Friday, 30 October 2015

Estonia: The Week in Review

It has been a great week for Estonia in terms of results and global rankings, Here is a look at some of the highlights.

The World Bank  has praised the Estonian government for having over 3000 online services available to its people - more than any other country. Estonia has been ranked 16th in the World Bank's ease of doing business index.

According to the Business Insider UK Estonia is among the top 18 countries in the world for starting and running a business.

Estonian retains 2nd place in the Internet Freedom Index

Estonia became a full member of the European Space Agency.

Japan to implement ID cards following Estonia's example.

Lonely Planet names Estonia as the best value travel destination for 2016.

A total of 19.3 million trees have been planted in state forests this year in Estonia. That's 19 trees per Estonian!

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Lonely Planet Names Estonia as the Best Value Destination for 2016

Estonia has once again won recognition for being a top travel destination. Lonely Planet ranked the country as number one, placing it ahead of Vietnam's Ho Chi Minh City and the American state of New Mexico.  To learn more about what Estonia has to offer, please click here: 

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

15th June 2017 - No More Roaming Surcharges in the European Union

Europe is getting rid of roaming surcharges. Thanks to the work of former Estonian Prime Minister Andrus Ansip who has been pushing for a single digital market, millions of people across the EU will soon be saving money when making calls abroad. 

Today in the EU parliament Ansip said "it's a historical achievement". To read more on this new legislation, please click here:

Friday, 23 October 2015

Back to My Roots 2003 - My First Trip to Estonia

I realised some time ago that despite writing this blog for years, I have never written about my first ever trip to Estonia which I did with my family in 2003. It was an absolutely wonderful trip. We spent two weeks travelling around Estonia and created so many lasting memories. We have been back many times since.

One of the first photos I took of Tallinn.

It was never a question of whether my family would return to Estonia but rather one of when. For years we had spoken and dreamed about it, longing to see the homeland we had only known from photographs and stories. Everyone in my family has had a yearning to visit Estonia for as long as I can remember but we were never sure exactly when that momentous day would come. One day in early 2003 I was sitting in a cafe with my father when the topic came up in conversation and before I knew it we were planning a trip to Estonia. We were finally doing it! When I returned home I rang two of my sisters to ask if they wanted to join us and without hesitation they both said "yes!".

Being the natural born organiser that I am, I made all the travel arrangements. Visiting Estonia was part of a much bigger trip. We planned to be away for six weeks in total with the first two weeks spent in Estonia before moving on to France, England, Switzerland and the United States. With an interest in history, my father had always wanted to visit Pearl Harbour and so we did.

When the day finally arrived for us to depart we were all flooded with mixed emotions. It was a mixture of nervous energy, excitement and jubilation, almost surreal that we were finally making our way to Tallinn. Friends and family came to bid us farewell at the airport and we then proceeded to the departure gate with butterflies in our bellies.

The city wall is a key feature of Tallinn's Old Town.

It was a long flight to Tallinn, well over 30 hours. The first leg of the journey was fine, we occupied ourselves by playing cards, watching videos and snacking on treats. After we arrived in Kuala Lumpur the tiredness began to set in and all we wanted to do was have a good sleep. We managed to get a few hours of shut eye here and there but it wasn’t nearly enough to feel rested. From Kuala Lumpur we then flew to Vienna and had to wait several hours in Stockholm for our connecting flight to Tallinn. By that time we were all so extremely tired but had no choice other than to endure it.

New found energy surged through us when we finally reached Tallinn. When the pilot announced our descent into the capital we were all buzzing with excitement and crammed to see out of the window. Although we didn’t know exactly what we were looking at, it was still a beautiful sight. I don’t remember alighting the aircraft or collecting my luggage but I do remember standing there and hearing Estonian spoken all around me for the first time in my life. The beautiful melodic sound of the Estonian language was familiar to me even though I could only understand a handful of words. As I stood there waiting at passport control, the thought that struck me and made me smile from ear to ear was “I’m finally here, finally among my own people.” It was such a wonderful feeling!

I found us the perfect accommodation in Tallinn - the Old House Apartments.  It met our needs perfectly. When we checked in we were greeted warmly by a lovely lady, Luule Metsik who lived in Tartu but worked in Tallinn during the week. She was very helpful and provided us with our first maps. Everyone loved the apartment, it was in a great location, only a few metres walk from the Viru gate in the heart of the Old Town. The apartment was very modern with a large living area, fully equipped kitchen and a big iron gate outside for security. My father was impressed with the amenities, not to mention the floor heating.

