The Hell Hunt – Tallinn

As soon as we’d settled down at our table, I remembered why we’d liked this boozer so much the last time we had visited Tallinn. Delicious aromas wafting from the kitchen, reasonably priced beer and King Crimson’s Moonchild on the stereo. It was a home from home,

Best pub in town, the Hell Hunt (Friendly Wolf)

and given that it is a bit off the established tourist hangouts (Pikk39), the prices aree a lot more reasonable than the joints around the town square, where a pint can cost up to €5. Hell Hunt homebrewed ales come as Hele (lager) and Tume (dark ale) and at €2.90 a pint are pretty good value, there is also quite an awesome assortmant of foreign draughts, but we hadn’t come all this way to sup Newcastle Brown or Belhaven St Andrews Ale.

The bar at the Hell Hunt

The other great advantage of its location is that although it is often busy, it’s rarely visited by the stag parties that plague the centre of Tallinn at the weekend, so it’s a nice relaxed place to enjoy lunch or a few drinks on a night out. The choice of music is pretty cool too: the Beatles, Who, Paul Weller, Oasis, a bit of punk, metal and prog, but never so loud that you could not enjoy a conversation.

The menu is full of interesting dishes like;

Basturma

Basturma, a kind of air cured beef served with tartare sauce, salted herring or smelt, deep fried cheese, meatballs, pig’s tongue with horseradish, pickled cucumber,

Russian dumplings

fried Russian dumplings with sour cream and spicy tomato sauce and even pickled lampreys. There are filling soups, salads, pasta dishes, spicy sausages and a very decent hamburger, but the star dish for me is the crispy potatoes with mince and cheese. It’s tasty and filling, just the thing for the sub-zero temperatures outside and at under €5 you can’t knock it for a good value lunch. In fact you would be hard pressed to spend over €10 on a lunch at the Hell Hunt without some industrial scale boozing.

I particularly liked the lampshades fashioned from barbed wire.

How do you change a light bulb in the Hell Hunt? With great care!

 

Tallinn Tales – Ice, Beer and Ear of Pig

As you will have gathered from the previous Tallinn Tales it was pretty cold. It got down to -17 degrees. One of the first things I did when we arrived was to slip on the compacted ice and fall flat on my backside getting out of the cab at our hotel.

Frozen mid flow

Mind you not all of the ice was on the streets. Just off the town square and up the street called Dunkri is the Merchant’s House Hotel. In the basement you will find the very trendy Ice Bar.

Very icy vodka

Yes those vodka shot glasses are ice, but there are also cocktails served in traditional glasses, like the Kill Bill (Absinthe, Galliano and Jagermeister) or the quite extraordinary Green Fairy (Absinthe and Triple Sec), which is set alight, the vapour trapped within a glass and inhaled through a straw up the nose. Cocktails are about €5.

Still enough of such hedonistic pursuits, over the road is the Beer House (Dunkri 5). This is a German style brau haus that brews its own beer on the premises using Austrian yeast and German malt. Once you get past the extremely rude doorkeeper, the interior is very much as you would expect it to be, long benches, a stage for an Om Pah band and waiting staff in lederhosen and drindls. Then through the back there are a series of booths and small private dining cabins. We ate there on the second night and the food was quite good if mostly pork based.

Yes it's deep fried crunchy pigs ears#The deep fried crunchy pigs ears

The deep fried crunchy pigs ears were surprisingly tasty is a bit chewy, but I prefered my herrings with potato as a starter. I chose steak as a main, which was OK, but there seemed to be no difference between medium and rare as they both  seeped blood onto the plate. the most curious thing on the menu was the potato sausage which came with one of my companions pork knuckle. It was exactly that a sausage skin stuffed with mash!

This is quite a fun place for a night out, but it does get a bit boisterous and some of the staff are a bit sour. Home brew is about €4 a pint.

Here’s my top traveller tip for the Beer House: If you are in Tallinn for a couple of days with a few friends, pop in on your first day and buy a Beer House card for €10. This is activated the following day and will get you a 10% discount off your bill. We saved €18 on a meal for four with (lots of) drinks the following evening.

For a cheaper drink head back into the main square, where in the bowels of the Town Hall,

Tallinn's Town Hall

you will find the Dragon. That’s the name of this medieval themed pub, not the proprietor!  Here all the drinks are all €2 and served in a variety of chipped ceramic pots. Not that you can see what you are drinking as the Dragon is lit by candles.

