From the moment the plane touched ground at Tallinn Airport I was in love. We’d been serenaded by a flight attendant on the way over and landed to an eruption of cheers and laughter. Looking out the plane window, all you could see was white – there was no denying that we’d landed in a real winter wonderland.

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Flying over a snow-covered Tallinn

From the airport, Henry and I got a taxi to the AirBnb we were staying at in the subdistrict of Kadriorg. If we’d ever doubted the idea of love at first sight before, Tallinn was definitely proving how real this notion was. The taxi fare from the airport to our apartment was only €8, and the front door of our room was decorated with a love-heart shaped chalkboard reading ‘Welcome Kachina and Friend’ …. I don’t think that anything other than ‘aawwww’ can perfectly describe our reaction to our warm welcome to Estonia’s capital.

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Upon wandering the streets of Tallinn in the early evening, it became very apparent to us that a) it was VERY cold (it was meant to be -10c, but due to a Siberian cold front, it was a very crisp -25c!) and b) the only tourists that scattered the cobbled streets of the Old Town were Russian. It surprised us to learn that Estonia was still a much-kept secret on the tourist map. While we were only there for 5 days, Tallinn is definitely somewhere I not only plan to return to one day, but somewhere I’d highly recommend visiting!

Stuck for ideas on what to do? I’ve got you covered 😉

Quick Facts:
Tallinn Population: 444, 085
Estonia Population: 1.325 million
Language: Estonian, but most people speak English very well
Currency: Euro
Fun Facts: – Free wifi is basically a human right in the capital of Tallinn, so almost everywhere you go, you’ll have access to free, unlimited (fast!) wifi.
– Due to high IT infrastructure, Tallinn has a large and very supportive start-up scene – big e-commerce names like Skype have offices in the capital city!

Tallinn Must-do’s:

SEE

Christmas Markets
If you’re in the city around Christmas time, the Markets are not to be missed. Whilst similar to many of the other Christmas Markets that adorn Europe during the festive season, Tallinn with it’s fluffy white blanket of snow make for a real fairy-tale. There’s no such thing as Bah-humbug when snow-covered cobbled streets, market stalls, glögg and plenty of singing and cheer surround you!

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Tallinn Christmas Markets

– Alexander Nevsky Cathedral
The Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is an Orthodox cathedral in Tallinn. The building was designed during the Russian Revival, which explains the architectural feats.

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– Toompea
Not far from the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is Toompea Hill; a popular spot for getting photos of both the Old Town and the CBD.

– Kalamaja
Kalamaja is a cool, little artsy district, located West of the Old Town. An ideal place to put the map away and get lost in the art-filled streets.

EAT

– Frenchy, Telliskivi 60A
If the name didn’t already give it away, Frenchy is a French bistro located in the Telliskivi Centre. One of the many great things about Estonia is the comparably low cost of living prices. A 3-Course dinner with wine for two at Frenchy (and most eateries in Tallinn) only set us back about €20-30. It’s totally worth it! The food at Frenchy was exquisite! All of our meals were served in quick time, presented beautifully and tasted amazing!

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Roasted Mediterranean Vegetables and a glass of red (of course!)

– Torokse Talupood-Kohvik, Soo 26
Blink and you’ll miss this quaint eatery. Nestled in the basement of one of the many Soviet-style buildings that line the streets of suburban Tallinn in Torokse Talupood-Kohvik, a small trattoria style eatery that serves traditional Estonian food in a Plat-du-jour kind of fashion. Historically, Estonian food is fairly bland; the purpose of food 100 years ago was to keep one warm and full, so quite often it was potatoes and meat for dinner. Now however, Estonians are upping the anti on their local cuisine and adding spices and other amazing products to create really tasty food!

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On the menu: Chicken with potatoes, radish salad and dipping cream.

– Nop Café and Shop
Nop is a very popular café amongst locals and travellers alike! Located in the charming, woody neighborhood of Kadriorg, Nop is an organic café in a traditional wooden building, with a garden out back to envy! Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, there is definitely something for everyone here!

