After a seven-hour flight from New York to Helsinki and a 20-minute flight across the Gulf of Finland to Estonia, I’m now comfortably ensconced at the Schlossle Hotel in Talinn, the Estonian capital.
The first thing I discovered about my new Estonian friends is that they are savoring their new-found freedom. While the country was settled back in the 13th century, they were ruled, over the centuries, by the Danes, the Swedes, the Germans, and the Russians.
They gained their independence in 1918, but lost it when the Soviet Union invaded in 1940. Then it was Nazi Germany, then the Soviets again. In 1991, when the Soviet Union collapsed, they became an independent republic, and boy are they glad! You would be too after half a century of oppression by the KGB.
They still have to endure the horrors of European socialism — you know, four weeks of vacation a year, 18 months of paid maternity leave, free medical care and free college tuition — but they’re bearing up well and they have one of the strongest economies in Europe.
Today we had a walking tour of the Old Town in Talinn, where we saw some of the fortifications that have protected the town from Baltic Sea raiders since 1229. The oldest tower is called Tall Herman, the widest is called Fat Margaret, and the weather vane atop the town hall is called Old Thomas.