Tour of the Baltics 2019: Exploring Tallinn, Estonia

For the third stop on CYSO’s Tour of the Baltics, we traveled north from Helsinki to visit Tallinn, the capital of Estonia. Harpist Catherine Ramsey wrote about her impressions of the seaside city, which allowed the orchestra to travel back in time to the Middle Ages with a visit to the city’s historic Old Town and a castle tour. CYSO’s Tallinn concert was held at the charming House of the Blackheads, a 14th century headquarters to a brotherhood of Baltic ship-builders.

Arriving by ferry from Helsinki, for our third stop on tour we got to sample beautiful Tallinn, Estonia. Our bus ride between the hotel and the tourist attractions offered views of lush, green fields and beautiful, dense forests—quite a contrast from the modern part of the city we were staying in. I was surprised to see how well preserved the buildings of Old Tallinn are.

We traveled outside of Tallinn to the Rakvere Castle and participated in a variety of immersive activities that illustrated medieval life in these Estonian communities. Activities included archery—which even Maestro Tinkham tried, learning to make gunpowder, jousting, and a tour of a torture chamber. The visit concluded with the firing of a small cannon, which nearly blew out our eardrums!

Our second day in Tallinn was similarly eventful. It began with a walking tour of Old Tallinn, located just a half mile from our hotel. It was interesting to see modern architecture so close to buildings and monuments from centuries ago. Our informative and entertaining tour guides offered history lessons along the way, giving us greater insight into the rich history of the area. The uneven stone roads made traversing the incline to the “Upper Old Town” both challenging and charming. Luckily, no one is returning home with a broken ankle! Lined with authentic shops and restaurants, the Old Town provided memories to savor.

Following the morning tour, we explored independently and enjoyed lunch in small groups. I was pleasantly surprised to find a wide array of options to eat, including many vegan and gluten-free selections. Fresh seafood, along with summer fruits and vegetables were highlighted in most eateries.

After a few hours for lunch and exploring we headed back to the hotel to change into our concert attire and travel to our Estonian concert venue, the House of the Blackheads (also located in the Old Town).

As the only harpist on tour, I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to have an instrument that was rented for each performance, and I was excited to perform on the same harp in Estonia as I did in Finland. Playing on harps that differ greatly from my own has been an added musical endeavor for me; each instrument has its challenges and benefits, though I am honored to have been able to play on such well-maintained instruments.

Our confidence during the performance in Tallinn was heightened by the smaller venue space. The hall increased our overall volume as an ensemble, and made it easier to communicate while playing. We also added some extra American flair to Copland’s Hoe-Down, the finale of our encore. It reminded us that we come for a good time and not a long time—an important phrase for us to remember as we journey on to the next leg of our tour: St. Petersburg, Russia!



Catherine Ramsey is the principal harpist of CYSO's Symphony Orchestra and is a rising senior at Downers Grove North High School where she participates in the orchestra (harp) and marching band (flute). Catherine shares the music of the harp around the Chicago-land area, regularly performing for private events and public festivals. Aside from music, Catherine enjoys being active and stretching her creative bounds through photography.

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