estonia! and finland! language and what to see...

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estonia! and finland! language and what to see...

Postby Trapy » 2013-11-23, 18:02

Hi all!! long time no post. having a baby and full time job will do that. but this janurary I will be lucky enough to travel to estonia and finland for about a week and a half. I had a few questions if anyone can answer?

how different are estonian and finnish? on a very basic level. I have been studying finnish off and on, and feel somewhat confident with the basics for travel, but will estonian be world apart? or or somewhat resemble finnish in the roots? also, how is the english in both countries? I doubt I will have many problems in Tallin and Helsinki, but below is my shortlist of places to see and I don't know how prevelant it is.

also are there any must see places I am missing? this will likely be my only trip to these countries for atleast a decade if not ever, so I would hate to miss something really cool;

estonia:
Tallin, Tartu, P'a'rnu (?), ???? maybe narva....

finland:
Helsinki, Joensuu, savolinna, valmo(?), maybe turku.
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Re: estonia! and finland! language and what to see...

Postby Levo » 2013-11-23, 23:46

Trapy! Welcome!

I lived one year in Estonia.
Previously I had learnt quite a lot of Finnish.

As for the language, yes, they are pretty similar in the basics, but words are rarely exactly the same. Usually, Estonian omits some sounds, like Finnish "Suomalainen" -> Estonian "soomlane". And after Finnish, Estonian might sound "fuzzy".

I can tell about Estonia.

If you'll have only more than a week, you really have to consider what type of person you are. If you are more interested in "human-stuff", like big cities, party life, arts-centres, etc... Then in Estonia - under such a short time - Tallinn and Narva are the things worth seeing, in my humble opinion. The latter one only for the breathtaking sight of the two castles by the same river and the big border-control at the Estonian side, which is also, literally the North-Eastern corner of the EU (on the continent). You can literally stand in the very place at the castle.

If you are more interested in nature, folk-art or folk-music (okay, that's also humane :) ), then the Estonian countryside can be hilarious and unforgetable. You should check Viljandi with its old castle-ruins by the lakeside, and its setting in general, and the Pärimusmuusika Ait, where they keep folk-concerts and other events pretty often. http://www.folk.ee/ The town is really famous for it, and there's a handicraft shop at each corner with cool, warm Winter clothes and other folk-art stuff.
In countryside towns, you can find these pretty often. Check for "Käsitöö" scripts in the streets.


In case you had the time and go so South, you could check Valga/Valka, the cut-town at the Estonian-Latvian border. The border between the two countries is in the middle of the street. It's just amazing to see it. This building is Estonia, the other, totally similar one is Latvia. The nice church is in Valka, but the shopping centre, 150 metres away is in Estonia. Though if you step off the pedestrian and step on the grass, the park is already Latvia, but the pedestrian is Estonia :)

Tartu... It's very interesting if you are an Estonian or interested in Estonian culture or Estonia as a country, since this is its cultural-capital. Thriving university life with Estonian standards. Without any special interest in the above things, just for a one or two-day stay, it doesn't give more than the possibility to sit in the world's tallest pub, called Püssirohukelder in the city-centre. http://pyss.ee/ The city-centre itself is nice as is the hill with the gothic cathedrals ruins, but maybe not worth for someone uninterested in Estonian culture or history in particular.

Vőru, in the South-East is also very far... It's a bit like Viljandi, but more "Eastern-style", a bit resembles to Russian-culture. Very nice town.

Ohhh! You know what? Will you hire a car? Then! Go to lake Peipsi! (Or Chudskoe ozero in Russian). There are several-hundred years old Russian orthodox churches at the lakeside, and in the forest, hidden from civilisation. One is Pühtitsa in the woods in Ida-Virumaa, close to Narva. You can only go there by car. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/P%C3%BChtitsa_Convent

Or, you can go to Haapsalu in the West, not that far from Tallinn. It has a pretty nice castle. (By the way, the one in Rakvere is also worth a watch). And you can go to the museum of the Estonian Swedes based in a Swedish-style fishing-home. In general Haapsalu is a nice town because of its wooden, colorful seaside houses. I spent Midsummer's Eve there and it was amazing to watch the sun go down in the sea, then rise again "a few metres away" not much later.

