Visby

Travelling 200 nautical miles from Stockholm, we reached Visby, Sweden. Although near its country’s capital, this UNESCO heritage site couldn’t have felt further away. Located on Gotland, Sweden’s largest island, Visby is a scenic seaside city famed for its 12C walls.

Hopping off the shuttle bus, we strolled the promenade before basking in the breeze on some nearby hammocks.

Visby Botanical Garden

DBW’s Botanical Gardens

Resuming our walk, we traced the walls 3 minutes North, to explore DBW’s Botanical Gardens. Featuring pools, pretty plants, century-old trees and a Japanese gazebo, the gardens made the perfect selfie spot.

Screenshot 2021-12-29 at 09.24.12

City Walls

Delighted, we headed back into the city to wander around its famed fortifications. Made with limestone and terracotta tiles, the walls include 27 large and nine small towers, testimony to Visby’s days as a trading tour de force.

Such was its success as centre of commerce that in the 12C all the merchant routes of the Baltic were channelled through Visby, which led to it becoming a 13C metropolis, with warehouses, churches and town halls.

War and piracy saw Visby fall as an international trade hub; however the city continued to develop with housing and warehouses added in the 18C, as well as schools, a hospital, and a prison added in the 19C.

Stopping to read the historical signs dotted around the walls, we found the route to St Mary’s Cathedral and followed the path over the hill, until we saw its spires.

Screenshot 2021-12-29 at 09.22.09

St Mary’s Cathedral

With white towers, red tiles, and a Romanesque church style, St Mary’s Cathedral is an imposing sight. Winding our way down to its doors, we were met with the sweet soprano of mass as we entered its nave.

Our eyes followed the sound down the aisle to see chandeliers, a grand gothic alterpiece and pulpit complete with a female priest (a common sight in Sweden’s Lutheran churches). Pausing for a moment, we savoured the sound, before heading back outside.

Screenshot 2021-12-29 at 09.23.41

Sankta Karin Church of the Ruin 

Dazzled by daylight, we got our bearings and headed toward another sacred site, Sankta Karin Church of the Ruin.

With whalebone arches and skeletal columns, the ruins suggest the former glory of the church, which now stands in stark contrast to the rest of the town centre.

Built in 1233, the church was modified in the 13, 14 and 15 Centuries, but never truly completed. Instead it partially collapsed and fell into disuse in the 16C. Now its ruins literally support local businesses, such as a neighbouring café, with which it shares a wall.

Screenshot 2021-12-29 at 09.30.48

Stortorget, Main Square

Inspired, we sought refreshment in a nearby pub, with a pint of Gotlands Bryggeri local beer. Enjoying its tangy taste, we plotted our previous steps on the map, and people-watched shoppers in the market square.

charlotte karlsson

Gotland Museum

Before heading back to the bus, there was one final stop I wanted to make, The Gotland Museum. Intrigued by the promise of local art, I headed to the museum’s gallery section.

Upon entering I was greeted with scintillating ceramics, in both abstract art and functional fun pieces, like the petal-shaped plates of Charlotte Karisson’s work.

Visby Art Gallery 3

Moving up to the next floor, I was delighted with a double exposed photography collection, as well as a giant textile intestine installation. The medical themed work continued in the next room with glass-textile test-tube trinkets.

Taking stock of all I’d seen, I rejoined the group, to share my sight-seeing stories.

Tallinn

Tallinn Town Hall Square

 

Sailing two days East from Copenhagen, our Capital Cities of the Baltic Cruise closed in on Estonia’s historical haven, Tallinn. 

 

Tallinn Freedom Square

Freedom Square

Gangway cleared, we hopped in a taxi to the World-Heritage Site of Tallinn’s Old Town.  Detouring, we passed the colossal concrete Freedom Square, featuring a 23.5m high glass Cross of Liberty (Victory Colum) honouring those lost during the Estonian War of Independence.

Running from 1918–1920, the War of Independence saw Estonia fight for freedom first from Russian, then German occupation, before the Tartu Peace Treaty recognised its sovereignty.

Now a selfie hotspot, the square is bordered to the East by St. John’s Church, to the South by an underground shopping center and to the West by the Victory Column.

Keen to see more, we headed North inside the walls of the Old Town.

St. Mary's Cathedral Tallinn

St. Mary’s Cathedral

Starting at the top, we entered St. Mary’s Cathedral, a sublime structure complete with many Med Evil coats of arms and a 69-metre Baroque bell tower.  After an awesome ascent we reached the best view in town, which showed Tallinn’s hidden gems shining in the sun; none more so than the golden tops of Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. 

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral Tallinn

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral

Lured by its striking sight, our next stop was to the Eastern Orthodox build. Here stately steps lead to chequered floors, fabulous frescos, chandeliers, and inspiring iconostases. Such splendor made it difficult to focus on any one feature, but soon all heads rose to the sound of the Cathedral’s bells.  With 11 bells in its ensemble, Alexander Nevsky’s tower boasts Tallinn’s largest bell, which weighs an impressive 15 tonne.


Tallinn Town Walls

Tallinn Town Walls

Seeking a quieter spot we headed away from the Cathedral, to trace the Town Walls. Giving the UNESCO site its fairy-tale façade, the Town Walls feature terracotta turrets, arches and walkways sublime for snaps. 

As well as being beautiful, these features allow Tallinn to claim status as one of Europe’s best-preserved medieval fortifications, with its structure dating back to the 14th century and 1.9 km of original wall remaining.  To further examine the walls visitors can climb up Nunna tower, but we chose to admire them from afar at the Patkuli viewing platform.

The Raeapteek

The Raeapteek

Down the steps, 10 minute’s walk from the platform, is the Town Hall Square, where modern market stalls are edged by ancient architecture, such as the Raeapteek (Old Pharmacy).

The Raeapteek’s unassuming threshold leads visitors upstairs, before revealing two rooms, a working chemist and a museum of Apothecary. The latter room holds ornate wooden cabinets and glass displays of herbs and medicine books from the Middle -Ages.

Dating back to 1422, the building is the oldest continually operating pharmacy in Europe. Its early days saw it function not just a place of healing, but of socialising, where town folk would meet for a gossip and goblet of wine.

Restaurant Troika

Thirsty for our own refreshments, we headed to the nearby haunt Restaurant Troika.  With tables overlooking the plaza, this Eastern eatery was perfect for people watching.  Once set with tankards of beer, we pondered passers-by and the delectable dishes being served around us.

Then, as musicians struck up from the restaurant doorway, our attention was drawn to the décor within.  As we entered, a stuffed grizzly bear stood arms outstretched, ready to greet us. Then, next to it, a life-sized Matryoshka doll stood, begging to be cuddled. The old eastern décor was complete with the waiting staff’s sarafan costumes and hearty hospitality.

Mercado De Flores

Reinvigorated we headed back to the ship, making one last stop at Mercado De Flores.  Just three minutes walk from the plaza, the Flower Market was well worth the detour. Bright botanical bunches assaulted our senses, with posies for every price range. Tulips, carnations and wildflowers were just some of the delights on offer. In the end I opted for a bouquet of velvet red roses, accented with cornflowers – the symbol of Estonia.

Once back on the ship we swapped tips for Tallinn travellers: bring walking shoes, a tourist map and spending money for the beautiful boutiques.