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Estonia

Estonia (Estonian: Eesti) is a Baltic state in northeastern Europe. Estonia borders Russia and Latvia. Estonia has a coastline on the Baltic Sea and Gulf of Finland.

A growing number of foreign visitors have been travelling to Estonia in recent years. According to Statistics Estonia, 1.3 million foreigners visited Estonia in 2000, and that number climbed 38 percent to 1.8 million foreigners in 2005 and up to 6 million in 2015.

Understand

Estonia is a Baltic gem offering visitors the chance to see a tiny dynamic land on the shores of the Baltic Sea. Glorious beaches pepper the extensive coastline, although the swimming season is short. After all, the Baltics are not renowned for warm weather – something that any visitor to Estonia must be aware of; the summer is short and the winter is severe.

Tallinn's medieval old town was built by the Germans in Middle Ages and is in magnificent condition, with the medieval city walls and towers almost completely intact, and it rates as one of Europe's best medieval old towns. Visitors can also experience an ex-Soviet occupied country that is now part of the European Union. Traces of the Soviet era are still there to be seen, e.g. Paldiski, a deserted Soviet army base that was once off-limits to Estonians themselves, can easily be visited on a day trip from the capital, Tallinn. Estonia is renowned for its bucolic islands and extensive bogs that are now national parks with easy access for tourists.

History

See also: Soviet Union

After seven centuries of German, Danish, Swedish, Polish and Russian rule, Estonia attained independence in 1918. Forcibly incorporated into the USSR in 1940, it re-gained independence in 1991 through its "Singing Revolution", a non-violent movement that overthrew an initially violent occupation. Since the last Russian troops left in 1994, Estonia moved to promote economic and political ties with Western Europe. It is now one of the more prosperous former Communist states, enjoying a high-tech environment, an open and liberal economy and a transparent government system. On the other hand, it is faced with a fairly low (but growing) GDP per capita (in a European Union context), as well as a very low birth rate, which is creating a population decline. From 1991 to 2007 the country saw rapid economic expansion, leading it to be among one of the wealthiest and the most developed of the former Soviet Republics. However, its economy was badly damaged during the global recession that started in 2008, although more recently, it has been recovering quickly. In 2011, the euro was adopted as the official currency.

Since accession to the European Union (EU) in 2004, Estonia is becoming one of the most popular destinations in north-eastern Europe with (EU highest) 30% growth in the number of visitors in 2004, according to Eurostat.

People

Estonia is bigger than the Netherlands or Denmark by area, but is one of the least densely populated countries in the EU, with 1.3 million people. Ethnic Estonians make up 69% of the population, and Russians 26%. The heaviest concentrations of Russians are in the north-east (Ida-Viru County) and Tallinn. Many ethnic Estonians consider themselves Nordic, as they are not Balts, and regard Estonia's classification as a Baltic state as mainly a geographical convenience.

Estonians are the least religious people in the European Union. Fourteen per cent are Lutherans and 13% are Eastern Orthodox (mostly Russian Orthodox, although there is an Estonian Orthodox church).

Geography

Climate  Maritime, wet, moderate winters, cool summers Terrain  Marshy, lowlands; flat in the north, hilly in the south Highest point  Suur Munamägi (literally Big Egg Mountain) 318 m above sea level, in the south east, 20 km north of the main highway that runs from Riga in Latvia to Russia, close to the borders with both countries. It is the highest point in the Baltic states. Geography  The mainland terrain is flat, boggy, and partly wooded; offshore lie more than 1,500 islands and islets. Nature  World War II and the subsequent occupation were devastating on humans, but the destruction and the closure of large areas for military use actually increased Estonia's forest coverage from about 25% before the war to more than 50% by 1991. Wolves, bears, lynx, elk and deer as well as some rare bird and plant species are abundant. Wild animals are exported to some EU countries for forest re-population programmes. Most animals can be hunted, subject to annual quotas.

Holidays

  • National holiday : Independence Day, 24 February; this day in 1918 was the first date of independence from Soviet Russia (20 August 1991 was the date of re-independence from the Soviet Union). Each 24 February, a grand ball is held by the president for the prominent and important members of society and foreign dignitaries.
  • Jaanipäev : St John's Day or Midsummer Day held on the night of 23–24 June. The evening of the 23rd and well into the morning of the 24th is celebrated with bonfires and a traditional festive menu concentrating on barbeques and drinking.
  • Võidupüha (Victory Day) : 23 June is celebrated to commemorate the decisive victory over Baltic-German forces in 1919 during the War of Independence.
  • Christmas or Jõulud : Celebrated strictly as a family event.
  • New Year's Eve : As a Soviet province, the authorities sought to promote the New Year holiday, as Christmas was all but forbidden for its alleged "religious" and "nationalist" character. After the restoration of independence, the significance of the New Year decreased, but it is still a day off and celebrated. This day is used by the leaders of the country to address the nation.

Regions

Estonia itself is divided into 15 counties (or maakonnad, singular - maakond). To bring out the unique characteristics of Estonia, we use 4 distinctive regions in this guide. As the country is small, most destinations can be reached within a couple of hours from Tallinn.

Cities

  • Tallinn — capital city with an enchanting medieval core
  • Haapsalu — seaside resort town
  • Kuressaare — home of the Kuressaare castle, on the island of Saaremaa
  • Narva — the easternmost city of Estonia, on the Russian border
  • Pärnu — historical resort seaside city with a small harbour, Estonia's summer capital
  • Rakvere — known for its castle ruins and unique character
  • Tartu — Estonia's second-largest and oldest city, intellectual hub famous for its universities
  • Valga — border town with Latvia
  • Viljandi — home to an annual folk music festival

Other destinations

Estonians have a special love for nature, and many will tell you that they would rather sit under a tree in an empty forest or hike in a national park than almost anything else. Estonia's tranquil, laidback and unspoiled Baltic islands provide a splendid getaway to nature.

  • Hiiumaa — second largest island of Estonia
  • Karula National Park — the smallest national park, located in South Estonia
  • Lahemaa National Park — 50 km east of Tallinn, with 1000 km2 of bays, peninsulas and forests
  • Matsalu National Park — one of the largest and most important autumn stopping grounds for migratory birds in Europe
  • Saaremaa — largest island, which includes the town of Kuressaare and one of the few well-preserved medieval castles in the Baltics
  • Soomaa National Park — a peat bog formed from a glacier melt from around 11,000 years ago
  • Vilsandi National Park — covers 238 km2, including 163 km2 of sea and 75 km2 of land, plus 160 islands and islets

Get in

Estonia is a member of the Schengen Agreement.

  • There are normally no border controls between countries that have signed and implemented the treaty. This includes most of the European Union and a few other countries.
  • There are usually identity checks before boarding international flights or boats. Sometimes there are temporary border controls at land borders.
  • Likewise, a visa granted for any Schengen member is valid in all other countries that have signed and implemented the treaty.
  • Please see Travelling around the Schengen Area for more information on how the scheme works, which countries are members and what the requirements are for your nationality.

By plane

Tallinn is Estonia's main international gateway. In addition to direct daily flights to/from all major Scandinavian (Stockholm, Copenhagen, and Oslo) and Baltic cities (Riga and Vilnius), there are direct flights from all major European hubs like London, Frankfurt, Munich, Brussels and Amsterdam and regional hubs like Prague and Warsaw. Eastward connections are from Moscow, Saint Petersburg and Kiev. Estonia's flag carrier Nordica provides half of the services and the rest is provided by Finnair, SAS, Lufthansa, LOT, Aeroflot, Air Baltic, and others. Easyjet is one of a few low-cost carriers that provide regular services to Tallinn. Ryanair operates several summer flights as well.

Close proximity and excellent ferry services with Helsinki allow for combination of open-jaw air travel. Riga is only 2-3 hr bus ride from southern Estonia and may be another good option.

Other Estonian airports are mostly used for domestic services, although Tartu has a daily connection to Helsinki, whereas Pärnu and Kuressaare may have sporadic flights to Stockholm.

By car

Good road connections are to the south (Via Baltica routing Tallinn-Riga-Kaunas-Warsaw) and east (Tallinn-Saint Petersburg, Tallinn-Pskov). Any car travel to Russia involves unpredictable delays at the border. The Narva/Ivangorod border crossing is notorious for its half-day-long queues, so use the southern crossing in Pechory whenever possible and pay special attention to the ticketing system that books you a place in the queue on the Estonian side.

By bus

Lots of good and cheap connections from Riga and Saint Petersburg to Tallinn. Long-distance service from Vilnius, Kaunas, Kaliningrad, and even Warsaw or Kiev is also available. The most popular regular service provider is Luxexpress Group, others include Ecolines and Hansabuss.

By boat

Ferry lines connect Tallinn with Sweden (Stockholm) and Finland (Helsinki, Mariehamn). Tallinn-Helsinki is one of the busiest sea routes in Europe and has daily 11 ferry crossings and 6-7 different fast-boat crossings (not during the winter) in each direction. Ferries are operated by Tallink, Viking Line and Eckerö Line and the fast boats by Linda Line. Ferry tickets can be as low as €19 for a single or return (usually the return is free if returning the same day; they want day cruisers who supposedly spend more on board).

Minor international routes include the recently re-established connection between the Latvian port of Ventspils and the island of Saaremaa and Paldiski - Kapellskär (Sweden) with two different operators.

