It continues to be a struggle to write these posts when I’m back home, when I'm not feeling the creative energy of traveling. Writing about Estonia has been particularly difficult, because I loved it so much, and I made some good friends there, and I can't figure out what I want to say about it. It's made even more difficult by the fact that I was there now two months ago. I actually started writing this post as soon as I left, on the boat from Estonia to Sweden, but then have had a hard time framing it. Most people don't know a lot about Estonia, so I want to write about it more generally. But I also wanted to write about specific parts of it that I found meaningful, and I just have not been able to get the flow right. So, this post I'll just talk a bit about Estonia, and why I liked it (and you should too!) and then the next set of posts will be more specific.
Harper and I only decided to go to Estonia, from Helsinki, two days before leaving, in what has perhaps been my most gloriously unplanned trip yet. We expected to spend some time in Tallinn’s Old Town, still in its medieval form, before venturing out into the more rural areas—Lahemaa national park, or the quiet island of Saaremaa. I wanted to be in peaceful areas, in nature, where I could think and write. Instead, we made some good friends in Tallinn, the capital city, and ended up staying the whole time there. In order to have a place to sleep, we had to change AirBNBs three times, cursing our suitcases as we dragged them over cobblestoned streets from neighborhood to neighborhood, but also wishing we could keep doing this forever.
A Really Brief Overview of Estonia
Estonia (pop. 1.3 million) is one of the Baltic States (along with Latvia and Lithuania) and is just south of Finland, north of Latvia, and west of Russia. Even though you may be tempted to call it eastern European, the Estonians I talked to identify much more with Scandinavia than with eastern Europe. As I can make sense of the Wikipedia article, they were occupied by Russia from WWII until 1988, when they declared independence. In 1989, there was the famous Singing Revolution in Estonia, when 300,000 people gathered in Tallinn (the capital) to sing Estonian songs and assert their national pride. At least, I think that's the gist of it—there's a documentary about it that I've been meaning to watch. Anyway, the Estonians I met were very proud to be Estonian, and (understandably) kind of didn't really like the Russians (there were tons of Russians in Tallinn) whom they generally find to be a bit disrespectful as tourists.
The Estonian language is most closely related to Finnish, and completely different than the other Indo-European languages that we know (though it's distantly related to Hungarian.) I can personally attest that they use a truly astonishing number of letters, and in surprising combinations, as well. Our Estonian friend Carl (more about him in the next post) told us that Estonian uses a lot of different types of sounds, so that they are able to pronounce the sounds in other languages more easily, so that they don't have strong foreign accents in most other languages. He also told Harper and me that, when we tried to mimic his Estonian, we sounded like Spaniards, and I found this flattering.
Another thing that people are often surprised to hear is that Estonia is quite high-tech. I guess most people think of that part of the world (eastern Europe, or at least right on top of it) as behind the times, but that's far from the truth. The Estonian government has embraced and utilized technology in a way that makes me wonder why we can't get stuff like that in America. There was free wifi everywhere! You'd think this would be the case in a place like Germany, but no, Germany has terrible wifi availability.
They're also funny! Check out this sign we found at a bar in the super hip Telliskivi area.
But they're also adorably modest, as we saw at this cafe in old town:
And it's cheap! It's literally half the price of everything in Finland. The first time Harper and I went out to eat, we were completely confused, thinking that everything must come in half-portions, if these were the prices. But no, they were full portions!
And the architecture is so neat! The old town of Tallinn is still medieval (it's on the UNESCO World Heritage list), but then the buildings outside old town were a really cool style of wooden house that I had never seen before. This is the part where it would be helpful if I showed you some photos, but I think I didn't take any (the weather was pretty bad most of the time we were there, either raining or overcast—bad photo weather!) But you can see what I mean in some of these Google images.
I've often felt that I was supposed to be born in a small, European country (a topic for another, longer post, perhaps) and Estonia is just the sort of place I had in mind. The only thing wrong with it is that it has terrible weather for 10 months of the year (so I'm told, though it definitely wasn't great in June).
So, Estonia is a really interesting and cool place that everyone should visit. In the next couple of posts, I'll talk more about what I actually did while there!