Last weekend I’ve finally made that short trip to Estonia’s capital Tallinn which I have written about when I came back from Stockholm. Thus below you can find a list of seemingly random notes and observations from this short trip.
Going to Estonia is simple, rather quick and Finns do it almost as often as they hop on a bus or tram. And judging by the frequency of ferries and boats floating between Helsinki and Tallinn, one would quite even easily find connections with city transportation. However, on a second thought this is hardly surprising as the whole travel business to Tallinn is mainly propelled by the alcohol tourism I’ve already written about when I went to Stockholm. Although going to Tallinn is so much quicker that there are several, often sold out, boats a day connecting the two capitals. Another big difference between Stockholm and Tallinn is that in Tallinn retail businesses have developed around the idea of people getting there to buy booze. Check out the gallery for more details on that. It’s quite nuts, but I think I’m actually slowly becoming adjusted to this and might begin losing interest in booze amusement. Or maybe not.
I’ve never before been to either Estonia or Tallinn and I was pleasantly surprised with Tallinn. It’s a wonderful medieval city of completely manageable size. I’ve spent two days there and it was definitely enough for a first impression, although I will definitely return for more as there are other interesting sites around Tallinn that need to be explored. While the surprising tidbit is that the first thing upon entering Estonia I was asked by a female border control officer: “When are you going back?” Back where? Oh, the idiocy of borders.
The city of Tallinn itself has an old part which is enclosed within medieval city walls where I found a mash of cobbled narrow streets and passages. A real gem for strolling and enjoying a surprising historical and architectural varieties. The heart of old town is a small knob from atop of which you can get a fantastic view of the city and beyond, if the weather is nice … and weather-wise it was definitely a jump into the future (at least comparing to Helsinki, not to mention Jyväskylä) as there was no snow, anywhere.
Large part of the second day of my stay in Tallinn I’ve spent in the Kadriorg part of the city. It’s one of the nicest and these days is becoming even a prestigious residential area. Otherwise Kadriorg is known for it’s wooden architecture (similar to Puukäpylä in Helsinki). Just as I’ve mentioned the prestigiousness of Kadriorg I should mention that it is almost immediately evident that social differences are huge in Estonia. These are reminiscent of wild forms of capitalism based either on bad legislation or high corruption, or both. I don’t know which is the case in Estonia, but the social differences are evident even to a tourist. And just as in any society where people got rich quickly, the first thing they do is that they go crazy with their big and expensive cars, while at the same time big parts of the city are literally deteriorating and it took Estonia more than ten years to build a single museum of art. And that museum of art is KUMU in Kadriorg. The average gross income in Estonia is 520€ (for comparison, in Finland that amount is around 2500€). Enough said.
Estonia has only around 1,3 million residents and it regained its independence in 1991 after the demise of the Soviet Union (it was already independent between the 1918 and 1944 when it was recaptured by the Soviet Union). Considering how few people live in Estonia and that the Russian government used to and still thumps minorities’ rights including their languages, it is surprising that Estonians managed to preserve their language during the Soviet era at all. But even more surprising than this is that recently there have been quite strong tendencies in Estonia to reform the higher education with a brutish lack of understanding: the proposal was that the official language in institutions of higher education would be English. I have a really hard time comprehending such an idea.
There’s a lot of talk that Estonian and Finnish languages are very close. True, they do belong to the same Finno-Ugric language group (actually, linguistically they are even closer, as both languages are Baltic-Finnic). But just how close actually are Estonian and Finnish languages? Not that close. I’ve spoken about the issue to both Finns and Estonians and both could point out similarities in words and grammar whereas on the functional level languages cannot be interchanged. Thus both tend to use English for straightforward communication. Both languages don’t have a distinctive future tense, both use inflection of words and both lack grammatical gender, however Estonian words are usually much shorter than Finnish counterparts, while some words have completely different meanings in the two languages.
All in all I’ve really had a great time in Estonia and will definitely visit again. And if you get a chance, I encourage you to go.
Have a good one,