well. The lack of other people, or even basic regard to health and safety were great, we could clamber all over the rusty tanks to our hearts content, look out Jerry is coming!
We also found a lake near town where we rented a boat and had a wander about. Again it was pretty low-key but great for little kids, there was fresh air and no crowds.
We had a day hiking in the Soomaa national park as well, or at least a corner of it. We went for some inland sand dunes at the Eastern edge of the park, I can’t remember if by luck or by judgment. Anyway it was an easy place to hike once again, and of course we could roll around the dunes. This seemed to be a popular spot with and was comparatively busy. The boys also found some old trenches from the days that Estonian partisans lived in the forest and we had an impromptu re-enactment and the ying to the war yang, we found an Estonian outdoor theatre used for the famous folk singing. This also had some perfectly placed benches for Tommy to jump across, extreme sports for free!
The campsite itself was smashing, it was run by an older German guy and what I suspected was his younger Estonian partner. He made friends with the boys in that very low key German kind of way and made us feel at home. The cabin we stayed in was also great and we got the fire going every day as well as the BBQ, which satisfied Tommy’s pyromaniac urges quite nicely.
We actually stayed in a wood cabin in the grounds and used the facilities (the BBQ mainly) as we liked. There was also plenty of frog hunting and the flat fields around the side, while not exactly dramatic were at least an easy fresh-air-filled walk. Tommy made the mistake of making friends with a neighborhood dog who decided to come for a walk with. This would have been fine but he kept jumping up at the boys until they were properly petrified of him.
Would we go back?
Yes, it was cheap, the roads were nearly empty, it was quick to get everywhere and there is lovely countryside. The kids had a great time doing small stuff, there were no big wows, but lots of frogs to catch and walks in the woods.
If I lived in the UK I would be less inclined to rush back because the weather was a bit nippy at times and the were people, were, well like the Brits 🙂
Estonia.- De acuerdo a Lorena:
En la Ciudad Tallinn hay mucho que mirar como: castillos viejos, museos, iglesias ortodoxas, jardines hermosos, calles escondidas con bares y restaurantes. Un restaurante de comida tipica que ofrecen jabali, cerveza con canela, que por cierto estuvo delicioso. Hay muchos turistas que visitan la ciudad especialmente en el verano, y los residentes estan acostumbrados a ellos.
Viljandi. Este fue mi lugar favorito, una casa de madera con una chimenea industrial para calentar la casa y el sauna, un lujo de casa con mucho espacio para correr y caminar. Los propietarios eran muy amables, muy tranquilos y pacientes con nuestros chicos.
Muchas veces me senti como un lunar enorme por mi color, y en tres ocaciones me siguieron los guardias de seguridad, por si acaso me robaba algo de los supermercados, aunque tenia a mis hijos conmigo, pero en cuanto Jon se acercaba a nosotros se retiraban. Esto fue lo unico incomodo para mi, pero la comida, los parques nacionales, los bosque y los lugares bonitos hacen la pena visitar Estonia.