Difference between revisions of "Estonia"
Revision as of 09:13, 20 September 2007
Estonia  is a Baltic state in Northeastern Europe. It has land borders with Latvia and Russia. With a coastline on the Baltic Sea and Gulf of Finland, Estonia also has seaborders with Finland and Sweden.
Estonia is divided into 15 counties (or maakonnad, singular - maakond)
Estonians have a special love for nature, and many will tell you that they would rather sit under a tree in an empty forest or hike in a national park than almost anything else.
Overseen by the country's Ministry of the Environment or "Keskkonnaministeerium", the five renowned national parks are:
Tranquil, laidback and unspoiled, Estonia's 1,500 Baltic islands provide a splendid getaway to nature. Located off the west coast of Estonia, the two largest islands are:
Travelers can visit the national parks and islands on their own or as part of an eco-tourism adventure tour, like those led by TrekBaltics .
The Jägala Falls is Estonia's largest waterfall.
Estonia is a gem of a country offering visitors the chance to see a country that is both ex-Soviet Union and now proudly European Union. The traces of the Soviet era are still there to see — a deserted Soviet army base that was once off-limits to Estonians themselves can easily be visited. Tallinn's old town is in magnificent condition, with the medieval city walls and towers almost complete, and surely rates amongst Europe's best old towns. Glorious beaches are on offer, although the swimming season is short. After all, the Baltics are not renowned for warm weather. And therein lies something that any visitor to Estonia must be aware of — summer is short and winter is severe.
After 8 centuries of Danish, Polish, Swedish, German, and Russian rule, Estonia attained independence in 1918. Forcibly incorporated into the USSR in 1940, it regained its freedom in 1991 through its Singing Revolution, non-violent revolution that overthrew a very violent occupation that collapsed with the collapse of the Soviet Union. Since the last Russian troops left in 1994, Estonia has been free to promote economic and political ties with Western Europe. It is now one of the more-prosperous former Communist states, enjoying a highly-technological environment, a very open and liberal economy and a transparent government system. On the other hand, it is faced with a fairly low (but growing) GDP per capita in a European Union context, as well as a very low birth rate which is leading to rapid population decline.
Since accession to the EU Estonia is becoming one of the most popular destinations in Eastern Europe with EU highest, 30% growth in the number of visitors in 2004, according to Eurostat.
As Estonia is a member of the European Union, citizens from these countries can enter Estonia with a valid passport or a valid identity card. In addition more than 30 other nationals (including the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Japan) can enter Estonia without a visa (detailed list at Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs).
A growing number of foreign visitors have been traveling to Estonia in recent years. According to Statistics Estonia the nation's statistical agency, 1.3 million foreigners visited the country in 2000, and that number climbed 38 percent to 1.8 million foreigners by 2005.
Tallinn is Estonia's international gateway. In addition to direct daily flights to/from all major Scandinavian (Helsinki, Stockholm, Copenhagen,Oslo) and Baltic cities (Riga, Vilnius) there are direct flights from all major European hubs like London, Paris, Frankfurt and Amsterdam and regional hubs like Prague and Warsaw. Eastward connections are from Moscow and Kiev. Local carrier Estonian Air provides half of the services and the rest is provided by Finnair, SAS, Lufthansa, LOT, CSA, Air Baltic and others. Easyjet is one of a few low-cost carriers that provide service between Tallinn and major European cities. Travelers can pay as little as EUR 120 (US$160) or £80 Sterling to fly roundtrip from London to Tallinn.
From London's Stansted Airport, Easyjet provides nonstop service to Tallinn. From Frankfurt, choose from Lufthansa and Estonian Air. From Brussels, select from KLM, Estonian Air, Finnair, SAS, Lufthansa and Czech Airlines. From Berlin's Schoenefeld Airport, Easyjet serves Tallinn. From Amsterdam, choose from KLM, Lufthansa, SAS, Czech Airlines, Finnair, LOT Polish, and Northwest. From Rome's Fiumicino Airport, select from Alitalia, Czech Airlines, Estonia Air, KLM and Finnair.
Close proximity and excellent ferry services with Helsinki allow for combination of open-jaw air travel.
Detailed information is available from Tallinn Airport timetable.
International train services are to/from Russia, Moscow and Saint Petersburg. Domestic services connect Tallinn with Narva in the east and Viljandi in the south, Pärnu in the south-west, Tartu and Valga in the south-east.
Good road connections are to the south (Via Baltica routing Tallinn-Riga-Vilnius-Warsaw) and east (Tallinn-Saint Petersburg). Domestic road network is dense and covers all regions of the country.
Lots of good and cheap connections from Moscow, Saint Petersburg, Kiev, Kaliningrad, Warsaw, and all larger Baltic and German cities. For details see Eurolines Estonia.
Eurolines can provide visa services to Russia, however it takes two weeks (one week rush).
Ferry lines connect Tallinn with Sweden (Stockholm), Finland (Helsinki, Mariehamn) and during summers also with Germany (Rostock) and Saint Petersburg. Tallinn-Helsinki is one of the busiest searoutes in Europe and has daily 20 ferry crossings and nearly 30 different fast-boat and hydrofoil crossings (the later do not operate during winter). For details see Port of Tallinn passenger schedules.