Well, I could go on, but I don't know how much you are interested in Estonia in general or how much you are interested in cultural and natural sites. If you tell me more, I can write a lot more stuff.
There's nothing in Pärnu btw :D

As for English in Estonia, young people usually speak decent English. Much more than elsewhere in Central and Eastern Europe. But everyone is quite helpful. I would say, Estonian youth speaks a more understandable English than most Finnish people I've met.
If you bump into Russians they pretty often don't speak English either :S And for Estonian you'll just get an astonished big eyes -"What the hell do you think of yourself that you are trying to speak to me in such a strange, unknown and far-away language as Estonian?" :)

You'll be there in January. The whole North is a little-bit less interesting then, though it's worth a visit outside of Tallinn, just to see the amazingly deep snow they have, and those greeny lights in the darkness when you go from one settlement to the other, in Winter :) And if you stay at a "talu" somewhere, you should try Estonian suitsu saun, or smoke sauna, and hire their home-skis and go cross-country skiing in the woods.

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Re: estonia! and finland! language and what to see...

Postby Trapy » 2013-11-24, 19:55

Thank you Levo! Is is my mother and I travelling, so we can't do too much outside (cold) like ski, but we can certainly wear heavy coats to visit places :). I was "iffy" or unsure about going to Narva, in case it was only a small castle closed to the public, but I am glad to hear it is worth going to.

The languages, it seems, will be close enough that I will not be completely lost. Yesterday, I learned the word... rautatieasema ... for rail station. I am hoping the Estonian word for train station will not be too different. The youth and English speakers will be very helpful, but as a visitor, I would at least like to learn a few words, even if it is just "do you speak english? can you help me?" :)

My mom and I are very much Culture people, but in a historical way. We love castles, churches, old war fortifications, medieval towns, imperial palaces, etc. We will be in estonia for less than 1 week, most likely 4 days. We hope to pack as much in as we can. For example, we will not sleep in Tartu, but we will travel on a very early train from Tallin, and return on a very late train, and try to spend about 8-12 hours in Tartu. Gothic ruins on a hill? I had not heard of these, but that is exactly the type of thing that interests my mother and I :D! We are interested in Estonian culture, not necessarily in folk art, more in historical buildings.

Part of the reason we started to travel, is because we thought "I wonder, what exactly, is in these other countries?". We had lived in the UK for ~10 years and only visited Paris, Normandie, Copenhagen, Brussels, Geneva and Gotebourg. Then after I finished my high-school studies, I took a "Gap Year" between high school and College. In 2 weeks we had visited more towns than the 10 years combined, and a few months later, we did the same again. So, every so often, and increasingly rarely, we decide "Let's go see what life is like in Estonia and Finland!", so we plan a trip like this to see both the history, the present day life and tourist attractions :).

We will not hire a car, unfortunately. We are not quite comfortable driving in other countries. Even driving in France and Germany is quite difficult for us. If we drove in the E.U. all the time, we might become more experienced, but at the moment, we are to afraid to :doggy: . So, everything we visit must be within a train, bus, or taxi ride.

I had not heard of Haapsalu. I am waiting for my travel guide, Lonely Planet: Estonia, to arrive. Until then, is the town on the rail line from Tallin? We want to go to Kuressaare, which is on the bus line from Tallin, and maybe we can stop at Haapsalu on the way back.

That's sad to hear that there is nothing in P'a'rnu, I was hoping that we could find "Kunda Culture" or mesolithic / neolithic pre-history archaeology there, but I guess not :(. But that's ok, we were really more interested in Kuressaare anyway, we are just unsure how to get to it.