With your own boat or yacht you can visit State Port Register and the Estonian Maritime Administration webpage for Recreational Craft.

By train

International train services Tallinn on the one hand and Moscow and Saint Petersburg in Russia on the other have been suspended several times in the past. Currently the Russian Railways (RZD) runs the connection Moscow-Tallinn (via St. Petersburg) with daily night trains. Trains depart from Moscow at 21.20 and arrive in Tallinn at 13.38. Services from Tallinn depart at 15.20 and arrive in Moscow at 09.32. The widely (and somewhat blatantly) advertised Riga-to-Tallinn train connection is anything but reasonable, because it makes a long detour and takes you nearly a whole day for a simple trip between the neighbouring Baltic capitals. However, local trains from northern Latvia to southern Estonia (connection in Valka/Valga) may be useful.

Get around

In Estonia, the public transport system is well-developed and it is preferable to walk, cycle or use public transport, given that the local Eastern European style driving culture may be dangerous for the uninitiated.

By bus

Estonia has a comprehensive bus network all over the country. Nearly every city can be accessed by a direct bus from Tallinn. Other big cities have their own bus routes, such as Narva–Pärnu and Tartu–Kuressaare. There is an excellent route planner called Peatus.ee, in English, Estonian and Russian. A simpler timetable search and booking tool is at Bussireisid.ee (note that printouts of electronic tickets may not be accepted: check instructions at the website!) You can also buy tickets from the driver.

By car

Road quality varies. Most roads have only two lanes, but Narva–Tallinn road is a good 4-lane highway. The speed limit is 90 km/h in the countryside and 50 km/h in cities, unless specified otherwise. Passengers are expected to wear seat belts. Lights must always be switched on.

In the central areas of bigger cities, a fee is levied on parking cars, but finding a provider of tickets is sometimes difficult as mobile parking is widespread.

Estonia has lots of car rental companies, and the level of English spoken by their representatives is generally very high. Rental is somewhat cheaper than in Western Europe. There are agency counters on Level 0 of the Tallinn International Airport.

Driving in Estonia is fairly easy, although it may be slightly more annoying than in Western Europe and US. Drivers are generally polite, but they may not strictly follow speed limits and other traffic rules, especially when overtaking. Speeding is not accepted which is reflected in frequent radar controls by the police and stationary speed cameras on major highways. There isn't very much traffic on the Estonian highways compared to Western Europe or for example Poland. Estonian laws against driving under the influence of alcohol are strict and follow a policy of zero tolerance. Beware of drunk pedestrians, though. They are not uncommon.

By plane

Estonia has several domestic flights, mainly between the mainland and islands. Avies operates regular services between Tallinn and Kuressaare or Kärdla. Luftverkehr Friesland-Harle flies from Pärnu to Ruhnu and further to Kuressaare.

By train

Estonia's train network does not cover the whole country. The quality of railway tracks and services is steadily improving, thanks to substantial EU funding. Recently the old Soviet diesel machines have been replaced with newer trains.

Since 2014 all domestic passenger rail operations have been taken over by Elron. Tickets are sold on board. You can also buy them online, at major stations, or in one of the rare ticket machines, but this makes sense mostly for 1st class tickets that are limited in number and may be sold out. All ticket prices are discounted -10% when purchased from the Internet.

Ticket prices are fairly low – 1st class travel from Tallinn to Tartu costs €14.20 one-way.

By bicycle

The international bicycle project BaltiCCycle may provide you with a lot of information and help.

By thumb

Hitchhiking in Estonia is generally good. The Baltic countries have a strong hitchhiking culture.

Talk

See also: Estonian phrasebook

The official language is Estonian, which is linguistically very closely related to Finnish, and thus unrelated to other neighbouring languages and to English. Many in urban areas (especially younger people) speak English well. According to the Eurobarometer poll of 2005, 66% of Estonians can speak some Russian, however fewer and fewer young Estonians can or have the will to speak Russian. This does not include native-language speakers. Russian is often described as Estonia's unofficial second language and 50% of Tallinn natives speak Russian as their native language. Finnish is also spoken quite well by many people in Tallinn, thanks to heavy tourism and TV broadcasts from the other side of the gulf. German is taught at school in Estonia and a large number of people can speak some (22% according to Eurobarometer).

It might be tempting to practise your Russian as around 25% of Estonia's population is Russian speaking. However, a foreigner starting a conversation in Russian is seen as extremely rude by native Estonian speakers. Always try to start conversation in any language other than Russian and then you might ask whether the other person speaks Russian. After first greetings, Estonians may be willing to interact in Russian with a tourist, but many are reluctant to converse in Russian with a local Russian. In Tallinn and north-east Estonia there is actually quite a big chance that you will meet a native Russian speaker, for example as a barman or a bank teller.

There is a large Slavic minority, particularly Russians and Ukrainians (some 25%).

See

Medieval history and manors

The Old Town of Tallinn is the most intact and best protected medieval city in Europe, and is Estonia's première attraction. Its unique value is its well-preserved (intact) medieval milieu and structure, which has been lost in most of the capitals of northern Europe. Since 1997, the Old Town has been on UNESCO's World Heritage list.

Living under the rule of Scandinavian kings, Russian empire and Teutonic Knights has left Estonia with unique and rich blend of historic landmarks. Over one thousand manors were built across Estonia from the 13th century onwards. Some of the manors have perished or fallen into ruins but a lot have been reconstructed and are favourite attractions with tourists. There are about 200 manor houses under state protection as architectural monuments and 100 in active use.

Islands and coastline

Estonia has over 1,500 islands. The nature is essentially untouched and offers quite a different beach experience with their remoter rustic feel. Most of the public beaches are sandy and the average water temperature is 18°C in summer. Inland waters and some shallow bays' waters are even warmer.

The largest island is Saaremaa with an intact and well-restored medieval castle in its only city, Kuressaare. Stone fences, thatched roofs, working windmills and home-made beer are all distinctive to SaaremaaHiiumaa, on the other hand, is well known for its lighthouses, unspoilt nature, the Hill of Crosses and the sense of humour of its inhabitants. Both islands have an airport and so can be quickly reached from Tallinn.

Other important islands include Kihnu, Ruhnu (with its "singing sand" beach), Muhu and Vormsi, each with its own unique characteristics. Most of the other tiny Estonian islands don't carry much cultural significance, but can be appealing for bird watching, canoeing, sailing or fishing etc.

In July and August, Pärnu, Estonia's summer capital, is the main attraction. The coastline itself has loads of untouched beaches and a tour from Narva-Jõesuu (in the east) towards Tallinn is great for exploring the coastline. Some of the well known places include Toila, Võsu, Käsmu and Kaberneeme.

Do

Tickets for events can be bought online via Piletilevi.ee or the lately established Ticketpro.ee.

There's quite a good list of various events in Estonia at Visitestonia.com.

Film festivals

  • Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival (PÖFF). November/December. The festival combines a feature film festival with the sub-festivals of animated films, student films and children/youth films.

Music festivals

  • Tallinn Music Week, Tallinn. Spring. Showcase festival, aiming to stage the best and most outstanding Estonian talent on two nights in Tallinn's most vibrant live venues, as well as a networking event for the music industry professionals.
  • Tallinn International Festival Jazzkaar. April. In addition to Tallinn jazz concerts also take place in Tartu and Pärnu.
  • Tallinn Old Town Days, Tallinn. May/June. free.
  • 2 The Estonian Song Celebration (In Estonian: Laulupidu), Tallinn. First held in 1869, takes place every five years. In 2009, 35,000 choral singers gathered to perform for an audience of 90,000 people. It is recognised by UNESCO as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.
  • 3 Õllesummer Festival, Tallinn. July. Approx 70,000 people attend the festival each year over the course of 4 days.
  • Viljandi Folk Music Festival, Viljandi. July. Annual folk music festival in a small but picturesque town of Viljandi. Each year the festival draws over 20,000 visitors.
  • Leigo Lake Music Festival, near Otepää. August. Open-air concerts are held in completely natural venues on the hilly landscapes of the Otepää highland. The musicians' stage is on an island in the lake, surrounded by thousands of listeners on the sloping shore.
  • 5 Birgitta Festival, Tallinn. August. Music and theatre festival, held at the ruins of the historical Pirita (St. Bridget's) convent.

Sport events

  • 6 Simpel Session, Tallinn. Summer/Winter. International skateboarding and BMX event.

Self-guided tours

Self-guided tours are a good way to discover Estonia by yourself. For more information please visit the interactive maps sections on the official tourism website.

Buy

Money

Estonia uses the euro. It is one of several European countries that uses this common currency. All euro banknotes and coins are legal tender within all the countries.

One euro is divided into 100 cents.

The official symbol for the euro is €, and its ISO code is EUR. There is no official symbol for the cent.

  • Banknotes: Euro banknotes have the same design in all the countries.
  • Normal coins: All eurozone countries have coins issued with a distinctive national design on one side, and a standard common design on the other side. Coins can be used in any eurozone country, regardless of the design used (e.g. a one-euro coin from Finland can be used in Portugal).
  • Commemorative two euro coins: These differ from normal two euro coins only in their "national" side and circulate freely as legal tender. Each country may produce a certain amount of them as part of their normal coin production and sometimes "Europe-wide" two euro coins are produced to commemorate special events (e.g. the anniversary of important treaties).
  • Other commemorative coins: Commemorative coins of other amounts (e.g. ten euros or more) are much rarer, and have entirely special designs and often contain non-negligible amounts of gold, silver or platinum. While they are technically legal tender at face value, their material or collector value is usually much higher and, as such, you will most likely not find them in actual circulation.

