Our Diary News from Tallinn, Estoniaa

The next day coincided with the 12th anniversary of leaving the UK on Poco Andante for our leisurely cruise to warmer climes! As a "treat", we took a cruise across the Baltic - the ferry from Helsinki to Tallinn in Estonia. Here we would step back 400 years into the past - and leap forward into a vision of the future for us all. The 2-hour trip, although cold and windy, was pleasantly warm inside the ferry. We arrived late in the day and had difficulty finding our apartment. A helpful receptionist from a nearby hotel phoned the contact number for us and all was good. We decided to postpone celebrations until the next day as we needed a pause to catch our breath after our hectic trip through Russia. We visited the local supermarket just across the road for some supplies - what a treat! We hadn't seen such fare since we didn't know when - and came back laden with cheese, meats, breads, cakes, beer and wine - all at reasonable prices. It was great to be able to prepare our own meals again after having dined at restaurants for such a long time.

Our walking tour guide next day was Maart, a student of political science who had just finished his national service. He was great and spoke of Estonia in a knowledgeable and light hearted way. He was proud that Estonia had been independent for 24 years 158 days and 12 hours. The last time of independence was around 1300AD! In 1989 Estonia had literally joined hands with Lithuania and Latvia to form a human chain 675 kms long - approximately 2

million people. The protest was designed to draw global attention by demonstrating a popular desire for independence for each of the entities. It also illustrated solidarity among the three nations - which we were reminded about as we visited each of the Baltic States.

The capitulation to invaders by the Estonians has meant that the capital Tallinn has suffered little destruction - and many of the medieval structures remain. Walking through the streets and passages was a walk back in time. We even shopped in a pharmacy that has been in business since 1422, purported, to be the oldest pharmacy in the world.

Estonia has been overrun by Denmark, Sweden, Germany and Russia in endless succession. The bitterness towards the last two was noticeable - both occupiers had shipped tens of thousands to Labour Camps, never to return. Hence independence is proudly celebrated. Now Estonia is looking West - even joining NATO - and towards the future.

With a population of only just over one million people and a liberal government, Estonia is pursuing a policy of embracing new technology. After all, Skype was developed by a couple of Estonian programmers! The government, newly free from oppression, has developed an all-encompassing IT system. Every Estonian has a special, unique identification card that allows them to conduct most of their civic functions on line - vote, pay their tax (flat 20%), create a business, access their health records, schooling, obtaining pharmaceuticals and many other services. The prosperity of Estonia was there for all to see - this little nation is one to watch.

We finished our brief stay in Tallinn with a lovely meal at a restaurant set in a medieval cellar. We shared fish soup and a whole knuckle of pork and vegies. This set us up for the coach trip to Riga, Latvia early next day.