And boy did we have our years’ worth of festivities! The hype was enormous leading up to the most popular day of the year, Midsummer’s Eve. Estonians celebrate the summer solstice (white nights) on June 23rd when the day never ends. The tradition is especially important there because the majority of people are Atheist. The holiday is pre-Christian (Pagan) and entails bonfires lit to protect against evil spirits set free when the sun turns southward. The idea is to pick midsummer plants with magical healing powers, then jump the bonfires for prosperity. Only Christmas and New Years’ Eve rival this day in popularity. We didn’t plan very well, unknowing that most people leave Tallinn to celebrate with their families in the countryside.
Tallinn has this interesting mix of high-tech industry with old world architecture and Pagan tradition. We tirelessly walked its winding cobblestone streets to find Gothic decorations, iron street lamps and 13th/16th century Medieval doodads. The town is very quaint and surrounded by well preserved city walls with guard towers. Estonians take pride in that they were never “invaded”. Most tourists flock immediately to the enormous churches all with their own fairytale story. We call Tallinn, “Medieval Legoland”…. colorful and imaginative.
Only 20 years independent, Estonia is on the euro and the strongest economny amongst the former Soviet countries. We found it fascinating that citizens can use their government ID card to vote, bank and even startup a business within a few hours. The people are certainly proud of these modern acheivements. We were invited to a Garage 48 event where startups take digital concepts and create prototypes in just a few days. Our AirBNB host was coincidentally part of this vibrant tech community and working on a new mobile payments platform. A few people told us independently about the founders of Skype being from Estonia and currently involved with new projects.
Estonia is commonly grouped with the Baltic countries; Lithuania and Latvia. Yes, the Baltic Sea is close by to the West….. and, all three countries have suffered similar stories of oppression by neighboring countries. However, the Estonian language is much closer to Finnish and the culture is of Nordic ethnicity. In fact, both Denmark and Sweden ruled parts of Estonia during the past millennium.
Our time began in Tallinn just a few hours after our arrival from Riga, Latvia. Couch Surfing provided another great opportunity to hang out with a like-minded local person. Kristel met us in front of the yellow church (St. John’s 19th Century) at Freedom Square. Here is where Estonia celebrated its brief independence in 1919. There now stands a big monument symbolizing national independence. We learned that Estonians do not like the structure and they hope to “grow into it” soon. Kristel was super friendly and enthusiastic about our meeting. We walked all around the Old Town people watching and bar hopping. A group of young men were disco hackysack breakdancing in front of Town Hall as we approached dinner. Their biggest fan, “David Crosby Lee Roth” stood in pure delight before our eyes. Thank you!
It turned out that the popular “Hell Hunt” bar translates to “Tender Wolf”. Not to worry, the local Saku beers made us feel plenty capable of raising a ruckus! Hell Hunt led to Noorus shooter bar and then the local favorite “Valli”. We haven’t partied like this in a long time! Kristel was super excited to show us the special psychedelic cave room in Noorus. There, we bought “G-Punt” vodka shots with Baileys and watermelon or something. The Happy Hour special was 10 shots for 5 euro. Yikes! I can envision Christie’s face after her portion.
Possibly the highlight of this evening was provided by the landmark “Valli Bar”. Kristel explained a traditional shot called “Millimallikas”. It means jellyfish and consists of Sambuca, Tequila and Tabasco Sauce. We learned that you are not an official Skype user until you’ve taken this shot. Does Microsoft legal know about this? Brett walked into the bar and was bombarded by a wasted Englishman on a weekend stag party. He asked for his picture to be taken and walla!….. here you have it.
Outside, we had the funniest half hour in the history of drinking. Brett was sitting next to an older burly man he called, “Bushwacker Fred Flinstone”. This guy talked in “yabbadabadoo speak” and Brett even caught him from falling off his chair. He would point his hands in a shooting motion at the women and make soft “pow” noises as he killed them. A young girl sat across the table next to Christie calling Brett the guy from Niptuck. The Bushwacker and young girl were trading Estonian/English p*ssy word expressions and Kristel had no idea how to explain the drunkeness that was going on! Our crazy night out ended at a small cocktail lounge with live female vocalist and DJ.
Our final days (including Midsummer’s Eve) turned dreary and rainy. Helsinki, Finland and St. Petersburg, Russia crossed our minds…… but we had the itch to skip town to warm and sunny Vienna, Austria before seeing Pearl Jam in Prague the following week. Surely, someone caught fire in the rain by the countryside!!!
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