The road system is quite dense though the quality of roadcover is varying. The speed limit in countryside is 90 km/h and 50 km/h in the cities unless specified otherwise. The passengers are expected to wear seat belts. Lights must always be switched on.
In the central areas of bigger cities a fee is levied on parking cars, but finding a provider of tickets is sometimes difficult as mobile parking is wide-spread.
Estonia's train network does not cover the whole territory. The quality of services has suffered considerably from privatization and the main means of local transport is now bus. Tallinn has three frequently-going local train lines (Tallinn-Keila-Paldiski/Riisipere and Tallinn-Aegviidu) see http://www.elektriraudtee.ee/?233.
Hitchhiking in Estonia is generally good. The Baltic countries have a lively hitchhiking culture.
Estonia has a comprehensive line network all over the country. All bigger cities like Tartu, Pärnu, Viljandi and Narva are accessible by bus network. There is a journey planner at http://www.bussireisid.ee, in English, Finnish and Russian. But check also http://www.eurolines.ee (only between bigger cities and to outside Estonia).
Estonia has lots of car rental companies and the level of English spoken by their representatives is generally very high. If you go to Level 0 of Tallinn international airport, there are several counters all touting cars.
Car rental in Estonia is very cheap compared to Western Europe. You can get a decent car shared between two people for approximately 150EEK/person/day e.g. a 2004 Fiat Punto.
An excellent day trip is to drive from Tallinn to Tartu. It takes about 2.5 hours each direction.
As of September 3, 2006 the drive from Tallinn to Tartu has been much improved. Except for a small road closure in Tallinn the road is US style macadam the whole lenth. It takes 2 to 2 1/2 hours. There are few sights of interest along the way. The terrain is flat and most of the road is bracketed by birch tree and a few pines. I can recommend Sam's grill about 1/2 way between Tallinn and Tartu as a place to stop. There is a gas station next door.
Be wary of the stones from the gravel roads, they are very sharp and can crack your windscreen.
Driving in Estonia can be more dangerous than in much of the Europe and United States. Some drivers can be aggressive, recklessly overtaking vehicles and traveling at high speed, even in crowed urban areas. Estonian laws against driving under the influence of alcohol are strict and follow a policy of zero tolerance. Unfortunately, accidents involving intoxicated drivers are distressingly frequent. You should always remain alert to the possibility of drunk drivers and drunken pedestrians. Standards of driving can range from bad to down-right lethal. The best advice is to drive defensively: don’t assume your fellow drivers will do what you expect them to do, like stop for red lights or signal before they merge into your lane. If you can avoid it, it’s probably best not to drive on inter-city highways.
The official language is Estonian, though many in urban areas (especially younger people) speak English well. Older generation understands Russian quite well. Finnish is linguistically closely related to Estonian and, thanks to heavy tourism and TV broadcasts from the other side of the gulf, many Estonians understand it quite well. There is a significant Russian minority (25%) and some other Slavic speaking minorities as well.
The local currency is the Estonian kroon, with the scary-sounding currency code EEK. One kroon is divided into 100 sent. Since 1993, the kroon has been fixed first to the German mark, and now to the Euro at a rate of 15.6466 to 1.
ATMs and money changers (valuutavahetus) are widely available. You will get the best rates by exchanging only after arrival in Estonia.
Adoption of Euro in Estonia was postponed due to the higher than allowed inflation rate.
It is no secret that in most post-soviet countries consumer prices are considerably lower than in Western Europe, in part due to lower taxes. This has been one of the main driving forces behind the inflow of the Nordic guests to Estonia through the 1990s, but prices are rising steadily and surely. In heavily touristed districts (say, Tallinn's Old Town) prices are already equivalent to Scandinavia.
Estonian food draws heavily from German and Scandinavian cuisine. The closest thing to a national dish is verivorst, blood sausage, served with mulgikapsad, which is basically sauerkraut stew.
Many types of food are close to Russian and have their equivalents almost exclusively in former USSR, such as hapukoor, smetana in Russian, a sour 20%-fat milk dressing for salads, especially "kartulisalat" or "potato salad".
As Estonia used to be a food mass-production powerhouse in the times of USSR, some of its foods, unknown to Westerners, are still well-recognized in the lands of the CIS.
Among other everyday food, some game products are offered in food stores in Estonia, mostly wild boar, elk sausages and deer grill. Some restaurants also offer bear meat.
Like their neighbors the Finns and the Russians, the Estonians know their alcohol. Favorite tipples include the local beer Saku  or A. Le Coq , the local vodka Viru Valge (Vironian White)  and the surprisingly smooth and tasty rum-like herbal liquor Vana Tallinn (Old Tallinn) , famous in the countries of former USSR.
Number of hotels has exploded from few to tens and hundreds after Estonia restored independence. In 2004 Tallinn achieved first place among the Baltic Sea cities in the number of overnight stays in hotels, though still behind Stockholm and Helsinki in the number of total overnight stays. A list of bigger hotels as well as some restaurants and nightclubs could be found at Estonian Hotel and Restaurant Association .
