Raekoja Plats, the Lower Town's graceful central square, is dotted with sidewalk cafés and lined with cozy restaurants. Try Balthasar (where most dishes are fortified with garlic, right down to the ice cream) and Karl Friedrich (don't miss the escargots with Gorgonzola cheese). Open-air concerts and celebrations are common in the square, especially in early June and before Christmas.
Not to be missed nearby are the ornate merchants' houses and guildhalls on Pikk street, built when Tallinn was a Hanseatic League trading centre, and the 14th-century Holy Spirit Church.
Tallinn's Upper Town is dominated by the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, a throwback to Czarist times. Tourists thrill to its billowing onion domes, but architectural critics say it lacks originality. Better loved by Estonians is the nearby Toompea Castle. The massive fortification built by German Teutonic Knights, along with a palace wing added by Catherine II of Russia, have become symbols of the country's independence. The Estonian flag flies proudly from the 14th-century Tall Hermannn Tower, while the country's parliament meets in Catherine's pink palace.
A popular stop outside the Old Town is Rocca al Mare, a collection of 100 historic farm buildings, and the venue, from time to time, of ethnic-dance shows. Two other far-flung sites are important for the patriotic feelings they inspire in Estonians.
One is the Song Festival Ground, where gatherings of choirs, held every five years, were closely linked with the independence movement. The Soviets stopped short of banning them, but decreed that Russian choirs take part, that anti-Russian lyrics were forbidden and that songs praising Lenin had to be included. Last year's festival drew 30,000 participants and 200,000 spectators. The next gathering will be in 2004. In the meantime, the festival amphitheatre is home to concerts by the likes of Tina Turner, Alice Cooper and Canada's Bryan Adams.
Tallinn's Forest Cemetery, with its graves in a woodland setting, is also dear to the Estonian soul. Here lie the country's heroes: Paul Keres, chess master; Georg Ots, baritone; Lydia Koidula, poet; and Konstantin Pats, Estonia's 1930s president who died imprisoned in Siberia. Graves in the cemetery are spaced far apart, perhaps in reaction to centuries spent under foreign domination. Our guide Evelyn summed it up this way: "Estonians don't want nieghbours, even in death." A Tallinn primer: Estonia's population is 1.5 million with 430,000 in the capital. Sixty-five per cent speak Estonian, 32 per cent Russian. The language is related to Finnish. Golden Tulip's five-star Park Consul Schlossle, (372) 699-7700, is in a 15th-century complex in the heart of the Old Town. The Olumpia Hotel, phone (372) 631-5315, is within walking distance of the Old Town. It was built for sailing events during the 1980 Olympics. The Balthasar and Karl Friedrich restaurants are both on Raekoja Square. Canadians need a visa for Estonia, but one issued for Latvia is accepted. For details, contact the Embassy of the Republic of Estonia, 2131 Massachussetts Ave. NW, Washington, D.C., 20008, phone (202) 588-0101. Adventures Abroad offers a nine-day tour of the three capitals and other Baltic tourist sites. It starts in Vilnius and ends in Tallinn. The price is $1,976 a person sharing a room. Future tours are on Sept. 17 this year and on May 6, June 10, July 15 and Sept. 16, 2001. Contact Adventures Abroad, 2148-20800 Westminster Highway, Richmond, B.C., V6V 2W3, phone (800) 665-3998 or (604) 303-1099, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org .
Visas for Estonia are issued in Canada by the Consulate of Estonia, 958 Broadview Ave., Suite 202, Toronto, M4K 2R6, phone (416) 461-0764, fax (416) 461-0353. Visas for Canadians are not issued in Washington, D.C. Visas issued by the Consulate are valid for Latvia as well. Incorrect information appeared last Saturday. (Saturday, July 29, 2000. Page T2)