First impressions of a city are always a mixed bag. I’ve been in some places, like Bangkok, that took quite a while before I really warmed up to them. Then there are places like Brasov and Budapest where it’s an instant love affair that just never fades.
I don’t put much weight behind those feelings as the honeymoon phase can evaporate quickly, or after a bit a place’s charm finally reaches you. We’ve only been in Tallinn for a couple of days so far, but it’s been interesting to say the least.
Our introduction to Tallinn
As we deplaned, the air smelled like fall—It was crisp, chilly, and clean. We had blue skies and sunshine. I think this was our quickest immigration experience ever. From the time we landed until we were at our apartment was about 25 minutes (we didn’t have checked baggage). And that included time to get money from an ATM and to stop at a shop to pick up a transportation card before leaving the airport.
Our taxi driver was very interesting. He was quite blunt, which was a bit of a shocker after having been in the UK for the last 2 months, but something that isn’t too uncommon in the Baltics.
“Where are you traveling from?” he asked.
“Well, we were in Scotland, but we flew out of Manchester.”
“But you aren’t British?”
“No, we’re American.”
“I knew you couldn’t be from Manchester or Scotland because you speak English.” Then he proceeded to speak gibberish. “But I wouldn’t have thought you’re American because you sound civilized.”
“Thanks.” What else can you say when someone says you sound civilized?
He proceeded to mock other American tourists who were clearly less civilized (“Especially those Dixies!”). While it did make things a bit uncomfortable, I couldn’t argue with his experience. The things he quoted from past visitors were criticisms I share of some of my fellow US citizens. They have no problem voicing how superior they think America is and how everyone else in the world does everything wrong.
Tigger asked him about the Syrian refugee situation in Estonia. (My chest did puff out a bit in pride.) “We’re scared! We’ve never had to deal with Muslims!” He went into a tirade exhibiting a significant amount of Islamophobia. Tigger looked at me like he couldn’t believe what he was hearing.
We were then informed that the current Estonian government is essentially in bed with the US Tea Party and is just like them now. “They used to be friends with Russia, but now they’re too busy sucking up to the US.”
It was an interesting and odd beginning to our visit.
People and Language
We’ve spent some time exploring our neighborhood, etc. So far it seems Estonians aren’t the friendliest bunch of people. When I smile and greet people on the street, I get confused to dirty looks.
My understanding is that many, if not most, Estonians speak English, especially in Tallinn. I seem to have found many of the exceptions. That isn’t a problem, but what has been interesting to amusing has been the response from the non-English speakers.
My favorite so far was the person working behind the deli counter yesterday. I asked her (in English) if she spoke English. She took a step backward and looked absolutely horrified. I was going to try to look up my question in Estonian, but the look of terror remained so I decided to just walk away. I waited until I was in another aisle to laugh.
Part of the adventure has definitely been negotiating the language. Google Translate has been an almost complete failure. When it does actually know the word, it doesn’t have a pronunciation example for me to play. I did find another app (I’ll share it in my next post on Estonia) that has been more helpful, but it is a dictionary so isn’t as efficient when I need to string a few words together.
Language barriers can be fun. They definitely add to the adventure of travel. You just have to allow for a lot more time in the grocery stores.
Over 50% of Estonia is forested, and the green areas we’ve been to so far have been quite gorgeous. We’re about 20 minutes from the city center, and this area reminds me a lot of Bucharest—a very definite Communist feeling and look to the buildings. The architecture in this area is purely functional and uninspiring.
The old town is supposed to be quite lovely, and we’re heading there today to explore it.
We haven’t eaten any typically Estonian food yet. Our first night here Tigger wanted Chinese food, and last night I cooked at home. Unlike other countries in this region, prices in Estonia are closer to what one would find in Western Europe, so we’re trying to take it easy on the eating out.
However, I will say that so far our experience has been that produce is meh while meat quality seems high for the price, which is a good thing.
A couple of things we have enjoyed so far are horse salami and a delightful treat called mõnus maius. The best way I can describe it is like a honey-toffee-flavored bar made from soft corn balls (like squishy popcorn balls). We’ve been on the hunt for more ever since we had the ones left by our Airbnb host.
The taxi was pretty reasonable, although Tallinn isn’t the biggest city either. They seem to have a pretty good transportation system, but it has prices more like Western Europe as well. My next post will have tips for using public transportation here.
We’re staying open minded, but I think after our current apartment’s time is up we’ll be heading to Latvia or Finland. We just aren’t “feeling it.” Hopefully, that will change.
Have you been to Tallinn? What was your experience?