Prepare to enter the Dragon, is Bruce Lee about?

As you leave you are asked to deposit any pots that you are not intending to steal in the basket by the door, according to our hostess, that’s where her dog comes to lick them clean!

Tallinn Tales – A Visit to Fat Margaret, a Walk Along the Walls and Beer

Right at the bottom of Pikk, the street that runs from the summit of Toompea to the Great Sea Gate is Fat Margaret.

Fat Margaret

Built in the early 1500s, this cannon tower was a formidable part of Tallinn’s old city walls. With walls four metres thick she also made a formidable prison up until the first Russian Revolution of March 1917 when mutineering soldiers and sailors set her alight. She is now the home of the Estonian Maritime Museum and there is a plaque on the wall commemorating the Royal Navy’s assistance in the War of Estonian Independence between 1918 and 1920.

In medieval times the area around Fat Margaret was the scene of parrot shooting competitions in the spring, such were the benefits of being a trading nation! It was a bit slippy around the tower where the compacted snow and grit closely resembled the surface of one of those distant ice moons of Jupiter or Saturn. If NASA ever send any astronauts there they better have reinforced trouser seats in their suits as they will be spending a lot of time flat on their behinds!

Fat Margaret and the Great Sea Gate

Heading back through the Great Sea Gate it’s a short distance to one of the best preserved stretches of Tallinn’s old city walls (€3) , with nine towers, three gates and some great views over the city,

The spires of St Nicholas, Aleksander Nevski and Tallinn Town Hall from the city Walls

and down into the streets below.

It's a long way down

Heading back up Pikk we found the infamous headquarters of the KGB (Pikk 59).

KGB HQ

the plaque on the wall reads ‘This building housed the headquarters of the organ of Soviet occupational power. Here began the road to suffering for thousands of Estonians’.  you can also see where the basement windows have been bricked up to conceal the nasty deeds that took place within.

Continuing up Pikk you eventually come to St Olaf’s Church, which on the face of it looks pretty similar to most of Tallinn’s churches,

The absurdly tall spire of St Olaf the pagan killer

well except for the 124 metre spire. It used to be even taller at 159 metres, making it the tallest building in Europe for a while, but it kept being struck by lightning and burning down. St Olaf was the Norwegian king Olaf II who was canonised for killing pagans, thankfully standards for achieving sainthood have somewhat improved since then.

A little further up Pikk is the House of the Brotherhood of the Blackheads (Pikk 26),

House of the Blackheads

The curious name comes from St Mauritius the Moorish patron saint of the brotherhood, a guild of unmarried merchants who were responsible for Tallinn’s defences. The building dates to 1597, while the colorful carved door was installed in 1640.

It’s also more or less opposite Tallinn’s best pub The Hell Hunt,

Best pub in town, the Hell Hunt (Friendly Wolf)

where this story ends with a couple of pints of their own brew, spicy sausage and sauerkraut.

Tallinn Tales – We get Medieval in the Evening at Olde Hansa

Right in the heart of Tallinn’s medieval old town is Olde Hansa a candle lit restaurant with a minstrel’s gallery and bear on the menu.

 

Olde Hansa

We’d eaten here on our last visit to Tallinn and enjoyed the food very much, so we’d already made a reservation before leaving the UK. The three floors of the restaurant have been fitted out with period look dark wood furniture, while the walls have been decorated with medieval maps and coats of arms. All the waiting staff wear medieval costume and most of the lighting is by candle, so the little torch concealed in Mab’s handbag came in handy for a bunch of 50 somethings trying to read the menu.

Where's the torch? downstairs at Olde Hansa

Honey ale was ordered and we ruminated over the menu with some dried elk while the band struck up a medieval tune.

The minstrels crank it up

I started with the Hansa Herring, which came with spelt bread, cream cheese, salad leaves and berry. It was very tasty. Then most of us had the the Himalayan lamb, a sort of curry of lamb with some eastern spice. This was served with a spelt porridge, lentils, turnip, pickled vegetables and a bean bag. The bean bag is a small pasty filled with bean puree and thankfully the pastry has got quite a lot lighter since our previous visit in 2008, when you could have built a wall with it!. My lamb was deliciously tender, it must have been stewing for ages and the pickled garlic was delighfully crunchy.

Himalayan lamb

Having polished off our second courses we were all too stuffed for any dessert!