If you know any other castles, ruins, cathedrals, military battle grounds or tank-museums, or areas of great natural beauty that can be reached without a car, please do let me know! Big cities all tend to look the same, so I like to get outside and see "real" Estonia. I know we are tourists, but I would like to go home thinking I saw more than "just" touristy sites. for example, people who see Paris, but see nothing else in France (which is a beautiful and great country to travel in with a very rich culture. If you only saw Paris, you only saw the bare minimum!!"

And thank you very much for your reply! I am actually quite scared to go without much information, so hearing from someone who lived these is amazing!
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Re: estonia! and finland! language and what to see...

Postby Levo » 2013-11-25, 22:04

Hi!
It's good to read these rows :) My family shares a lot in common with that interest.

Unfortunately train-transportation is quite underdeveloped in Estonia. Also in extension and also in quality. I'm also from an ex-socialist country, so the quality is not that a big deal for me, but the lines are quite scarcely built, so when we did travelling we did it mostly by bus. It is also faster most of the time because of the connections. I remember clearly it is faster by bus to Tartu, from Tallinn.
"Raudteejaam" or "vaksal" is train-station, however.
A map though: http://et.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pilt:Eston ... etwork.svg

peatus.ee is the site for bus timetables in Estonia. This is an example for Haapsalu:
http://www.peatus.ee/#route_search;33183;21945
Bussijaam is bus-station. Always choose the bussijaam-ending one from the list.

I liked Kuressaare pretty much, but I went in the Summer (May). Even then, it takes a half day to get there since there's a ferry you must take, and you cannot make it the way back the same day :/ And in Winter I don't know how much there is to see, you probably see the same thick snow like everywhere. It is a charming Swedish-style seaside town with a big castle of the arcbishop and a nice beach. Personally, I wouldn't recommend it in Winter unless you really like the town and mean to stay there more days. Well, in January, in case it is cold enough, they open the "jäätee" or "ice-road" from the continent to the island. In case the bus uses the road, it might be faster to get there. But it really depends on the weather and the thickness of the ice on the sea.
In Summer we hired bikes and took a bike-tour on one of the islands (Hiiumaa), which was fantastical. That way you really see a lot and experience more of the area. But Winter is so much different there as for transportation :/
I completely understand the car-thing. I would't drive either in that snow, especially.

I've been to Pärnu only three times and all fun I had there was because of the people and/or institution I visited, and though the architecture of the town is nice, and it is the Summer capital and seaside resort of the country, I don't remember any fine historical sites in town. Note the sea is frozen in Winter.

Tartu is a good choice then :)

If you feel like another trip, then I recommend Narva - besides the castle-thing I described, you can see the "tuhamäed" on the way. I really don't know the English name of those. In Soviet times they did oil-stone mining near Kiviőli (close to Narva) and the remaining material, they didn't need, they simply poured into one big pile. Two actually. So there are two pieces of 110m tall hills on the wide plains that characterize the horizon when you go towards the Russian border, near Kiviőli. (which is a horribly rectangular, grey, Soviet town, even to my Hungarian socialist-realist-used-to eyes.). So it's on the way to Narva. And locals use it for downhill skiing and sleighing in Winter.

If you really want to see another castle, and decide not to go to Kuressaare, then I recommend the one in Haapsalu. Or take that one-hour bus-ride from Tallinn to Rakvere and check the castle-ruins.

There are ancient Estonian earthen-fortresses still visible, but all of them are hardly-accessible by public transport.

