Saturday 21 April 2012

Tallinn - Estonia

A view of the Old Town in Tallinn
Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, had to be one of the most underrated cities in Europe. I was invited here on a friend's Stag Party weekend, and to be totally honest I knew absolutely nothing about it prior to arriving.

Firstly, the weather (it was June) was absolutely spectacular. Temperature stayed in the high 20s for most of the day and I don't recall seeing a cloud in 4 days. However the most unusual aspect of Tallinn is that eerily it never gets dark. At 11.30pm, it feels like 2pm and at 4am it feels like dusk.
The result is that this is probably the safest city I have ever visited, especially as the locals are very friendly and accomodating for english speaking tourists.

Food & drink, as long as you don't eat in the Town Square, is so cheap. If you are staying in a hostel I would recommend cooking for yourself simply because the supermarkets are such good value for money, assuming you are exchanging pounds for euros.
Similar to Bratislava but not quite so developed, Tallinn looks like something straight out of Robin Hood movie or a chocolate box, with narrow cobbled streets, wonky buildings and a large traditional town square which hosts local markets, open air music shows and street performers. One of the restaurants on the square was serving Bear meat, which I am yet to see anywhere else!

Before the inevitable Stag activities got underway, I thought I would try and get a short run in to make the most of the city. There was a group of 10 of us on the trip so with so many people, you usually end up not doing an awful lot as there is a lot of waiting around for people who wander off or get lost.

I set off from our hostel which was located on the corner of Hobusepea and Lai Streets in the Old Town to the south of the city centre. There is very little traffic in the Old Town due to the incredibly narrow cobbold streets and large number of tourists.

I headed east along Suur Kloostri Street to the northern entrance of Toompark, a pretty recreational park with a large pond running from end to end. I followed the walkway east to the eastern boundary and then south parallel to it, travelling 1.6km to this point.

A further 400m saw me reach the south exit and and back onto the roads of Tallinn. With the Toompea Castle, probably the top tourist attraction in the city, now on the horizon to the east that was my next stop. Tallinn is an extremely undulating city, with lots of hill tops and sloping streets, so I wouldn't recommend choosing a route much longer than this.

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral
I travelled along Falgi Tee Street with two more parks either side of the road and at the cross roads turned left (north) back towards the Old Town. This is by far the prettiest part of Tallinn, with the Castle, Alexander Nevsky Cathedral (pictured below) and the Estonian Parliament Building all within a few yards of each other.
The downside is that man these streets are steep! To get to these big 3 attractions involving winding cobbolds which really makes you feel the burn in your calf and quad in both legs.

From the Castle, I followed Toom-Kooli Street north and then Kiriku Street east, both of which offer gradual inclines. Continue along Kiriku over the crossroads and simply follow the road as it loops north, west and then south back to this point.

It may seem silly to run in a circle, but it is in doing so that you will reach highest part of the city offering the most sensational views of the Old Town (see top photo).

Now you begin your descent in the hub of the Old Town to the Town Square. To get there, from Kiriku continue south along Piiskopi. The feeling of running down the slopey cobbolds will be one of the best feelings you can ask for as you can gather speed whilst conserving your energy.
Toompea Castle
For me when I run, I am always looking for a bounce. That may sound silly but I run my smoothest and quickest runs when I feel as though I am bouncing. It allows me to not exert to much energy each time I push off and I find I can tackle most steep slopes quite easily and really lengthen my stride going downhill.

From Piiskopi, take a left (east) on Pikk Jalg street which after 350m becomes a pedestrian zone as you head north east. Once you reach the end of the pedestrian zone, take a right and head south Rataskaevu past several restaurants and cafes.

When you come to a sharp left, take the bend and head north on Dunkri Street. The Town Hall will now be directly in front of you. Pick you route around the square, it will be very busy with tourists so you will need to duck and weave you way through and exit in the opposite corner to that you entered through (north east corner) this is where I ended my run.
The Town Hall in the Square in Tallinn's Old Town, where your run will finish
Quite an awkward route for one so short, simply because of unique nature of the city. A good mixture though of parks, smooth roads, narrow cobbold alleyways, very steep rise and falls in incline as well as panoramic views of the Old Town and the major tourist attractions.

A charming city that will probably not be top of any wishlists but one you will certainly not regret visiting.

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Start - Alur Hostel, corner of Lai and Hobusepea Street, Old Town
Journey - East along Suur Kloostri Street to Toompark. Around north and east boundary walkways of park and exit south. Head east up steep hill to castle, cathedral and parliament building and follow pedestrian zone north for outstanding views. Descent down the hill to the centre of the Old Town and the Town Square.
Finish - Town Hall, Old Town Square

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