If I were to poll 1,000 different Americans and asked them to find Tallin on a map, I think that about 986 would answer something along the lines of "I have no idea" or maybe "yeah, isn't that somewhere in New Jersey?". Granted that Americans are (in)famously challenged when it comes to geography in general; add in little-known lands and, well, the odds just don't look good. By way of full disclosure, I was nearly a geography major in college so I can say that, even as a younger man, I knew of Tallinn (and Estonia, as well as the rest of the Baltic states). I'll confess though that this knowledge hasn't really benefited me all that much, well until now.
Anyway, Tallinn, Estonia, is best described in comparison to Gdansk, Poland. Both:
- Were under the thumb of the former Soviet Union
- Are port cities on the Baltic Sea
- Have languages that sound more like slurred Klingon than English
Tallinn is, simply put, a beautiful place. Here's some proof.
(Cathedral of St. Alexander Nevsky)
(The spire of the Tallinn Town Hall)
(The Estonian Parlament Building)
(The clock on the side of The Holy Spirit Church, one of the oldest functioning clocks in Europe)
(Spire of the Domed Cathedral)
(On Tallinn Town Square: The Garlic Restaurant & one of the oldest pharmacies in Europe)
(An alleyway in Tallinn)
(From the ship with the zoom lens: The Cathedral of St. Alexander Nevsky)
Lastly, while crime isn't much of an issue in the city, the authorities in Tallinn would like to remind you to beware of pick-pockets.
- Tech Center. Estonia views itself as being something a technology center, and the fact that Skype was created here is a source of enormous national pride.
- Red Scare. There's clearly a lot of apprehension about Russia in Estonia. If history (including the recent variety, i.e. Ukraine) is something of a guide, well, the fears may not be unfounded. For the record, Estonia is a member of NATO, which, given some of the current (American) President's comments, may not be all that comforting.
- Scandinavian Intent. My impression coming to Estonia was that it is a Slavic country, but the residents clearly like to view themselves as being more Scandinavian than anything else, with a special affinity for the Finnish.
- Tourism. Tourism is big business in Tallinn. Our guide said that they can sometimes have up to five cruise ship in port at any given time. Do the words "tourism" and "Estonia" seem to go together to you? I didn't think so.
Tomorrow we said into St. Petersburg, Russia. That brings me to the story of 3,000 rubles.
Coming back to the port of Tallinn in the early afternoon, we stopped by a few shops located in the area of our ship. I wasn't looking for anything in particular, but I did see a currency exchange service. Knowing that we are next headed to Russia, I thought it might be a good idea to get some of the local currency in advance, as I'm a little wary of money dealings in a country not necessarily known for strong financial controls. Anyway, since I hadn't checked the exchange rate, I just picked a number...$60...as what I would produce for the transaction. Now I know how exchange rates work (and even concepts such as arbitrage), so I guess I shouldn't be surprised, but sure enough that worked out to about 3,000 rubles. Fortunately, I ended up getting a 1,000 and a few 500 ruble notes, so as to not over-stuff my wallet. I'll try not to spend it all in one place.
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(*) In Tallinn, there was the usual cruise ship security plus a checkpoint with a guard that made sure that only authorized vehicles got close to the actual port. In Gdansk, well, pretty much anyone could drive right up to the ship.