Had you even heard of Estonia before reading the title of this post? Don’t lie. You hadn’t. I know you hadn’t. I wouldn’t even know what Estonia was unless I was sitting in it right now drinking its delicious coffee and eating its even more delicious smoked salmon.
When you read Estonia, you were probably imagining some cold, Eastern European/Slavic/Soviet country with grass huts and oxen and—wait—wasn’t that the place Borat was from?
After spending the last three weeks in Amsterdam with no plan for where to go next, we agonized over what to do with our final Euro-week. (At one point, Liza actually had a FOMO-induced panic attack that she tried to blame on gluten.) Leafing through Lonely Planet Scandinavia, we noticed a tiny sliver of a chapter devoted to Tallinn, Estonia. It sounded weird and fascinating and kinda medieval and unlike anywhere we’d ever actively try to go… so we went.
What Estonia lacks in brand awareness, it makes up for in charm, friendliness and GET IN MY BELLY cuisine. Ermahgerd, the food.
First, Tallinn’s old town is one of the best preserved Medieval enclaves in the world. I don’t like to throw around the world “adorable” because I’m a dude, but it’s totes adorbs AF x 100 + infinity + 1.
Second, we’re staying in an Airbnb apartment in a building built in 1393. That’s 99 years before Columbus was all, “Haaaaay, India!... Uh, I mean, America!” Plus, in medieval times, it used to be the residence of the town bishop, NBD. And, it even came equipped with its own Finnish-style sauna basement (thankfully not from 1393).
Third, the people here are incredibly friendly. Like, to the point that at lunch our waiter told us all about the taste of water in the country versus city, admitted that he used to eat his boogers as a child (a lot) and then hid hand-written notes under our espressos. Estonian hospitality is weird and great.
Fourth, every single meal we’ve had here has been amazing. Every. Single. One. From simple cafés to the fancy-ass, uber-hip restaurants with a single letter for a name like Ö, everything has been unexpectedly delectable. (Think: really elegant Scandinavian stuff like salmon, elk, beetroot and creamy sauces but with delicate, freshly-foraged herbs and greens and sprinkled liberally with caviar.) (Also think: YUM.)
Hell, even on the day we got in, we were starving and just ducked into the restaurant closest to our Airbnb. Turned out, it was essentially the medieval Chuck ‘e Cheese of Estonia, with waitresses dressed like 14th century beer wenches. But still, the food was SO FRIGGIN’ DELICIOUS. It literally looked like a still-life painting. Piles of smoked fish, meat stew and spiced honey beer. I miss it every day.
So, basically, Estonia is kicking the world's ass in the food department. (And certainly kicked The Netherland's ass, as we've already established.)
But maybe the best thing about Estonia is the chance to see a nation that’s only slightly older than cell phones, coming into its own. These people have been subjugated by everyone from the Danes to the Swedes to the Fins to the Nazis to the Soviets. (Basically anybody who’s anybody at conquering.) In the last century, control changed eight times. Most recently, the Estonies suffered horrible atrocities at the hands of the Nazis and the Soviet Union but finally gained independence in 1991 with the fall of the USSR. In fact, they just celebrated 25 years of independence—their longest stretch in history—a week ago. And through all of it, this tiny population has retained their own unique culture and complex language (notoriously tricky to learn because it’s basically a Hungarian-Finnish combo spoken exclusively by people who self-identify as shy).
Since most tourists here seem to be on shore leave from a 20-story cruise ship on its way to St. Petersburg, the locals keep asking why we chose to come. Honestly, I have no clue, but we’re so glad we did.
Also, there’s an entire bar here devoted to Depeche Mode.