Explore capitals of culture

Time Out visits Tallinn in Estonia and Turku in Finland

Explore capitals of culture
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Tallinn, Estonia

Tallin is extremely kind to the 18 to 35 demographic. There’s no way you’re leaving without visiting the gaggle of bars and clubs in the city’s Old Town, as well as the Government District, which boasts magnificent views of the city and sea. In 2011, the city will be serving up something for everyone, spilling over with festivals of music, film, art, theatre, culture and food. The slogan for Tallinn’s ECOC bid was ‘Everlasting Fairytale,’ and organisers declare that the overall themes for the 365-day presentation will bridge the gap between what is real and what is fantasy, making the impossible possible.

Why Tallinn?
Wandering the streets of Tallinn, you’ll notice that, as well as the native Estonians’ contributions, artisans, foodies and architects from Germany, Russia, Scandinavia and Italy have crafted this metropolis as a maritime city that everyone, at one time or another, has passed through. The ECOC tag will serve to solidify and present the true Estonian culture that has emerged after centuries of occupation.

ECOC festivals and events
Barely scratching the surface of the events taking place this year, there are a couple that caught our eye. Tallinn Maritime Days on July 15-17 is a huge, sea-faring festival that involves all sorts of water-related attractions, including boat trips, concerts and activities for kids. The Plektrum Festival on August 24-September 4 is a big draw for technology fans – march your way through a sea of pocket protectors at this electronic culture fest that presents new innovations in everything from robots to electronic music. The existential theme of this year’s festival attempts to tackle the question, ‘what is life?’. Other featured highlights include Birgitta Opera Festival (August 13-21), the August Dance Festival (August 15-31), and the Tallinn Marathon (September 11).

Bars and clubs
A must in Tallinn is a pub-crawl around the city, which is not complete without a visit to Hell Hunt, meaning ‘Gentle Wolf’ (Pikk 39, Tallinn, +372 681 83 33). Nothing goes with good food like good pints, and at Beer House (Dunkri 5, Tallinn, +372 644 22 22), you can enjoy both. This spacious restaurant-brewery just off Town Hall Square produces seven tasty beverages for you to sample. Meanwhile, Club Hollywood (Vana-Posti 8, Tallinn, +372 627 47 70) is the most popular nightclub in Tallinn. Packed and pulsing with energy, its location in the heart of Old Town makes it the perfect place to head to after an evening in the pub. Expect different music and crowds depending on which events are on.

Need to know

Getting there
Fly from Dubai to Tallinn via Schiphol in Holland with KLM from Dhs4,026 return. www.klm.com

Where to stay
Tähetorni Hotell
A simple yet cosy place to stay, this retreat is reasonably priced and has a bunch of nooks and crannies to explore. It offers all the extras and facilities you’ll need, such as breakfast (included in the price) a bar, internet access and a sauna and steam room. From Dhs194 per night. www.thotell.ee/ht

History and geography
• Tallinn is located to the west of Saint Petersburg.
• The old town is listed a UNESCO world heritage site.
• It has a population of 413,290.
• The first traces of habitation here date back to 2500 BC.
• The city was originally a trade route between Russia and Scandinavia.
• Today, Tallinn ranks as a top digital city, with technology being a leading industry. As a result, the city has become known in the press as ‘the Silicon Valley of the Baltic Sea’.

What is the European Capital of Culture?

Each year, the European Union chooses one or more cities to act as European Capital of Culture. During the year, the cities organise a series of cultural events with a strong European dimension. It can be a chance for the participating cities to generate cultural, social and economic benefits, as well as encourage urban regeneration, change the city’s image and raise its international profile. Last year’s ECOC cities were Essenin in Germany, Istanbul in Turkey, and Pécs in Hungary, with Guimarães in Portugal and Maribor in Slovenia taking over the mantle next year.

Turku, Finland

Across the Gulf of Finland from Tallinn, nestled within the Archipelago Sea at the mouth of the Aurajoki River, is picturesque Turku, a notable commercial and passenger seaport city. Declared the oldest city in Finland, Turku was the nation’s first capital and retained this status for hundreds of years until Finland was taken over by the Russians in 1809.

Why Turku?
In 1812, the capital of the Grand Duchy of Finland was transferred to Helsinki. Yet because of Turku’s long history and association with many important historical regional events, Finland’s ‘Official Christmas City’ has been selected as the nation’s representative for the 2011 ECOC, much in the same way that Istanbul, not Ankara (the capital) was Turkey’s representation for the ECOC in 2010.

ECOC festivals and events
The Turku Grand Prix (August 21-22) brings downhill racers to the centre of Turku in an ecological event full of action for the whole family. The race has two categories: downhill vehicles built by amateurs; and racing vehicles built by professionals. Participants are encouraged to build their vehicles from recycled materials and to use a fuel-free ideology as a fun way to raise awareness of climate change. Meanwhile, the Live 2011 Grand Prix media art competition challenged top artists and new, emerging talents from all over the world to deliver media art and novel media applications. The competition resulted in innovative and insightful works that will be showcased in urban spaces at exhibitions and media events, as well as online.

Bars and clubs
When the weather is nice, a myriad of choices present themselves in the boat bars along the riverbank, on the southeast side of the Auransilta bridge. These floating halls will be packed with many merry revellers. For a nice pint and lunch, we recommend Panimoravintola Koulu (Eerikinkatu 18, Turku, +02 274 57 57), a brewery/restaurant housed in an old school.

Need to know

Getting there
Fly from Dubai to Turku with stopovers in Frankfurt and Copenhagen from Dhs4,580 return with Lufthansa. www.lufthansa.com

Where to stay
Hotel Harriet
This budget but trendy minimalist hotel has 21 rooms and options for up to five people sharing. It boasts modern design and is close to the city’s railway station, airport, main square and market. Room rates range
from Dhs120 to Dhs271 a night. www.hotelharriet.fi

History and geography
• Turku is a medieval city rich in architecture and history, located by the Aura River.
• It’s the fifth largest city in Finland, with a population of 177,430.
• In 1996 it was declared a ‘Christmas City’.
• 88 per cent of Turku’s residents speak Finnish, while 5.2 per cent speak Swedish and 6.7 per cent speak other native languages.

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