The first three days of our Estonian tour was spent in Tallinn.  We did all the usual touristy things such as explore the Old Town extensively by foot, weaving in and out of cute little passageways along the cobbled streets. We were enchanted by the beauty of Tallinn which surpassed all our expectations. We loved St. Catherine’s Passage containing the old relics, the master craftsmen’s workshops and the Estonian history timeline engraved in stone. All these things fascinated us greatly and every time we saw a plaque attached to a building we always stopped to read it, eager to learn that little bit more. Even in Uus Street where we stayed there was a sign on a wall of a house stating that the Russian writer Dostoyevsky once stayed there whilst visiting his brother in the 1800s. 

We couldn’t believe how cheap everything was in Estonia. The exchange rate was most favourable; one Australian dollar gave us roughly nine Estonian kroons. There were numerous times when we went out for dinner and it cost us less than $10 each and that was including drinks! I think the cheapest meal we had in Estonia was in an Italian restaurant in Pärnu. The bill came to 60 kroons each, roughly equating to $6 or $7/each - simply amazing!

The Open Air Museum is a must to visit.

My father was a bit shy speaking Estonian at first. Perhaps he was afraid of making a mistake or detected that the language had somehow evolved. After all, the Estonian my father speaks is that which his parents spoke during the 1930s when they lived in Tallinn. No doubt the language would have changed over time. It was during our second day in Tallinn that I heard my father first converse in Estonian. While we were walking down the street we were once again approached by a beggar. The man appeared to be in his late fifties, wearing a flat cap and I think he mistook us for dumb tourists. He came up to us and spoke in English, asking for money, claiming he hadn’t slept in five days. My father being the common sense man that he is who detests nonsense, said to him in perfect Estonian. “Well, if you haven’t slept for five days what are you doing out here in the street begging? You should go and get yourself some rest.” The man looked absolutely flabbergasted that my father spoke back to him in Estonian. The astonishment was visible on his face.  He obviously didn’t see that coming. After the man tottered off we all had a giggle. My father was much more at ease speaking Estonian after that.

After our initial three nights in Tallinn that was when our adventure really began. We hired a large eight seater Ford van and hit the road. Getting out of Tallinn proved to be a bit tricky, we weren’t familiar with the road rules and there were tram lines everywhere but we managed. Kolga Manor was the first place we stopped at and although it was in a dilapidated state, it had its charm. We had a really nice soup and ate pancakes there and were surprised at how much one of the waitresses resembled my sister Roma. It was uncanny.  

Kolga Manor.

We experienced a wonderful sense of freedom travelling around Estonia with a basic itinerary, leisurely stopping at places that sparked our curiosity. We stopped at Rakvere and the 15th century castle in Toolse.  We all thought Käsmu was a lovely place with its charming houses and spacious gardens that were set back from the street. Estonians definitely like their privacy and it shows with how they build their homes.  

Rakvere Castle ruins

Narva was a little bit different from what we expected but we appreciated it for what it was. It was once considered to be one of the most beautiful towns in Northern Europe built in the baroque style, but that was all destroyed during the war. The Pühtitsa Convent in Kuremäe was an absolutely lovely place. I’m so glad we took the advice of the travel guidebook and went there. The convent was established in 1891, originally built as an Orthodox monastery then later became a convent. Pühtitsa Convent is now the only functioning nunnery in Estonia with approximately 150 nuns in residence. There are six churches on the grounds dedicated to Orthodox Christian Saints and all the buildings are immaculately maintained. I was very impressed with the convent’s stunning architecture and beautifully manicured gardens. It almost made me wish I could live there myself! 

Pühtitsa Convent

This is how Estonians stack firewood!

Visiting Tartu was of course one of the highlights of our trip as that was where my grandmother was born. We stopped at Jõgeva on the way and flicked through the local telephone book and were pleased to discover a few Lestals listed there. It’s highly probable they are distant relatives.   It did feel a bit surreal being in Tartu for the first time. We’ve always heard stories about Tartu from my grandmother but to actually be there in the flesh was quite amazing. Even though my grandmother had passed away many years ago, we felt quite connected to her in Tartu. It was her birthplace, where she grew up, and so very far away from Australia. She had led a completely different life in Tartu back then.