The Estonian kroon (EEK) ceased to be legal tender on 15 Jan 2011, but any kroons you have left over can be changed into euro at the Bank of Estonia at a fixed rate of 15.6466 kroon to €1.

Banking

ATMs and currency exchange offices (valuutavahetus) are widely available. You will get the best rates by exchanging only after arrival in Estonia. Avoid changing money in the airport or port as the rates are lower.

Tipping

Tipping has been common in Estonia only after the restoration of independence, and therefore isn't always requested. A 10% tip is usually added to the price in restaurants and taxi drivers often keep the change. Some restaurants and pubs have a jar or box on the counter labelled 'Tip' on it, where customers can put their change.

Costs

Estonia is generally cheaper than Western Europe, but it is no longer the bargain basement it used to be in 1990s; and in touristy areas (say Tallinn's Old Town), prices may be at Scandinavian levels.

In April 2017 bottle of local beer (0.5L) costs around €1.2 in shops and €2.5-4.5 in a modest pub.

Eat

Estonian food draws heavily from German and Nordic cuisine. The closest thing to a national dish is verivorst, black pudding, served with mulgikapsad, which is basically sauerkraut stew.

Many types of food are similar to Russian dishes and have their equivalents almost exclusively in the former USSR, such as hapukoor, smetana in Russian, a sour 20%-fat milk dressing for salads, especially "kartulisalat" or "potato salad".

As Estonia used to be a food mass-production powerhouse in the times of the USSR, some of its foods, unknown to Westerners, are still well-recognized in the lands of the CIS. This is also true the other way around; in Estonian grocery stores products from countries of the former Soviet Union like Georgian mineral water are widely available.

Among other everyday food, some game products are offered in food stores in Estonia, mostly wild boar, elk sausages and deer grill. Some restaurants also offer bear meat.

For those with a sweet tooth, the national chocolate manufacturer is "Kalev", with many specialist stores around the country as well as supermarkets retailing the product.

The more adventurous may want to try "kohuke", a flavoured milk-curd sweet covered with chocolate and available at every supermarket.

Drink

Like their neighbours the Russians, the Estonians know their alcohol. Favorite tipples include the local beer Saku, or A. Le Coq, the local vodka brands Viru Valge (Vironian White) and Saaremaa Vodka and the surprisingly smooth and tasty rum-like herbal liquor Vana Tallinn (Old Tallinn), famous in the countries of former USSR.

A local soft drink is "Kali" (the Estonian equivalent of "kvass"), made from fermented brown bread. It can be described as an acquired taste.

Many locals also swear by "keefir", a fermented milk concoction.

Sleep

The number of hotels has exploded from a few to tens and hundreds after the reestablishment of Estonian independence. In 2004, Tallinn achieved first place among the Baltic Sea cities in the number of overnight stays in hotels, though still behind Stockholm and Helsinki in the number of total overnight stays.

As Soviet collective farms were disbanded, many farmers switched to running "turismitalud," or tourism farms, which are inexpensive and indispensable places for spending holidays in the nature, usually in a former farm house. A site on Estonian Rural Tourism provides information on the tourism farms in Estonia. Hostels are an another popular option for budget-sensitive travellers; see the website of the Estonian Youth Hostel Association.

Learn

Estonia has a fair amount of foreign students studying in its universities, especially from Nordic countries, as Estonian diplomas are recognized throughout the EU. See the articles for university town Tartu and capital Tallinn for details.

Work

No obstacles exist to citizens of EU countries to come to invest and work in Estonia. Citizens of developed non-EU countries are exempt from short-term tourist visas. Swedes and Finns have by far the largest working community of post-Soviet foreigners in Estonia. Estonia may have had rocket-like growth in recent years, but only from a very low base as a former Soviet republic, and according to The Baltic Guide magazine the average local monthly salary is around €930 as of late 2013.

Education is highly valued in Estonia because as a small nation with no exceptional natural resources, they believe that the only way to be competitive is to absorb knowledge. There are so many highly educated people in Estonia that it has become a problem for the labour market - there just aren't enough workers for jobs that require minimal education.

Considerable investments and some workers are constantly coming from CIS countries, though significant legal restrictions are imposed.

Citizenship and Migration Board is the authority responsible for dealing with the paperwork.

CV Keskus.ee is the most popular job portal in Estonia that holds the biggest number of job ads.

CV Online is one of the oldest Estonian recruitment and HR services operating in 9 countries (as of 2005).

Stay safe

The published crime rate increased dramatically in 1991-1994 after the disintegration of the Soviet Union. However, the murder rate per 100,000 inhabitants has dropped continuously and according to an UN study from 2012 it's now on par with that of the United States.

Today, the official sources claim that the country has achieved a considerable reduction in crime in the recent years. According to Overseas Security Advisory Council crime rate in 2007 was quite comparable to the other European states including Scandinavia. Criminal activities are distributed unevenly across the territory with almost no crime in the island areas and a considerable rate of drug dealing in the predominantly Russian-speaking industrial area of North-East. In Tallinn, petty crime is a problem and there are some incidents involving tourists, mainly pickpocketing (especially in the markets). Tallinn Old City and other main tourist attractions are closely watched by local police and private security companies.

Many Estonians drive carelessly, with about 80-110 people killed and 1,300 people injured per year. Number of deaths in traffic related accidents per 100,000 people are similar to South-European countries like Portugal or Italy. Estonia has strict drink-driving laws with a policy of zero tolerance, but accidents involving intoxicated drivers are nevertheless a major problem. Estonian traffic laws requires headlight use at all times while driving and use of a seat belts by all passengers is mandatory.

Recently, Estonia enforced a new law requiring pedestrians to wear small reflectors, which people generally pin to their coats or handbags. Although this law is rarely enforced in cities, reflectors are very important in rural areas where it may be difficult for motorists to see pedestrians, especially in winter months. Violators of this law may be subject to a fine of around €30-50, or a higher fine up to around €400-500 if the pedestrian is under the influence of alcohol. Reflectors are inexpensive and you should be able to find them at many supermarkets, kiosks, and other shops.

The police are very effective and they are not corrupt.

The main advice to anyone worried about personal security is to stay reasonably sober despite tempting alcohol prices. When driving, make sure you have had absolutely no alcohol beforehand.

For police, dial 110; for other emergencies like fires and the like, call 112.

It has been mentioned that ordinary Estonians are unlikely to approach a complete stranger or a tourist on their own. If somebody suddenly turns to you in the street (with questions or matters of small business) keeping a cautious eye on your belongings would be wise.

Open homosexuality may be met with stares, although violence is very unlikely.

Stay healthy

For an Estonian, it is considered "mauvais ton" not to criticize the Estonian healthcare system. Recent EU studies showed, however, that Estonia occupies a healthy 4th place in the block by the basic public health service indicators, on the same level as Sweden. In fact, around 1998-2000, the Estonian healthcare system was remodelled from the obsolete USSR model, directed to coping with disastrous consequences of large-scale war and made more up-to-date by the experts from Sweden. Estonia has harmonized its rules on travellers' health insurance with EU requirements. Information about health care in Estonia is provided by the government agency Eesti Haigekassa.

For fast aid or rescue, dial 112.

Estonia has Europe's second highest rate of adult HIV/AIDS infections, currently over 1.3% or 1 in 77 adults. Generally, the rate is much higher in Russian-speaking regions like Narva or Sillamäe. Don't make the situation worse by not protecting yourself and others.

Ticks spread diseases like viral encephalitis and Lyme disease, which can be transmitted to humans, their season usually starts in April and lasts till October.

Beware of poisonous plants like Sosnowsky's Hogweed and Giant Hogweed. Wear protective clothes and goggles. If burned, clean your skin with water and soap and protect it from the sun for at least 48 hours.

Respect

Estonians in general, when meeting a stranger, are remarkably reserved to start with. Don't expect them to deliver too many social niceties or small talk; they only say what's seasonable. Once you have broken the ice, you will find them open and candid.

Estonians tend to keep their physical distance. If there is a "long time - no see" situation, then a hug may be suitable.

Do not raise your voice in a conversation. A decent, quiet conversation is the Estonian way of doing business and is much appreciated.

Estonians are usually very proud of their nation and their country. As a small nation they have managed to gain independence and survived all the rough times that centuries filled with wars have served up to them.

Contemporary history may be a sensitive subject. Any positive talk about the USSR (or today's Russia) around Estonians will be anything but a good idea although they will tell you all about it if you only ask.

25% of the population of Estonia are ethnic Russians, and even more people understand at least some Russian. Still some people suggest not starting conversations in Russian with strangers, as this may be seen as rude by some Estonians. See the Talk section for more info.

