Student Travel. Places I love: Estonia
Where narrow cobblestone streets, modern technology, cold wind and hot saunas equal an amazing summer
By Josefine Schaefer, University of Applied Science, Cologne
I have to admit: before I came to Estonia, I didn’t know much about it – I guess many people don´t. But during my six-week stay I absolutely fell in love with this beautiful country and I wanted to share my experience with you to show, that Estonia is definitely worth a visit! 🙂
“Why Estonia?”, was the reaction I got from most of my friends when I told them I would spend the summer in Tallinn. One reason for this decision was the internship I was offered in a small branch of an international youth exchange organization. Another one, I guess, was curiosity. I simply wanted to find out what Europe had to offer apart from the usual tourist destinations. Even though my trip to Estonia was not exactly carefully planned and thought through, looking back, I am glad I did not go anywhere else.
The first surprise after my arrival was the weather: I thought it was summer everywhere? Sadly, I had to realize that summer in Estonia does not exactly mean that you (or at least I) can wear shorts – it does get pretty chilly, even in August! Optimistic as I am, I had only brought clothes I usually pack for a summer holiday: shorts, t-shirts, maybe one sweater – which meant that the first thing I got to know, were some shopping centers, where I could stock up on more appropriate clothing.
Despite the temperature, the weather has advantages, too:
As the sunny days are numbered, Estonians try to make the most of it and appreciate even the slightest rays of sunlight with great joy. Most families have a cottage in the country where they spend their weekends escaping the daily routing and enjoying the silence.
The family I stayed with invited me to their summerhouse several times and I will never forget the afternoons we spent picking berries or just roaming around the nearby forest.
Summers may be short, but summer days (at least some of them) seem to last forever: Estonia is blessed with a phenomenon called “white nights”, a time of year with almost continuous sunlight. People celebrate this with bonfires and events all over the country and the atmosphere couldn’t be more vibrant as in this period of time.
Sauna culture vs. reserved politeness
Estonians are said to be rather quiet and reserved people, fond of their personal space and distance to others. With this in mind, I was rather surprised, if not shocked, when people, I had recently met, asked me to join them for a sauna session! After I had overcome my skepticism, I learned that many people have their own little sauna, which they even use during summer. Not only as a healthy treat but also for social reasons: it was the place where gossip was shared and family members bonded. Once I was at a party, where groups of people just disappeared and returned after a couple of minutes, wrapped in a towel and with deep-red faces. I figured that sauna sessions were an inevitable part of the Estonian culture and when I finally accompanied them, I really enjoyed it.
One thing Estonians are legitimately proud of is their strength in the IT sector – did you know it was an Estonian who invented Skype? I sure didn’t! I also did not know that there is free wifi access in most places around the city and that the government supports this development. As a matter of fact, Estonia was the first country where elections where held with the possibility to vote online – definitely something to take pride in!
As a vegetarian, the first meals with my family where quite frustrating, both for them and for me. But after a couple of days I discovered some tasty alternatives to blood sausage & Co. I usually started my day with a bowl of porridge and berries from my family’s summerhouse – warm breakfast is definitely a good choice when its cold and windy outside. I also got to know a special kind of potatoe salad, rosolje, made of potatoes, beetroot, pickled cucumber, carrots and sour cream. But my absolute favorite is kohuke, a sweet snack made of curd and usually covered with chocolate – delicious!
As you see, Estonia is an amazing country: breathtaking scenery, delicious food and wild partys, narrow cobblestone streets in the Old Town next to modern technology, cold wind and hot saunas – but the most amazing part of Estonia are its people, who opened their doors for me and let me be a part of it for one summer. If you ever get the chance to visit this beautiful country, I only got one advice for you: do it! 🙂