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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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


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