Connect

Internet

  • Access to wireless, free internet is widespread in Tallinn and Tartu.
  • On the open road you will often find petrol stations which offer wireless internet access too
  • If you do not have a laptop, public libraries offer free computers
  • The number of internet cafes is dropping but you will find several open almost all night in Tallinn and Tartu (expect to pay around €2-3 per hour)
  • Most hotels also have a computer with internet access available
  • The departure lounge at Tallinn airport has several free internet access points for passengers

Landlines

  • For local calls, dial the 7 or 8 digit number given. There is no "0" dialled before local numbers
  • For international calls from Estonia, dial "00" then the country code and number
  • For international calls to Estonia, dial "00" from most countries or consult your operator, the country code "372" and the 7 or 8 digit number
  • For emergencies, dial "112". For police only, dial "110"

Mobile phones

  • "Everyone" has a mobile phone in Estonia
  • To ring Estonia from abroad, dial +372 before the number
  • Mobile access is available everywhere, even on the smaller islands and at sea
  • Prepaid (pay-as-you-go) SIM cards and their top up cards can be bought from R-kiosks (ask for a "kõnekaart" - calling card in English). Popular brands are Smart, Simpel, Diil and Zen. Start-up packages are in a range of €1.55-10.

Postal service

  • Within Estonia, the postage cost for a letter up to 50 grams is €0.45.
  • To other EU countries, Norway, Switzerland, Russia, Belarus and Ukraine the cost is €1 and to the rest of the world €1.10.
  • Be sure to mark all air mail pieces with "Prioritaire/Par Avion" stickers available at the post office, or clearly print it on the mail if needed.
  • Stamps are sold at post offices usually open during normal shopping hours, and also at news stands.
  • Post offices open on Saturday but for shorter hours than during the week, and are closed on Sundays.
The Amateur Traveler talks to travel writer Jeanine Barone about Estonia. Estonia is a small forested country with picturesque islands, medieval fortifications, a thriving design community, a great restaurant scene and a young and vibrant culture. Estonia only recently regained its independence from the U.S.S.R. (1991) but is thriving and filled with innovation. This interview, like all the Amateur Traveler interviews, was recorded with Skype… which is headquartered in Estonia. We talked about hotels, restaurants, guide books, wine bars and chocolate.

Riga is the capital of Latvia and one of my favourite cities in the Baltics, as I rediscovered when I was there earlier this year. Latvia’s the middle of the three Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, located in the north of Europe — below Finland and west of Russia.

While you check out the Latvia Instagram photos, take a listen to our Latvia podcast: hit play below or find episode 303 in iTunes, Stitcher or Soundcloud:

Riga

Livu square in Riga's old town is full of colour, a great place to be on a sunny day.

A photo posted by Craig and Linda (@indietravel) on May 10, 2015 at 6:04am PDT

Another awesome building in Riga. This city is so pretty!

A photo posted by Craig and Linda (@indietravel) on May 11, 2015 at 1:01pm PDT

The Nativity of Christ Cathedral in Riga, Latvia, is the largest Orthodox cathedral in the Baltics. As we passed by, a christening was in progress, the baby in a long white lace gown.

A photo posted by Craig and Linda (@indietravel) on May 9, 2015 at 6:20am PDT

The style of buildings in Riga's old town is so ornate, I could look at it all day.

A photo posted by Craig and Linda (@indietravel) on May 10, 2015 at 11:15pm PDT

I've posted some close-up shots, now here's a view of Riga from above.

A photo posted by Craig and Linda (@indietravel) on May 11, 2015 at 8:34am PDT

I LOVE this spiral staircase, hidden away in Riga's old town.

A photo posted by Craig and Linda (@indietravel) on May 10, 2015 at 12:16pm PDT

On the water in Riga

A bit of blue sky and tranquil water in Riga, Latvia.

A photo posted by Craig and Linda (@indietravel) on May 18, 2015 at 1:12pm PDT

Riga has its tranquil spots!

A photo posted by Craig and Linda (@indietravel) on May 14, 2015 at 8:47am PDT

Riga is beautiful enough by day, but by night, and on the water, it's awesome.

A photo posted by Craig and Linda (@indietravel) on May 19, 2015 at 8:48am PDT

Night kayaking on the Daugava River in Riga, Latvia. It was an experience… We saw beavers!

A photo posted by Craig and Linda (@indietravel) on May 17, 2015 at 1:05am PDT

Rundale

This kid can't wait to get away from Rundāle Palace in Latvia… I wanted to stay!

A photo posted by Craig and Linda (@indietravel) on May 16, 2015 at 1:38am PDT

Rundale Palace in Latvia is really quite an impressive building.

A photo posted by Craig and Linda (@indietravel) on May 19, 2015 at 1:04pm PDT

Even the ceilings at Rundale Palace are impressive.

A photo posted by Craig and Linda (@indietravel) on May 20, 2015 at 8:24am PDT

We've gone from outside to inside Rundale Palace, this is a close up of one of the chandeliers.

A photo posted by Craig and Linda (@indietravel) on May 20, 2015 at 1:05pm PDT

Earlier today I posted a photo of a child running away from Rundale Palace in Latvia. These flowers are from the gardens there.

A photo posted by Craig and Linda (@indietravel) on May 16, 2015 at 11:12am PDT

Come join us on Instagram by searching for indietravel — we’re having heaps of fun!

Craig travelled through Latvia with Jay Way Travel as part of the #jaywaybaltics trip (see posts on Twitter, Instagram, Youtube, you name it). More details on our Baltics page.

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I’m often surprised when I look back over photos from the last twelve months to see how much I’ve done… and this year is no different. 2015 has been an amazing year, full of good times, not-so-good times, and time with friends and family.

January

We saw the new year in in our temporary home of Alcalá de Henares, where I was doing a master’s degree. We’d been based there since September 2015 and stayed until the end of June, so it was a pretty long stretch for us. Luckily, we loved it — and who wouldn’t? Not only is it Unesco world heritage listed, it’s full of lovely people and delicious tapas.

Plaza de Cervantes in Alcala de HenaresWe spent a lot of time in the Plaza de Cervantes.

February

We’re always happy to have an excuse to visit our old home of A Coruña, so we took advantage of a long weekend to fly up to visit our friends Oliva and Guille at Carnival time. They (and another friend, Alba) had created some spectacular costumes for us to wear, and we enjoyed watching the parades and looking like idiots while eating tapas.

March

I had to knuckle down to work and study, but Craig headed off to Berlin to attend a conference and hang out with awesome people. I wasn’t too jealous — after all, it was at least ten degrees warmer where I was.

visit the Brandenburg gateI got to go to Berlin later in the year, so I wasn’t too jealous…

April

April was a month of family visits. First, my brother Simon and his fiancée Katie hopped over from London to spend Easter with us, and then Craig’s parents visited for a week in the middle of the month. We made sure to explore Alcalá and Madrid with them, and headed over to Valencia for the weekend.

Family time at the Puerta de AlcaláKatie, Simon, Linda and Craig at the Puerta de Alcalá.

May

The big event of the month was a trip up to Lloret de Mar in Catalunya to attend the TBEX travel bloggers’ conference. It’s always great to catch up with our travel blogger friends, some of whom we’ve known for almost ten years — as long as Indie Travel Podcast has been running.

After TBEX, Craig headed up to the Baltics with JayWay Travel and I returned to Alcalá with my friend and workmate Alisa. While Craig explored Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, I finished my thesis and went on school camp with a hundred preteens.

The summer palace at Kadriorg, TallinnHowever, I was jealous of missing the trip to the Baltics.

June

Our last month in Alcalá was spent in good company. My sister came over for a visit with her son Henry, and our friend Janine joined us part way through the month. We all hopped in a car together for a quick trip around Portugal with a stop in Segovia along the way, and Janine and Craig finished the journey with a week-long surf school in Peniche.

After my graduation, Janine, Craig and I headed north to take part in the Haro Wine festival — yep, we threw wine at each other for a beautiful, sticky morning.

At the wine fight in Haro SpainWe got a little damp.

July

Janine had never walked a Camino de Santiago, and we are always keen to do another, so we hiked 300km from Oviedo to Santiago over two weeks or so. We started as a group of three and finished as seven, and for some reason we called ourselves the Smurfs.

Female bloggers also walk the Camino PrimitivoOne of the many views on the Camino Primitivo.

After a quick stop in Coruña (to show it off to Janine) we hopped in Alba’s car to head to Toledo for Oliva and Guille’s wedding. It was a beautiful day in a gorgeous location and we felt privileged to be invited to take part in it.

We had a few days in Madrid, during which we caught up with a few friends and ate tacos, then flew to Berlin for something completely different.

August

We were housesitting in the outskirts of the city and thought we’d just get down to work — but it didn’t work out like that. Instead, we spent heaps of time with our friends Claudia and Holger; Frankie and Jesus; Adam; Javier; and Natalie and Stephanie from Context Travel. We did find time to walk the dog twice a day, though!

We even spent time at the beach while in Berlin!We even spent time at the beach while in Berlin!

From there, we caught a bus down to Prague, where we stayed with the excellent Charles of JayWay Travel. Our friends Graham and Jon were over from New Zealand, and Janine and our Camino friend Clothilde joined us for a wonderful couple of days together.

Too soon, it was time to go — we flew to England for another housesit.

September

We’d never heard of Oundle before we accepted the housesit, and it wasn’t anything like what we expected. There was so much to do — pub visits with the neighbours, walking tours, a visit to the theatre. I even went to a blogging festival near London (where I almost froze, but at least in good company). We were sad to leave, but not too sad — we were going to Moldova!

Oundle war memorial in Oundle UKOundle was beautiful and surprising.

