Modern History; Jon Griffin Enjoys the Contradictions of an Old East European City Which Is Ahead of the Game in a High-Tech World
Byline: Jon Griffin
So, have you ever eaten elk? Or bear sausages? Or even drunk cinnamon beer? Not surprisingly, neither had I, at least not until my first ever visit to Estonia. But there's plenty of new delights to discover in this beguiling land which back in the 1980s was still peeping out at the Western World from behind the old Iron Curtain.
Estonia is a land of remarkable contrasts, a relatively small nation just below Scandinavia which has, by and large, successfully made the transformation from a former Soviet bloc country to a modern, forward-thinking 21st century state.
It waited a very long time to enjoy its freedom. Over the centuries, its location has left it at the mercy of bloodthirsty invaders, and it has been subjected to Danish, Teutonic, Swedish and Russian rule before the horrors of the Second World War, which saw it change hands from the Soviets to the Nazis and then back into the clutches of Stalin.
It finally regained its independence in August 1991 following the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the fall of the Iron Curtain, and has wasted little time in adapting cheerfully to the ways of the West. Walk around the capital, Tallinn, today, and you will enjoy all the attractions of a modern, progressive European city, from bustling bars and restaurants to gleaming shops and hotels.
Since independence, Estonia has aggressively pursued economic reform and integration with the West. And Tallinn, more than anywhere else, has reaped the benefits of that new-found freedom.
The city is the oldest capital in northern Europe, dating back to 1154. The old town is one of Europe's best preserved walled medieval cities and is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Looking over the skyline at the narrow winding streets and the archways, you can almost smell the history and sense the legacy of the long centuries of the struggle for independence that shaped the city's destiny.
That struggle was well worth it. Today Tallinn stands at the cutting edge of the information super-highway which has changed the world beyond all recognition.
The oldest capital on the planet is also one of the most hi-tech-friendly.
Free wireless Internet facilities are available across Tallinn, along with the common practice of parking by mobile phone. After all, Estonia invented Skype.
For every 100 Estonians there are 120 mobile telephones....Meanwhile, drive a few miles out to unpopulated forests, and you'll encounter wolves, bears and lynx, by which time the mobile phone(s) may well come in handy.
This is a land which has both embraced the modern world and, at the same time, kept it at bay, some achievement considering the centuries of struggle for its own identity.
Tallinn boasted the world's first Christmas tree, back in 1441. …