In Tartu we stayed at the serviced apartments owned by the Wilde Pub which are adjacent to the main building. When we arrived we met with the manager who was a cheerful man with a moustache and glasses.  He tried speaking to my father in English but got stuck several times. After a while my father got a bit impatient and ended up finishing his sentence for him in Estonian. The manager then let out a huge grin and exclaimed “A-ha! You can speak Estonian!” He was very pleased. After that he chatted away with my father in Estonian and was very impressed that he had come all the way from Australia with his three daughters to visit the homeland. He thought it was simply wonderful. So did we!  He then showed us to our apartments that were lovely and modern.  We rented two apartments next door to each other and were some of the first people to use them after the recent renovation.

Famous statue: Kissing Students.

We all loved Tartu; we thought it was an absolutely charming place. The city had quite a collegial feel to it much like Oxford and Cambridge in England.  As it is a university town, there were lots of trendy bars and eateries, thus creating a very relaxed and pleasant atmosphere. We did what we always do when we visit a new place for the first time, travel by foot and explore the area. We had taken quite a few photographs by this stage and were eager to see how they turned out. We found a photo lab in one of the side streets and placed all our film canisters on the counter for processing. We had quite a few of them too! I think by the end of the trip I had shot between 12-15 rolls of film.

There are many must-see places in Tartu. The Estonian National Museum of course is one. We were completely transfixed by some of the exhibits we found there. The museum had an outstanding collection of Estonian artefacts, particularly relating to national costume, handicrafts and farming. We spent hours wandering through the museum and could have easily stayed there longer. Next time I definitely will.

One of our favourite places in Tartu was undoubtedly the Gunpowder Cellar. We enjoyed it so much that we went there several times. It was exactly our type of place – large and inviting with a buzzing atmosphere and live music. It was everything you needed for a fun night out. The Gunpowder Cellar was a former fort built into the side of a hill during the 18th century, later used to store gunpowder and then beer.  Today it’s a popular two-tiered restaurant decked out with a wooden interior and soft lighting. It also features in the Guinness Book of Records for having the highest pub ceiling in the world, measuring 11 metres.     

Wilde Pub dedicated to writers Oscar Wilde & Eduard Vilde.

Researching our family history was always on the agenda in Tartu. We wanted to learn more about my grandmother’s early life in Estonia, particularly details about her father. Unfortunately we could not find any trace of him but we did discover a family secret. We visited one office, I’m not sure exactly which one, but we did meet a very helpful archivist. As we sat in her office, she went to retrieve the parish book containing my grandmother’s birth entry that was stored underground in the vault. She returned with a large heavy book and we saw with our own eyes the handwritten entry recording my grandmother’s birth in 1914. It was an emotional moment for us. The book also mentioned another child, Karl Ferdinand who was apparently my grandmother’s brother. He was born in 1895 and died 9 weeks later.  This was a startling revelation for us as my grandmother never mentioned a brother! Not once! 

We spoke with many people in different museums asking their advice regarding family history matters. I remember being inside one building, in some kind of music room and the two ladies there aged in their sixties loved how my father spoke Estonian. One woman said “I remember when people used to speak like that!” It brought back memories for her. They remarked that my father sounded almost “Shakespearian” due to the formal old fashioned words he used.  They thought it was wonderful! I’m glad my father was able to brighten their day but unfortunately we didn’t find any other useful family history leads.

During our stay in Tartu we made a number of day trips to nearby regions. Setumaa was a place of great curiosity for us, it’s basically a culture within a culture, renowned for its unique language and customs. It was very quiet when we arrived there and we didn’t actually meet anyone however, some local village children waved to us as we drove by. That was nice. We visited Obinitsa, the cultural centre of the Setu people and took photographs with the “Song Mother” statue which stood on the bank overlooking the lake. We very much enjoyed the tranquillity of the area, it was almost as if time stood still.

Charming old building. The leaning art museum.

Otepää was somewhat different from the other regions of Estonia we had seen until then. It felt more traditional with its cute wooden houses and apparent absence of concrete Soviet style buildings. Most of Estonia is flat but its south-eastern region has gentle rolling hills somewhat reminiscent of the English countryside.  Otepää is renowned for many things, mainly for being the birthplace of the Estonian national flag, home to Europe’s oldest firearm which dates from the 1300s and it’s the winter capital of Estonia. I took a lovely portrait of my family in Otepää in front of the Pühajärv Lake. It has pride of place on my wall today.

