Tallinn: day three

On Saturday, I set off for Toompea, via the street opposite my apartment, which I hadn’t explored, and discovered that there’s a blacksmith’s shop visible from my window. Fortunately, it was too early for it to be open so I was unable to buy the hugely tempting handmade coat of ringmail. I walked down to St Nicholas’s, the last major church that I hadn’t found yet, sat on a bench in the sunshine to watch the wagtails and consult my map and then set off for Toompea, via the steepest route possible.

Toompea – from the German Domberg, Cathedral Hill – is a limestone/sandstone hill in the southwest corner of the Old Town. It’s had a castle and a church on it for nearly a millennium and is now home to the Orthodox Church, as well as the seat of the Estonian government, which is a shocking shade of pink. The hill is only 25-30 metres high but it towers over the rest of the city, with views over the red roofs and spires only bettered by the view from St Olaf’s tower, except without the scary stone spiral staircase. Toompea is quieter than the city below, except around the viewpoints which are overrun with tour groups – didn’t really see them on the streets so I don’t know how they get from one viewpoint to the next. The viewpoints are also clustered with tourist shops.

The first viewpoint was the most southerly. I could see trains down below and I could also see an athletics field, complete with people learning to throw the hammer. At the third viewpoint, there was a man trying to get to the front of the crowd, saying over and over again “Excuse me! Do you mind if I blow bubbles?” It was a really good idea! The bubbles look so pretty sparkling in the sunshine over the roofs and spires of the Old Town. I also enjoyed a big puffy pigeon trying and failing to impress a potential girlfriend. I went in the tourist shops and looked at matryoshka dolls and replica Faberge eggs and pretty paintings and amber and finally found a suitable bracelet and necklace.

It doesn’t sound like I did much on Toompea but it takes time to wander around all the cobbled streets and enjoy all the views. I walked down to the town centre, back to the Town Square, so different in the sunshine, took surreptitious photos of Superman on a Segway, and then spied the land train. So I went for a ride on it, in the open carriage at the back. We went through the square and up Pikk and round St Olaf’s, through the walls, round the bottom of Toompea and back round to the Town Square, a trip of about twenty minutes around most of the streets of Tallinn, dodging pavement cafes and badly-parked vans with concerned owners watching us squeeze past and then two English boys on Segways who alternately chased the train and showed off for it, a display crowned by one of them falling off. However, Tallinn’s interesting weather means it’s really hot in the sun but freezing cold in the shade, and the roof of the open carriage means it was really really cold on the ride.

I went home for lunch, because the novelty of having an apartment with a kitchen in the town centre doesn’t wear off.

I intended to spend the afternoon exploring the walls in the north of the town, as recommended by Lisa, but it turns out that only two sections of wall are open, which is about 200 metres, and two towers, one of which contains nothing but two small stone pigeon-befouled rooms and the other two large but empty guard rooms. It’s nice to prowl around on top of the walls but there’s only so long you can stretch it out so I came back down and walked through the back streets to St Nicholas and then on to Freedom Square, a big modern airy plaza marking the southern limits of the Old Town. I didn’t realise there’s an underground shopping centre there but I did spot the big glass cross marking the 1918-20 Estonian War of Independence. From there I walked up to Kiek in de Kök, the last major sight I hadn’t seen, a tower in the original walls now housing a military museum. Kiek in de Kök means something along the lines of “a peek in the kitchen” because you could see into the parlours of Estonian houses from it. What caught my eye was the Tallinn Archery School in the grounds around it and after stopping to watch for a while, I decided I wanted to have a go.

It’s run by an English man who spent ten years working as a programmer in a windowless office and now teaches archery in Tallinn. Well, I say “teach”. I watched in befuddlement as he let the big Russians shooting alongside me, who had never touched a bow before, nock their arrows the wrong way round.

I’m not entirely sure what I was shooting with. It definitely wasn’t a compound bow, I’m pretty sure it wasn’t a recurve and as I was only introduced to three types of bows, I must conclude it was a longbow of some kind I haven’t encountered before. 23lbs, with a nice wrapped string so it didn’t hurt to draw, and it felt really light. I was trained on an 18lb recurve and struggled with a 24lb recurve but I’m pretty sure a 28lb longbow felt quite comfortable. I had ten arrows to practice with, shooting downhill, getting used to a new bow and a weird shooting angle and I scored 55 (beating the big Russians hollow!) but when we did the ten competition arrows, I failed dismally – 26 points and one arrow missed completely. I think part of the problem was that my supervisor had more contradictory and/or nonsensical advice and instructions after every shot. “Don’t think about aiming” was immediately followed by “Just concentrate on the middle of the target”, “don’t think” was followed by “you have to think about everything” and I couldn’t make any sense of “remember the balance”.

Once I’d shot my twenty arrows, I went up to Toompea, since the shooting was happening in the shadow of the Orthodox Church, and it didn’t seem like nearly as much of an effort to climb up there from Kiek in de Kök as from wherever I’d gone up in the morning. I walked back down Pikk and took the long route back home for cheese on toast.

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