When I arrived in Tallinn the first thing I did was heed the advice of a traveler I’d met in Riga and go out in search of the infamous “beloved pies”. Located in the basement of the town hall, the beloved pie shop has piping-hot meat and vegetarian pastries, as well as elk stew, for just a euro. Working conditions for the bakers and soup-makers don’t seem to have improved much since the middle ages upon which the decor was modeled.
While queueing for my carrot pie and mushroom pie I met another backpacker and managed to convince him that his life would be incomplete if he didn’t follow me to a site I’d heard about. Patarei Prison was built in the early 1800s and served as a prison for many years, including under Soviet rule, until it closed its doors in 2002. Perhaps “closed its doors” isn’t exactly the right term, as the doors were actually left wide open to the public without any sort of freshening up. What do I mean?
Well, this is what you’ll see as you enter the site. There are a number of guard towers around the site; the ones at the front have small signs telling you not to ascend, but the ones in the inner courtyards (where the prisoners would get their fresh air) are not signed. Nobody has cleaned the broken glass from the towers’ smashed windows, and the steps and floor are both a little… unstable… but as the site seems to be staffed by only one elderly woman selling two-euro tickets you’re pretty much free to do as you please.
Inside the prison you’ll find some glorious Soviet-era furniture, now coated in a thick layer of dust.
Lots of interesting communications equipment remains. The first rooms that you explore will all seem rather nice for a prison… until you realize that they’re the administrative facilities. For a look at how the prisoners themselves lived you have to go much deeper into the prison to see the cells.
Keep walking and you’ll find more abandoned equipment: telephones, typewriters, refrigerators, shoes…
… medical equipment, medicine and the most horrible looking personal care products you’ve ever seen. The infirmary is particularly shocking as large quantities of chemicals and medicines have been left out in the open, completely accessible to visiting children and adults
Once you’ve had enough of the prison you’ll want to head back into the Old Town.
Toompea Hill offers great views of both Tallinn and the sea, and is home to a number of churches as well as the city’s castle. In the Lower Town you can go back to the town square for more pies, plus check out a few more churches.
If you’re like me you will want to check out the market, which is located on the opposite side of the train station. There was actually a lot of cool stuff here, and if you had room in your bag it would be a great place to pick up vintage military uniforms for your next un-PC Halloween costume. My guidebook said that it was also the best place to buy dead people’s CCCP identification cards, if that’s your type of thing.
You’ll surely be left wondering how some of the market’s vendors earn a living selling wares such as these paintings. Don’t wonder aloud.
Finally, when you’ve explored every last nook and cranny of the Old Town, climbed the hill, got your photos, eaten some pies, eaten some more, been to the market, stolen the identity of a deceased Communist party member and bought a velvet painting, then it’s time to hit the shops for real. The Rotermann neighbourhood is adjacent to the Old Town and houses a number of high street shops like Pull and Bear, Stradivarius and Bershka (none of which exist in my own country) in re-purposed factory buildings. I grabbed a great leather jacket for €120 (yes, it’s real leather!), while similar styles would easily be double the price at home.