Maybe I'm biased, because I lived there, still I can also recommend Viljandi. They have the lossivaremed (castle-ruins) and some cultural life even in Winter too. Some old churches. And the 5km skating-rink in on the lake, all these like 5 minutes walk from city-centre. When you walk down there at the lake, you can see the illuminated castle up there and the forest around the lake, it's a nice view. And can go to some concert to the Ait in the evening. :)

You can pay by bank-card literally everywhere in the country, in the smallest shops too. Except at the bus and train-stations :P (Just the most important ones :) )

I'm not sure about public-transport there, but Jägala-juga is pretty close to Tallinn. It's a tall waterfall that is frozen in Winter and it looks just awesome :)

One word about castles in-general in Estonia: Estonians never had an aristocracy. There was no Estonian nobility. Feudalism, stone-castles, manor-houses (mőis), and nobility in general were and are all considered the symbol of foreign oppression. When they were occupied by the Germans in the 13th century, free Estonian peasantry became the serfs of the new foreign nobility, deprived from their freedom and their lands. So, after the birth of the independent Estonian state, no-one cared about the renovation of these German or Swedish built and dwelled manor-houses and castles. So, they don't have a lot of historical buildings left, typical elsewhere in Europe.
Instead, Estonians rather cared about the building of their own things: each settlement has a "singing-square" called "lauluväljak" where they gather and hold all their song and dance festivals and other events. Don't miss the biggest one in Tallinn! (It's close to Kadriorg.) Most town-halls, institutions and hotels in the country were built in Northern Bauhaus style in the 1920's. For me it was something new, in Hungary that age is kind of neglectable as for architecture. After the 1990's they started to rebuild the special Estonian swings in parks called "kiik". Even in Winter, you can try and ride one, you'll surely have other adults who stand on it and help swinging, :D For real!
So, that's why I'm saying always that Estonia is not that interesting for someone who is more into buildings, at least don't expect anything grandiouse. Though, it is more unique and one must have a special interest to enjoy it :)

And watch out, some things are different in Estonian than in Finnish:
street - tänav
jaam, peatus - station
etc... but ask anything, so we can help :)

Yeah, and personally I loved their local historica museums. They always have some maquettes of the local earthen-fortresses from old Estonian times and nice folk-costumes and found artefacts from times right after the ice-age.

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Re: estonia! and finland! language and what to see...

Postby Varislintu » 2013-12-01, 18:35

I'm completely stumped by the fact that you're coming here in winter. Most of our tourism is very summer-centered, so I don't even know what to advise you to do! :P

Maybe walk on the sea ice? If that's exotic for you. Or stay in a cozy café and have a really overpriced warm drink. :wink:
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Re: estonia! and finland! language and what to see...

Postby ainurakne » 2013-12-03, 10:36

Levo wrote:So, after the birth of the independent Estonian state, no-one cared about the renovation of these German or Swedish built and dwelled manor-houses and castles. So, they don't have a lot of historical buildings left, typical elsewhere in Europe.
There are three of them north-west from Rakvere, only couple of kilometers apart from each other, all in beautiful condition: There are other beautiful places around them, like Altja, Vergi, Võsu, Käsmu and Oandu "koprarajad" ("beaver tracks"), if you like nature. But I am afraid there's not much to do there in winter. Maybe you can walk to this little island from Käsmu, if the ice is thick enough by then.
Oh, there is also Toolse ordulinnus there somewhere. Or at least the ruins of it.

Unfortunately, I can't think of any other place at the moment...
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Re: estonia! and finland! language and what to see...

Postby Varislintu » 2013-12-03, 11:19

In Turku there is the castle, which you can do an indoor tour in. It could be a nice thing to see, it's a very historical and rare thing in Finland (we never had many castles, let alone many people to build them. When Turku castle was built, I think there were like 200.000 inhabitants in what is now Finland. Just to put it into perspective, so you don't expect a Versailles kind of castle. :P)

Also, in January, with snow, Porvoo, a town east of Helsinki, might be something to see. It has a small but colourful old centre of wooden houses in the old Finnish style. It must look pretty nice in snowy weather. It's a popular tourist attraction in general. :)

In Helsinki a usual must-see in summer is the Suomenlinna island fort, but I can't remember when I would have been there in winter last, so I'm not sure how it is in that season. It might be quite windy, which is a challenge.
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Re: estonia! and finland! language and what to see...

