And for those of you who don’t know, the ITB Berlin represents B2B, hotels, tourists boards, tour operators and providers, airlines, transport operators, responsible travel organisers, information technology experts, social media bloggers, and anybody else interested in travel and tourism.
It’s also the world’s leading travel industry think tank, in which the convention trade fair establishes itself as the industry’s main knowledge platform, with top-notch presentations on global trends, travel innovations and path-breaking events for the entire tourism industry!
It’s one of the highlights of my year, and one of the places that I tend to meet contacts and plan where I’m going to travel to during that year, or the following one.
A year later, that very same person invited me to fly to Sweden and do a couple more cruises. I still wasn’t able to go since the timing wasn’t right, but she introduced me to a contact from Visit Stockholm instead, and before you knew it, both The Tall Young Gentleman and I were in Stockholm for the very first time!
Explore Hansa is a partner project consisting of nine (9) small and enchanting Hanseatic cities from Sweden (Visby), Estonia (Pernau and Viljandi) and Latvia (Cēsis, Koknese, Kuldīga, Limbaži, Straupe and Valmiera), but due to a lack of time, we were only able to visit five (5)!
All of these countries are enormously rich in heritage and tradition, and have developed active and culinary tourism that offers visitors a chance to explore nature, authentic history, and exciting local food!
One of the ways that these lovely cities want to do that is by inviting influencers and media representatives, of which I am one, to experience what these HANSA cities have to offer, feel the charm of tiny Hanseatic cities, immerse ourselves in nature, and to spread the word!
I’m certainly going to do that!
There were two (2) trips organised:
THE ACTIVE TRIP route that went through Limbaži (Latvia) – Valmiera (Latvia) – Viljandi (Estonia) and Visby (Sweden), to explore the cobbled streets and cultural heritage of these small Hanseatic cities, as well as the beauty of nature, in which a level of fitness would be expected!
THE CULINARY TRIP route that will go through Viljandi (Estonia) – Valmiera (Latvia) – Cēsis (Latvia) – Koknese (Latvia) and Visby (Sweden), to explore one’s taste buds of seasonal local produce and create an inspiring gastronomical experience
In fact, we got to see knights and maidens, people jousting and battling, locals dressed up as grand nobles, poor peasants and minstrels, medieval street markets, street theatre, fire-shows, storytelling, and a medieval tournament to remember!
It took place from August 5th to August 12th, 2018 and I’ll be telling you all about it in the next few weeks!
Are you ready to Explore Hansa?
Find out more in the following weeks!
EXPLORE HANSA WITH ME! 5 ENCHANTING HANSEATIC CITIES FROM SWEDEN, ESTONIA AND LATVIA!
This article is not sponsored, and all opinions and the exciting time that I had in the HANSA cities, are my very own!
That’s it for now.
See you next week!
Watch this space!
Note! I never travel without insurance as you never know what might happen.
Please note that there are now affiliate links (for the very first time) connected to this post. Please consider using the links, because every time some sort of accommodation or travel insurance is booked via my links I get a little percentage, but at no extra cost to yourself!
A win-win for all!
Thanks a million!
Do you want to explore HANSA with me? Have you ever been to Latvia, Estonia or Sweden? Let me know in the comments below!
See you in Berlin.
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Due to other engagements, my husband – The Music Producer – only travelled with us for a week and flew back to Berlin whilst “The Tall Young Gentleman” and I continued the rest of our Baltic cultural adventure together. Once we returned home to Berlin, I prepared myself to go to the TBEX conference and even though I had a great time there, I got abandoned at the airport not only on the outward flight journey but on the return flight too! Thankfully, Barcelona more than made up for it.
I also went to Estonia and Finland but I haven’t written the details yet so I’ll be writing about them in the following weeks.
But alright. OK. Most Europeans don’t know much about it either so cue…
Let’s get back to where I was just a few weeks ago. In the Baltic Region.
Estonia, officially called the Republic of Estonia, is a country surrounded by Finland, Latvia, and Russia. It is considered one (1) of the smallest countries in the European Union, as it only has a country-wide population of 1.3 million people!
An advanced, highly economic country, its history with Finland is tightly connected, coming from an ancient type of Finnish people! The Estonian language stems from Finno-Ugric which is closely related to Finnish and Sami, with a distant link to Hungarian.
Estonia is so far North that it’s on the same latitude as parts of Alaska and Siberia!
Estonia’s modern development has risen so quickly and achieved so much success that Estonia is often described as one of the most wired countries in Europe and has the nickname of “e-Estonia!”
Here’s a little history:
Eston has just 1.3 million people but has been in the region for over 10,000 years! With Finno-Ugric roots that run thousands of years deep, they are closer to their Nordic cousins in culture and language than to their Baltic neighbours and were ruled by the Danes, Poles, Swedes, Germans and Russians. They became independent in 1918, lost it to half a century of occupation and only regained their independence in 1991 following the Singing Revolution based on the national pride of a society rich in music, creativity and entwined in folk song.
Estonia became a member of the EU and NATO in 2004, uses the Euro as its main currency and is part of a small group of countries known as the Baltic States.
The Baltic States might be small in landmass but the countries are considered to be old European in look, rich culture, enchanting history, and long-established tradition. In fact, quite charming!
Estonia is also a country not well-known and even within the E.U. itself, many Europeans have a hard time remembering what the capital city is or where it is.
It’s Tallinn by the way!
Get ready for the other country in-don’t-be-ridiculous-it’s-a-Nordic-or-perhaps-possibly-in-Eastern-Europe….
Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, is known around the world for its Hanseatic architecture and used to be known as a town call Reval. The preserved cobblestone streets of the city and it’s houses dates back as far as the 11th century in the Medieval age where brave Estonian knights rode through medieval architecture and made pacts with Baltic German nobility!
WHY GO TO TALLINN?
The Old Town in Tallinn is a medieval one and just bursting with culture. It is also preserved as part of the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage and so we went to Tallinn not only once, but twice!
Amid the Gothic houses of merchants and Guild houses, churches and warehouses, Tallinn’s Old Town offers such a medieval flair and authenticity, that no other city in the Baltic region can offer 15th and 16th century towers and walls, as well as the oldest Gothic Town Hall in all of Northern Europe!
With the help of the Tallinn Card 72 hours which was kindly offered to us by the Tallinn City Tourist Office & Convention Bureau, we were able to explore Tallinn and travel through the city.
Thank you so much.
Did you know that:
Only 431,184 people officially live in Tallinn with a considerable number of locals actually living elsewhere!
Registered Tallinn citizens can travel the whole city using public transport, completely and utterly for free!
You can travel to St. Petersburg from Tallinn by cruise, visa free for 72 hours!
Tallinn is the 3rd most popular destination for cruise ships in the Baltic Sea Region.
Most people in Tallinn speak Estonian, Russian and English with many also speaking Finnish, German and French too!
Estonia is considered to be the country with the highest percentage of start-ups per capita in the world. Much more even, than in my lovely Berlin and is one of the leading countries in the world in the development and promotion of e-business and the use of digital information!
There are 40 art galleries and exhibit halls.
42 places of worship.
178 cultural societies and associations.
And 610 folk culture groups!
TAKE ME THERE?
As you know, we were so lucky to be on a part-sponsorship of the largest international express route coach-bus operator in the Baltic region. An Estonian company called Lux Express, taking us through the Baltic Region by road from Germany, all the way through to Estonia, and back again!
In travelling from Berlin to Lithuania, we were on the cheaper arm of the coach-bus company called Simple Express but once we got to Latvia, we were switched to the more aptly named Lux Express. We also went from Latvia to Estonia by the very same means.
I’ve already given you my verdict about Lux Express which you can find right here and here!
Travelling with Lux Express across the Baltic Region is certainly different from any other coach-bus company that I have either travelled with. And I’ve travelled with a lot LOL!
And was it worth travelling by coach bus from Latvia to Estonia?
The seats were wider and bigger, there was a toilet on board and because there were fewer people, was fairly clean! You could recline back quite well, and there were individual screens on the seat with which you could watch films, comedy or TV series, listen to music, play games or go on-line. And there was WiFi that worked fantastically with headphones which were complimentary.
Included in the amazing price was also as much complimentary tea, coffee and hot chocolate as you liked. You just helped yourself as there was a huge drinks machine in the middle of the vehicle. And we did.
