I have been thinking of Estonia recently. Lately, the few times I’ve mentioned it, I’ve been faced with bemused replies of “Estonia?” My disappointment is misplaced. They are the ones who are missing out.
I’ve only spent one day in Estonia, in Tallinn. I took a ferry from Helsinki, where I was visiting a host of friends for spring break during my semester abroad in Russia. Not entirely content to spend all my time in one country, I squeezed Estonia into my schedule—not at all difficult given the ample amount of ferries shuttling back and forth between these two glorious cities.
Perhaps I’ve been thinking of Tallinn because it has been a bit cold here. Once again, an episode of Leah’s Left Arm Turns Blue occurred. I was really quite chilled, wandering around the old town, up the hill to Toompea and back down to All-linn. But no matter, I cast the shivering aside and look back fondly.
Tallinn’s old town really is one of the most charming I’ve wandered through. And that’s all we did, really—meander about, peek in shops, steal into cafés to warm up, check out the cathedrals we came across, take silly pictures. My friend later compared Tallinn to a fairytale town and I won’t disagree. At one point we found ourselves wandering down an alley and emerging in a courtyard that seemed laced with magic but I couldn’t tell you why. A door in the corner led us down stairs to a subterranean art studio. I couldn’t tell you how we found ourselves here, since we followed random streets, hardly glancing at a map.
Maybe what enchanted me was that Tallinn was a clash of familiar cultures, but is altogether very much its own. I could speak Russian and do whatever I needed in this way, given that nearly half of Tallinn’s residents count Russian as their native language. Yet, the signposts, menus, and graffiti in Estonian were discernible due to my basic knowledge of related Finnish. Still, Tallinn did not seem Russian. It did not seem Finnish. This small country’s capital is a reminder that the world holds a million wonderfully diverse places that are their own distinct products of fascinating histories and cultures.
I would like to return to Estonia and explore beyond Tallinn, and then into the other Baltic states. Don’t remain unsure of where they are, or what language they speak (answer: multiple). Little pockets of the earth, oft overlooked and sadly even unheard of by many, are just as fascinating as any other. A day was not enough, never enough. But next time, if I visit in the lingering winter, I’ll wear a warmer jacket.