by Rich Landesberg
Estonia is in the midst of campaigning for Parliament with elections scheduled for March. Billboards are all around and, in a quick glimpse from a bus, one candidate seemed to closely resemble Sarah Palin. Sorry, I wasn’t quick enough to grab a picture but it did provide inspiration for the title of our excursion to the northernmost Baltic state, on the border with Russia.We started our time in Tallinn by heading directly to the main square in old town. Still decorated with a huge Christmas tree, the square looks like something Disney might create…except that this is real and people have lived here for centuries. After a little lunch, Dr. Morgan pointed out some of the more important sites and their significance to our study of the European Union.
It was relatively warm in Estonia. Most days, temperatures were just above freezing with one day with temperatures in the 20s.
Last year when we brought students here, it was 20 degrees colder. We were thankful for the “warmth” and really loved the beauty of the light snow that fell everyday, giving the ground a nice, bright, white coat.
Our first morning was spent at Tallinn Technical University for a fascinating series of lectures about the EU. Our host was an American professor, Dr. Siobhan Kattago of Tallinn University (she teaches Political Philosophy in the Department of Philosophy).
She recruited her colleagues at Tallinn Technical to speak with our students in their brand new facility that reflects Estonia’s place in the 21st Century. We were welcomed by Peeter Muursepp, the equivalent of the dean. Dr. Kattago, and John Sullivan–a Texan who has lived in Estonia about 15 years–took turns teaching our students. Our students were tantalized by the option of a global academic program taught in English and some may be contemplating coming back for a semester or for graduate studies. Vitali Khaynacki–a student from Kiev, Ukraine who attends Tallinn Technical–joined with our students and made their time in Tallinn very special. In addition to great conversation, Vitali showed our group a local student hangout with great–and cheap–pancakes.
Friday was spent exploring the city with an insightful guide. Not only did we get to walk all around town in the lightly falling snow but we had the opportunity to explore some of the tunnels that surround the city, some of which have been here for more than 500 years. These tunnels were originally built to allow escape from the walled city if it was attacked by the Swedes, the Danes, the Germans or any of the others who historically set their sights on Riga. In more recent times, the Russians used the tunnels for civil defense. After the Russians left, the homeless moved in. In the past few years, the tunnels have been excavated and turned into a living museum.
Our day ended with a look at the city from some beautiful vistas and then lunch in town. Some of us wound up in a Mexican restaurant where we could have Mexican food as reinterpreted by Americans, exported 6,000 miles and reinvented by Estonians. Yes, something gets lost in the translation but the food was really good. We passed on having a Lone Star with lunch. The afternoon was free for exploration or study.
Most of the students used at least some of the time to prepare for the midterm. On Sunday morning, our last morning in Tallinn, students gathered in the hotel bar (closed at that hour) to write essays in answer to mid-term questions about the European Union. There was time left after the exam to grab lunch, shop, or take one last walk around this beautiful city.After lunch, it was time to get to the airport for our flight to Vilnius via Riga. We got to Vilnius after eight PM, had some typical Lithuanian food in a local pub, and called it a night in anticipation of our first full day in the last Baltic nation we will visit.