|Tallinn, September 2011|
Two years planned turned out to be two months, and I realized I didn't want to continue my studies, so I decided to go to South America and do voluntary work instead of studying further in Estonia. Even though studies are demanding, Estonia is a pleasant country.
Tallinn, the capital, is sometimes referred to as one of the world's most beautiful cities, and more often, perhaps, as one of the nicest in Europe. It is also very clean, which might not come as a surprise when you consider the size; only approximately 410.000 inhabitants. That still makes it a bigger capital than say Ljubljana, Bratislava or Reykjavik.
Even though the Soviet Union didn´t wipe away the beautiful old town, it left some grey and "east-defining" apartment buildings. After independence, however, the city gets more and more glass-buildings, placing it firmly nowhere else than in the world.
Here you can find shopping opportunities that at least beat those in Norway and probably quite many other countries in Europe. Opening hours are generally much longer than in Scandinavia, making it pleasant to be a visitor, or resident, as long as one isn´t working in the supermarket oneself at ten o clock in the evening.
There is something watery about the country. It has a coastline to the west and north, and the huge Lake Peipsi in the east, almost in the middle of which runs the border with Russia. Somehow that gives the country more of a naturally defined border than say what it shares with Latvia in the south.
There are reportedly nice beaches on the western coast, but since I prefer lakes, I´d recommend Lake Peipsi, which also has beaches, although of the lake-ish type.
|Part of Tartu seen from one of the Dome Church towers|
The landscape is generally soft, quite lacking in rocks, mountains and solidness. Even the ground is not totally solid in a city like Tartu, the second biggest, where I lived, a city home to slightly more than 100.000 people.
Tartu is also known for being the academic or spiritual capital of Estonia, and the university is quite high on international rankings and still climbing. It is not surprising, from what I've seen. The university expects a lot from its students, at least when compared to other places of learning.
|Also from Tartu|
The fact that Estonia is the homeland of Skype finally starts to sink in. That the country is technologically advanced was also remarked upon by Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg after he visited the country earlier this month. NRK, the largest media organization in Norway stated that Estonia has achieved the position as the Baltic States` answer to Silicon Valley. The article in Norwegian language can be found here.
While other European countries might have something to learn from Estonia in terms of technology, and perhaps also in achieving quick (though, as we saw in 2008; unstable) economic growth, what was most satisfying for me was how unbureacratic the country is, at least when compared to Norway and Lithuania. Things run smoothly. There was never any delay, but on the contrary: things are done ahead of the deadline. The country can therefore deservedly be seen as efficient.
People are generally highly educated, which might perhaps be one of the reasons why the country has so far escaped some of the worst political craziness which is now haunting certain other countries of Europe. There is a patience and calmness about things, which we don't see that much in other places. However, there is something stressful about the desire to be perfect. The fact that Estonia (sometimes beaten by the Czech Republic) is supposed to be the most secularized country in the world, and also understandably sceptical of left-wing political ideology, however can make it quite success-oriented without a counter-acting spiritual breathing space. In the economical aspect it seems to work very well, though.
The unfriendly staff that one can encounter at hotels, restaurants or shops in other countries of the former Soviet Union is largely non-existing in Estonia, at least in the two biggest cities. On the contrary, people are friendly and helpful, even in offices! The most Sovietic-like experience I had was probably with the post service. I had to go to a post office on the outskirts of the town several kilometers from my apartment to pick up some parcels. However, even there people weren´t exactly rude, and that was the only such experience I had during two months.
Estonia is a nice country. It has beautiful cities and lots of unspoilt nature, and a highly educated populace. I am glad I went there, even if I gave up on my studies.