October

We’d wanted to attend the Moldovan wine festival for at least eight years, so you can imagine our disappointment when it was called off when we finally had tickets to the country. No worries, though: alternative activities were put on, and we enjoyed them in the company of a group of Moldovan and Romanian bloggers.

The Moldovan flag flies over the Et Cetera vineyard.The Moldovan flag flies over the Et Cetera vineyard.

Our trip to Ukraine was postponed as a result of my incompetence, but we got there eventually. We loved spending time with local people in Odessa and having a Performance Foundry mini-conference on a boat in Kiev.

Kiev was gorgeous -- Santa Sophia Cathedral blew us away.St. Sophia Cathedral is one of the most spectacular buildings we’ve ever seen — and we’ve seen a few.

November

The weather really started to cool off at the beginning of November, and heading back to England probably didn’t help matters. However, we had a stunning day for watching New Zealand win the Rugby World Cup final, and only shivered a little while travelling across London for the World Travel Market conference.

Watching the big game at the rugby fanzone in Richmond.Go All Blacks!

Most of the month, though, was spent in Mexico with Janine and our other best friend, Ange. We hung out in Cancun for a week before starting our epic road trip around the Yucatan Peninsula, during which we ate a lot of tacos and only had to pay three bribes.

December

Cuba was our next destination, where we were joined by another friend, Luis. We loved staying in casas particulares (local homes) and trying rum and cigars in various spots around the country.

Classic car in a href=Cuba is full of awesome classic cars.

Pin me on Pinterest!Pin me on Pinterest!It was sad to say goodbye to Ange, Janine, and Luis, but they had other plans and we were heading back to Mexico to hang out with other friends. Pete and Dalene had told us they would be spending Christmas in San Miguel de Allende, so we decided to crash the party and head there too, with a one-week stop in Querétaro along the way.

An indie travel 2016

2015 has been an epic year, especially since we thought we’d be travelling slowly. Next year though, we really should be slowing down: we’ve got a housesit lined up in Panama, and we’re heading to Colombia for three months after that. We hope to explore a bit more of this part of the world before heading south again to hang out with family and friends in Australia and New Zealand towards the end of the year.

What are your plans for 2016? What was your highlight of the last year? Leave a comment below.

When planning my winter trip around Europe, I had really circled a couple destinations on my list of cities that I really wanted to photograph.  Tallinn, Estonia was high on that list, and one of the places I actually considered set up as a base city – spoiler, I’m now based in Europe, and will be […]
When planning my winter trip around Europe, I had really circled a couple destinations on my list of cities that I really wanted to photograph.  Tallinn, Estonia was high on that list, and one of the places I actually considered set up as a base city – spoiler, I’m now based in Europe, and will be […]

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Sadly, Estonia isn’t on the radar for most American travelers. In fact, according to a very scientific survey that I conducted, more than 90% couldn’t find it on a map if they tried. It’s a shame because the country is a place of beautiful and bold contradictions. Its people have embraced the convenience and ease of technology (for everything from election voting to healthcare), while maintaining a deep connection to nature.

The latter isn’t surprising. Estonia is home to some of Europe’s most breathtaking scenery. While the country is tiny relative to its neighbors, the diverse landscape stretches across more than 1,500 islands, beautiful forests, and pebble-covered beaches. Its long and dramatic history has left the countryside dotted with ancient castles, stunning churches, and hilltop fortresses. All of which is a goldmine for nature-loving, adventure travelers!

Lahemaa National Park, Estonia

Lahemaa National Park, Estonia © Pjotr Savitski

Lahemaa National Park

Seventy kilometers east of the capital city of Tallinn lies Lahemaa National Park — the country’s oldest park of its kind. Its massive size — 725 square kilometers including 250 square kilometers of sea — make it the largest in Estonia and one of the largest in all of Europe. This makes for a wide array of explorable terrains and an excellent variety of outdoor opportunities. To the north, the Gulf of Finland offers pristine space for kayakers and beach-goers; inland, even the most experienced hikers will find the wild, rugged terrain challenging; and the park is replete with wildlife including lynx, wolves, and bear.

Vilsandi, Estonia

Vilsandi, Estonia © Johan Viirok

Vilsandi

Even among Estonia’s long list of islands, Vilsandi stands out. At just nine square kilometers, it’s hardly a blip on the country’s map, yet it’s fast becoming one of its most popular destinations. Accessible almost exclusively by boat or kayak (although some trucks are actually able to reach it too!), it’s a quiet, pristine place that’s changed little since Dutchman Johann Doll “discovered” the island after escaping his sinking ship off its rocky shores in 1703. In particular, the island is a popular spot for tens of thousands of migratory waterfowl and Baltic grey seals.

Suur Munamägi, Estonia

Suur Munamägi, Estonia

Suur Munamägi

Hikers interested in “peak bagging” will find Estonia’s landscape less “mountainous and craggy” and more “slowly undulating”. The country’s highest peak, Suur Munamägi (literally “Big Egg Mountain”), stretches to a reasonable — and adorable — 318 meters (1,043 feet). While it won’t top anyone’s bucket list for “technical climbing”, it’s still a lovely setting to behold. Ask the locals about the folklore surrounding the series of five towers — one of which included a five-person bar — erected atop the peak’s summit during the last two centuries. Today, it’s capped with a 346-meter (1,137 feet) observation tower that provides unobstructed views of up to 50 kilometers in every direction.

Haapsalu Bishop’s Castle

Outdoor buffs that enjoy a bit of history with their exploring will love Haapsalu Bishop’s Castle. The stunning 13th-century structure is one of the best preserved castles in all of Estonia. While some of the installations — a children’s playground in the castle moat and a giant chessboard — may seem a bit hokey, the castle itself is stunning. Visitors can climb the 38-meter-tall bell tower which is said to be haunted by the White Lady, arguably the country’s most infamous ghost!

Join Vagabondish on Twitter and Facebook.

Sadly, Estonia isn’t on the radar for most American travelers. In fact, according to a very scientific survey that I conducted, more than 90% couldn’t find it on a map if they tried. It’s a shame because the country is a place of beautiful and bold contradictions. Its people have embraced the convenience and ease of technology (for everything from election voting to healthcare), while maintaining a deep connection to nature.

The latter isn’t surprising. Estonia is home to some of Europe’s most breathtaking scenery. While the country is tiny relative to its neighbors, the diverse landscape stretches across more than 1,500 islands, beautiful forests, and pebble-covered beaches. Its long and dramatic history has left the countryside dotted with ancient castles, stunning churches, and hilltop fortresses. All of which is a goldmine for nature-loving, adventure travelers!

Lahemaa National Park, Estonia

Lahemaa National Park, Estonia © Pjotr Savitski

Lahemaa National Park

Seventy kilometers east of the capital city of Tallinn lies Lahemaa National Park — the country’s oldest park of its kind. Its massive size — 725 square kilometers including 250 square kilometers of sea — make it the largest in Estonia and one of the largest in all of Europe. This makes for a wide array of explorable terrains and an excellent variety of outdoor opportunities. To the north, the Gulf of Finland offers pristine space for kayakers and beach-goers; inland, even the most experienced hikers will find the wild, rugged terrain challenging; and the park is replete with wildlife including lynx, wolves, and bear.

Vilsandi, Estonia

Vilsandi, Estonia © Johan Viirok

Vilsandi

Even among Estonia’s long list of islands, Vilsandi stands out. At just nine square kilometers, it’s hardly a blip on the country’s map, yet it’s fast becoming one of its most popular destinations. Accessible almost exclusively by boat or kayak (although some trucks are actually able to reach it too!), it’s a quiet, pristine place that’s changed little since Dutchman Johann Doll “discovered” the island after escaping his sinking ship off its rocky shores in 1703. In particular, the island is a popular spot for tens of thousands of migratory waterfowl and Baltic grey seals.

Suur Munamägi, Estonia

Suur Munamägi, Estonia

Suur Munamägi

Hikers interested in “peak bagging” will find Estonia’s landscape less “mountainous and craggy” and more “slowly undulating”. The country’s highest peak, Suur Munamägi (literally “Big Egg Mountain”), stretches to a reasonable — and adorable — 318 meters (1,043 feet). While it won’t top anyone’s bucket list for “technical climbing”, it’s still a lovely setting to behold. Ask the locals about the folklore surrounding the series of five towers — one of which included a five-person bar — erected atop the peak’s summit during the last two centuries. Today, it’s capped with a 346-meter (1,137 feet) observation tower that provides unobstructed views of up to 50 kilometers in every direction.

Haapsalu Bishop’s Castle

Outdoor buffs that enjoy a bit of history with their exploring will love Haapsalu Bishop’s Castle. The stunning 13th-century structure is one of the best preserved castles in all of Estonia. While some of the installations — a children’s playground in the castle moat and a giant chessboard — may seem a bit hokey, the castle itself is stunning. Visitors can climb the 38-meter-tall bell tower which is said to be haunted by the White Lady, arguably the country’s most infamous ghost!

Matador Network editors Matt Hershberger, Ana Bulnes, and Morgane Croissant rounded up 9 books not originally written in English. This selection comprises works of fiction and non-fiction that will help you discover something new about the World, without leaving the couch.