While a lot of places offer what they call medieval feasts, the proprietor of Olde Hansa has really done his homework to create an authentic medieval menu, as would have been enjoyed by the Hanseatic merchants of old Tallinn. You will not find later additions to European cuisine like potatoes or tomatoes in any of the dishes. Wild boar is one of the most popular meats, but you can, should you wish, also sample bear. However the bear is quite expensive, unless you make do with the boar, bear and elk sausages (also very tasty) that I tried on our second visit.

Complete with quite a lot of beer the bill came to a bout €130 for four people.

My top traveller tip for Old Hansa is watch out for complimentary drinks vouchers in the English language shopping guides that you find in hotel lobby areas.

Tallinn Tales- Up the hill to Toompea

The summit of Toompea (Dome Hill) is 78 foot above sea level. Toompea’s steep sides and natural vantage point looking out across the harbour made it the obvious place to build Tallinn’s most important buildings. Legend has it that Toompea is so high because it is the final resting place of Tallinn’s founder, Kalev, whose distraught widow, Linda could not stop herself piling more and more rocks on his grave   Cheers Linda it was a pretty stiff climb in the sub-zero temperature,

We are on the way up to Toompea, puff

and it was easy to understand how carriage drivers had to ensure that their path was clear before setting out on the descent because there ain’t no stopping on the way back.

Once you get to the top the most impressive building is the Aleksander Nevski Cathedral

Aleksander Nevski Cathedral, a potent symbol of Russian domination in the 19th century

It was built at the tail end of the 19th century with the clear intention of showing the local people that the Russians were in charge. Even the name was chosen with that aim in mind, as Nevski was the Russian prince who defeated the Baltic based German crusaders at the Battle on the Ice on  Lake Peipsi in 1242. The interior of the cathedral is well worth a visit to see the icons and mosaics.

I photographed the cathedral from the car park of Toompea Castle

Toompea Castle

This sugar pink baroque confection was originally built for Tsarina Catherine the Great on the site of an older castle, in 1767. Today it’s the home of Estonia’s parliament, it’s not open to the public, but they didn’t seem to mind me standing in the car park as I captured the best aspect of the cathedral. I can’t imagine that happening here in the UK.

Right next to the parliament building is the Governor’s Garden.

Tall Herman

The tower on the side of the Baroque palace is called Pikk Hermann (Tall Herman) and was originally built in 1371. Tradition has it that the flag flown from Tall Hermann’s pole belongs to the ruler of Estonia. On 24 February 1989 the blue, black and white flag replaced the Soviet red one in an outrageous display of defiance. It’s flown there ever since.

This fat little tower is Kiek in de Kok. It’s the Baltic region’s most powerful cannon tower dating back to 1475.

Kiek in de Kok

The name in low German means ‘peek into the kitchen’.  The soldiers manning cannon stationed there used to joke that they could see right down the chimneys and into the kitchens of the houses below. Kiek in de Kok took some serious damage when it was shelled by Ivan the Terrible’s forces in the Livonian Wars of 1558-83. Six stone cannon balls were set into the walls as a memorial during reconstruction. Today it’s a museum about the history of Tallin’s defences.

Our final piece of sightseeing before seeking shelter from the cold was the Dome Church

The Dome Church

Officially the Church of St Mary the Virgin it was built in 1684 on the site of a previous church destroyed by fire. The Baroque tower was added in 1778. Now a bizarre thing about this church is that when it was rebuilt on top of the rubble of the burnt out building , the builders reused the original floor. This means you have to take a step down when you enter. Oddly enough a Scotsman is interred here, one Samuel Grieg of Fife. Grieg was the Admiral of Russia’s Baltic Fleet and probably spent a lot of time in the sugar pink castle as he was reputed to be the lover of Catherine the Great.

Sparrows in the Snow – Tallinn

A full set of Tallinn tales will be with you soon, but in the mean time here are some sparrows that we met just outside the Aleksander Nevsky Cathedral on Toompea.

If these are cheeky cockney sparrers they must be lost

Someone had very kindly left some crumbs for them to enjoy in the -17 degrees of cold.

Time to Start Tallinn Tales

Before I got stuck into recounting our adventures in Estonia’s capital Tallinn, it struck me that a bit of information on this still little known country in the Gulf of Finland might be useful, so here is my potted history of the place.

