Tallinn, Estonia (February, 1999)
Once a poor and subjugated people, Estonians are finding many ways to profit from the change to capitalism in 1991. It’s easy to find indoor black marketeers eager to sell pirate copies of music cd’s, cd-roms, nike, adidas, fila, you-name-it they can find it for you. And along with the buccaneered bounty come very decent prices as compared to honest goods sold in Helsinki.
The best area of Tallinn is the historical old town with ancient cathedrals, cobblestone streets and large-stoned castle walls. Within the crooked streets lay many colorfully renovated homes and businesses. These pastel places beckon the passersby to windowshop for Estonian handicrafts such as pottery, leathergoods, and homemade trinkets.
Many restaurants abound, but one of the most medieval is the Olde Hansa where candles light the dining room filled with thick and heavy wooden tables and chairs. The meals are very reasonable and the Name of the Rose/Highlander/Braveheart atmosphere adds to the enjoyment of the evening.
At night, the snow-covered streets glisten with many streetlamps and the church towers are bathed with multi-colored floodlights. Tourists and locals are quite few in February, therefore you have a sense that you own the town when searching for pubs and popular places for inexpensive, yet tasty, Saku beer.
By morning, the old town is born with a sense of purity that replaces the evening’s ancient lustre. Old Estonian and Russian women call for you to look at the goods on their tables covered wi th heavy woolen sweaters, socks and headwear. Once dark narrow ways are now bright and serene. The quiet cold relaxes the shoppers senses and makes them even more vulnerable to open their wallets and take home a souvenir or two.
A great place to stay is at the Hotel Central, where very large rooms await each guest. Take advantage of the large bathtub and the cable tv that includes Estonian, Finnish, German and Western European stations.
A visit to an Orthodox Church during Sunday services is always a good idea to see another culture practice their own religion and faith. There resides an open chamber with towering walls covered with rich blues and yellows that are ornamented with many Eastern European Saints and religious designs. People come into the church and people leave. Trinkets and icons are sold in the main sanctuary. One can see the old praying and lighting candles at various locations around the room. A mother gives Holy Water to her sick red-faced boy. Others sit on nearby benches and others stand around the priests as the mass is performed.
Not even 50 plus years of Soviet occupation can dwindle the need for Hope in an era of great change and growing prosperity. Tallinn, 90km. south of Helsinki across the Gulf of Finland. Estonia, the second daughter of the three Baltic Republics (after Lithuania and before Latvia) to gain her independence and to join the modern world. She welcomes any visitor, as long as they plan to spend some cash here and there to help boost her economy.
Since I wrote this back in 1999, Estonia has continued its way towards a prosperous economy. She joined the European Union in 2004 and there are no longer black marketeers hawking their goods in the most obvious places.