It was easy to fall in love with Estonia. Unlike other developed countries Estonia is quite sparsely populated which means nature is ever present. There is a certain wildness about the Estonian countryside, even when you’re on cultivated land, because the forests, marshes, bogs and coast are never far away.  Estonia is absolutely teeming with wildlife and it was a wonderful sight to see wild animals thriving in their natural habitat. We took particular delight in seeing the many storks perched high in their nests above the telegraph poles. We’ve never seen anything like that in Australia. It was beautiful. One thing we came to realise is that the rhythm of life in the Estonian countryside is very much in sync with nature. This had a very calming and tranquilising effect on us, filling us with inner contentment.

From Otepää our adventure continued. We travelled past Puhja and around Võrtsjärv then stopped at Viljandi before heading down south into Valga, sometimes driving across unsealed roads. We discovered that Valga is a border town, two thirds of which is in Estonia and the other third in Latvia. The Latvian spelling for Valga is “Valka”. It wasn’t part of our original plan to drive into Latvia but since we were in the vicinity, we thought why not? The night prior, we hired a family room in a hotel that was located near the border. The hotel was part of some kind of dirt bike park and I remember all the beds in the room were rather small. My sister Sarah wasn’t pleased that she was designated to sleep in the smallest bed but considering she was the youngest and with a height of only five foot two, it was only logical. We had a good chuckle about her bed and even years afterwards, always referring to it as ‘the Noddy bed’ (with reference to the cartoon character) because it was so tiny!

After crossing the top of northern Latvia, we finally reached the Baltic coast and turned right, passing through Salacgrīva and Ainaži before re-entering Estonia.  Our next stop was Pärnu. We naturally had to go and explore Estonia’s summer capital! We were very impressed with Pärnu for a number of reasons but mainly because we found the city quite charming and unique. One thing we noticed almost immediately upon arriving was that the vast majority of homes proudly display the Estonian flag. We have seen this elsewhere in Estonia of course, but not to the same extent. In Pärnu it appeared to be more prevalent, perhaps because we drove through more residential areas where houses were closer together.  Out of all the places we visited, Pärnu felt the most “Scandinavian” and we later learned that the town is a favourite destination of Swedish and Finnish holidaymakers.  We loved walking around the area and noticed that every house seemed to have an apple tree in the garden and at least one cat.  I guess householders have the choice between cats or mice and cats are definitely the better alternative.  We also visited the famous Pärnu Mud Baths and had a massage.

Kuressaare, Saaremaa

From Pärnu we proceeded to the islands, having to wait an hour and a half at the tiny port of Virtsu before taking the ferry to Muhu.  We were astonished to discover that the ticket cost the equivalent of $6, for five people and a minibus – even cheaper than the Manly Ferry in Sydney.  No ferry was necessary when crossing from Muhu to Saaremaa as there is a road linking the two islands. We stayed two days in Saaremaa’s largest town Kuuressaare where we visited a mediaeval castle and had lunch in a disused windmill which had been converted into a restaurant.  Before leaving we made sure to pack several bottles of the famous Saaremaa vodka.  


After our trip to the islands we made our way back to Tallinn to spend a few more days in the capital before our trip came to an end. 

During our final night in Tallinn we decided to make a real event of it and booked a table at the elegant and upmarket Gloria restaurant.  We had a really enjoyable night and sat in a plush booth which was partitioned with a red velvet curtain.  My father was very generous and paid for the entire meal for all five of us. He insisted we enjoy every course and not worry about the bill.  Drinks were constantly brought to us and my little sister Sarah probably indulged a bit too much as she ended up the worst for wear.  Once the champagne had gone to her head she became quite giggly and very funny which put all of us in a similar mood.  On our way back to the apartment, I remember us walking down the street all laughing happily after a very enjoyable night out. Once we were back in our apartment Sarah managed to slide off her bed and landed with a thud on the floor which had all of us in a hysterical fit of laughter.  It was a very enjoyable end to a magnificent trip.  

Visiting Estonia in 2003 is one of the highlights of my life and that of my family’s.  We returned again in 2005 minus my two sisters and saw some areas of the north coast which we hadn’t seen the first time.  I have visited Estonia many times since and feel more and more connected to the country each time I go.  

