We arrived by ferry from Helsinki five days ago in what will be a two-week visit to Tallinn. Tallinn is Estonia’s capital and located right on the Baltic Sea. We didn’t know a lot about Tallinn, but the few people that had visited here before were raving about this city. They get a hearty amen from us. Our first observations about the city:
Tallinn’s Old Town is one of the most beautifully preserved old cities in the world. The cobblestone streets make Maggie happy that she brought some good walking shoes. Its Gothic Town Hall was built in the 13 century, and the very building we are staying in was built in 1343.
The cost of everything here is so much cheaper than Finland, Norway, & Sweden, that we were almost giddy with delight. After paying up to $12.00 for a pint of beer (typical was $10.00) in Norway, our first day here we sat down at a neighborhood patio bar, and paid $3.00 for a pint of local beer. Now that we have settled in we realize that most beers are actually in the $4.00/pint range for a pint. Take that Norway! (We loved Norway – everything but the prices, that is.)
Being a people watcher, I have observed with my own eyes that the people, while polite are simply not as happy as people we have observed in other cities. A recently published report shows Estonia ranks in the middle grade of happiness: ahead of Belarus, but way behind Western Europe. (Countries are ranked according to six criteria: GDP per capita, social support, life expectancy, freedom to make life choices, generosity, and freedom from corruption.) There was a display in a local history museum that partly attributed Estonian unhappiness to the winter weather here – but Finland, Norway, Sweden and Denmark have winters that are just as bad or worse, and they are habitually counted among as the happiest countries on Earth.
The museum itself gave us some clues to Estonian unhappiness: in the past, Estonia has been a part of Sweden, Russia and Germany; whenever they go to war with each other, Estonia has been trapped in the middle. Estonia has only been an independent country for the twenty years between the two world wars and the thirty years since the collapse of the USSR. Russia continues to be a looming presence in Estonian life. During the Cold War, the USSR tried to “Russify” Estonia and the other Baltic countries by relocating Russians here to thin out the local ethnic unity. Even today, the ruins of Soviet building projects and nuclear plants are scattered around the country. A waitress had some time to talk about her country and unwittingly gave us another clue: she is among the 30% of Estonians who are from Russia. She said she didn’t feel either completely Russian or Estonian. Her political leanings were definitely pro-Putin, putting her at odds with the official stance of her adopted country, which leapt on EU membership like a drowning man on a life raft. When you combine the Russian presence with ongoing Russian interference in Baltic politics, and the fact that Russia doesn’t rank highly on the happiness scale, you get a clear picture of the source of Baltic unhappiness.
This has been an eye opening experience for us, and we are looking forward to more days here to discover Tallinn. More photos and descriptions of life here on the way!