Leben in EstlandIyna Bort Caruso
Estonia withstood centuries of foreign rule including the Danes, Swedes, Germans and Russians – both Tsarist and Soviet, the last Russian troops left in 1994. Today the smallest of the Baltic States is a member of the European Union and NATO. It is especially proud of its high tech culture. Registering a start-up takes less than an hour. Estonian developers created Skype software, and the country was the first to allow online voting in a general election in 2007. It also has one of the world’s longest paid maternity leaves.
Estonia lies on the shores of the Baltic Sea, a ferry ride from Finland and Sweden and a three-hour flight or less to most major European cities. The republic is made up of 15 counties and more than 2,000 islands, most of them small in size with tiny populations to match.
The capital, Tallinn, sits on the Gulf of Finland and is considered one of the best-preserved medieval cities in Northern Europe. Its historic Old Town streetscape dates back to the 13th century and has survived to an impressive degree, a reason Tallinn has been called “one of Europe’s most beguiling walled cities.” Once closed-off Soviet zones and former industrial areas, like the neighborhood of Kalamaja, are now being transformed into hipster areas of restaurants and galleries.
Southeast of Tallinn is the country’s intellectual capital of Tartu, a university town. Its architecture combines classic buildings with the kind of daring modern structures that have become instant city landmarks.
Western Estonia has a coastline of seaside resorts and yacht-filled marinas. The largest beach resort destination is Pärnu on the Gulf of Riga. White sandy beaches, historic bath houses, spas and yachting have long attracted locals and tourists, especially from Russia and Scandinavia. Turn-of-the-20th century villas make prime vacation homes.
About fifty percent of the country is forested. Forts, castles and churches are sprinkled throughout the landscape. Bogs and mires account for a sizeable portion and factor into national folklore and recreation. An example? Bog-shoe hiking is a popular pastime.