The journey from Riga to Tallinn was only 4 hours and 25 minutes.
IS IT GOING TO BE CROWDED?
Less than half a million people live in Estonia’s capital city and it was low season. We went to a few of the more famous sights and we were pretty much the only tourists there.
WHAT IS TALLINN LIKE?
We were only there for three (3) days but I had heard so many good things about Tallinn that when we returned from Finland, we spent another 1.5 days there too!
Whereas in Lithuania you definitely had the impression that you were in Eastern Europe, Estonia like Latvia, is a completely different kettle of fish. Although I found Riga utterly gorgeous because of it’s history with Art Nouveau, Tallinn was different.
Tallinn has something else.
It too is an Old Europe type of city that recognises it’s traditional roots and looks old-fashioned in character with it’s medieval history and dark, mysterious, romantic stories.
But it’s different.
It’s quite historical in look but extremely modern in thought and philosophy.
It’s a city that is very eager to welcome tourists and visitors as right from the taxi-driver to the shop-keeper, everyone was absolutely tip-top. The technology for such a small country was astonishing and everything worked beautifully.
I DON’T SPEAK ESTONIAN.
Not. A. Problem!
Honestly speaking, I have been awfully impressed by how in every Baltic State, English is widely spoken however, if you speak Russian, you won’t be out-of-place either!
AM I GOING TO LIVE IN A HUT?
Not at all. It might be a country from “the other” Eastern Europe but you’re definitely going to be living in civilisation!
I’M ON A BUDGET. WHAT SHOULD I DO?
There are plenty of hostels to be had.
I can’t give you any details but catering to the more budget conscious traveller is available as I saw quite a few hostels in very nice historical buildings!
I’M LOOKING FOR A BIT MORE LUXURY, IS THERE SOMETHING FOR ME?
The history of the building dates back to the 14th century and was mentioned for the first time in 1373. In 1850, the hotel was redesigned and it became the oldest operating hotel in Estonia! This elegant hotel was located right in the heart of Tallinn’s Old Town, was built in the style of Russian traders, luxury, elegance and Russian cuisine and only has 27 rooms!
We were in one of the twin superior rooms and I can’t under estimate how location and history is absolutely key.
Now, Estonia isn’t the cheapest of places, so when we took a taxi from the bus station to the hotel we braced ourselves…
Happily, our taxi fare was just €10.00 and the taxi driver who was Russian-Estonian was very chatty!
I love a budget as well as anyone but when you’re in “the other” Eastern Europe or in that part of Europe, you can afford to splash out, as it won’t cost you an arm and a leg.
The Hotel St. Petersbourg is 165 years old and has been opened unfailingly, since 1850! Rumour has it that during the old USSR period, the presidents of the Soviet Union used to stay there! The hotel is now a member of the well acclaimed and reputable set of Schlösse Hotels and is the first 5-star hotel in the whole country!
We were so impressed that we even had lunch with the Director of Sales & Marketing – Mr. Alver Pupart – the very next day. He was a young 35 year old man who was really nice, helpful and friendly, and so we chatted about family and lifestyle, and I think he had such a great time that he gave us an Estonian Recipe Book.
Whenever we go on a family holiday, I like to mix things up a little in order to experience a wide variety of accommodation possibilities, to meet the locals, and to stretch our budget in a more comfortable way.
When you book a room on-line, you can never be entirely sure what you’re going to get and can only hold your breath and cross your fingers.
I didn’t know what to expect in Estonia and was surprised at what we received.
Our twin superior room really lived up to it’s name. Our room was huge and had a very soft, plunging sofa, two (2) other rather nice fancy armchairs, a huge glass table and a few more other small lamp tables dotted around, a writing-table, a very large wardrobe, a mini-bar, coffee and tea making facilities, and an AC unit.
We shared our room of course, but for a young teenager, the traditional board games, the snooker and billiards table available on the second (2nd) floor, the large screen TV, the free WiFi, and a mini iPad for use in the room, was a godsend. “The Tall Young Gentleman” was in his element, and loved everything about The Hotel St. Petersbourg. So much so, that every hotel thereafter, for him, was a disappointment LOL!
