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Christmas in Estonia

In December of 2021, I had recently moved to Ireland and was now facing Christmas alone. Being not overly sentimental about the holidays, it was hardly breaking my heart to spend a solitary Christmas, but a certain drudgery loomed in my heart about spending a wet, cold couple weeks in the same neighbourhood I saw every day.  Why not instead take the opportunity to experience Christmas in a distant land? Why not go somewhere with snow? That seemed like a proper place to spend a lovely Christmas alone!

The following is the photographic documentation of that trip.

 

Click on any photo to read more.

A note on Tallinn

I have been interested in Estonia for a while. While travelling through India in 2017, I picked up a brochure on Estonia, presumably left there by some visiting Estonians. The brochure shared fascinating insights into this interesting northern culture,  who kept their pagan beliefs far longer than any of their European brethren, and still respected nature in a way modernity generally brushes aside. However, I knew nothing about Tallinn, and did no research. I arrived to one of the most well-preserved medieval towns in Europe, and I spent each day marvelling over some new discovery along my path, or sighing over some new beautiful sight I'd missed the day before, and rewarding myself with frequent stops at the Christmas Market for a nip of mulled wine to keep my cheeks rosy and my soul singing. This is a love story. 

Medieval heritage

Tallinn capitalises on its medieval heritage. In the centre of the old town is a grand restaurant Olde Hansa, and nary a passing tourist can fail to take note of it. Outside, a fellow dressed in medieval wool garments sells candied almonds from a wooden cart, and inside the walls are covered in paintings of climbing vines, dancing figures in tunics, romping hounds, and delicate floral designs reminiscent of illuminated manuscripts. On the menu, we find such delicacies as Divine Leg of Pork with beer syrup, Elk Sausage, Earl's Forest Mushroom Soup, and then the eye discovers the pièce de résistance: Bear Steak in Wine Sauce! 

This novelty does not come cheap—€50 for the bragging rights of eating bear. With such agony did I debate it! Was it worth it? I'd only just arrived in Tallinn! Reader, I will spare you the anxiety: I bought the bear. The waitress bowed slightly when she arrived with the dish, and told me that "those who eat bear are said to become very strong." I cannot say I was noticeably stronger the next day, but, I can say that I once ate bear in Estonia. 

When it came time to pay, a final delight: "Will you be paying by coin," asked the waitress, "or by magic?" How delightful! I paid with magic.

Day trip to Helsinki

A ferry runs each day between Tallinn and its Finnish neighbours to the north, Helsinki. I booked a ticket for the 7am ferry, although I rather regretted my early choice when I realized the gate closed at 6:30, and I had to leave the hostel by 6, meaning I was actually committing to waking up around 5! I did, however, enjoy the ferry's cafe all to myself, which was some consolation. 

You may think there wouldn't be much of a significant temperature difference Tallinn and Helsinki, being only 87km away from each other. You would be wrong. I was wrong, too. It only took 15 minutes of walking around the city to realize I was drastically underdressed. I later learned that it had been -3C (27F) in Estonia that day, and -13C (9F) in Finland! I needed to remedy this, and I decided to find the nearest charity shop and buy a sweater. Surely charity shops in Finland would have a selection of wool clothing, I figured—and I wasn't disappointed. Along the back wall was a huge handwritten sign saying WOOL. I did not tarry. I found a lovely red sweater with repetitive designs around the collar, looking very Nordic, for only €17.50.

Now wearing two sweaters and my coat overtop, I was once again warm and happy , and explored Helsinki impervious to the cold. The following photos are all from Finland.

Estonia in the snow

On the morning of the 23rd, I woke up to snow. The whole town transformed. Snow found its way into minute crevices in the architecture, accentuating patterns. By the evening, enough snow had fallen that the plows didn't have anywhere to put it all, so they just pushed all the snow into huge piles around the town. How delightful for the local children, who turned these into their latest playground, running up the mounds of snow and sliding back down while their parents gathered in small groups and chatted amongst one other.

Glöggi

Hot spiced wine seems to be ubiquitous to cold climates. Mulled wine, glühwein, forralt bor, glöggi--whatever the regional name, it's the universal medicine against the chill. One cup is enough to banish the creeping cold. I fell into a pattern as I marched up and down the streets of Tallinn, periodically popping into the Christmas Market for a glass of glöggi. Gone were cold fingers and toes! 

The Estonians enjoy their mulled wine with a handful of nuts and a slice of lemon or orange, as well as an optional shot of brandy or jäggermeister for those who want a little extra kick.