the trip thus far:
Heading to Estonia for a tournament I had little expectation or knowledge about the Nordic country. Much to my surprise as I posted to facebook about heading there, many of my friends sent me notes about what a great place it was and immediately my interest was peaked. The second that we landed in Tallin I was hooked- this is the BEST airport, full of story telling and enchanting scenery, that I have ever seen (designers seeking inspiration- take note - go hang out in this airports lounge for an hour or two)! We stayed in an area of Tallin known as Old Towne, which pretty much meant living within the walls of an old castled village. The air bnb that we stayed in was from the 13th century, whose high ceilings and old walls often made for ghost jokes. The hidden fortresses beneath the castle grounds and dungeon tours added to the creepy allure of the old town. The city was filled with adorable shops and cafes, all of which are lit up by fire at night which is warm and enchanting. Lining the outside of the castle walls are lush greens and areas for weekly staged events. We were lucky to be in town during a Russian festival, marathon race through the city, and multiple musical events. The area is filled with events and activity which is surprising for a country of only 1.5 Million people.
I was completely intrigued with the area and its history. It's still lingering link to Russia hangs overhead. There are many Estonians who have passports aligned with NO country because of the gray area that lies from Estonia's separation from Russia. The Russian festival was extremely interesting to see, as Estonians seems to hold a bit of anger towards the Russian culture.
Additionally intriguing about Estonia is its history of tourism. Starting in the 70's it was decided that sex would sell the city. Because of this you still find nightclubs and sleezy-esqe shops amidst a town that is now focused purely on its historical value and beauty. Most interesting (and not surprising) is that in the 90's when the country decided to shift its tourism pull to the majestry of the area, that the tourism more than doubled. Although some shady men seem to linger in the area, I am sure due to the lust-filled past, the majority of tourists today seemed to be older couples.
On a personal note, my husband's favorite thing about Tallin was learning that someone with his surname- El Idrissi- was praised as the cartographer that put Estonia on the map originally. This fun fact led him to walking the streets exclaiming that he discovered the land. Not embarrassing at all.
What was equally surprising was the great tech advances that the country has, despite the exposure to such an old city. Every citizen has a card that enables them to do just about everything- pay for groceries, sign paperwork online, file taxes... imagine Minority Report where retinal scans are used, this card is one step behind that. It was explained to me how much time and energy is saved because of the great tech used in Estonia. Since the country is so small much of the political bureaucracy works well together, which allows for lots of usual paperwork to be taken care of at home, simply and efficiently. DMV stuff can be done at home- on your computer you log in, and it gives you a time to show up, no waiting in lines! This made me so jealous! More time for what matters for Estonians.
The one thing we wish we had been able to do was take a ferry to Finland...or Russia...as many told us that both trips were thuroughly enjoyable. Unfortunately we didn't have time but would be sure to do it if we ever returned!
If you find yourself in Tallin- be sure to grab some tours in old city, enjoy some mexican at TACOs, grab a ferry ride, attend a free show, grab coffee in the town center, and ask questions to locals about the fabulous cards that citizens use.
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