Flashback Friday: Estonia Joins EU

A momentous day in Estonian history.  Estonia has certainly come a long way since. 

Thursday, 22 October 2015

President Ilves Awarded the 2015 Aspen Prague Award

The 2015 Aspen Prague Award has been presented to President Ilves for his outstanding contribution to democracy building and his successful and safe leadership of Estonia as part of a united Europe; the award also acknowledges the Head of State for helping to maintain a strong Atlantic relationship between the countries of Europe and North America and for promoting regional cooperation between the countries of Central and Eastern Europe.

President Ilves gave a speech in Prague yesterday stating - 'Today we see around us a fracturing of Europe, perhaps even liberal democracy more broadly. We are figuratively as well as literally building new walls where instead we should be enjoying the freedom so many European countries fought for so long to achieve'.  

To read the full text of his speech, please click here:

Tallinn Voted Fifth Best Airport in Europe

The 2015 Sleeping in Airports survey has revealed that Tallinn has one of the best airports in Europe. Travellers voted for the Lennart Meri Tallinn Airport based on their experiences and found it to be modern, comfortable and with excellent services.  

The top ten airports in Europe as voted by travellers are:

1. Munich International Airport, Germany (MUC)
2. Helsinki Vantaa Airport, Finland (HEL)
3. Zurich Kloten International Airport, Switzerland (ZRH)
4. Porto Francisco Sá Carneiro Airport, Portugal (OPO)
5. Lennart Meri Tallinn Airport, Estonia (TLL)
6. Amsterdam Schiphol International Airport, Netherlands (AMS)
7. Athens Eleftherios Venizelos International Airport, Greece (ATH)
8. Stockholm Arlanda International Airport, Sweden (ARN)
9. Vienna International Airport, Austria (VIE
10. Warsaw Chopin International Airport, Poland (WAW)

To read the full story, please click here:

Friday, 16 October 2015

Eight Estonian Jokes

Estonians are not known for their humour but of course they can be funny like everyone else. It's rare to see an Estonian give a big belly laugh when they find something amusing; usually they respond with either a grin or a smile. Estonian humour closely resembles British humour with common elements being self-depreciation, deadpan, sarcasm, irreverence and the ridiculing of authority. Estonians tend to be more funny from the comments they make rather than the jokes they tell. There is not a huge repertoire of Estonian jokes that have been translated into English but I have managed to collate a few.

Joke 1. 

Joke 2.
An Estonian is driving to his summer house and sees something on the road. He stops his car and sees that it is a dead crow. He thinks a bit, and then tosses it in the trunk of his car. “Maybe it will be of some use” he thinks.

Come autumn, the same Estonian is driving back from his summer house. He stops at the same place on the road, opens his trunk, and throws the dead crow on to the road, mumbling to himself: “Didn't need it after all.”

Joke 3.
What is the difference between an Estonian introvert and an Estonian extrovert? When an introvert speaks he looks down at his shoes. When the extrovert speaks he looks down at your shoes.

Joke 4.
There’s a joke about Estonia and technology. An American find cables underground during a construction project, he concludes that ancient Americans knew about telephones. A German digs 200 metres and finds glass fibres and concludes that ancient Germans already knew about fibre optics. An Estonian gets curious and decides to dig, only to find nothing despite of going all the way to 2000 metres. The conclusion: evidently ancient Estonians already used WiFi.

Joke 5. Once there was an Estonian who loved his wife so much that he almost told her.
(Estonian men are not known for being romantic or overly affectionate.)

Sometimes Estonians are ridiculed for being slow because they generally think carefully before they act and don't hurry.  Here are a few jokes for Estonian speakers.

Joke 6.
Eesti kiirabi tunnuslause: 'Aeg parandab kõik haavad'.
(Estonian ambulance slogan - 'time heals all wounds').

Joke 7.
Jumal, aeglase taibuga eestlane ja kiire taibuga eestlane istuvad ümber laua ning mängivad pokkerit. Laua keskele kerkib tohutu kuhi raha. Korraga kaob elekter ja tuba mattub pimedusse.
Hetke pärast süttivad tuled uuesti, kuid raha on laualt kadunud. Kes selle pihta pani?Vastus: aeglase taibuga eestlane. Teised tegelased on kujutlusvõime viljad.

Joke 8.
Kuidas eestlasega sõbraks saada?
Joo temaga kaks aastat ja ta hakkab vaikselt avanema.