We, the Drowned by Carsten Jensen

I always used to forget about Denmark. To me, it was the country where people liked bicycles and where the Little Mermaid was the national hero. What changed since last year is that I read the Danish author Carsten Jensen’s epic novel We, the Drowned. Jensen’s book unfolds over 100 years, and it centers on the people of his seafaring hometown, Marstal, where traditionally the men go to sea and die, and the women stay at home and pick up the pieces. It’s epic and swashbuckling and humane, and it’s all the excuse you’ll ever need to remember Denmark on the map.

Labyrinths by Jorge Luis Borges

“That book is really hard to read,” the guy at the bookshop told me. “You’ll get through like, two stories and quit.” I bought Labyrinths anyway (it felt like a dare at that point), and it is admittedly a tough read. But the ideas are mind-blowing: there’s a character who remembers every detail of every second of his life in one story, in another, an Aztec priest discovers the language of omnipotence in a jaguar’s fur, and in another, an academic discovers that the real savior was Judas Iscariot, who is the one actually burning in hell for our sins. It’s the perfect book for lovers of books, and for people who hoard strange ideas.

Resistance, Rebellion, and Death by Albert Camus

Camus’ philosophy is a pain in the ass to get through, but his journalism is an entirely different thing. Camus wrote for the resistance during World War II, he fought against colonialism in his native Algeria, he opposed the death penalty, and he was one of the rare leftists who refused to become an apologist for Stalin. I hate to say it, but he might be a good person to start reading in the political climate of 2017.

The Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante

I’m a sucker for coming-of-age stories and feminism is my jam, so Elena Ferrante’s four-book series hit all the right spots. The Italian author who writes under a pseudonym has filled my summer with four page-turners. I spent two months totally engrossed in the lives of female childhood friends, Elena and Lila, and their sinister relationship, but what I found the most compelling were the struggles the female characters faced in 1950s Southern Italy and how little they differ from ours nowadays.

The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende

Some find family sagas tedious to read because of the many details and characters they must keep track of; personally, I find them fascinating. They force you to focus, dive deep into a story, and dissect everything. The House of the Spirits is one of those family sagas; it twines family, politics, magic, love into something vibrant and mesmerizing. It is a very female-focused novel, but anyone who enjoys amazing characterization and great story-building will love The House of the Spirits. It took me 30 years to read my first Allende novel, but I can say without the shadow of a doubt that it won’t be the last.

Consolation of the Forest by Sylvain Tesson

The first travel book I ever read was Sylvain Tesson and Alexandre Poussin’s On a roulé sur la Terre, a narrative about the two friends’ trip cycling around the world. I was 20 and until then I had no idea people traveled in such ways — their fearlessness and boldness still shape the way I travel today. When I came upon Sylvain Tesson’s novel Consolations of the Forest at a charity shop, I gladly paid the 50 cents for my copy and lost myself into Tesson’s account of his living alone in a remote cabin in Siberia for five months. The simple, yet harsh, life he leads on the shore of Lake Baikal is told with such peacefulness that you’ll want to get away from it all and experience the luxury that is space and time. His soul-searching moments are oppressive, but they bring the reader to understand the necessity for one to face solitude to better understand themselves, their needs, and their drive for life.

When the Doves Disappeared, by Sofi Oksanen

When I was in college, I had a Contemporary History professor who had lived in East Germany for several years — his wife was from there. His course was about the Eastern Bloc, as he thought — and he was right — we only knew what had happened in the west and had no idea about the other side. When the Doves Disappeared, by Finnish-Estonian writer Sofi Oksanen, takes us to Estonia in the 40s and the 60s, where we follow relatives Edgar, Roland, and Juudit back and forth in time, from the Soviet occupation to the brief Nazi ‘liberation’ — that’s how many people in the Baltic countries viewed them when they invaded them in WWII — and back to the Soviets again. As they change sides, opinions, and sometimes even their own identities, a central mystery keeps us reading compulsively — who killed Juudit’s sister and Roland’s fiancée Rosalie? We won’t have an answer until the last page.

The Tunnel by Ernesto Sabato

There’s something unsettling about loving so much a novel written from the perspective of a man, painter Juan Pablo Castel, who’s in prison for murdering his lover, María Iribarne; but I guess that’s what good books manage to achieve — they make you uncomfortable, but they also keep you glued to their pages, wishing they’d never end. This is a short, dark, and gorgeously written novel about a self-deluded stalker, rapist, and murderer. The most troubling part? Sometimes you forget and find yourself smiling and nodding to some of his elitist remarks — but c’mon, who can stand people who speak in jargon?

Nada by Carmen Laforet

Note: the English translation kept the original title.

Catalan writer Carmen Laforet was 23 when she wrote this beautiful novel about Andrea, a 18-year-old orphan who moves from the country to Barcelona to study. But don’t imagine today’s Barcelona — the novel is set in the 40s, just after Spain’s Civil War and under Franco’s dictatorship; it was also written and published at that time (1944). While not overtly critic to the political situation, the book is not completely oblivious to it. Post-war Spain is dark and poor, and so is everything that surrounds Andrea’s life in Barcelona — her family, her hunger (both for freedom and actual food), the house where she lives. But despite all this, she’s still a young woman in a new city, making new friends, feeling her life is about to start. Nada has been called existentialist, impressionist, and even Spain’s The Catcher in the Rye (it’s so much better!), and its sometimes poetic prose feels easy and effortlessly written. I devoured it in 2 days and, like Andrea, felt I was taking nada (‘nothing’) from it. Just, you know, a few big lessons about life. More like this: 4 books that feel like travel

Remote CEO

Photo: Tranmautritam

I’m the kind of person who believes in the magical life-enhancing properties of travel. Whether it’s for business or pleasure (the two, as far as I’m concerned, aren’t mutually exclusive anyway, but that’s a whole other story), traveling encourages the movement of ideas and helps us all see the world from new perspectives. That mission — spreading ideas and innovation beyond borders — is what I’m working on with Jobbatical, the global hiring platform I co-founded a bit more than two years ago.

My most hardcore travel extravaganza of recent years — or perhaps of all time )) happened in September 2016, when over a one-month period my travel trajectory went like this: Estonia-Singapore-Malaysia-Singapore-Malaysia-Australia-Malaysia-Japan-Malaysia-Singapore-Estonia. What looks like a serious accident with a typewriter is, in fact, just par for the course when you’re the founder of a startup with global reach.

My most recent absence from the Jobbatical office was also precisely one month long. Enough time, apparently, for my desk to be reassigned to a new team member. Now I’m a digital nomad in my own office, with no desk to call home. It’s a small price to pay for the privilege of getting to see so much of the world — and there are plenty of comfy beanbags to choose from (as required by startup law), so my loss isn’t that great.

Over the course of that fateful month, I did my work from the USA, Costa Rica, Panama, and the USA again. For me, working on the go is the new normal. We humans tend to get used to situations pretty easily if they repeat often enough. As soon as I open my computer or my smartphone, it’s like I’m entering my office virtually. In many ways, it doesn’t feel that different from being in the same room with the rest of the team.

In reality, of course, working remotely requires a different structure of communication and I’m still learning how to be present for the team even when I’m on the other side of the planet. Our team as a whole has learned countless lessons over the past year. Getting a constantly growing startup team to work as a unit when people are distributed all across the globe has been the learning experience of a lifetime. Managing expectations, wrangling time zones, and keeping communication flowing freely — all the while remembering that people are just people, wherever they are )) is a balancing act for all of us. With the use of tools like Slack, Asana, Timetastic, and the art of common sense, I think we’re getting close to uncovering the secrets of efficient remote work.

To stay connected while I’m away, I like to carry my team in my pocket (in smartphone form) and share snippets of my travel experiences. In Costa Rica, while I was interviewing a senior sales candidate for Jobbatical via video call, I suddenly spotted a huge iguana. I cut our discussion off, ran to the iguana and showed my interviewee the tiny monster via our video call. Team Jobbatical knows me well enough not to be surprised when this sort of thing happens. They’ve all seen footage of me being chased by monkeys on a morning run in Malaysia. In the same vein, my regular announcements of “I almost missed my flight because this crazy thing happened” don’t even raise an eyebrow anymore. But the candidate was rendered quite speechless by my little adventure with the iguana.

I’m not afraid to declare that I love the world and its creatures in all their weirdness, and I believe that sharing such moments of genuine emotion helps shape a culture of openness. And beyond that, it’s just fun!

It’s not just the work aspect of remote work that can be challenging. I myself am lucky enough to be highly adaptable to time differences, and my 4-year-old is also already a master of traveling, having accompanied me on so many of these trips. My personal struggle is the fact that I have Restless Legs Syndrome, which becomes quite torturous on long flights. That’s one reason I’m crazy about collecting frequent flyer miles and bargaining possible upgrades to Business Class (for the bed). Another thing I’ve found is it is essential to be well prepared for in frequent flying are the effects it has on your skin. On long flights, I always have to wear the most moisturizing face masks, even if it means my fellow passengers see me as the lady with the scary face for the rest of the flight.

On balance, it’s obvious that these are minor inconveniences. What’s a patch of dry skin compared to the extraordinary privilege of being able to build and lead a startup team from the lush jungles of Costa Rica? What could be more rewarding and eye-opening than meeting clients from NYC to Singapore, hearing their stories, and working with them to build a more open world? Restless legs or not, I can’t think of anything I would rather do with my life. More like this: How are the digital nomads changing the World's cities

AT MATADOR Network, we always encourage other travelers to visit museums (even the weirdest ones) and check out street art when they are abroad because we know that art is a window into a country’s culture.