Tallinn's medieval Great Coast Gate

Tallinn was founded by the Danes when they went to “civilise” the pagan Estonians in 1219. The Vikings had been trading with Estonians for herring and wax for many years by then, but the prospect of saving so many lost pagan souls from damnation presented the newly Christian Danes just cause to take the land away from those sinful pagans, especially as it had been sanctioned by the Pope. The new city became the northernmost city of the Hanseatic Leage, a confederation of northern European trading nations stretching from the Baltic to England, in 1285, before being sold to the German Order of Teutonic Knights in 1346.

Medieval Town Hall

Following the Reformation most of the population converted to Lutheranism and then in 1561 Tallinn became a dominion of Sweden. The Great Northern War saw Tallinn ceded to Imperial Russia in 1710 when it became the capital of the Duchy of Estonia.

Aleksander Nevski Cathedral, a potent symbol of Russian domination in the 19th century

Industrialisation in the later half of the 19th century coincided with the start of enforced Russification, however the chaos following the First World War and the 1917 Russian Revolution presented the opportunity for independence. With support from Finnish and White Russian volunteers and the Royal Navy, the Red Army was defeated and in 1920 Estonia asserted it’s independence for the first time.

Memorial to the First Estonian War of Independence

That lasted until 1940 when Ribbentrop and Molotov divided the Baltic states and Poland between the Nazis and the Soviets and Stalin’s tanks rolled in. Then the Nazis kicked the Russians out, but when the Russian’s came back in 1944 they stayed until the Soviet Union fell apart at the tail end of the 20th century. During this time the Soviets exchanged about a third of the population so there are now many ethnic Russian Estonians.

Note the bricked in basement windows of the former KGB HQ

In 1991 the country was declared independent once more and in 2004 Estonia joined the European Union. It’s a melting pot of Scandinavian, German and Russian culture in terms of architecture, food and art. Tallinn old town is full of surprises including a medieval Dominican monastery and city walls, 17th century German merchant houses, Lutheran Churches, Russian palaces and Onion Dome Churches The statues of Lenin and Marx have now gone, while the Ladas and Trabants have long been replaced with Audis, BMWs and Range Rovers. I say go and see it now before it gets too expensive.

Practicalities

We flew easyJet from London Stansted, flight time two and a half hours. Estonia recently joined the Euro and prices seem to have risen substantially since our last visit in 2008, although they are still very reasonable compared to neighbours like Sweden and Russia! Tallinn is a very compact city so you won’t need to use any transport other than your feet aside from a taxi to and from the airport (about €7 each way).

Best pub in town, the Hell Hunt (Friendly Wolf)

Tallinn is one of the most switched on capitals in Europe. Most of the tourist attractions, hotels and restaurants are on the web, so advance booking is easy and recommended for popular restaurants like Olde Hansa. Most people speak excellent English.

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Enjoy the Silence

We have just got home after three days in Estonia’s capital Tallinn. We stayed in a really wonderful little hotel just outside the Viru Gate called the Hotel Bern (Aia 10, 10111 Tallinn). It was relatively cheap at £50 a night including a substantial breakfast, the rooms were comfortable and clean and it was really convenient for sightseeing around Tallinn’s old town. The reception staff were really helpful and friendly and when they discovered one of our party had celebrated his birthday a bottle of Cava and a card were left in his room. I think that deserves some praise, so if you are going to Estonia stay there!

My only beef was the cool jazz soundtrack for breakfast, not my scene at all, let’s face it if you have to cover Depeche Mode’s Enjoy the Silence do it like this.

Adventures in Tallinn’s snowy wonderworld to follow soon.

How to Build the Perfect U-Boat

No not one like this.

U3 - Museum of Technology and Seafaring, Malmo Sweden

No it’s a drink made from lager and a shot of Jagermeister

Cheers

Now some people might say ‘that’s a Jager bomb’ but a U-Boat is a bit more sophisticated than just chucking a glass of Jagermeister into a pint of lager.

The first thing you need to do is place a shot glass on top of an upended highball glass and fill it with Jagermeister.

Stage 1

Next place a pint glass over the two glasses like so

stage 2

Turn the whole confection upside down and take out the highball glass.

stage 3

You should now have the Jagermeister neatly trapped inside the shot glass. Top up the glass with nice cold lager, Czech lager is especially good for one of these.

Stage 4 and ready to drink

Now as you drink it the shot glass will gradually tip over and gently disgorge its contents into the lager. The name, so I believe, is derived from the way that the Jagermeister gradually leaks out like oil from a depth-charged U-Boat.

Sinking a U-Boat at the Beer House Tallin, Estonia

I sunk my first U-Boat at the Beer House, a German style beer hall in Estonia’s capital Tallin.