No tribe left behind: Estonia celebrates its Finno-Ugrian roots | News | ERR

Monday, 12 October 2015

Churches of Tallinn

Estonia may now be considered one of the least religious countries in the world but its history is rich in religious traditions. For centuries, local parishes were the administrators in Estonian communities, recording and overseeing all vital family occasions including births, baptisms, confirmations, deaths and marriages.  Estonia was historically a predominantly Lutheran country.

The Soviet Occupation changed religious life in Estonia dramatically.  Religion was suppressed and certain activities such as singing hymns in public were forbidden.  The faithful were forced to keep their beliefs secret. 

Religious life was suppressed for over 50 years in Estonia but the beautiful churches that still exist today are a reminder of how Christian faith once made up the fabric of Estonian life.  There are many beautiful churches in Estonia to explore.  Tallinn's main five have been beautifully restored for locals and visitors to enjoy. 

St. Olaf Church  
(Oleviste kirik)
Located: 50 Lai Tänav, Tallinn

St Olaf' church is Tallinn's biggest medieval structure. It took its name from the sainted Norwegian King Olav II Haraldsson and was once the tallest building in the world. Built during the 12th century St. Olaf became one of the main churches in the Lower Town and formed its own congregation, which at first mostly comprised Scandinavian merchants and craftsmen together with some Estonians. After the reformation in Tallinn in 1523 St. Olaf became a Lutheran church but since 1950 it has been Baptist.

For a few Euros visitors can climb up the church tower and discover a spectacular view of Tallinn. 

Trivia: Lightning is known to have struck St. Olaf's tower around ten times, three of which led to extensive fires in 1625, 1820 and 1931.

St. Mary's Cathedral
(Toomkirik / Tallinna Neitsi Maarja Piiskoplik Toomkirik)
Located: Toom-Kooli Tänav 6, Tallinn

Built around 1219 when the Danes invaded Tallinn, St. Mary's was originally a wooden church that was later rebuilt into a stone structure. St Mary's Cathedral was first mentioned in the year 1233 and is the oldest church in Tallinn and mainland Estonia. It is also the only building in Toompea which survived a 17th-century fire. St. Mary's was originally a Roman Catholic cathedral, it became Lutheran in 1561 and now belongs to the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church. 

Trivia: Several famous people have been buried in the church including renowned Swedish military officer Pontus De la Gardie and his wife as well as Swedish King Johann III's daughter Sophia Gyllenhelm.

St. John's Church
(Jaani kirik)
Located: Freedom Square

Built between 1862 and 1867, St. John's church is a large Lutheran church that was consecrated on 17 December 1867. The church was built in the neo-Gothic style, with soaring lancet arches, three principal aisles, with a tall tower at the west end topped with a decorative spire. There is a choir and chancel, a small semi-circular apse and a large vestry. The church is built on the eastern edge of Freedom Square and dominates the square architecturally. St. John's church has a rich history in choir singing and today it is still used as a popular concert venue. 

Trivia: Johannes Carl Assmuth (1845 - 1916) the former cantor of St. John's is the man behind the winning entry of the very first Estonian Song Festival. In 1869 he convinced his male choir to travel to Tartu to take part in the event. The journey took them four days using borrowed horse wagons but it was well worth the effort as they won!

St Nicholas Church 
(Niguliste kirik)
Located: 3 Niguliste Tänav, Tallinn

St. Nicholas’ Church was one of the two parish churches in medieval Tallinn and one of the wealthiest churches in town. It was founded and built around 1230–1275 by Westphalian merchants, who came from Gotland in the 13th century. The church was dedicated to Saint Nicholas, the patron of the fishermen and sailors. Saint Nicholas was the only church in Tallinn which remained untouched by iconoclasm brought by the Protestant Reformation in 1523. The head of the congregation poured molten lead into the locks of the church to prevent the raging hordes from getting in. 

On the 9th of March 1944, the church was severely damaged by the Soviet Bombing of Tallinn in World War II. The resulting fire turned the church into ruins and destroyed most of its interior (except that of the St. Anthony chapel), including baroque pews, lofts and pulpit. Many precious art treasures survived thanks to their timely evacuation from the church. The renovation of the church started in 1953 and was completely finished in 1981. Fire once again damaged the tower in October 1982. After a restoration was carried out under the guidance of conservator-restorer Villem Raam, the church was inaugurated in 1984 as a museum and concert hall, where the collection of medieval art of the Art Museum of Estonia is displayed. 