This map of famous European artworks created by Reddit user halfabluesky is not going to please everyone (the choice for The Netherlands is already controversial in the comment section), but it is a great way for all of us to learn more about artists and artworks we would otherwise have never heard about — I personally did not know about anything about Icelandic art…now I do! artworks

Map: halfabluesky

Because some of the artworks can be difficult to visualize on the map, the creator listed them. See below.

  • Albania: Holy Mary holding Baby Jesus in her right arm
  • Andorra: Apse fresco of Sant Miquel d’Engolasters church
  • Austria: The Kiss
  • Belarus: The Fiddler
  • Belgium: The Son of Man
  • Bosnia and Herzegovina: Mountain landscape
  • Bulgaria: Rachenitsa
  • Croatia: Roman Woman Playing A Lute
  • Cyprus: Work by Stelois Votsis
  • Czech Republic: The Absinthe Drinker
  • Denmark: The Little Mermaid
  • Estonia: Half Nude in Striped Skirt
  • Finland: The Wounded Angel
  • France: Impression, Sunrise
  • Germany: Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog
  • Greece: Venus de Milo
  • Hungary: The Old Fisherman
  • Iceland: Pingvellir
  • Ireland: Three Studies of Lucian Freud
  • Italy: Mona Lisa
  • Latvia: After Church
  • Lithuania: Tale of the Kings
  • Luxembourg: Stretch of the Moselle at Greiveldange with Stadtbredimus
  • Macedonia (FYROM): Scene from the Paris Psalter
  • Moldova: The Girl From Ciadar Lunga
  • Monaco: Raniero I
  • Montenegro: Our Lady of Philermos
  • Netherlands: The Girl with Pearl Earrings
  • Norway: The Scream
  • Poland: Rejtan
  • Portugal: Fado
  • Romania: Car Cu Boi
  • Russia: Golden Autumn
  • Serbia: The Wounded Montenegrin
  • Slovakia: Work by Albin Brunovsky
  • Slovenia: Pomlad (Spring)
  • Spain: Guernica
  • Sweden: Breakfast Under the Big Birch Tree
  • Switzerland: The Walking Man
  • Turkey: The Tortoise Trainer
  • Ukraine: Reply of the Zaporozhian Cossacks
  • United Kingdom (UK): The Fighting Temeraire
  • Vatican City: Creation of Adam

Lonely Planet Estonia, Latvia & Lithuania (Travel Guide)

Lonely Planet

Lonely Planet: The world's leading travel guide publisher

Lonely Planet Estonia, Latvia & Lithuania is your passport to the most relevant, up-to-date advice on what to see and skip, and what hidden discoveries await you. Soak up history in Estonia's Old Towns, enjoy a midsummer bonfire and beer in Lithuania and take a traditional sauna and spa in Latvia; all with your trusted travel companion. Get to the heart of Estonia, Latvia & Lithuania and begin your journey now!

Inside the Lonely Planet Estonia, Latvia & Lithuania Travel Guide:

Colour maps and images throughout Highlights and itineraries help you tailor your trip to your personal needs and interests Insider tips to save time and money and get around like a local, avoiding crowds and trouble spots Essential info at your fingertips - hours of operation, phone numbers, websites, transit tips, prices Honest reviews for all budgets - eating, sleeping, sight-seeing, going out, shopping, hidden gems that most guidebooks miss Cultural insights give you a richer, more rewarding travel experience - history, people, landscape, architecture, greetings, etiquette Over 70 maps Covers Estonia, Tallinn, Lahemaa National Park, RakvereNarva,  TartuValga, Muhu, Saaremaa, Helsinki, Latvia, R?ga, Kurzeme, J?rmala, Kemeri National Park, Talsi, Lithuania, Vilnius, Paneriai, Trakai, Kalingrad and more

The Perfect Choice: Lonely Planet Estonia, Latvia & Lithuania, our most comprehensive guide to the region, is perfect for both exploring top sights and taking roads less travelled.

Looking for more extensive coverage? Check out Lonely Planet Eastern Europe for a comprehensive look at all these countries have to offer

Authors: Written and researched by Lonely Planet.

About Lonely Planet: Since 1973, Lonely Planet has become the world's leading travel media company with guidebooks to every destination, an award-winning website, mobile and digital travel products, and a dedicated traveller community. Lonely Planet covers must-see spots but also enables curious travellers to get off beaten paths to understand more of the culture of the places in which they find themselves.

TripAdvisor Travelers' Choice Awards winner in Favorite Travel Guide category for 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015.

ESTONIA Country Studies: A brief, comprehensive study of Estonia

CIA

A brief yet detailed report on the country of Estonia with updated information on the map, flag, history, people, economics, political conditions in government, foreign affairs, and U.S. relations.

DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Estonia, Latvia & Lithuania

DK

DK Eyewitness Travel Guides: the most maps, photography, and illustrations of any guide.

DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Estonia, Latvia & Lithuania is your in-depth guide to the very best of this region.

Make your trip to the Baltic States an unforgettable cultural experience with our DK Eyewitness Travel Guide to Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. From top restaurants, bars, and clubs to stand-out scenic sites and walks, our insider tips are sure to make your trip outstanding. Whether you're looking for unique and interesting shops and markets, or seeking the best venues for music and nightlife, we have entertainment and hotel recommendations for every budget covered in our Eyewitness Travel Guide.

Discover DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Estonia, Latvia & Lithuania

Detailed itineraries and "don't miss" destination highlights at a glance. Illustrated cutaway 3-D drawings of important sights. Floor plans and guided visitor information for major museums. Guided walking tours, local drink and dining specialties to try, things to do, and places to eat, drink, and shop by area. Area maps marked with sights. Insights into history and culture to help you understand the stories behind the sights. Hotel and restaurant listings highlight DK Choice special recommendations.

With hundreds of full-color photographs, hand-drawn illustrations, and custom maps that illuminate every page, DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Estonia, Latvia & Lithuania truly shows you this region as no one else can.

The Girls, Alone: Six Days in Estonia (Kindle Single)

Bonnie J. Rough

A resurfacing writer hits the sauna, bares it all, and learns the true meaning of saga. In her latest work, award-winning author Bonnie J. Rough separates from her family for a surprising journey into the difficult past and precarious present of Estonia, the former Soviet state of her heritage. Embarking on a journey to learn the fate of her great-great-grandmother Anna, she encounters World War II ghosts, Vikings, crones, recycled meat, a seven-ton prehistoric bull, gray hairs, and the ultimate librarian, but finds no bully bigger than Putin—or is it her own self-doubt?—in an adventure that delivers surprising lessons from her foremothers about happiness, autonomy, women’s legacies and the writer’s life. From the ladies’ locker room to the edges of Russia, The Girls, Alone is a swift ride that brings its readers to the most unexpected places and triumphantly answers its own high stakes.Bonnie J. Rough is the author of the Minnesota Book Award-winning memoir Carrier: Untangling the Danger in My DNA. Her essays have appeared in dozens of publications including The New York Times, Huffington Post, The Sun magazine, and Brain, Child, as well as anthologies including The Best American Science and Nature Writing, Modern Love, and The Best Creative Nonfiction. With past lives in Minneapolis and Amsterdam, she now lives and writes in her hometown of Seattle.Cover design by Hannah Perrine Mode.

Estonia 1:400,000 & Tallinn 1:8,000 Travel Map

ITM Canada

The Baltic States are a treasure trove of history, architecture and culture as well as nature diversity. Estonia, a state occuppied and ruined by the Soviet Union for five decades, has quickly become a well developed country with its current membership in NATO, European Union, Schengen area and Eurozone.

This double sided map includes a road and travel map of Estonia at the scale of 1:400,000 on one side and a detailed street plan of historical Tallinn 1:8,000 on the other side. The road map is a high quality cartography of European origin and distinguishes roads ranging from motorways to other categories. Legend includes railways with station, national parks/nature reserves, viewpoints, scenic spots, touristic sites, churches, monasteries, fortresses, castles, ruins, museums, monuments, windmills, hotels, filling stations, camping sites, watermills, spas, beaches, international airports.

The street map of Tallinn (1:8,000) has a large inset of the Old Town (1:4,000) and was designed for exploring the city on foot. Includes also Tallinn's Transit map. Extensive name index for each side.

Baltic Lenin: A journey into Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania's Soviet past

Keith Ruffles

The fall of the Soviet Union marked a new era of independence for the Baltic states. But what remains of the former Soviet Union in this tiny corner of northeastern Europe?

With humor and compassion, travel writer Keith Ruffles tells his story of visiting the little-known countries of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. On his quest, he discovers how Soviet rule impacted the infrastructures, environments, and cultures of these areas.

Travel highlights include the medieval capital of Tallinn, Lithuania’s baroque-style capital of Vilnius, the Estonian island of Saaremaa, and the cities of Narva and Nida, which border Russia.

Along the way, Ruffles meets quirky characters—from academics to alcoholics—and truly discovers what life is like in the region today. Perhaps, most importantly, he discovers the legacy of the Soviet Union. What does it mean for the future of this region, as tensions reminiscent of the Cold War increase between Russia and the West?

