My birthday treat this year was a guided tour around Tallinn Old Town, including the secret underground tunnels and passages. Yay!
I got to picture the Old Town as it was all those years ago, and hear stories that made it come to life in my head. I was also delighted when, as we were standing in a dark underground cave, the guide shone her torch at the ceiling and said “and you can see here some stalactites – they are very little, but they are there!”. And they were indeed. I’d never seen stalactites before. They’re another of those things that I used to read about all the time in Enid Blyton books, and so they’ve got a strangely mystical, enchanted significance for me.
It added to the surreal feeling I always get from walking through hidden passageways. The faint light, the shadows, the echoes, the inexplicable urge to speak in a whisper… it was great.
“May I ask if anyone is scared of spiders?” asked the guide, as she prepared to lead us out of the magical stalactite cave into an uneven-looking tunnel. Several girls looked slightly nervous. The guide continued. “There is a spider who lives in the tunnels,” she explained gravely. “It is the biggest spider we have in Estonia… I tell you this because it is protected.”
I’m not overly scared of spiders, as you know, but really. This girl had just described some sort of legendary resident of the tunnels, probably about a metre tall. I imagined a monster spider with hairy legs as thick as lampposts, who ate unsuspecting tourists, and would win every fight because it was protected by law, and perhaps even bodyguards. If this spider jumped out at me and started to gnaw off my leg, I would be powerless to stop it, because I’d be a convicted criminal if I injured it in self-defence. I began to panic about going deeper into the tunnels.
The guide seemed to notice my horror. “Oh, I don’t mean one spider, obviously” she added hastily. “I mean a type of spider. And when I say big…” She made a relatively unfrightening measurement with her thumb and forefinger. “And anyway, they are scared of light,” she concluded with the smile of one who had unnecessarily terrified several complete strangers, “so when you are taking lots of pictures they will run away and hide. You probably won’t see any. I just thought I’d mention it just in case.” With that, she led us further into the passageways, camera flashes going off all over the place as a kind of protective barrier between Us and It.
The tunnels are quite empty, but for the occasional bed here and there – the underground passages have, in the past, been used as bomb shelters. More recently, they’ve been used by the more resourceful homeless people! What was most intriguing to me was the fact that several of the tunnels were only discovered as recently as 2005, and that they still don’t know where some of them end, owing to a combination of factors such as them being both bricked up and flooded. Divers have been sent down to no avail. This is the sort of thing that gives me my Famous Five thrill, you know.
Best of all was hearing the stories behind the construction work that’s been ongoing at Tallinn’s Freedom Square for some time now. They’re building an underground parking lot, amongst other things, so obviously they’ve been doing a bit of digging. A bit annoying, then, to be going about your work and unexpectedly discover entire sections of old walls and evidence of a stone-age community, wouldn’t you say? It’s quite funny to go and look at the site, where you can very clearly see the deep, excavated area that they’ve prepared for the car park, but with incoveniently positioned bits of Very Old Wall in the middle. I’d imagine that caused a bit of head-scratching; they have, however, gotten around it by deciding to put a glass roof on the parking lot so that the unexpected discoveries can be exhibited.
I have not, however, heard any details about the who the bones belonged to. Yes, bones. It’s like a fast-paced drama series around here, it really is. You can read about the bone discovery by clicking on this link; in the meantime, I’m off to do some sleuthing of my own. I’ve packed my ginger beer and hard-boiled egg. Now, where’s Timmy…?