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Saga Sapphire blog - Captains' blogs

15th May, 2015

This morning we arrived at the pilot station at the early hour of 7 am. It was a run of about 11 miles to our berth but we were safely berthed not far from the charming old town at 9 am.

Tallinn is a curious city, where the cosmopolitan brushes shoulders with the medieval in a tale of three cities: the ancient citadel, the old town, and the modern city. Capital of the Estonian Republic, this coastal settlement is only 53 miles from Helsinki across the Gulf of Finland, midway between St. Petersburg and Stockholm. During a turbulent history, the people of Tallinn frequently united to face a common threat. First it was the Danes who took the settlement in the 13th century. Tallinn became a flourishing trading centre as a member of the Hanseatic League, and went on to serve many masters: Swedish, German and Russian occupiers all left their mark. Estonian nationalism and culture burgeoned in the 19th century. Tallinn is now the home of no less than six theatres and is famous throughout the Baltic for its song festivals where massed choirs sing to packed audiences in a huge open-air stadium.

As soon as the ship was cleared by the local officials our passengers could proceed ashore and the tours could be dispatched. Today’s tours were:

“Legacies of Tallinn” visited the two most outstanding and different buildings within this area of Tallin, the Patarei Prison-museum and the Seaplane Harbour which is a museum with a unique and modern design. The Patarei Prison-museum is an example of a terrifying Soviet era prison. Inside the jail a watchman would sit above the cramped walking courtyards, watching inmates pace in circles as they sucked in as much fresh air as they could during their weekly hour outdoors. Across the yard a small corridor leads to what was affectionately known as the hanging chamber. Following executions the bodies were then carried out and thrown into the sea. Our guests visited the hallways, cells, work areas, exercise yards and other areas of the prison. This was followed by a visit to the Seaplane Harbour, one of the most unique maritime museums in Europe, winner of the best design award in 2012. With the help of modern multimedia, the Seaplane Harbour tells exciting stories about Estonian maritime and military history. The British built submarine Lembit, weighing 600 tons, is the centrepiece of the display. Another exciting attraction is a 21 full-scale replica of Short Type 184, a British pre-World War II seaplane. Seaplane Harbour operates in architecturally unique hangars built almost a century ago as a part of the Peter the Great sea fortress. Exhibited outside is a collection of historic ships, including the Suur Tõll, Europe's largest steam-powered icebreaker.

“Soviet Memories” explored Tallinn’s Soviet past and visited the Lasnamäe, a typical district of Soviet-era apartment complexes, The KGB museum, which is located on the 23rd floor of the Viru hotel. Toompea Hill is the heart of the old city, where passengers visited Stenbock’s House, the seat of Power in Soviet time and the house of Estonia’s first president, a victim of Soviet oppressions and had a view of St Mary’s Cathedral. Also visited was the Museum of Occupation where the displays recapture the grim reality of life during the Soviet occupation.

“Panoramic Tallinn” was a relaxing coach tour which showed passengers the highlights in and around Tallinn. They were able to view Cathedral Hill (Toompea), the Tall Herman Tower, one of the three remaining towers of the Knights of the Sword Castle, Cannon Tower, from where the passengers could admire the panoramic view of Tallinn’s Upper Town, with its numerous churches and spires, the baroque palace designed as a summer residence for Peter the Great, Kadriorg Park, which is home the Song Festival grounds, a natural amphitheatre with a capacity for 150,000 people, making it a perfect venue for Estonia’s national song festivals and last but not least St Birgit’s Convent, which is one of the best examples of local limestone architecture. The return journey to the ship took the passengers past the summer residence of Count Orlov and the famous Estonian Russalka monument.

“Tallinn Highlights” offered a mixture of highlights on foot such as Nun’s Gate, Transfiguration Church, the 15th-century Blackheads Fraternity House, Pick Street and Town Hall Square. After enjoying an Estonian folk show and refreshments the tour continued to the central park of Kadriorg, founded by Peter the Great, which is the setting for the baroque palace of Catherine.

“Tallinn and Saue Manor” first visited the Tall Hermann Tower Palace Square, to get a view of the Toompea Palace, now the Estonian Parliament, the largest Russian Orthodox church in Estonia named after Alexander Nevsky, and then it was on to Saue Manor. The present manor house together with the barn and coach house arched around the front square were finished during 1792. After a guided tour of the manor complex tea with local cake was served. This was followed by a classical music concert. After a walk in the park, designed in the English style, it was time to return to the ship.

“Tallinn Old Town Tour” offered the opportunity to discover highlights of Tallinn Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, on foot.

For passengers who wanted to explore Tallinn independently there was the option of a good walk or a shuttle bus that ran between the ship and the Old Town.

Once everyone was back on board we let go of the lines, turned the ship and headed back the 11 miles to the pilot station, where we disembarked the pilot and set course for our next port of call, Saaremaa.

The evening started with cocktail hour in Cooper’s Bar with Martin Orbidans at the piano and in the Drawing Room, where The Perfect Mood Duo played music for dancing. After Dinner the Britannia Lounge featured CALL MY BLUFF, starring the lovely Cathy Ellis, Shore Excursion Manager, the hilarious John Parton, Cruise Director and me. A real fun experience. This was followed in the Drawing Room by a 60s and 70s Dance Party and in Cooper’s Bar by The Late Show with Martin Orbidans at the piano.

Captain Kees Spekman

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