Things I Learned In Estonia…
1. When to keep the kids home from school; once it officially goes below -24 degrees Centigrade. A government ruling, apparently. -23 degrees and they still have to go. While I was in Tallinn this weekend, it was mild, just -3C. Last June it snowed (admittedly for the first time in 500 years). After a while I got acclimatised enough to the cold that I sat in the park and read a book.
2. Much of Tallinn’s past fabric is intact, which is amazing given its convoluted history. Many thousands were murdered or deported by the Soviets until Stalin finally died in 1953. Estonia invented Skype and has just about the best wi-fi I’ve ever encountered in the world. It also has a bona-fide home-grown classic crime movie; ‘Darkness In Tallinn’ – check it out. I stayed at the very nice Schlossle Hotel, which had weird wall plaques showing who else had stayed there, including Princess Michael of Kent and the Spice Girls. Go figure.
3. It’s early days for the tourist trade. It’s the least populous member of the EU, it’s been out of the Communist grip for just 24 years and people have long memories. They’re technically Finnic but seem quite Russian by nature. They joined the EU in 2004. Tallinn has an extraordinarily unspoiled old quarter, too many amber shops, and a few shops selling things you probably wouldn’t take home from a trip, like Nazi memorabilia:
4. 61% of Estonia is forest, which means it has surprisingly good cuisine – no pickled Russia veg here, but great salads filled with berries and herbs, and wonderful wintry fare like bear, elk and boar dishes, plus a lot of good fish. Tallinn has a rose market, a lot of churches, Orthodox and Lutheran, galleries, museums, architecture, and a little nightlife for the clubbers who arrive in the summer. I assume so, anyway – I of course seem to always choose Baltic countries in the dead of winter.
5. Tallinn has an English-language bookshop called Slothrop’s which has an excellent range of well-chosen secondhand novels, and is run by Hakan Karaoglu, whose busy notice board must prove useful to Estonian writers. He and the other writers also designed a range of postcards, one of which says ‘Speak Estonian, It’s Easy!’ and is followed by the Estonian phrase translated as ‘Your City Is Lovely’. It’s a cheeky joke – the actual translation is (I think) ‘You are constipated’. Go check out the shop at Pikk 34, Tallinn – buy many books and talk to Hakan!
6. So, thank you Estonia and all of the lovely people I met there. Please don’t spoil yourself with tourist shops and turn into Prague! I’ll be back, but first I have to visit Lithuania and Transylvania…