Old Town, Modern Country

Location: Tallinn, Estonia

Nobody I know has Estonia on their list of must-see destinations. Until this trip came along, all I knew was that it was a former Soviet republic, and that didn’t sound like a great place for a holiday. But a little research told me that Tallinn has one of the best preserved medieval centres in Europe. True, the climate sucks (it was 12 degrees today with rain and a cold wind, and this is the end of June), but if you want to jump back in time, this is one of the best places to go.

Walking through the winding cobblestone streets of old Tallinn is like stepping into the Middle Ages. Settled by the Danes in 1219 but occupied by Germans, Swedes and Russians in the centuries since, the city is a mish-mash of architectural styles. The town hall is from the 14th century, when German merchants dominated city life; the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is from 1900, when the country belonged to imperial Russia.

Remarkably, Estonia is also one of the most technologically advanced countries in Europe. Citizens carry ID cards with chip technology, and they use computers for everything from voting in national elections to ordering pharmacy prescriptions. Their engineers are world leaders in the field of artificial intelligence. Huh.

I wonder if Latvia will have the same kinds of surprises tomorrow…