Being in Tallinn, Estonia for the weekend was wonderful. It was the first of what I hope will be many spontaneous travel adventures with friends over the next nine months. A group of Fulbrighters decided to hop on the ferry (cruise ship?) from Helsinki to Tallinn for a few days of exploring. Although we were in the country for less than 48 hours, we saw so much and all left in awe.
Mihkel, one of the Fulbright Finland interns, is actually from Tallinn, and he joined us as well, serving as our local tour guide for a few days. It was beyond kind of him to show us his city, and we all loved getting an insider’s take on its history. Estonia is a very young nation, just gaining its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. Estonian culture is quite ancient though, and so this unique history produces a nation with interesting juxtapositions of old Europe and Soviet influences.
The “ferry” to Tallinn left early in the morning, and so we were able to have almost all day Saturday to explore. We started our day at the Tallinn TV tower where we were able to enjoy views of the whole city and also explore the “There are no bananas: Time Travel to Soviet Daily Life” museum. The TV tower in Tallinn has had an important role over the past 30 years, as Estonian nationalists chained themselves to the tower to maintain the nation’s connection to western culture during the nation’s fight for independence. The museum attached to the TV tower gave us a striking insight into what life was like for Estonians less than 30 years ago. Its name is indicative of some of the items that many Estonians lived without during the communist occupation.
We followed the TV tower with a visit to the Victims of the Communist Occupation memorial, which just opened this year. The memorial begins with an upward climb lined with marble walls called The Journey and ends in an open field entitled the Home Garden. The 22,000 names of those who went missing or were murdered during the occupation are inscribed on the walls which lead up to the garden full of apple trees. The design of the memorial reminded me a lot of the Vietnam War memorial in DC, and was just as humbling to walk through.
After finishing our tour of Soviet Tallinn, we headed toward Old Town, which is the Gothic part of Tallinn and is a UNESCO world heritage site. Old Town was the first time I experienced what I had always imagined old European cities to be like: cobble stone roads, colorful buildings with terraces full of flowers, and old churches with tall bell towers on every turn. It was stunning. We spent the evening and next morning just wandering the streets of Old Town until we finally had to get back on the “ferry” home.