Our taxi driver picked us up at the ungodly hour of 5am from our hotel in Tallinn and quickly whisked us to the ferry terminal through the heavily falling snow. After a short time waiting for the ticket barriers to open, we then boarded our massive car & people ferry which was mainly full of Estonians day-tripping to buy cheap booze (or so the rumour was).
We had bought tickets which included breakfast in the large self service restaurant but first I was desperate to get to the back of the boat to watch us push off – mainly as I had seen photos of the ice being broken up as the ferry moved away. I wasn’t disappointed – as the ferry turned around in the harbour and began picking up speed, the massive chunks of ice were tossed around behind us. After pulling out into the open sea, we headed to the restaurant and began to load up our plates with as much food & coffee as we could humanly eat.Thursday 9°CFriday 3°CSaturday 3°CSunday 3°C
Slumping back in our chairs, partly from tiredness and partly from over eating, we looked out of the window and saw large ice floats drifting by – abandoning our table, we headed to the front of the boat to be greeted by the sight of an entire frozen sea. It’s hard to describe what we saw as I’ve never seen anything like it before but the entire sea was covered in thick frozen ice. As we started to hit it, the boat juddered slightly but in complete silence making the experience even more surreal. The ferries had massive ice breaker rams built on the front of them for exactly this reason but I never expected it to be this much or this thick.
As the sun started to rise over the horizon, we saw the first signs of Finland in the distance as other ferries started to appear going in the opposite direction. We could see the them smashing through the ice leaving gaping paths behind which slowly closed back up as we passed.
After landing we headed out on foot to seek out a super cute cafe that I had seen on Instagram. A red wooden hut on the banks of a massive lake with little chairs outside – it looked perfect for a morning coffee to wake us up. Cutting through a huge, peaceful and very pretty cemetery, we abruptly found the shores of the lake to find that it too was completely frozen over with people walking and skiing over it. Slightly nervously we too stepped on it – it was a bizarre feeling walking out over the middle of a huge deep lake with deep holes every now and again knowing that it was just water below us!
After getting slightly lost in the middle of the lake (I think Google Maps couldn’t figure out why we were in the middle of a lake!), we found the cafe and it was everything I had hoped – plus a wooden chair attached to ice skates on a massive rotating pole which you could spin people around on. The cafe was packed inside, cosy and warm but there were some free seats outside beside a roaring fire which we grabbed. The excellent coffee did the trick and woke us both up.
Full of energy, and after a quick spin on the ice skating chair, we set off again towards the city to look for the Rock Church (a church built into a outcrop of rock in the middle of the city). Annoyingly it was closed when we got there so we re-traced our steps a bit to find the Kamppi Chapel of Silence – this odd shaped completely wooden church was deliberately built in the middle of a shopping centre to demonstrate that silence could be found within the busiest of places. And it works. It’s utterly quiet inside despite being surrounded by shops, restaurants and traffic. Free to enter, this is certainly worth a quick shop.
Heading back in to the city centre, I persuaded my other half to follow me into a library where I knew there was a pretty awesome staircase. It must have been pretty obvious that I wasn’t there to get books but no one batted an eye lid even when we got to the top of the building to look down onto the orange & white spiral staircase. In fact the library is so well designed, that you could likely sit in one quiet corner all day and not see or hear another soul.
Pushing on towards Helsinki’s cathedral, we paused for a quick coffee inside a beautiful glass conservatory building in the middle of a park. Full of brunching tables, it was a perfect stopping point, mainly as I had suddenly developed a full on cold and was streaming from my nose & eyes and my sinuses were all blocked up. I guess the tiredness and extreme cold had finally beaten me. For once I had my sunglasses though so was able to hide my increasingly red eyes!
After climbing up the icy steps to the cathedral (pretty impressive inside as well), we did a 360 (via the Town Hall – also pretty impressive inside) and headed to the not-so-secret best view of Helsinki – the lady’s toilets inside a roof top bar/cafe on top of a city centre hotel. Travel Man (UK TV show for the non UK readers) had well & truly blown the lid on this top tip but surprisingly it wasn’t that busy and most people seemed to be content with just looking at the view from the roof. Like err normal people. But the toilet view takes some beating!
By this point my head cold was fairly unbearable so we slowed our pace and wandered across the city in search of some proper food in the hope that this would help (starve a fever, feed a cold right?). After a bit we stumbled across a cute & quirky looking pizza restaurant – my pizza had ice cream on it. Yep you read that right – mozzarella ice cream which was delicious and 100% worked even though it was cold and melting fast. A side portion of yummy chips & local organic beer helped as well. Highly recommend this place – friendly and fast service too.
We slowly walked back towards the ferry terminal past loads of children and families sledging down a small hill between houses – it was wonderful to see so many people having so much fun even though they must have snow like this all the time. Tiny little children all wrapped up in snow onesies kept hurtling down the hill giggling when they fell off and then dragging the sledge back up to go again and again and again.
We carried on past the small harbour which was full of ice locked sailing boats and barges. Past the massive giant pee-ing man sculpture (also frozen) and headed inside the new modern terminal. After another easy boarding process, we found some seats to slump into and took advantage of the fast onboard WIFI. Fortunately the supermarket onboard had a small pharmacy section as well so I could load up on drugs! And tissues.
We left Helsinki in the day light with blue skies and bright sunshine. We arrived back into Tallinn at night with dark skies and falling snow. My cold had beaten me and I badly needed sleep.
Tips & tricks:
- Our Revolut cards worked everywhere as normal.
- The totally free offline maps.me app has seemed to improve slightly recently and although it got a few places slightly wrong, it did get us to most places that we wanted to see without too much back tracking!
- Remember to book everything you can via TopCashBack – even when booking via Hotels.com, Expedia etc or even direct with the hotel/car hire/carrier