Let’s just take stock for a moment. We are eighteen countries in so what have we learned about the EU? Well, I think we can safely say that it likes a celebration, a dance and maybe even a modest drink. Visits to Finland, Germany, France and many others can attest to that, but it’s clear from our time in Estonia which was the first of a triple Bulkan run down to Lithuania that the EU also very much likes to change the name of things. Everywhere we went in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania we were told that we were in what the EU now designates ‘Northern Europe’.
With that clear what can you, the weary reader of our journeys so far, expect of the non-Balkan Estonia? Well, firstly they think of themselves as Balkan despite what the EU says. As our Estonian tour guide Mauri put it ‘We’ve been occupied so many times over the years, it doesn’t matter what they call us, we’re still Balkan.’ That is a topic of conversation you’re going to hear repeated as we go through the next few countries, the preservation of heritage despite the political wranglings is quite amazing, but then they have had several hundred years and suffered through Swedish, German and multiple Russian occupations to practice.
Secondly, they love singing. And I’m mean looooove it. There are Karaoke bars all over the capital of Tallinn and Eurovision is practically a religion. They have a song festival held every five years which is pretty much attended by the entire country and they attribute their re-independence in 1991 to the ‘Singing Revolution’ which started in 1988 with, you guessed it, spontaneous mass all-night singing protests. It’s certainly the only revolution that I know of that achieved National Independence without a single life lost. Now if all that isn’t enough for you and it clearly isn’t for the musically hardened Estonians, if you see people singing then chances are that they are dancing too. The quinquennial two week national singing festival is immediately followed by, yep you guessed it, a two week dancing festival. Sadly the festival was not in place during our visit but did we take the opportunity to hit our full Beastie Boys volume limit whilst throwing our hands in the air like we quite literally didn’t care? You’re damn right we did.
Also, Estonia lays claim to being the most technologically advanced nation in Europe by population. They have the most number of online businesses in Europe not least because they’ve got the most Internet ‘Unicorns’ in Europe (milion Euro valued startup businesses), they vote online, they can even get a birth certificate online. All of the tourist information services are accessible online and as a tourist I have to say that it makes things super easy. I suppose that it’s much easier to lay a digital infrastructure than a physical one which means that from a standing start, the Estonians are going hell-for-leather towards perfecting the mix of a high-tech future and old-school Balkan tradition.
The sheer definition of a hidden gem. The Mull Beatrice bar is hidden behind this unassuming door on a sidestreet. It’s basically someones house but on a hot day, it’s the closest to heaven you can get in Tallinn.
A very impressive meal at Kaks Kokka, Tallinn. Modern and Balkan all at once. We loved it.
Mauri was our tour guide around Tallinn and as an English speaker wasn’t that easy to find here, I took the opportunity to ask her what she thought of Brexit and the ramifications it will bring to Estonia. She seemed fairly pragmatic about the whole thing and pointed out that Estonians themselves were fairly embarrassed about the fact that most of the international news they got was dominated by mentions of criminals from Estonia being arrested in the UK and other countries. ‘Of course the UK doesn’t want more of that’, she said. But she said that having only recently got their own independence back from the Russians, Estonia is mostly taken up with working out it’s own place in the world as well as arguing with Latvia and Lithuania about who invented the Christmas tree* to really get concerned about why we don’t want to play well with others.
*They all know it was the Germans but they enjoy arguing between themselves too much to stop.
The #2MenEUTour Big Brexit Tour journey so far: