See and Drink in Tallinn

For such a small city, in such a small country, Tallinn has established itself as a European technology hub. It is home to established tech companies like Skype, BoredPanda, and many innovative tech startups. Estonia’s bright, technologically advanced future stems from it’s past behind the Iron Curtain. When the Soviet Union collapsed in the 90s, Estonians had to start over scratch. Instead of looking to the past for lessons on how to build a country, they looked towards the future and what technology could do for them. Now, social security numbers, voting, medical records, taxes and all other aspects of day to day life are conducted online. Children are taught to code as early as kindergarten and internet access was declared a basic human right.

For the casual visitor to Estonia, all this means is that you will never be forced to hunt for Wifi, or struggle to make travel plans in advance. Despite looking so far into the future, Tallinn has maintained its past with a quaint, coblestoned old town. Spend two to three days in the city to get an overview of all it has to offer.

Here’s what to do in Tallinn

Explore the Old Town

oldtownThe Old Town of Estonia is in the style of other large Balkan cities. It looks like something out of a dream or a fairy tale. What I like about the Balkans is how colorful everything is. Bright salmon pink is a popular color in Estonia architecture, as well as greens, yellows, and reds. Some notable parts of the old town are the Parliament building, the old fortress, and the Orthodox church.

Sometimes in Tallinn, the push towards the future can clash with the past. The FreedomMonument to Freedom is one such case. The monument is not nearly as spectacular as what it represents. Many Estonians find it to be quite the eyesore.

Check out the Art scene, old and new

Arts districts boarder the city on the east and west. On the east, seek out the┬áKadriorg Palace, a large baroque palace built by Peter the Great. The palace itself is beautiful inside and out. Now, it is also home to a large collection of classic Estonian and Russian art. The Kumu is a short walk from the palace and home to Estonia’s largest collection of art. The multi story collection features classic Estonian art, international art, Soviet art/propaganda, and is home to rotating exhibitions. I went to SO MANY museums in Europe, and this one was one of my favorites. A lot of the art in the collection was unlike anything I’d ever seen before.

The west side of the city is home to the Tellskivi arts district. Like other arts districts, there’s street art, galleries, shops, food trucks, and hip restaurants scattered through the area. It’s worth checking out because art is always great, but I didn’t find it quite as special as the Kumu. It’s not super different from every other arts district in every other city. I didn’t explore the bars in that area, so perhaps it livens up at night.

Sift through Soviet memorabilia

On the edge of Tellskivi, is the┬áBalti Jaama Turg. The first and second floor of this large market are home to small restaurants and food shops. The top floor is an antique lover’s paradise and a look into a scarier part of history. Scattered among old teapots and toys are old soviet medals and nazi memorabilia. I am quite sure that all the nazi related things you can find here are illegal in the U.S., so while it is a bad idea for a number of reasons to buy anything, it is a bizarre piece of history to see.

Drink with locals and internationals

Like the rest of the Balkans, Tallinn is a cheap place to drink. It takes the euro, but everything is priced low. It can get a little pricy in old town, but there are a few hidden gems.

Valli Bar

This is such an old man bar, but I had the best time here. I was grabbing a drink with a couple I met on the bus from Warsaw to Vilnius, and then continued running into. This bar was on a list of Tallinn’s most interesting bars. We walked in only to discover that we were the youngest people in the bar by a solid 40 years. The barman was no nonsense and definitely spoke more English than he let on. We befriended an older Estonia camera-man who was excited to run into an American at his usual spot.

shotThere is a stereotype that people hate Americans or love Americans. In all my travels I found that this isn’t really true. Mostly people don’t really care about Americans, but they are interested in American politics since we affect so much of the world. This man was the first person I met who was genuinely so excited to meet an American. He was the first of several older Estonians who did nothing but thank me. It is an uncomfortable feeling to be thanked by someone simply for being from the U.S., particularly when I vehemently disagree with the current state of U.S. politics. It is also uncomfortable to be thanked when I am 23 and have done nothing particularly remarkable or good for Estonia. However I understood his sentiment, he lived a hard life and saw his life change for the better with intervention from the U.S.

Valli bar may be an older crowd, but it was one of the most interesting and enjoyable experiences I had while traveling. Grab a beer and don’t leave without taking a Milimarkus shot (I won’t ruin the surprise but it involves tabasco).


How to Spend Three Days in Krakow

I never planned to go to Krakow, only Warsaw. The flight to Warsaw was cheaper, the hostels were cheaper, and it was on my path north to the Baltics. As Poland started growing closer and closer, people I met along the way telling me that no trip to Poland is complete without a visit to Krakow. They were so right. I haven’t been to any other city that size that balances the hip and the historic as well as Krakow does.

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How to spend Two Days in Bordeaux

Bordeaux city is the central hub of the wine region of Bordeaux and France’s sixth largest city. The region is packed with thousands of vineyards of all different sizes and production levels. The city itself offers a chance to dive into the wine culture and sample selections from wineries throughout the region in one of the many wine bars. The city is centered around wine, but there are still plenty of non-wine related activities. I didn’t do any of them, but I’m sure they’re great.

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Exploring the Chartreuse Mountain Region during Christmas

chartfeatureThe Chartreuse mountain region of France during the winter is the definition of a wonderland. It’s one of those places where you take a picture and then you keep taking pictures because every angle is stunning, but you can never capture the beauty. It’s a great area for skiing and hiking, but if like me, you’re not so athletically inclined, it’s a great place relax, enjoy the holiday spirit, and of course, sip on some Chartreuse.

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Balkans Best Beer

The best thing about the Balkans is the people. I have yet to meet someone who isn’t incredibly welcoming with a genuine desire to show me the best of their country. In the Balkans, a lot that welcome revolves around sampling “the best beer in the world.” Every country has its own “best beer in the world.” The States beer market is quite large so there may be more debate on what exactly is “the best beer in the world,” (it’s Free State Brewing Yakamaniac IPA). Balkan countries have a smaller beer market, therefore there is usually a pretty strong consensus on the “best beer in the world.” I didn’t expect every Balkan country to have its own beer as the countries histories are all so intertwined. It surprised me that each country has its unique beer, but it didn’t surprise me that every light lager tasted approximately the same.

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What to do in Sofia

Bulgaria is a gem that remains undiscovered by many Americans. The mountains offer prime skiing conditions and the beaches of the Black Sea are the perfect place to relax. The best part about Bulgaria is that it is still relatively cheap compared to the rest of Europe. I only stopped in the capital city, Sofia, and it left me hungry for more. (Quite literally as the food was incredible).

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Do and Drink in Belgrade

Belgrade rests at the former border between the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires. Thanks to its position, it changed hands regularly and is heavily influenced by both empires. Serbia’s history can be divisive and I will admit I still do not fully understand the Yugoslav wars. I did not learn about the wars in school, only through first hand accounts in my travels. History changes based on who is telling it, and I heard many different variations. In Bosnia, the Serbs were making a land grab. In Kosovo they wanted independence. In Serbia, no one talked about anything but the NATO bombing of 1999. Although the history is hard to get a grasp on, the city itself is not. Belgrade is a very welcoming and friendly city despite its tumultuous past. It is one of those cities where you go for the sites and end up staying for the nightlife.

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