A Vintage Submarine And Icebreaker In Tallinn’s Seaplane Harbour

Tallinn has been an important port and Estonia’s connection with the world since before recorded history. Because of this, the city has not one, but two museums dedicated to the sea. The Maritime Museum is housed in Fat Margaret, an old cannon tower that once protected the harbor. It has the usual assortment of old photos and gear, along with a very cool exhibit on sunken ships.

The other museum is far more interactive. Housed in an old seaplane hanger dating to World War I, Tallinn’s Seaplane Harbour Museum is filled with old ships and other maritime bric-a-brac.

Estonians seem to favor odd lighting in their museums. The Bastion Tunnels have a weird combination of red, yellow, and purple lights. At the Seaplane Harbor museum they seem to favor purple and blue. It gives the place a spooky under-the-sea feel.

Dominating the exhibit is the Lembit, a submarine built in 1936 by the English company Vickers and Armstrongs for the Estonian Navy. When Estonia fell to the Soviet Union in 1940 it was incorporated into the Red Banner Baltic Fleet of the Soviet Navy and saw action against the Axis powers. It managed to sink two ships and damage another.

Climb aboard and you’ll see an almost perfectly preserved submarine that was the cutting edge of technology of its time. You can visit the control room, periscope, radio room, torpedo tubes and cramped crewmen’s bunks all pretty much as they were. It didn’t feel too cramped to me until I read that it housed a crew of 32. Then I decided to enlist in the Army. Check out the gallery for some photos of this fascinating sub.

%Gallery-179305%As you walk around your eyes will be drawn upward by the two giant rotating propellers hanging from the ceiling. They’re so big you might miss the seaplane fitted with skis suspended nearby. A walkway takes you past other historic ships and an extensive collection of mines, presumably defused.

This is a fully interactive museum with touchscreen displays to teach you more about what you’re seeing. You can also man an antiaircraft gun and see how good you’d be defending Tallinn from an enemy air force. Then hop aboard a reproduction Sopwith Camel and try out a flight simulator. While I managed to save Tallinn from the bad guys, my flying skills showed that I should keep my driving on the ground.

Once you’re done with the indoor exhibits, head out back to visit the Suur Tõll, an icebreaker built in 1914 that saw service for several decades, clearing the Baltic Sea lanes during cold winters. Like with the Lembit, it’s well preserved and you can wander all over it. It seemed vast and luxurious compared with the submarine. The officer’s mess looked as big as a ballroom (it wasn’t), the quarters for the crew felt sumptuous (not!) and the engine room was like some Industrial Revolution factory. It takes a pretty tough person to be a sailor, and someone twice as tough to work in a submarine.

If you are at all interested in technology or the sea, don’t miss this place. Your kids will love it too. The museum has an excellent and reasonably priced little restaurant overlooking the hanger in case you get hungry.

Read the rest of my series: “Exploring Estonia: The Northern Baltics In Wintertime.”

Coming up next: Estonia’s Rich Art and Literature Scene!

[Photo by Sean McLachlan]

Alaskan village building $76 million airport – for 100 people

The Alaskan village of Akutan is home to 100 permanent residents and 900 seasonal workers. Like many Alaskan communities, Akutan makes its money off seafood production. At the moment, the village is only reachable by a 70 year old sea plane – and they are quickly running out of parts for it.

The solution is a new airport. The facility will transport people on the 20 minute flight to the town of Unalaska where they can connect to other flights. Like most Alaskan transportation services – this route is extremely heavily subsidized.

The new airport will cost a whopping $76 million. The sea plane currently carries 5500 people annually, so some simple math shows that in the first ten years of operation, the tax payers are forking over $1350 for every single passenger using the facility. This doesn’t even include any additional costs of operating the airport (another $500,000 each year).

Larry Cotter, the chief executive of the Aleutian Pribilof Island Community Development Association says the following about the airport:

“Some people are probably positing, ‘Oh, it’s another Bridge to Nowhere, except it’s an airport to nowhere. Anybody who says that is really ignorant.”

Well, call me ignorant, but I don’t understand why a village of 100 permanent residents needs a $76 million airport. If the current sea plane is falling apart, wouldn’t the best solution be a new sea plane? Alaska has 256 airports, and even the smallest of them may only serve 40 people – costing millions to build and maintain.

Then again, when you read that Chicago’s O’Hare is spending $6.6 billion on its renovation plan, $76 million seems like a bargain.%Gallery-76818%

Before you leave, be sure to check out Episode 3 of Gadling’s Travel Talk TV! They’re in VEGAS, BABY!