EstoniaPosted: June 10, 2011
Arriving in Estonia feels like the last leg of a long journey. In some ways, as we will be catching a ferry to our next country Finland, it feels like we are leaving the continent of Europe, even though that’s not strictly true; Scandinavia is a new horizon.
We hop, skip and jump to the capital of Estonia, Tallinn, landing only overnight in the Port city of Parnu. I have been really looking forward to Tallinn, largely due to a photo and a story in the travel section of the Daily Telegraph.
The first thing we do is visit a travel agent and book our ferry to Helsinki the next day. We did hope to do a side trip to St Petersburg and it is possible to drive there, but we would need to wait 10 days for a visa. We decide to see if we can do it from Finland instead.
Tallinn began as a small wooden settlement and grew to be one of the most important and prosperous trading posts in Europe. 850 years old, it boasts one of the best preserved old towns. Its ancient city wall is encircled by a glass and steel constructed city, a modern metropolis.
The old town is a myriad of cobbled alleyways and scores of spires and steeples. A stroll can go any direction and it will always be good. Here, more than all other ex communist cities, the dark, old, grey, tattered overcoat of the Soviet era has been purposefully shrugged off.
Walking along side the ancient city wall, its interesting to reflect that Estonia is well and truly part of a modern era. Skype was invented here and Estonia has one of the best parental leave plans I have ever heard of. Either parent can take 18 months on 100% of their previous salary and still be ensured their job. The country clearly wants to grow and has the confidence to do so.
The city is “groovy”. Boutique hotels are thriving. Interesting shops offer oodles of quality souvenirs, wool, felt, linen and timber. Cafes and restaurants are “cool” with a splash of Bohemian; textured cushions sitting on textured bench seats. The Savoy Hotel recommended for dinner by The Daily Telegraph is a wonderful choice; tiny private rooms, warm and inviting make me want to organize a celebration here with friends. The food is excellent, as described a modern take on traditional cuisine; for us, a sample plate and salad of herring, pressed veal cheek, duck with spicy lentils and beetroot, and braised pork.
We finish the evening with a walk to the top of town to a well documented view of the terracotta rooftops, many of the 20 remaining castle towers and church spires and through to the Baltic sea.
As we sit in the car park queue to board the ferry to Helsinki I reflect on two opposing forces. One wants to stay and explore more of Tallinn. I have read of fascinating things to see and do here. For example, there is an exhibition in the Hotel Viru on the 23rd floor where the KGB used to spy on foreigners http://www.viru.ee; there is a newly opened section of the seven mile long tunnels underneath the city; and as Tallinn is this year Europes City of Culture, there are 7000 events including a theatre made from straw and staging Old Town Days music, puppets and the national passion, singing. http://www.tallinn2011.ee
The other is a stronger urge, to move on. We don’t know what is ahead of us and we have commitments we want to keep.
The Baltics have surprised us a lot, and their future looks bright! Particularly I have been charmed by Tallinn; Riga also, a city to further explore as is Vilnius. It’s been fun to trade in Lati’s, Litai’s and Kroons, whilst part of the EU, not yet on the Euro. Not forgetting the past, The Baltics are embracing the future. Being part of the EU gives them a strength and protection they had never previously had, and they are gaining the confidence to be themselves again, they are independent. Next time I want to see more of their unique culture, the folk laws, the costumes, the music, the dance, the singing!!!
I had never imagined coming to this part of the world. Now I am sure I will return.