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Sunday, July 21, 2013

Tallinn, Estonia - Cutest Place You've Never Been

Where the heck is Estonia?  Ok, kids, see the tiny green spot?
View Across the Old City Walls
St Alexander Nevsky Cathedral - Russian Orthodox

Just took a Baltic cruise on the Emerald Princess, a small boat holding about half the population of Estonia.  Matter of fact, our first port was Tallinn, Estonia.  So, let’s get the jokes out of the way.

What is the Capital of Estonia?  No Tallinn.

Where is it?  At the ‘Tal-linn’ of Europe.

Once you stop rolling around and brush the dust off, here’s another thing you should know.  Although we pushed through St Petersburg, Russia, Helsinki, Finland, Stockholm, Sweden, Oslo, Norway, and Copenhagen, Denmark, Tallinn was the crown jewel of the trip.
Beauty is everywhere, including this outdoor cafe
14th Century St Olav's Church in the background

Not saying any of those were bad places to visit, and especially St Petersburg is a fabulous blend of history and art.  Nevertheless, Tallinn’s old, walled-city charm, friendly people, and hometown atmosphere captured my heart.

Anybody know that Estonia is a part of the European Union and uses Euros as their currency?  I didn’t.  Unlike previous jokes to the contrary, this is not the tail-end of Europe, but a surprisingly robust and sophisticated city.

You might want to know where the odd sounding name came from.  Sorry, f-f-f-folks, I don’t know.  Hard to say with certainly and any translation is rough, at best.  Could have come from old Danish, meaning Stable Town, or Castle Town, or the name may come from any number of old Finnish words.  But, officially, Tallinn hasn’t been Tallinn for long.  Up until independence (1918-20), the place was called Reval (Ray-vaal).

Not to put too fine a point on it, Tallinn’s creaky and blood spattered past creeps back some 5000 years.  Since then, it’s been a vicious political playground, cross-stitched with conquerors from all across Scandinavia, as well as Germany, and the Soviet Union.  In recent history, Estonia’s 20th Century independence only lasted twenty-two years before Hitler’s and Stalin’s so-called Non-aggression Pact allowed the Soviets to march in.  Between then and the fall of the Soviet Union, Estonia was definitely a land of tears and regret.  Huge portions of the population were ‘resettled,’ over and over.  When Germans and Russians were not slaughtering people, thousands of others were being moved east to populate Siberian Gulags.  The last Russian troops left in 1994.  Since 1991, Estonia has once again been free.  They’re proud of their freedom and know first hand what the alternative is.

Talk about a bounce back!  Today, the Estonians are hailed as one of the freest people in the world.  Their economy is booming and Estonia is listed as one of the most ‘wired’ countries in the world.  In Tallinn, free internet is available everywhere.  The government functions as an e-government, or electronic government.  Yes, the representatives and prime minister meet in person, but they also vote through the internet, as does the general population.  Want to know what a citizen friendly place this is?  Balanced budget.  Nil public debt.  Flat rate tax.  Free trade.  Think this might lead to an economic boom?  Here’s the kicker:  Estonia is practically energy independent, producing 90% of their electricity from locally mined shale oil.

Tallinn is also a beautiful city.  I snapped photos ‘til my fingers went numb.  As with most small countries that rely on commerce, Estonians have their own language, but also speak a variety of second, third, fourth and fifth languages.  When I say ‘speak,’ I mean they can joke with you using American slang, then turn and babble on in Russian, or Finnish.

The prices in Tallinn are comfortable.  Unlike most of Scandinavia, you can sip a beer without taking out a loan.  Hand knitted wool sweaters are about half the price they are in Norway.

Ok, men, let’s cut to the chase….literally….Estonian women are gorgeous and unlike most Scandinavians, even vertically challenged men who have no hope of making the basketball traveling squad, still have a significant chance of finding that Cupid’s arrow did not overshoot by six inches.

Our Guide on the right.  By the way, SPB Tours is excellent

Yes, on all counts, Tallinn is a lovely piece of the globe and the only city on our trip where I would joyfully spend a summer, sipping morning coffees in the cafes, having fabulous open-air lunches, and snapping photos until my forefinger had calluses, while sloshing down an afternoon beer, and sucking in great gulps of the fresh sea air. If under threat of bodily harm, I might even take my wife.

The 7th Century Market Square.  Nearby is Europe's oldest Pharmacy and the birth place of Marzipan.

The woman is stylish and has that ...Je ne sais quoi...and with all my heart and soul I want to know  quoi!

Back to the ship!  Emerald Princess on the right.


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