Trivia: The museum also contains a special silver chamber with the silver treasures of guilds, craft corporations and the Brotherhood of Blackheads

Church of the Holy Ghost 
(Püha Vaimu kirik)
Located: 2 Pühavaimu Tänav, Tallinn

The Church of the Holy Ghost is a medieval Lutheran church that is located in the heart of the Old Town. It is situated behind Raekoja Plats, opposite the Great Guild and Kalev's Maiasmokk Cafe. Construction of the church began sometime during the first half of the 13th century and the church was first mentioned in written sources in 1319.  The fact that the church does not face due east may suggest that it was erected in an already built-up area and had to adapt to the street layout. Originally the church was part of a greater almshouse complex, and dedicated to the Holy Ghost. The Church of the Holy Ghost has a plain, white-washed exterior with crow-stepped gables, an octagonal tower with large Gothic stain glass windows. A major feature of the church is its finely carved clock made by Christian Ackermann. It has been telling the time in Tallinn since the 17th century.

Trivia: The church was the first church in Estonia to hold services in Estonian, and the first extracts of the catechism to be published in Estonian were printed here in 1535.

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral
Located: 10 Lossi Plats Tallinn

The Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is Tallinn's largest and grandest Orthodox cathedral. It was designed by Mikhail Preobrazhensky and constructed between 1894 - 1900.  The cathedral is dedicated to Saint Alexander Nevsky who in 1242 won the Battle of the Ice on Lake Peipus, in the territorial waters of present-day Estonia. The cathedral is richly decorated and has eleven bells, five onion domes and three altars. It is a popular tourist attraction and is one of the most photographed buildings in Tallinn. 

The Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is located on the hill of Toompea which, according to legend is the final resting place of Kalev, father of Estonian folk hero Kalevipoeg.

Trivia: In 1924 there were plans to have the cathedral demolished but the government later changed its mind. 

IOM Releases Estonian Welcome Guide For Asylum Seekers and Refugees

The new 'Welcome Guide for Asylum Seekers and Refugees' has been released by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM). The guide is available in English, Russian, French and Arabic and is an interesting read not only for refugees but for anyone with an interest in Estonia.

Here's an extract from the booklet:

Greetings and distance

● People usually greet each other with a wave of the hand, i.e. without physical contact.
● A handshake is used in more formal settings (regardless of whether the other person is a man or a woman).
● Physical contact (e.g. a hug) is common among young people and in informal communication.
● Kissing on the cheek is not very common in Estonia.
● Estonians like to keep some space around them, and invading this space may be seen as aggressive – it makes people feel uncomfortable, and they may take a step back to maintain their personal space.

Eye contact

● Estonians consider eye contact very important in communication, as it shows that you are interested in the other person and that they have your attention.
● If you avoid eye contact, people may think you have something to hide or that you are bored or not interested in the conversation.
● Always make eye contact, but ensure it is not too intense, or it may be interpreted as overbearing.

Emotions and smiling

● Estonians may seem reserved at first.
● Estonians do not smile much in official communication.
● Estonians may be rather more emotional and smile more often once you have broken the ice and befriended them.
● Although Estonians may seem cold at first, this does not mean that they dislike you. They simply need time to get to know you.

Conversation habits

● It is important to be specific in conversations. Taking a long time to get to the point is considered a waste of time.
● Estonians do not generally talk with their hands.
● People are rather informal when they communicate with their colleagues, calling them by their first name irrespective of their age or position.
● When addressing an official or service staff, it is advisable to use the formal "teie", which is also appropriate and polite when speaking to older people or meeting someone for the first time.
● However, using the less formal "sina" is not disrespectful.


● Estonians are usually direct and say what they think, which is why they are also direct in refusal and say "no" immediately if they feel they cannot do you a favor.
● "No" usually means "no", and there is little point trying to make people change their mind – they see it as applying pressure, which may have negative consequences.
● This means that you too should be direct. It takes some getting used to, but is not impossible.


● Estonians are punctual and disapprove of being late;
● if you have agreed to attend a job interview, made an appointment with a doctor or need to attend a meeting with people you do not know very well, make sure you arrive on time or even early; and
● if you cannot avoid being late and you know you will be in advance, make sure you call and let the other person or people know.

