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  • Writer's picturePeter Antonucci

Tallinn, Estonia

Thursday | June 9, 2016

Today we sailed into Estonia, I took a short tour and learned quite a bit about the country. Please allow me to share it with you.


As is the case with Latvia, Estonia celebrates two Independence days, both signifying their break from Russia with the Soviet Union. Those years were 1918 and 1991.


Estonia’s economy is doing extremely well for an interesting reason. In the early 2000s, the government made a huge investment in the internet and high tech companies. They are known as being the most technological savvy country in the world, and have the most access to high speed internet. Everyone in the country is given an ID card with a chip in it that serves as that person’s electronic signature. When the chip is swiped along any computer, that serves as an electronic signature valid for any document executed in the country. Similarly, students use these chips to take their exams, people use them for their drivers licenses, and they are used for all other types of governmental functions. By extension, E governance is a big deal and Estonia is the only country in the world that supports 100% online voting. Moreover, all citizens are required to vote. Also, every classroom in the country is an amazing resource for both students and faculty. With all these technological advances, Estonia is referred to as “the startup country.” This is the country that invented Skype and Hotmail.


Presently, Estonia is building an underwater tunnel, similar to the London – Paris Chunnel, to Finland.


One of the more fascinating sports in Estonia is “wife carrying.” In these competitions, men carry their wives or girlfriends across a course, most of which is through water, racing to finish first. The sport is said to have originated with an old gang initiation, in which men had to carry away the wives of other men. Since 1992, the World Wife Carrying Championships have been held annually in Finland. There is a coveted award given to the winner– the wife’s weight in beer!


Only 14% of the 440,000 Estonians claim religious beliefs, making Estonia the least religious country in the world. On other hand, it has the second highest adult literacy rate in the world– 99.8%. It also has the world’s biggest collection of folk songs. And finally, Estonian forests keep getting bigger, while the country’s population is drastically declining.


There is a strong prejudice against minorities in Estonia. No one may hold a dual citizenship of Russia and Estonia. Estonia is ever fearful that sooner or later Russia will invade them, as Russia did with Ukraine.

 

I had the opportunity to explore Tallinn, a Baltic city and the capital of Estonia.


A city of 440,000 people, Tallinn was first settled approximately 7600 years ago by hunters and gatherers. True civilization here began about 1000 years ago.

We met our guide, Sirit, and began a short walking tour of the city.

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This church, constructed in 1267, was then the world’s tallest building.

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Topping out at only 407 feet, it remains an iconic symbol of the city, but not the tallest structure in the world anymore!


After a short bus ride, we exited the vehicle and Sirit held court beneath a cliff, on top of which was housed the Estonian House of Parliament.

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She explained that, as has been the case with Lithuania, Estonia had been conquered by Poland, Sweden, and Russia.


Estonia only has 35 sunny days a year, and can have snow from September to June.

Speaking of snow, this exact spot on the town square is the site of the world’s first ever Christmas tree.

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It was erected in 1498 and became a tradition throughout Europe.


This beautiful city is full of many interesting artifacts and edifices. The city wall was constructed over time from 1320 to 1510.

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The red tile roof on top of the turrets was added in 1846.

The Town Hall is housed in a Gothic designed structure in the town’s main square and is the sole surviving town hall throughout Scandinavia and all of the Baltic countries. It was built in the early 15th century for leadership meetings, but is now used for concerts and select political events.

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I found fascinating these ornate, green gargoyles, positioned at the ends of the buttresses.

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The theme of the morning was to be marzipan, and we visited a marzipan shop that was constructed in 1806. The proprietor was a jolly gentleman who gave us a short talk about the history of his shop, including the fact that they still use two hundred and forty molds, some of which date back to 1864.

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We saw some professional decorators at work on the marzipan.

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We were led upstairs to a little work room where we sat in groups of six around tables, each of us concentrating in absolute silence, as we painted the little marzipan creatures that had been placed before us.

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I decided to head out on my own and walk the cobblestone streets for about an hour. I came upon many quintessentially Baltic (or European) old streets and buildings.

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This church apparently has much visual appeal and neat lighting.

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I say that because this class of art students was poised outside, painting away.

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We enjoyed a lovely lunch at Ribe, an upscale local restaurant. I had rabbit and then rump steak with a side order of foie gras and mushroom raviolis.


Exhausted from an early morning, yet ready for my afternoon workout, I headed back to the ship.


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