I arrived in Estonia about a week ago, and on every one of these days, somebody `had to go to Tallinn` or somebody had actually left for Tallinn. Everything big seems to happen in Tallinn, and people may complain about having to go there, they all seem to have to every now and then. I`m on the island of Saaremaa today, psychologically speaking almost the furthest one can get from Tallinn without leaving Estonia. I am trying to find out how the different regions in Estonia compare to each other.
I expect to hear that one region is known for this, and another region very active in that. But beside winter sports destinations in the South-East of the country, the main difference resides in city versus countryside. The regional difference can mainly be explained by slight variations in landscape.
Kaja, Relika and Jannika (all 20):
`Compared to Saaremaa, Hiiumaa is a very quite and much less touristy island`
All of the country is quite flat, even in the areas where people go skiing. Otep?? is favourite for that, and it surprises me that skiing there is not limited to cross-country, but also includes down-hill skiing. Summer destinations include the islands, over 1500 in total, and P?rnu, the main beach city of the country. But the main tendency throughout summer is for people to leave the big cities
Saaremaa, the island I am staying on right now, is connected to the mainland by ferry. The crossing takes about 40 minutes. During winter times, a temporary road over the frozen see is used to link the island to the rest of the country. Kaja, Relika and Jannika (all 20, photo left to right) are studying at Saaremaa`s university. None of them is originally from Saaremaa. Kaja was born on Hiiumaa, another island north of Saaremaa, Relika and Jannika are both from the mainland. Of all three, Kaja is the least frequent traveller on the ferry to the mainland. She more often crosses to the other island to see her parents. She tells me that the main difference between the islands of Saaremaa and Hiiumaa resides in the fact that Saaremaa is bigger and gets more tourists in, while Hiiumaa has more untouched nature and fewer tourists.
Main reasons for islanders to travel to the mainland include shopping, festivals and/or friends and family. Urmet (19) goes there a few times a year also to join science competitions. When people travel to the mainland, three places rank high in the destination list. Tartu, the university town in the East, P?rnu, Estonia`s self-declared summer capital on the Baltic Sea and Tallinn, the capital city. And except cities, many people scatter the mainland countryside, mostly in the vicinity of where their friend and familty live.
Mainlanders coming to the islands are looking to enjoy a relaxing summer, to study or to do business. Erkki (29) sells agriculture machinery and quite often crosses to Saaremaa to visit and recruit business partners. He spends a lot of time on the road, and Saaremaa is just one out of many places on his way. He does comment that he likes the place better in summer: `Autumn has started now and everything has gone back quiet now`.
Tallinn and Russians
Like in most countries, people who are not from the capital city look at it with mixed feelings. Jannika says that she doesn`t feel safe in Tallinn, `one person gets killed there every day, there are a lot of car accidents and a lot of Russians. And I`m not a racist, but some of then are just crazy`. It is not the first time I hear such comments during my stay in Estonia.
Issues with Russia, both politically and between people in the streets, seem to have quite serious proportions. Some border territories are still the basis of a big border dispute. Narva, the dominantly Russian city on the eastern border, `is a nice place to see, especially for the fort and the river, but speak Estonian there and they will kill you`, says Jannika.
It is interesting to see how all three Baltic states have different ways of dealing with their past. I will dive a little deeper into this during the days to come and will be happy to share my findings with you.
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