To read the full guide in English, please click here:

Thursday, 8 October 2015

Estonia Celebrates its 1st Day of the Entrepreneur

October 8 is now known as the Day of the Entrepreneur in Estonia. To read more (in Estonian) click here:

In the evening the award ceremony took place, recognising the achievements of Estonian entrepreneurs. To view the winners, click here: EASi Ettevõtluse Auhind 2015 võitjad

Estonia has a lot of fine talented individuals. I'm sure next year's event will bring them into the spotlight.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Great to see Eston Kohver back home in Estonia after his ordeal in Russia

When Eston Kohver returned home to Estonia last month he thought Estonia had forgotten about him. Little did he know that people at home and abroad rallied behind him, demanding his immediate release. Yellow ribbons were worn in his honour. A year after his abduction and illegal detention in Russia, Eston Kohver is now safely back home in Estonia and has been reunited with his family. He recently met with President Ilves who expressed his joy to see him back on Estonian soil.

TransferWise co-founders Taavet & Kristo named EY's Innovation Entrepreneurs of the Year

Great news! TransferWise has once again received the recognition it deserves. This great Estonian success story has saved people many millions of Euros/Dollars/Pounds across the globe by eliminating hidden bank fees. It's a truly fantastic service that I have used many times and will surely use again in the future. 

To learn more about the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award, please click here:

The BBC recently interviewed Taavet and Kristo about their success story. To read, click here:

Friday, 2 October 2015

It's Mushroom Season in Estonia!

Autumn is mushroom season in Estonia and what better way to spend the weekend than to grab a basket and head to the forest! Estonia has a copious amount of mushrooms in its beautiful virgin forests and finding them is all part of the fun. 

More than 3700 species of fungi have been identifed in Estonia with some scientists believing that this figure could be as high as 4500.  About 60 Estonian mushroom species are considered edible. The chanterelles mushroom is undoubtedly the most coveted by pickers - they're great in soups, pies, salads and omelettes. In fact Estonians put mushrooms in virtually everything!

When I first visited Estonia in August 2003 I was fascinated by the mushroom season. I remember driving through the countryside with my family and seeing people emerge from the forest with buckets and baskets. They were all well equipped wearing their jackets, boots and hats and carrying their utensils for harvesting. Sometimes we were in really remote areas of the country where it felt as though we were in the middle of nowhere yet mushroom pickers were active wherever we went. From the forest road I rarely saw parked cars and often wondered where all these people came from as there were no towns for miles. The distance between bus stops were often significant yet I often saw people waiting at them. It was obvious to us that Estonians have no aversion to walking.  In time I learnt that the perfect mushroom plot, if you can find it, is sacred and should never be revealed to anyone!

Mushroom picking - the Estonian way! 

Activists Want Web Portal to Connect Estonians Home and Away | News | ERR

A group of activists wish to create a new web platform to connect all Estonians whatever their country of residence.

"One hundred years after gaining independence, Estonians are more scattered around the world than ever before," the creative team said in a joint statement, adding that smaller communities in Estonia and abroad tend to lack communication and cooperation with each other.

The group now plans to launch a kind of social media platform that would help to overcome the distance between people, bring communities closer together and "make Estonia global".

The idea came from Martin Ehala, a professor of Estonia at the University of Tartu.

The team behind him hopes that the new portal will become a center for public discussion, where people can publish and comment on opinion articles. They also aim to create a database that would help people cooperate with others in all fields of life.

"Global Estonian portal will offer opportunities for cooperation and joint activities, giving activists a chance to form and organize new relations. If we tie it to Hooandja [an Estonian crowdfunding platform], a user's participation in projects will be reflected on his or her account, thus adding trust credit," the organizers explained.

The platform, called Minu Inimesed ("My People"), should have the beta version ready by August 2016. The public launch is scheduled for April 12, 2017. The creators hope to have 100,000 users by February 2020.

My People is one of the many gift initiatives for the republic's 100th birthday.

Source: Activists want web portal to connect Estonians home and away | News | ERR

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Vagabrothers Explore Estonia - Cool Abandoned Factories & Craft Beer in Tallinn

Everyone knows the fairytale city of Tallinn with its medieval Old Town but what lies behind the city wall? According to Vagabrothers - “Fellow hipsters of the world, there is a city designed for all of us and it is here!" Check out their new alternative video of Tallinn.