Spot: Welcome to the Estonian Age
goat hunting and competitive wife-carrying are
just some of the pastimes enjoyed by this fun-loving
population , writes Shelley Emling
Estonia, the smallest of the Baltic
states, is known for many things — its
medieval buildings, fascinating history, and
penchant for self-preservation during Soviet
But as I learned from an Estonian
Air magazine article during my flight from London,
Estonia is also notable for being unbeatable
in competitive wife-carrying.
This July, Estonia reigned supreme
yet again, winning its 11th title at the Wife-Carrying
World Championships in Finland, in which dozens
of men hoisted wives over their shoulders and
ran a 276m obstacle course.
As I would discover over my four
days in Tallinn, the capital city of 400000
people, it’s simply another whimsical
pastime enjoyed by a fun-loving population seeking
to make the most of the scant northern summer.
During my stay, I made a gallant
effort to learn all I could about the walled
Old Town, the best-preserved medieval town in
northern Europe, where many buildings and alleyways
date back to the Middle Ages.
I climbed 118 steps to the top
of the gothic Town Hall, which dates back to
1404, and — especially with its green
dragon-head drainpipes — is the jewel
in the crown of Old Town.
From there I had a bird’s-eye
view of Town Hall Square, a place with contemporary
cafés but also the oldest active pharmacy
in Europe, still operating on the same spot
it occupied in 1422.
I even took a two-hour bike tour
outside the Old Town that led me to Kadriorg
Park, home of the highly regarded Estonian Art
Museum as well as the residence of the Estonian
But whenever I encountered an Estonian,
he or she didn’t want to talk about architecture
or history or even shopping. All they wanted
to talk about was Laulupidu, or the Estonian
Estonia has one of the largest
collections of folk songs in the world, and
every five years as many as 30000 people in
a country of 1.3 million gather in an enormous
amphitheatre in Tallinn to sing their hearts
out. The next festival is in the summer of 2009.
Everywhere I went I was urged to
return for the event, which Estonians say has
united the nation in the face of foreign occupiers
for more than a century.
After centuries of being fought
over by foreign powers, the country declared
independence in 1918, only to have the Soviet
Union invade in 1939.
Freed from Soviet rule after communism
collapsed, Estonia became an independent country
again in 1991.
Since then Estonia has worked hard
to develop its tourism industry, successfully
transforming itself into a “boutique destination”,
mostly for Europeans. Thousands of luxury hotel
rooms have appeared in recent years.
Visitors can still expect lots
of cobblestone streets, museums, and churches,
of which the Alexander Nevsky Russian Orthodox
Cathedral is one of the prettiest.
But they can also expect a plethora
of fashionable restaurants where there’s
nary a jellied eel in sight.
One of the best, the Stenhus inside
the Schlossle Hotel, serves dishes such as black
cod with coconut and horseradish sauce in an
intimate atmosphere of 13th-century vaulted
Throughout the Old Town there are
also lots of shops peddling amber jewellery,
linens, marzipan and juniper wood boxes and
But the real attraction is the
Estonian people themselves.
One woman introduced me to the
lovely taste of rosolje, a pink salad made with
beets, herring, apples, carrots, mayonnaise
and a smidgen of Dijon mustard.
When asked her plans for the weekend,
she told me she was going goat hunting in the
same matter-of-fact way I might have said I
was planning to go grocery shopping .
Who knew that many tourists travel
to Estonia just for the thrill of tracking down
elk, deer, goat, wild boar and even beaver?
Another woman — this one
a waitress — enticed a friend and me into
a place called the Clazz Club just off the main
square for an evening of salsa lessons.
Here, on a medium-sized dance floor
heaving with romantic sensuality, women wearing
clingy tops with one or no straps moved in step
with equally exuberant partners as a female
teacher offered encouragement in a mixture of
Estonian and English.
Rarely have I seen a group of people
having such a good time.
Another joy of this country is
that it’s not overrun with tourists —
or with residents, for that matter.
On a one-hour tour of Tallinn aboard
a hop-on, hop-off double-decker bus, I was told
that Holland is smaller than Estonia in size,
but has 11 times the number of people.
As a result, unlike other European
capitals, Tallinn was amazingly quiet even on
a weekend morning in June.
All in all, Tallinn is a city that
has regained its mojo following years of Soviet
And it has the goat hunting and
salsa dancing and singing festivals to prove
it. — Cox News Service