After arriving back in Helsinki from St. Petersburg, we directly embarked on a short and quite pleasant ferry across the Baltic Sea to Tallinn, Estonia. The ferry from the Eckerö Line looked more like a cruise ship, and had plenty of entertainment and free Wi-Fi to keep us busy. Upon disembarking at the Tallinn Ferry Terminal, it only took about 15 minutes to reach the city center by foot.
Tallinn is a compact and picturesque town. Its charming cobblestone streets and colorful buildings make for a pleasant stroll through the old city. We started out in Raekoja plats, the main square, from which our first stop was the St. Nicholas Church. This church, now a museum, has on display the famous painting Dance Macabre by Bernt Notke, which also is the most valuable piece of art in Estonia’s possession. Interestingly, Tallinn has many churches, but more people believe that trees have souls, than the number of people that are religious.
From the museum we went on to the War of Independence Victory Column, which looks a bit confusing at first. The cross on the monument has nothing to do with religion; rather it symbolizes the highest military badge Estonians can get. The E stands not for Euro, but Estonia. Finally, the adjacent symbol is that of a raised sword rather than a gun.
Estonia has been under the occupation of different countries over the centuries. The country has been divided between Denmark, Sweden, and Germany back in the 17th century. Sweden eventually gained power over the majority of Estonia, before losing it to Russia during the Great Northern War in 1700. During their rule, the Swedish did implement a higher education system in Estonia and opened the first university in Tartu, which is still the most prestigious one in Estonia.
After World War II, the Russians took over and forced their ideology onto Estonia, and subsequently the country was cut off from the Western World. Their only window to the Western World was at Harjumägi Hill, which served as trading center for illegal Western music and film. Estonians also used their proximity to Helsinki to illegally watch foreign television. This is why even today a lot of Estonians can speak Finnish and feel close to the Finnish culture.
From there, we moved to Castle Square where you can see the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, which has a traditional Russian orthodox design, and across from it the Parliament. Estonia is quite a tech-savvy country, for example, most government-related tasks, like taxes and voting, is done online. Our next stop was the Patkuli Vaaterplats, which offered an amazing view over Tallinn. We continued on to Nunne Street where you can see artwork of the Estonian parliament, as well as the Deer Statue, part of an old Tallinn legend. Art like this is an important part of Estonia and they excel in film, music, and art, rather than sports. In the summer months you can always find some sort of music or film festival taking place.
To see more of the country, we decided to take a sightseeing shuttle from Tallinn to Riga, Latvia. As our tour guide pointed out, most of Estonia is made up of uninhabited forest. We stopped at Viljandi where you could see the remains of an old castle. It’s a beautiful green space that also serves as the stage of the renowned Viljandi Folk Music Festival, the biggest festival in the country. Along the way we also visited the Helme sandstone caves, an old military museum in Valga before finally crossing into Latvia.
We, Mark & Herta, are currently backpacking through Europe, and eventually planning to settle in London. Beyond that? The possibilities are endless.Read Mark & Herta’s full story.