Tallinn old town is a charming Unesco World Heritage site and medieval old towns are not renowned for being wheelchair friendly. But the main idea of our February trip was very much just to see how accessible the old town is for future visits and our first time in Estonia with the Volkswagen Caravelle. We travelled with the Viking Xpress ferry from Helsinki and stayed 2 nights at Radisson Blu Olümpia from Thursday 25- Saturday 27 February 2016.
5 tough minutes
We have both been to Tallinn before but this was our first time together. Antero had not really set wheel down in Tallinn though, so this short weekend trip at the end of February was just to test Tallinn out with the van and have a mini-break at the end of Louise’s winter holiday.
On the Friday morning we decided to test out the old town. We didn’t see any blue badge (disabled) parking spots anywhere in or close to the old town so we just relied on the badge allowing us to park. At least the police didn’t stop us or turn us away. After driving around trying to find a place to park, we pulled up by what at first sight looked like a decent pavement for wheeling in a street where other cars were parked. But then … First we had trouble with the safety system on the van’s lift not opening up to let Antero off as the pavement turned out to be so uneven. Even positioning a flat cushion under it several times didn’t help, it still would not open. So Antero had had to climb back into the driver’s seat and move the van.
Once out on the pavement, we headed for the Raekoja Plats (Town Hall Square ) but wheeling in a manual wheelchair with power wheels from where we had parked proved to be just far too tough. The pavement was too narrow or blocked in places, the curb too high, the cobbles very rugged. Not to mention wheeling into the biting cold wind. So Antero gave up. And it was back to the comfort and warmth of the van to drive around for glimpses of the old town. Our old town visit hadn’t been very successful.
Room with a view
Luckily Radisson Blu Olümpia did not disappoint; accessible room 2020 gave us a fabulous view towards the old town and right out to sea. So well done Radisson Blu, what a pleasant change from being in a ground floor accessible room with a view of a car park as frequently happens to us. ( Note to self: must write future blog post ‘Room without a view’). Just when we arrived, a great crow then a seagull landed on the ledge to greet us on the 21st floor. Not sure what kind of omen this was.
As Thursday afternoon was relatively dry, we drove out on the Pirita road and managed to take some sunset shots before the clouds descended. The strong cold wind meant we did not stay out for long. Driving around in Tallinn’s one way system was occasionally challenging, especially as neither of us had Estonia maps on our phones. Luckily Viking Line’s own map proved very reliable.
As it was cold and windy and Louise was tired after just getting back from France, we ate in the Senso restaurant in the hotel on Thursday evening. They had a special local flavours menu for February so we had smoked cheese and chicken soup followed by rabbit. Although the restaurant is probably pricier than most in Tallinn, it was still good value with a 3 course menu with a glass of wine each coming to about €60. As Tallinn was caught in a snow blizzard on Friday night, we took the easy option and ate again in the hotel restaurant. From what we could see, all Tallinn restaurants in the old town have steps and are pretty much inaccessible. Our preliminary research into seafood restaurants in Tallinn had given us some idea where we might find a place to go in the harbour area, but the weather put us right off. Staying in the hotel was just simply the most convenient option and why not since the food was good.
Kumu Art Museum of Estonia
After Friday’s aborted attempt to tackle the old town, we followed plan B which was to
visit the Kumu Art Museum of Estonia. We parked at the back and followed the wheelchair route and lift into the impressive building which is worth visiting itself. We spent several hours in the exhibitions, particularly fascinating was the Soviet-era art. The museum is quite chilly and with the snow storm raging outside, a hot soup in the café was a welcome end to an interesting afternoon.
On Saturday we checked out after a leisurely, enormous Radisson Blu buffet breakfast and headed straight for the Lennonsadam museum, Seaplane Harbour or maritime museum. A nice surpise; this was free for disabled visitors and assistant. The main exhibition, housed in seaplane hangars, is accessible and interesting for anyone interested in the sea, boats and sailing such as Antero. It’s particularly hands-on for families and one of the main attractions is the Lembit submarine. The museum’s special exhibition until early April 2016 is Race to the End of the Earth. After a fascinating few hours immersed in retracing the steps of Scott and Amundsen in the freezing Antarctic, it was once again time for hot soup in the Meer café on the second floor. Definitely an exhibition for anyone interested in the race for the Antarctic.
Getting to Tallinn by ferry
Viking Xpress takes 2.5 hours from Helsinki to Tallinn. Antero had requested a place for the car near the lifts on booking the tickets, so we just needed to ensure that we had a meter to the right of the van for the lift when actually on board. This was easily arranged and also when returning from Tallinn. Actually in Tallinn we were among the first ones to board the ship, driving right past the queues of passenger cars in the harbour. Small problem in Tallinn: we first drove to Terminal D only to find it was for the Tallink ferry. So it was a mad dash to drive to Terminal A. n.b. Viking Line – you didn’t mention which terminal on your ticket!
Our check list for our next visit:
- Go in summer when it is warmer.
- Research disabled parking spots in the old-town in advance.
- Research which pavements on which streets are totally accessible.
- Contact Estonian tourist agency about this before leaving.
- Download Estonia map in phone (navigator).
- Get Louise to jump out to investigate pavement before parking.
Next time, maybe in summer, Antero will spend more time on the streets of Tallinn and take more photos.