Monday, December 26, 2005

Tallinn, Estonia

There are plenty of interesting, out of the way places one can visit. But I have to admit Tallinn is one of the best I have ever seen. Estonia’s capital city sits on its northern shore opposite Helsinki, across the Gulf of Finland in the Baltic Sea.

I arrived at Tallinn’s pleasant airport around mid-day in April 2005 on easyJet flight 3445 from London’s Stansted airport. I picked up a rental car from National and set off for my hotel. I had booked a room at the Scandic St. Barbara Hotel at Roosikrantsi 2A.

Long the home of numerous outsiders, Tallinn has hosted Danes, Teutonic Knights, Swedes, German nobles, merchants and Russians. Few except for ethnic Russians remain today. They form a considerable portion of the town’s populations. One can easily distinguish between Russians and Estonians by listening to folks speak. While many Russians do speak Estonian, a close listener can tell the difference. Russians seem to have a strangle hold on the tourist shops in general and the amber stores in particular.

Tallinn’s old town center is one of the best-preserved medieval cities in Europe. This distinction earned it a listing as a World Heritage site in 1997. Walking through the narrow streets and alleyways of Tallinn’s old town feels much like a journey through the streets of Germany’s Rothenburg ob der Tauber.

Tallinn, with fewer than 400,000 residents, is not overwhelming for travelers. Traffic remains tolerable more than a decade after independence. The best part of Tallinn is the old town. From the imposing city wall and Toompea castle to the numerous amber shops and pleasant restaurants, old town will impress anyone. I spent most of my time in Tallinn in the old town. The scenic views of the city from numerous outlooks in Toompea precinct offer unbelievable views of the old town and beyond.

Tallinna Linnamuuseum (Tallinn City Museum) at Vene tänav 17 in the Vene precinct once housed one of Tallinn’s prosperous merchants. The admission was reasonable at just 35 Kroons and well worth the time. The museum has excellent collections covering Tallinn’s history and Estonia’s independence in the 1990s.

Tallinn is well worth a visit and makes an excellent launch point to visit the rest of Estonia. This is exactly what I did on my visit. I’ll tell you more about that in a future post.



Sunday, December 25, 2005

Two weeks in April with Low Cost Airlines

In April 2005, I was in Europe on business for a week and was able to add two weeks of vacation to the end of my business trip. I used that time to take advantage of European low cost airlines (LCA) to get around the continent. In the U.S. we call them “discount airlines.” I had wanted to try a European LCA trip for a couple of years but did not have the opportunity.

I’d known about Ryan and easyJet for a long time but did not realize so many other players have entered the LCA market. An Internet search turned up the following URL at Wikipedia:
This article is extremely helpful for discount travelers. I eventually booked flights over the Internet with four different carriers: Ryan, easyJet, German Wings and Air Berlin.

I flew with those carriers to the corners of Europe. Through the LCA I was able to visit Portugal, Estonia, Latvia and Greece. It was a wonderful experience that involved travel to alternate airports, sleeping overnight in air terminals, bus transfers and amazing bargains.

A patient planner should consider booking flights early. I was able to get very good prices for my flights, in part, because I booked them a month in advance. The airfare on easyJet from Tallinn to Berlin cost me only €1. Of course the airport needs to function, so the true cost of the airfare was €23.49 with airport taxes and landing fees applied. Still, it’s not a bad deal for a two-hour flight. My most expensive flight cost €92 for the last leg of my journey from London Stansted to Lisbon.

All in all, I found each carrier to be safe, pleasant and affordable. I would recommend the experience to anyone. Although I expected Ryan to be the best LCA, I was surprised that I had the best experience with easyJet. To be fair, I flew four times with easyJet and only once with the other three airlines. Nonetheless, the easyjet experience was almost perfect. Clearly they have been listening to their customers and improving their service since getting poor reviews a few years ago.

Intrepid Trekking

Let me note a word or two about this blog before I begin posting in earnest. Since this is a new blog, naturally I had to come up with a name. With so many bloggers on the Internet these days (and so many of them using I had to come up with something descriptive for my new blog. I chose Intrepid Trekker because I'll be devoting this blog to posts about my journeys and travel in general.

= Resolutely courageous or fearless. That adjective certainly applies to many of the trips I've made over the years.

Trek = To make a slow or arduous journey. Another meaning is to journey on foot, especially to hike through mountainous areas. Both apply in this case. At first glance many would assume I chose trek as a nod to my love of science fiction (Star Trek). Actually trek came to mind for another reason. Whenever I think of trekking, it is the Great Trek the Afrikaaners made in the 19th Century to escape British suzerainty that comes to mind.

So there you have it: a courageous or fearless person who undertakes an arduous journey.