My Estonia: Passport Forgery, Meat Jelly Eaters, and Other Stories

Justin Petrone

Some people have said this book is romantic and maybe it is: a young lost American college grad falls in love with an intriguing European journalist and embarks on a journey that restores his faith in himself and the world. Sure, it is romantic. But it was never easy. A foreigner arrives in the middle of a dark winter and must survive in Estonia, the "least fortunate Scandinavian country," a land where people eat blood sausage and jellied meat, drink warm bread, and are always on time; a place where every family is haunted by the past and is struggling to catch up to the present. Over the course of one year, so much happens in this tiny northern land that it stops being foreign. Estonia and the college grad turned journalist become intimately acquianted. Inseparable. And in the end, he comes to love it, even when they do not want to let him back into their country.

Estonia: A Ramble Through the Periphery

Alexander Theroux

“Seeing Estonia ― disrobing her ― was my focus.”

Any journey with Alexander Theroux is an education. Possessed of a razor-sharp and hyperliterate mind, he stands beside Thomas Pynchon as one of the sharpest cultural commentators of our time. So when he decided to accompany his wife ― the artist Sarah Son-Theroux ― on her Fulbright Scholarship to Estonia, it occasioned this penetrating examination of a country that, for many, seems alien and distanced from the modern world. For Theroux, the country and its people become a puzzle. His fascination with their language, manners, and legacy of occupation and subordination lead him to a revelatory examination of Estonia’s peculiar place in European history. All the while, his trademark acrobatic allusions, quotations, and digressions ― which take us from Hamlet through Jean Cocteau to Married… with Children ― render his travels as much internal and psychical as they are external and physical. Through these obsessive references to Western culture, we come to appreciate how insular the country has become, yet also marvel at its fierce individuality and preternatural beauty ― such is the skill of Theroux’s gaze. This travelogue of his nine months abroad also brims with anecdotes of Theroux’s encounters with Estonian people and ― in some of its most bitterly comedic episodes ― his fellow Americans whom he at times feels more alienated from than the frosty, humorless Europeans.Estonia: A Ramble Through the Periphery is as biting and satirical as it is witty and urbane; as curious and lyrical as it is brash and irreverent. It marks a new highlight in an already stellar career and a book that continues Fantagraphics’ exceptional line of prose works.

Exercise normal security precautions

The decision to travel is your responsibility. You are also responsible for your personal safety abroad. The purpose of this Travel Advice is to provide up-to-date information to enable you to make well-informed decisions.

Crime

Violent crime occurs, but foreigners are not usually targeted. Petty crime (pickpocketing, purse snatching and mugging) also occurs, particularly in Tallinn’s Old Town during the summer tourist season. Thieves often work in small groups and target tourists in airports, train stations and other public areas. Avoid parks, poorly lit streets and certain areas of Tallinn after dark, including Kopli, Lasnamäe and Kadriorg.

Theft of vehicles or their contents is common. Keep vehicles locked and in guarded parking lots overnight.

Road safety

Road travel can be hazardous because of aggressive drivers, disregarded traffic laws, poorly lit country roads and wandering animals. Driving can be especially dangerous in winter, as roads are icy and snow covered.

Demonstrations

Demonstrations are rare but should be avoided, as all demonstrations and large gatherings can suddenly turn violent. Follow the advice of local authorities and monitor local media.

Public transportation

Use only officially marked taxis and make sure that the taxi meter is in use and that prices are posted.

City buses are reliable but often crowded. Rail service is usually good but is limited to local connections around the main cities in Estonia.

Bus, plane and ferry services to neighbouring countries operate frequently. Relatively good highways connect Estonia with Latvia and Russia.

Consult our Transportation Safety page in order to verify if national airlines meet safety standards.

Fraud

Credit card and debit card fraud occurs. Pay careful attention when your cards are being handled by others during payment processing.

Internet frauds such as dating and financial scams occur.

See our Overseas Fraud page for more information on scams abroad.

General safety measures

Exercise normal security precautions. Do not show signs of affluence. Ensure that personal belongings, passports and other travel documents are secure at all times.

Emergency services

Dial 112 for emergency assistance.

Health

Related Travel Health Notices
Consult a health care provider or visit a travel health clinic preferably six weeks before you travel.
Vaccines

Routine Vaccines

Be sure that your routine vaccines are up-to-date regardless of your travel destination.

Vaccines to Consider

You may be at risk for these vaccine-preventable diseases while travelling in this country. Talk to your travel health provider about which ones are right for you.

Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A is a disease of the liver spread by contaminated food or water. All those travelling to regions with a risk of hepatitis A infection should get vaccinated.

Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is a disease of the liver spread through blood or other bodily fluids. Travellers who may be exposed (e.g., through sexual contact, medical treatment or occupational exposure) should get vaccinated.

Influenza

Seasonal influenza occurs worldwide. The flu season usually runs from November to April in the northern hemisphere, between April and October in the southern hemisphere and year round in the tropics. Influenza (flu) is caused by a virus spread from person to person when they cough or sneeze or through personal contact with unwashed hands. Get the flu shot.

Measles

Measles occurs worldwide but is a common disease in developing countries, particularly in parts of Africa and Asia. Measles is a highly contagious disease. Be sure your vaccination against measles is up-to-date regardless of the travel destination.
 

Rabies

Rabies is a disease that attacks the central nervous system spread to humans through a bite, scratch or lick from a rabid animal. Vaccination should be considered for travellers going to areas where rabies exists and who have a high risk of exposure (i.e., close contact with animals, occupational risk, and children).

Tick-borne encephalitis

Tick-borne encephalitis is a viral disease that can cause swelling of the brain. It is spread to humans by the bite of an infected tick. Vaccination should be considered for those who may be exposed to tick bites (e.g., those spending time outdoors in wooded areas) while travelling in regions with risk of tick-borne encephalitis.

Yellow Fever Vaccination

Yellow fever is a disease caused by the bite of an infected mosquito.

Travellers get vaccinated either because it is required to enter a country or because it is recommended for their protection.

* It is important to note that country entry requirements may not reflect your risk of yellow fever at your destination. It is recommended that you contact the nearest diplomatic or consular office of the destination(s) you will be visiting to verify any additional entry requirements.
Risk
  • There is no risk of yellow fever in this country.
Country Entry Requirement*
  • Proof of vaccination is not required to enter this country.
Recommendation
  • Vaccination is not recommended.
Food/Water

Food and Water-borne Diseases

Travellers to any destination in the world can develop travellers' diarrhea from consuming contaminated water or food.

In some areas in Eastern Europe, food and water can also carry diseases like hepatitis A. Practise safe food and water precautions while travelling in Eastern Europe. When in doubt, remember…boil it, cook it, peel it, or leave it!


Insects

Insects and Illness

In some areas in Eastern Europe, certain insects carry and spread diseases like Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever, leishmaniasis, Lyme disease, tick-borne encephalitis, and West Nile virus.

Travellers are advised to take precautions against bites.


Malaria

Malaria

There is no risk of malaria in this country.


Animals

Animals and Illness

Travellers are cautioned to avoid contact with animals, including dogs, snakes, rodents, and bats. Certain infections found in Eastern Europe, like rabies, can be shared between humans and animals.


Person-to-Person

Person-to-Person Infections

Crowded conditions can increase your risk of certain illnesses. Remember to wash your hands often and practice proper cough and sneeze etiquette to avoid colds, the flu and other illnesses.

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV are spread through blood and bodily fluids; practise safer sex.


Medical services and facilities

Medical services and facilities

Standards of medical care in Tallinn and Tartu are comparable to Western standards. However, this may not be the case for other areas of Estonia. Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment for health services. Medical evacuation, which can be very expensive, may be necessary in the event of serious illness or injury.

Keep in Mind...

The decision to travel is the sole responsibility of the traveller. The traveller is also responsible for his or her own personal safety.

Be prepared. Do not expect medical services to be the same as in Canada. Pack a travel health kit, especially if you will be travelling away from major city centres.

You are subject to local laws. Consult our Arrest and Detention page for more information.

Illegal drugs

Penalties for possession, use or trafficking of illegal drugs are strict. Convicted offenders can expect jail sentences or heavy fines.

Driving laws

An International Driving Permit and a Canadian driver’s licence are required.

Foreign motor vehicles are subject to strict regulations. Drivers should always carry original registration documents. Police checkpoints are routinely set up on major roads; drivers should pull over when asked.

Penalties for drinking and driving are strict. The legal blood alcohol limit is 0.01 percent.

The use of cellular telephones while driving is prohibited, unless they are fitted with a hands-free device.

Headlights must be on at all times. Vehicles must be equipped with winter tires from December 1 to March 1. Alternatively, studded tires can be used from October 1 to May 1. These dates are subject to change.

In the event of an accident, motorists must contact police to file an official report.

Identification

Carry adequate identification at all times. Keep a photocopy of your passport in case of loss or seizure.

Money

The currency of Estonia is the euro (EUR).

Foreign currency is easily exchanged. Some banks accept Canadian dollar traveller’s cheques. Automated banking machines (ABMs) are widely available, and credit cards are widely accepted in urban areas as well as by larger establishments in remote locations.

When crossing one of the external border control points of the European Union (EU), you must make a declaration to customs upon entry or exit if you have at least €10,000, or the equivalent in other currencies. The sum can be in cash, cheques, money orders, traveller’s cheques or any other convertible assets. This does not apply if you are travelling within the EU or in transit to a non-EU country. For more information on the EU legislation and links to EU countries’ sites, visit the web page of the European Commission on cash controls.

Climate

Heavy flooding can occur in spring.