One Day in: Tallinn
Updated: Sep 13
Tallinn, Estonia is one of those towns, that are never really on your radar, until you visit them. After that, they might suddenly jump to the top of your list. And for a good reason. The historic city centre is picturesque, to say the least. With the houses and walls and towers seeming to be straight out of medieval times, it is easy to imagine yourself in a world of knights and sailors, horse-drawn carriages, and the faint hint of a Russian Zar and Zarina passing by on their way to the close by summer palace.
It is this old-timey flair, pulsing like mist through the cobblestone streets of the city, that is the primary draw for all kinds of tourists to flock to the town. So in, for my blog, typical manner, we will completely disregard the city centre, and instead focus our attention on other parts of town, outside the impressive walls. On this day, I want to tell you that we had one mission: Explore one possible spot to conduct a Stand-Up-Paddling Excursion.
We had already a pre-determined site set in our minds: The Pirita River, close by the city limits was already known to us, as our regular biking tour passed by its shores. And from what I had seen of the river, I guessed that it would be an ideal location for what we needed. Water, warm and deep enough to fall into while trying out SUP, sheltered from the relentless winds battering this part of the Baltic coastline. Also, the site provided beautiful scenery made up of bright sandy banks contrasted with dark evergreen forests. And since our planned site was within a bicycle’s reach of our ship that would mean we could conduct a site inspection without the involvement of our shoreside agency, and therefore with a lot fewer costs involved.
We went in a group of three people, all on e-bikes. We had chosen those because we would need to transport plenty of equipment and the e-bikes were the only type of cycle with a cargo rack we had on board. We had two bags with neoprene shoes, and neoprene vests to keep us a little bit warmer. We brought with us two inflatable SUPs as well as one twelve-litre breathing air tank for divers. Inflating the boards by handpump absolutely sucks, but over the years of conducting these excursions, we had eventually settled on BA-tanks as a way to quickly, reliably, and easily inflate the boards.
On our bikes, we followed the coastal cycleway, past the Song Festival Grounds and the world war memorial, towards the Pirita Olympic Harbour. There we choose the concrete structures along the Olympic Harbour to unload and assemble our gear. It took a short moment, but soon enough, we had two inflated and working SUPs. One of our group of three would always stay back, to keep an eye on the equipment we could not take on the bords. For starters, I set out with one colleague, paddling upstream out of the harbour, below a wide bridge and suddenly found ourselves in lush and green nature.
With blue skies above us, green shores to each side, and black water below our feet it was quite the surreal colour combination, but all the more beautiful and exciting. We did not paddle for long, getting up the river towards a wooden landing. There I went off the board to take some pictures. And to enjoy the scenery without having to focus on keeping the balance.
Soon we returned to our starting point, and now it was time to swap places. I stayed out of the water, basking in the sun on one of the benches. My colleagues went out for the second round, again paddling below the bridge and up the river. When they returned, I was half asleep already, and likewise, they used the chance to work a little bit on their tan, while the bords deflated slowly next to our resting spot.
This little trip reminded me that, three years before this site inspection, I had applied initially at AIDA as a guide for the SUP excursions. And while I had found my true calling in guiding the bike-excursions, and later in leading a team on the ship, I always thought of myself as a reasonably proficient teacher for Stand-Up-Paddling. And I still am happy when there is a chance to get back on the board. Although these opportunities will be increasingly rare in the future, I guess. After all, I am still on board of a ship in its lay-up phase. With our restart now pushed back to November and an ever-increasing amount of doubt regarding this date settling in.
But let me not dwell on those thoughts for too long but instead return back to my story of better days. After some time of relaxing in the sun, we started to pack up our gear and cycled back to the ship. However, my day in Tallinn was not over at that point. After storing away all of the equipment back on the boat, there was still time for a short walk towards the centre of the old town. Just walking over the cobblestone streets of the city is its own sightseeing experience.
Starting at the port, I first crossed over the main road, towards the main gate marked by a massive tower, called the “Fat Margret” by locals. Right next to the fortification is the memorial for the MS Estonia. Passing by this piece always feels kind of strange. Many people probably do not even recognize this tribute for what it is, as it is relatively low-key inconspicuous. Still, for me as a seafarer myself, it always felt quite powerful. Every visit I pass by the memorial, on some occasions premeditated but on others entirely by chance owing to its central location. Anyways, after passing by the monument, I entered through the gate into the narrow and shady streets.
I walked to the central square. On this open place, walled in by the city hall and plenty of great restaurants, I met with the guides from our biking tour. This tour includes a one hour break in the city centre. And because the guides have to stay within sight of their bikes, they usually take this moment to have lunch in one of the restaurants. And this is precisely where I joined in. Enjoying a meal, while talking with my colleagues and watching the people move about is a great past time. Especially if there is such a great variety of restaurants to choose from as in Tallinn.
After lunch I took one last walk, up the higher level of the old town, to take some pictures of the view. And afterwards, I returned to the ship, where I arrived just in time to help my bikers load all the bikes back on board. In case you have never seen this, I can tell you that you have missed quite the spectacle. While unloading, or loading a group of around ten people moves around 120 bikes over a distance of multiple hundred meters. The chain of people working seems to be dancing to a complicated song, evoking images of ants. Sometimes it happens in silence, sometimes with a loud crescendo of shouted commands and communication.
Once everything and everybody was back on board, it was already time for the ship to leave port and with three long blasts of the ships whistle we sailed away into the sunset.