Museum of Occupations, Tallinn, Estonia.

This small, beautifully designed museum is packed with objects from both the Soviet and Nazi occupations. Everything from political propaganda posters, everyday objects, surveillance equipment – it’s all here, down to the Lenin statues in the basement.

There are hours and hours worth of videos to watch – all brilliantly put together, charting the history of Estonia’s occupation, with footage of invading armies and interviews with ordinary people recounting their experiences.  Totally addictive if you love listening to people tell stories about their lives. There’s far too much to watch and take in in one go but the videos are so captivating, it’s worth making more than one visit to the museum so you can watch all of them.

Soviet Cars

soviet car, museum of occupations, tallinn, estonia

soviet car, museum of occupations, tallinn, estonia

soviet car, museum of occupations, tallinn, estonia Continue reading


The KGB, the exploding purse & The Hotel Viru, Tallinn.

Absolute top of the list of things to do in Tallinn is the KGB Museum at the Hotel Viru. Our guide, Jana,  was vivacious, animated and bursting with amusing stories about The Hotel Viru and its history.

It was built in 1972, to bring much needed tourist revenue into Estonia.  It’s bright and cheerful inside now but originally the decor was dark and gloomy, even a bit scary, with that typically Soviet, austere-but-trying-to-be-grand look about it.

Finland had a job shortage at the time and the Soviets wanted some of their oil so they did a deal and Finnish workers built the hotel which is why it took two years to build, instead of 7 or 8.

There was a three week gap between hotel completion and opening. Very handy. Gave the KGB time to get in there and install their radio equipment  and bugging devices on the 23rd floor –  the floor that didn’t officially exist. Although every so often, somebody would helpfully write next to the buttons in the lift, ’23rd floor – KGB’ and a cleaner would be sent to scrub it off, pronto.

The public lift stopped at the 22nd floor then a secret stairway went to the non-existent 23rd floor where there was a sign on the door saying ‘Nothing in here.’  One employee did wander into the surveillance room by mistake and found himself looking at the business end of a gun. ‘Oh hi guys, what are you listening to? Anything good?’ probably wouldn’t have been what he said to the men with the head phones.

kgb phone, hotel viru, estonia

KGB office and telephones. The red one didn’t need a dial. It went straight through to Moscow.

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Patarei Prison – Tallin, Estonia

Our guide was Rasmus. He was genial and bearded which meant H and I drew on our bet. I said he would definitely have a beard (Rasmus sounding like a friendly, beardy sort of name) but he’d be in his 60s. H said no beard and in his 30s or 40s.

But that’s by the by. He took us round the desolate and snowy prison, chucked loads of information at us and even locked H in a cupboard.
Great. Saved me having to do it. (Aw, just joking.)

Patarei Prison was originally a fortress and has also been an army barracks. It became a prison in 1920. This is only a very small part of the huge prison complex.

patarei fortress prison estoniaAnd here, looking less like a magnificent fortress than a crumbling vestige of the Soviet regime although it was a fully functioning prison until 2003 or thereabouts. Continue reading


Tallinn Old Town – The Fairy Tale

A fairy tale, yes.

Tallinn Old Town in the snow was magical. Like wandering round a child’s pop-up story book.

So much so, that after a day or two, I kept wanting to stop people in the street and say, ‘excuse me, but can you tell me where I can find the real Tallinn?’

I didn’t of course.

And it’s not all Sugar Plum Fairy. There’ll be some more realistic stuff on here soon but for now, I’m doing pretty not gritty.

So voila! Here’s Tallinn Old Town. Let’s do the roof tops first. The place is full of them. Well so is any town but you can’t miss these, they’re all over the place in all their gingerbread glory.

I took these from the top of Kiek in de Kok. Kiek in de kok is a simply ginormous fortress built in the 15th century. It means ‘peep in the kitchen’ which is exactly what soldiers used do from that height. Well you can’t blame them, can you? It’d be rude not to.

alexander nevsky cathedral tallinn

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. Continue reading


Finding a hostel in Tallinn

There seems to be no shortage of beautiful hostels and cheap hotels in Tallinn. Atmospheric buildings with polished wooden floors and eccentric furniture or ultra modern clean lines with tasteful furnishings. Loads to choose from.

Then I read some of the reviews. Mostly positive but a few along these lines:

‘The rooms had a funny smell’
‘We couldn’t sleep for the noise of the nightclub next door’
The staff were vacuuming outside our door at 2 o clock in the morning’
We nearly froze to death – there were icicles hanging off the bed’
‘The manager had an ice pick in his pocket and an insane gleam in his eye’. Continue reading


Hey, Let’s go to Tallinn!

I hadn’t been meaning to go there.

But then I read about espionage and the Cold War in Estonia,  burrowed in my bed at 6 o clock in the morning, in my leopard print, egg-stained dressing gown, while a gale blew a tune on the loose guttering outside.

The pretty pictures of gingerbread buildings and onion towers, the moody snaps of dark alleyways and disused KGB equipment were irresistable.  I recalled my travels in Poland and East Berlin, many years ago, before the collapse of Communism Continue reading