As Soviet collective farms were disbanded many farmers switched to running "turismitalu" or tourism farms which are inexpensive and indispensable places for spending holidays in the nature, usually in former farm house. Site on Estonian Rural Tourism  provides information on the tourism farms in Estonia. Another widespread option for budget-sensetive travellers is hostels, see website of the Estonian Youth Hostel Association .
Estonia has a fair amount of foreign students studying in its high schools, especially from Nordic countries. As the site of Ministry of Education and Research  notifies, Estonia is a member of several important European frameworks, such as the Bologna and Sorbonne conventions establishing a European Higher Education Area, the Lisbon Convention on the Recognition of Qualifications Concerning Higher Education in the European Region. Estonia and EU Member States have thus mutually recognized corresponding qualifications making Estonian diplomas acceptable Europe-wide. Among universities receiving foreign students perhaps most known are Tartu University (established 1632) and Tallinn Technical University. Extensive coverage of all aspects of Estonia's educational system could be found at SmartEstonia  website.
Estonia may have had rocketlike growth in recent years, but only from a very low base as a former Soviet republic, and average local monthly salary (2007) is only around 650 EUR.
Since restoration of independence, Estonia has been following a "small open economy" model, achieving in 2000 4th place worldwide on the openness of its economy (Heritage Foundation). No obstacles exist to citizens of EU countries to come to invest and work in Estonia. Citizens of developed non-EU countries are exempted from short-term tourist visas. Swedes and Finns have by far the largest working community of post-Soviet foreigners in Estonia.
Considerable investments and some workers are constantly coming from CIS countries, though significant legal restrictions are imposed.
Citizenship and Migration Board  is the authority responsible for dealing with the paperwork.
CV Online  is one of the oldest Estonian recruitement and HR services operating in 9 countries (as of 2005).
The published crime rate increased dramatically in 1991-1994 after democratic freedoms were introduced. In large part this is due to the fact that crime was a taboo subject before 1991, as Soviet propaganda needed to show how safe and otherwise good place it was. However it is still a significant problem in Estonia. The murder rate per 100,000 inhabitants, as of 2000, was some 4-5 times higher than in Sweden and Finland, although still significantly lower than in its biggest neighbour, Russia. Today, the official sources claim achieving considerable reduction in crime statistics in the recent years. Criminal activities are distributed unevenly across the territory with almost no crime in the island areas and narcotics mafia operating in predominantly Russian-speaking industrial area of North-East. In Tallinn petty crime is an increasing problem and there are some incidents involving tourists, mainly pickpocketing. Tallinn Old City and other main tourist attractions are closely watched by local police and private security companies.
The main advice to anyone worried about personal security is to stay reasonably sober despite tempting alcohol prices.
For police dial 110, for other emergencies like fires and so, call 112.
It has been mentioned that ordinary Estonians are unlikely to approach a complete stranger or a tourist on their own. If somebody suddenly turns to you in the street (with questions or matters of small business) keeping a cautious eye on your belongings would be wise.
Open homosexuality may be met with stares and possibly rude comments. Travellers may also encounter racism, though violence is very rare.
For an Estonian it is considered "mauvais ton" not to criticize Estonian healthcare system. Recent EU study showed however that Estonia occupies a healthy 4th place in the block by the basic public health service indicators, on the same level as Sweden. In fact, around 1998-2000 Estonian healthcare system was remodeled from obsolete USSR model, directed to coping with disastrous consequences of large-scale war to more up-to-date by the experts from Sweden. Estonia has harmonized its rules on travelers' health insurance with EU requirements. For fast aid or rescue dial 112.
Estonians are tremendously proud of their nation and their country because as a small nation they have managed to gain independence and survived all the rough times that centuries of history filled with wars has served them.
Estonians are a hard working nation, sometimes referred as the Japanese of Europe. Sometimes, it's said (also often among themselves) that Estonians don't know how to enjoy their life, because they are always working. But You can convince yourself that they can if You spend some time with them.
Estonians are an educated nation. Education is highly valued in Estonia because as a small nation with no exceptional resources they now that the only way to be competitive is to absorb knowledge. There are so many highly educated people in Estonia that it is becoming to create problems in their labour market - there arent enough workers for jobs that need little education.
Check out www.wifi.ee for a list of WiFi enabled hotspots (847 as of August 2006) across the country.
For local calls, dial the 7 or 8 digit number given. There is no "0" dialed before local numbers.
For international calls from Estonia, dial "00" then the country code and number.
For international calls to Estonia, dial "00" from most countries or consult your operator, the country code "372" and the 7 or 8 digit number
For emergencies, dial "112". For police only, dial "110".
Within Estonia, the postage cost for a letter up to 20 grams is 5.50 EEK (Estonian Kroon)(about €0,36). To other Baltic and Nordic countries by air mail, the cost is 6 EEK, and to the rest of the world by air mail, the cost is 8 EEK. Be sure to mark all air mail pieces with "Prioritaire/Par Avion" stickers available at the post office, or clearly print it on the mail if needed. Stamps are sold at post offices usually open during normal shopping hours, and also at newstands.