Mandy and I spent a few days in Tallinn, Estonia and were struck by its relaxed pace, friendly people, and impressive history. This small country of around 1.3mm people sits on the Baltic Sea and is neighbor to Latvia, Finland, Sweden and Russia. Over its history, it has been overtaken by Russia, Denmark, Sweden, and Germany and represents a mix of these cultures. In more recent times, it became independent after WWI then was subsequently invaded by the Soviet Union in WWII, then recaptured by Germany. After WWII it became a Soviet Bloc nation closely aligned with the USSR. It is currently a very westernized European country and part of the European Union and NATO. These memberships, particularly NATO, greatly bother the Russian Federation - and to this day, it is not outside the realm of possibility that it is invaded by Russia as it acts as a counterbalance to Russia in the Baltic region.
Tallinn represents a very large portion of the country at a population of around 445,000. The city is positioned on the north coast of Estonia in the Gulf of Finland just 50 miles south of Helsinki and a few hours from St. Petersburg. In the crossroads of Scandinavia and Russia, a blend of cultures and world views is apparent at every turn and through every interaction. It is dubbed the Silicon Valley of Europe and is home to many internet startups including Skype. Its old town is one of the best preserved medieval cities in the world and is a UNESCO world heritage site.
Tallinn is exceptionally green and approachable to the average tourist. The city is the perfect size and we could easily walk from our apartment to the old town and many great restaurants and bars. We stayed right next to an adaptive reuse project that converted an old factory into a complex for various boutiques and eateries. We spent our time in the city wandering the old town and marveling at how well preserved it was. I found out about a great Tex-Mex restaurant and decided to go for a taste of home – it did not disappoint and we enjoyed queso and some great tacos.
At this point in the trip I was in dire need of a haircut and spotted a grungy looking barber shop next to our apartment. The second we walked in I knew it was going to be a roll of the dice. The barber shop was cluttered, dirty and run by three barbers with no shortage of leather, tattoos, piercings, or ironic facial hair. Amidst the din of the rock music blaring in the shop, we sat down and waited a few minutes for someone available to give me a cut. The couch we occupied was overstuffed black leather that we probably should have put some newspapers down on before we sat. The magazine Mandy picked up to pass the time looked innocuous at first but ended up being hardcore pornography. A gigantic shaved headed man with a full beard motioned me to his chair and I tried to tell him that I wanted a simple cut, short on the sides and a bit longer on top. The risky combination of a language barrier and questionable taste didn't end well for me. He practically shaved my head as high as the top of my ears and by the time I realized what was going wrong it was too late. What I came away with, and of course praised and thanked him for, was the worst haircut of my life. That’s the risky thing about haircuts when traveling, you never know what you are going to come away with and this time I lost big.
At the end of our short visit to Tallinn, we walked the very high medieval walls that provided cover to the residents of town in all those years past. It was a great vantage point for the city and its architectural evolution. Gazing out over the rooftops of town you could see the medieval architecture transition to modern styles and the cathedrals transition to billboards. The view is a living representation of the modern European cultural evolution. In many ways Estonia is a representation of the evolution of our global society as a whole – an amalgamation of cultures, ideas, and achievements working together construct a new identity. // Jeff