DO

Telliskivi Loomelinnak
The Telliskivi Creative City is a creative hotspot just outside of Tallinn’s Old Town. The centre hosts several small creative companies, as well as eateries, studios, NGO’s and start-ups. To really make the most of the area, the best part of a day is needed. Hours are so easily lost as you traipse around the cute boutique style creative stores, sip on coffee in one of the many cafes or enjoy a meal at one of the great restaurants on site. In addition to what’s inside, outside is decorated with lots of street art and public art spaces – a visit to the Telliskivi Centre is not just a must-do, but also an experience!

– Kalma Sauna, ‪Vana Kalamja 9A Sauna, Tallinn
Walking past the building of the Kalma Sauna, you wouldn’t think that there was anything very special inside. The exterior is very much so Soviet, but the interior, well that’s a whole new story! If you want a really authentic Estonian experience without any tourists, this is the place to go! The saunas are traditional wood-fire saunas, so they get VERY hot – if you’re not used to high temperatures, you’ve been warned! Women and men are separated into separate rooms. You strip off (sauna-ing naked is how they do it here!), and step foot in the sauna room, where you switch between shower, sauna and plunge pool. I was the only Westerner there when I visited, and I must admit, it was quite thrilling! If getting in the nude with strangers isn’t really your thing, there are also private saunas. But they aren’t nearly as fun (I went back a second time so that I could try both).

– Get Lost!
Throw away the map you won’t need it here! Tallinn is such a great city, and is relatively small, so easy to navigate around. When we were venturing around the city (sans map), we came across some amazing cafes and Soviet-time antique shops that we wouldn’t have necessarily found had we stuck to the typical tourist route. If the thought of going cold turkey on Google Maps gives you anxiety, you can rest easy knowing that free wifi is basically a human right in all of Estonia. So if you find yourself totally and utterly lost, switch the wifi on your phone and you’ll be reachable in no time!

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Enjoying the sunset from Riigikogu (Parliament). So many layers make me look super chubby, whilst Henry can’t open his eyes for a photo to save his life.

Paris, it’s one of those cities that people tend to love or hate. Moi? J’adore la ville de l’amour! For me, Paris is the most luscious, romantic city. I know how clichéd that is – but hey, it’s a cliché for a reason 😉

Having visited France’s capital city a number of times, I’ve managed to ‘tick off’ most of the key tourist activities, like go to the top of the Eiffel Tower, see the Mona Lisa and marvel at the intricate details that adorn the Arc De Triumph. Whilst all of these things were fantastically fun, I’m finding now, on my most recent trips that my desires are steering more towards experiencing the city of love as a Parisian.

Like most cities, Paris has a lot to offer outside of the tourist landmarks. Here are some of my favourite things to do in the French capital as well as some tips on how to localise yourself and a handy downloadable PDF French language cheat sheet all for you!

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Swivel 180 degrees to your left and you’ll see Shakespeare and Company.

 


Shakespeare and Company

One of the cutest bookstores you’ll ever visit! From Gare du Nord, walk directly south to the river Seine. Walk along the river towards Notre Dame, stop and admire the magnificent architecture and cross the road. Directly opposite is Shakespeare and Company, an English bookstore for readers and writers alike to satiate all of their literary needs.

Parc des Butte Chaumont

If you’re a Friend’s fan, you’ll recognise the title Parc des Butte Chaumont – there’s a picture in Monica’s apartment. Enjoy a romantic picnic with a killer view at this off-the-tourist-map park. Obviously cheese and wine is required.

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Picture this: Oh wait, you don’t have to. This is the sweet view of the Sacre Couer from Parc des Butte Chaumont.

Shopping

When people think of Paris, they think of shopping. Particularly down the Champs-Élysées. While you’ll be ticking off a major “tourist to-do”, the better (and cheaper and less crowded) shops are out of the city. I loved Creteil, a huge mall filled with all of your favourite European stores. It’s super easy to get to, simply take the green RER from Gare du Nord to Creteil – the station for the mall.

Tips

– Talk to the locals in French! Even just a short ‘bonjour’ will do; the French really appreciate people putting in effort. Failing to do so might very well result in some awkwardness!
– Forget taxis use public transport. The train system in Paris is really easy to navigate around and cheap! Or better yet, hire a bike or walk!

Bon journée!

Click below to get your free French cheat sheet!

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There’s nothing that quite compares to skating around an ice rink, with a cold nose as Christmas carols fill the air. Whilst the weather is bitter, the atmosphere is warm and joyous. As you pause mid-lap on the ice skating rink, you take in your surroundings… You’re bound by old buildings and market stalls, the area is scattered with people chatting, laughing and drinking gluhwein. This is Christmas in Bruges, Belgium.

 

Christmas. It seems to creep up quicker and quicker every year. With the holiday season right around the corner, I’m sure there are plenty of you that are getting ready to pack your bags and travel to wherever it is the rest of your family are. For some of you, that trip might only be a short one, for others it may require a day’s travel. Or, if you’re really lucky, your family might be headed out to a destination Christmas!

 

Last year, my family did just that. We packed our bags and boarded a plane to Belgium. This was particularly exciting as it was to be our first family Christmas together for a very long time – my Dad works night shifts, so for as long as I can remember, Christmas mornings were spent waiting for Dad to get home from work before opening presents. As you can imagine, as a little girl waiting to open presents from Santa Clause was one of the hardest things in the world!
Leaving Sydney a few days before the arrival of Mr. Clause was a mixed experience. There was excitement for the coming trip and sadness as I left Henry for the holiday season. Previously, I have spent time in the weeks coming up to Christmas in different countries. I love seeing how different parts of the world prepare for and how they celebrate Christmas, however I’ve never spent Christmas Day abroad.

 

Arriving in Europe was as it always is after a 24 hour-plus flight – manic. We’d arranged to fly into Charles Des Gaulle Airport and pick up a car in the 7th arrondisement – flying into Paris and picking up a car in the CBD were both much cheaper options. However as we drove into Paris’ crazy centre-ville it dawned on us what a terrible idea this was. Anyone who has experienced the traffic in Paris would understand how insane picking up a car right near the Arc de Triumphe is, let alone driving it after minimal sleep! But, by some miracle we managed and drove off in the direction of Bruges, Belgium.

 

Driving through the quaint towns of country France, in the crisp, early winter days made the ungodly 26th hour (guesstimate, it was probably more like the 50th hour – just kidding. But it was a really, REALLY long time!) of travel pleasantly bearable. The small towns were cutely decorated in reds and greens, ready for the arrival of Le Père Noël. After three hours of driving through France and into Belgium, we’d finally made it to Bruges. Driving into the city, we were all in awe at the sight of the abundance of flashing Christmas lights that encircled the area and were then surprised again at the adorable architecture that Europe is well known for. As it turned out, we would be staying in one of the cute two-storey town houses for the week that we were there.
Why/how did we end up in Bruges for Christmas? The idea came to Dad whilst we were Skype chatting when I was living in Montana. It was snowing heavily outside and I commented on how cool it would be to have a white Christmas. At this point in time, the family were deciding whether to come and visit me in Bozeman or wait for a family holiday later on in the year. A couple of days after chatting with Dad, I received a text off him asking if I could talk. I quickly called him and he asked if I’d be upset if they didn’t come to Montana and instead we all went to Europe for Christmas. Initially, I thought he was joking. Turns out he wasn’t. My fleeting comment only a few days prior about a white Christmas had stuck in his head and he decided a white, European Christmas would be an enjoyable experience for all of us. We just had to choose a destination.

Unsurprisingly, the list of possible white Christmas destinations was vast. However, we had managed to limit it to Bruges Belgium, Füssen Germany or Copenhagen Denmark. We ended up choosing Bruges as Copenhagen was out of our price range, and it was more time efficient to get to Bruges than Füssen (however, we were still able to visit Füssen later on in the trip).

 

Unfortunately it didn’t snow while we were in Bruges, but this didn’t lower any Christmas spirit. Our time in Bruges prior to Christmas Day was spent wandering around the city; ice skating, going to the ice sculpture show and meandering around the Christmas markets. Lots of hot chocolates, gluhwein, frites and chocolate in general were consumed.
Christmas in Bruges is definitely what can only be described as a fairy tale experience that is definitely worth encountering.

 

Wishing you all the best for a very Merry Christmas!
Kachina 🙂