We had and a very nice en-suite bathroom that was fitted out with Gilchrist & Soames beauty products and plenty of fluffy towels and slippers, as well as daily complimentary bottles of water and Tallinn rum-flavoured wafer candy. A generous buffet and a’la carte breakfast of both Baltic and Nordic origin.
Oh yes, the excellent facilities of the hotel also included a free morning sauna between 07:00 – 11:00.
European saunas and fear of the unknown always brings me out in a sweat!
Thankfully, we were able to book out an hourly session and be in the sauna completely alone.
The spa and sauna were on the third (3rd) floor with a very large space, lots of complimentary bottles of water, dressing gowns, slippers, moisturisers, oils and gels, lounge and deck chairs, lockers, a hot cabin, showers to cool down, and absolute privacy.
We wore our swimming things and took in the view.
For breakfast, we had marvellous cold cuts, pate, a variety of sea-food, vegetables, sauces, pickles and cream. As well as a wide variety of cereal, fruit, bread, cake, pastries, pots of tea, coffee and juices. You could also choose from the a’la carte menu which had freshly made porridge and pancakes too!
All this from €170.00 per night in the Superior Twin Room which for two (2) people including a very generous breakfast and a private sauna would be €85.00 a pop!
This hotel was just so amazing.
We both loved it!
WHAT SHOULD I DO WHEN I GET TO TALLINN?
We only went for four (4) days so this was a sloooooow cultural family trip.
There is plenty to do in Tallinn and we also had the Tallinn Card 72 hours package which was waiting for us at our hotel. With this card you can:
Jump on a hop on, hop off Tallinn city tour (usually €19.00 – €23.00).
Go to the Epping Tower (usually €4.00).
Learn stuff about the Estonian people at the Estonian History Museum – Great Guild Hall (usually €5.00).
Get interactive at the Estonian Museum of Natural History (usually €4.00).
Spend the day and run wild at the Estonian Open Air Museum (usually €5.00 – €7.00).
Indulge your sweet-tooth at the Kalev Marzipan Museum Room (usually free of charge but you get some home-made marzipan too!)
Get inspired at the Kumu Art Museum (usually €6.00).
Get some information at the Museum of Occupations (usually €5.00).
Get some history and art at the House of Peter I (usually €2.00).
Be fascinated at the Town Prison – Museum of Photography (usually €2.00. The basement is not for children as it has a more erotic element!)
Go to the Tallinn City Museum. We loved it (usually €3.20).
Merely ramble along the cobbled historical streets.
Explore and stroll freely through the backstreets and hidden alleys of history gone.
Climb up the steep hills.
Hang out in the parks, forests or beach.
Make use of the city-wide free WiFi.
Be accosted by knights and medieval wenches.
Pay your respects in the Jewish Quarter.
Check out the various cafes, bars and restaurants for a quick bite and a few rounds of Estonian beer and Russian vodka!
Go to the sauna, or get a massage, and relax!
WHAT ABOUT TRANSPORT POSSIBILITIES?
Tallinn is so tiny that everywhere is walkable.
Taxis are very reasonable and local trains, buses and trams are easily available, clean and very safe.
Estonian food is fantastic with lots of Russian and Finnish influences. You couldn’t do a thing wrong.
I’ll tell you all about it next week!
I like Tallinn.
It’s medieval, It’s got fairy-time gothic spires, cobbled streets and a long history. It’s not a cheap destination by any means, but it’s technologically advance and utterly charming.
If you’re looking for that extra somewhere with a bit more of an edge, a bit more class and luxury, a bit more crisp yet dynamic, and engaged with the modern world, then Tallinn is the place to be.
WOULD I COME AGAIN?
Try and stop me!
I intend to do just that and can’t wait to visit again.
Carry on my good man!
For more information about coach-bus travel to Vilnius, please contact: Lux Express.
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If you’re not in Berlin where the hell are you?!
May & June are going to be absolutely packed!
Watch this space!
Have you ever been to Estonia? Do you think Villnius is gorgeous or just medieval? Is Estonia in Eastern Europe or Nordic?
See you in Berlin.
If you like this post or if you have any questions send me a tweet, talk to me on Facebook, find me on Linkedin, make a comment below, look for me on Google+ or send me an Email: firstname.lastname@example.org