Our trip to Tallinn coincided with the Old Town Days festival, one of the city's most popular events, held annually on the last week of May. For visitors and locals this means free entertainment in the streets every afternoon and evening plus a huge buzz of excitement and festivity. It's a pleasure to walk round Tallinn's Old Town at any time but it gets even better when you're accompanied by the sound of music from Town Hall Square and the likelihood of bumping into revellers in full costume. Every evening we were in Tallinn there was a big concert in the square with music ranging from trad/jazz fusion to reggae. There were also performances in the afternoon and on Saturday, a full medieval carnival took over the square. I missed the parrot shooting and the knights' tournament but arrived in time to see the parade. One of my abiding memories of Tallinn, is turning the corner from Niguliste to Kullasepa and being absorbed into a noisy colourful procession, led by beautiful girls on horseback, all dressed in full medieval regalia. It was a perfect moment and very appropriate to the historic surroundings of the Old Town.
Being in town during this festival certainly enhanced my experience of visiting Tallinn. If you are planning an early sumner visit then I would recommend coming during the festival period.
HeadRead is an annual literary festival in Tallinn, now in it's sixth year. Our arrival in Tallinn on Thursday, June 29th coincided with the opening of this year's festival and right through until Sunday evening it was in full swing. I read about it in 'Tallinn This Week' but not thinking I would be anywhere near the venues, didn't pursue it in greater detail. So it was a nice mixture of serendipity and being in the right place at the right time, that found me sitting on a bench outside the Tourist Office on Saturday afternoon and becoming aware of a big screen on a building across the street. Absorbed in sorting out the maps and brochures I'd just picked up, at first I didn't pay too much attention. But then the voice and the words became compelling and I devoted 100% attention to that screen. After a few minutes, I realised that the author reading was Lionel Shriver and I was across that street like a flash and up two flights of stairs as quickly as my misbehaving breathing would allow. The reading was finished by an interview and question and answer and I was impressed with Shriver's articulate and intelligent replies. I should have mentioned already that Lionel Shriver is the author of many successful, best selling novels and most famously, the author of the controversial book (and movie), 'We Need to Talk about Kevin'. I'm a big fan of her work, so hearing her read and subsequently meeting and chatting with her, was a big thrill for me. An even bigger thrill because it was unplanned and unexpected.
HeadRead had a fantastic lineup of visiting authors this year : A.S. Byatt, Ben Okri, John Banville, Lionel Shriver and others. But the festival is focussed heavily on local writers and readers as well , with a huge range of workshops, readings, literary walks etc. The events are mostly held in the Estonian Writer's House and the Tallinn Central Library. Other fringe events take place around the city like the poetry mass at the Niguliste church.
This is a wonderful and audience friendly festival, so if you're in Tallinn on the last week of May, be sure to check it out.
The Estonian Writer's House, where many of the events take place, is at Harju 1 in the Old Town, just across the street from the Tourist Office.
We were very lucky to be in Tallinn when we were, as the TALLINNA VANALINNA PAEVAD XXXIII or Tallinn Old Town Days, was being held ( May 24 to June 1, 2014).
Friday night, as we were finishing our dinner, we heard music coming from the Town Square. So we, Sarah, Isa, Ed, Hans and I walked over and saw a wonderful orchestra on stage. The highlight was when two ladies played the bagpipes while the orchestra played Celtic Music. It was quite stunning and we all enjoyed it very much.
Every year, usually on the first weekend of June, Tallinn holds its "Old Town Days". On this occasion, the atmospheric streets of the Old Town become full of artisans and merchants in medieval costumes, which accentuates the "time warp" impression of Old Tallinn.
The high point of the weekend is the Tournament of the Count of May on Sunday: horse-riding contestants and their ladies gather at Town Hall Square, then parade through the Old Town all the way to Toompea Stadium. Beautifully set outside the city fortifications, Toompea Stadium is the site where the contestants compete in several events, namely races, obstacles courses and even jousting. After the tournament, it's back to Town Hall Square, where the winner is presented to the crowd.
This was one of the coolest things we had ever seen. Oddly enough, only a few hundred people (the vast majority of them locals) attended the contest. Maybe was it due to the fact the announcer spoke only in Estonian, which may be a turn-off for some people? We felt it made the celebrations all the more authentic.
Known as Shrove Tuesday in much of the English speaking world, the Estonians celebrate this day a little differently. Instead of pancakes, they eat split pea soup and the delicious vastlakukkel cream cake. Traditionally children will sled down any available hill of snow, and in Tallinn they all rush to the Song Festival Grounds for a four o'clock slide down into the bowl.
The food is, like pancakes, traditionally the last thing you eat before the fast, and the name Vastlapaev is taken from the German word "fasten" (to fast). The cake is similar to the traditional Swedish fastlagsbulle, but with the marzipan swapped for strawberry jam. The whole tradition is also shared by the Finns, who celebrate Shrove Tuesday in almost identical fashion.
You can find the cakes on special menus in restaurants all over the country on Shrove Tuesday, and also on the shelves of shops.
I love that time!!! That's amazing!!
So, everything starts from first advent (the 4th Sunday before Christmas). For that time Christmas market and traditional Christmas tree on town Hall square is already installed.
Tradition to put christmas tree and to light it strated more than 500 years ago, by the facts of Friedrich Amelung in 1441 were lighted the lights on christmas tree on Town Hall square.
With christmas music and the nice wishes of maire (linnapea) of the city starts the christmas time.
On 24th December at midday you can hear the words of maire about Chrismas peace (Jôulurahu) time which he says from the windows of Town Hall. This tradition is dated by the time of Queen Christina (when Estonia, Finland and Sweden were one country, middle of 17th century). Christmas peace lasts till 13th January.
For me, people change a lot during that time, there is lot of charity programs, everybody feel the spirit of Christmas. Especially if you visit the Christmas market, drink a glass of Glögi (Hôôgvein) with piparkook (ginger bread), try the Christmas piggy (not for vegetarians) with mulgikapsas (traditional estonian Christmas meal, specially prepared cabbage), feed up lambs, buy some souvenirs and presents for your family, and just feel the atmosphere of Christmas time... hope you will be lucky with snow!!!
Song Festival in Baltic States is quite unique and inscribed into Unesco World heritage list. The festival takes place in city centers and concert hall every 4 or 5 years. It happened, that I was walking in Tallinn centre just the day when all parade of people were going to main concert hall. All were with national costumes from different regions of Estonia, singing songs or just loudly screaming something in Estonian, some were keeping Estonian flags. There were much people around, greeting them and going together to main concert of Festival. There is a few different parts of festival - one is day of songs, another - day of dances.
Another highlight of the Old Town Days is the short, quirky Rat Race. In the Rat Race, teams of 4 white-collar employees (dressed in a costume made to recall their employer) must run a lap through the cobbled streets of the Old Town.
The race master of ceremonies is a giant rat, who revs up the crowd gathered at Raekoja plats (Town Hall Square). Thanks to him, we learned how to count in Estonian, as he kept spinning his tail around and counting up to five: üks, kaks, kolm, neli, viis!
To our surprise, the rat also took part in the race, but as you can see in the picture, didn't really break a sweat running.