Postby Levo » 2013-12-03, 22:53

ainurakne wrote:
Levo wrote:So, after the birth of the independent Estonian state, no-one cared about the renovation of these German or Swedish built and dwelled manor-houses and castles. So, they don't have a lot of historical buildings left, typical elsewhere in Europe.
There are three of them north-west from Rakvere, only couple of kilometers apart from each other, all in beautiful condition:

I think I've seen the one in Palmse. Of course, I didn't want to diminuate the heritage buildings in Estonia, I mean that there's not a lot there in comparison to other countries.
I might have had a bias during my time there: Big castles seemed to be so boring to me (and us) compared to all other that Estonia has to offer that we weren't even really interested in the traditional Central-European sights, like big buildings and the like. I remember another castle we saw in Jőgeva, but nothing special compared to other sights, like Sommaa, Narva, Valga/Valka, Sänna eco-village, Peipsi lake, 1-metre snow, lunch in the forest after a horse-sleigh, dance-show in -16C, taking part in the tantsupidu, etc...

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Re: estonia! and finland! language and what to see...

Postby ainurakne » 2013-12-04, 5:19

Levo wrote:Of course, I didn't want to diminuate the heritage buildings in Estonia, I mean that there's not a lot there in comparison to other countries.
No, no, I didn't mean to sound rude either. I just spent couple of my summers around there, some time ago, so I know these places well, at least I did back then. Especially the ones that were reachable in not more than half a day on bike :mrgreen:
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Re: estonia! and finland! language and what to see...

Postby Levo » 2013-12-06, 20:54

ainurakne wrote:
Levo wrote:Of course, I didn't want to diminuate the heritage buildings in Estonia, I mean that there's not a lot there in comparison to other countries.
No, no, I didn't mean to sound rude either. I just spent couple of my summers around there, some time ago, so I know these places well, at least I did back then. Especially the ones that were reachable in not more than half a day on bike :mrgreen:

Biking in Estonia is just awesome :)

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Re: estonia! and finland! language and what to see...

Postby Trapy » 2013-12-07, 19:57

Varislintu wrote:I'm completely stumped by the fact that you're coming here in winter. Most of our tourism is very summer-centered, so I don't even know what to advise you to do! :P


Well, since I moved to the USA, here are some realities I have found:

1) Taking vacation time (you only get vacation time as a Full time employee) is generally frowned upon.
2) I work in retail, so I can only realistically take more than 2 days off during our slow season (Jan / Feb).
3) Taking 2 weeks off is almost unheard of. Luckily, I have a (somewhat) generous boss, who I have worked ridiculously hard for, especially in comparison to others. He might have approved 1 week, and it was like pulling teeth last year to get 12 days. So to give me 14, this might be the only time I can really travel.

Why Finland and Estonia? I've been to lapland in the north for father christmas one year, but... I didn't really feel like I saw "Finland". I've seen alot of central and western europe and scandanavia, and even some of the east, but never the baltics. So, with Tallin and Helsinki so close together, I can see both countries! but, I only have the option of Janurary. Other places on my list included:

Going from Constance, Romania, to Belgrade, Serbia.
Barcelona and central Spain
Hamburg and northern Poland
Stravanger and Alta, Norway
Milan and Innisbruck

But in the end, Tallin and Helsinki stole my heart, because they are "more different", seem slightly easier to plan and I've always wanted to visit Lithuania, but the more I read, I am overly excited instead about Estonia. Lithuania is still on my list, but reading about what's actually there... yes I could make a stop there, but I would rather focus on Estonia and Finland.
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Re: estonia! and finland! language and what to see...

Postby Sol Invictus » 2013-12-09, 1:03

Levo wrote:Unfortunately train-transportation is quite underdeveloped in Estonia.

AFAIK it's underdeveloped (or rather fallen into disrepair since it is too expensive to maintain) all over Baltic States, you should use a bus.

I studied in Tallinn, but haven't traveled trough rest of the country.The city is pretty terrible mess in winter, but it has a really cool old town and neat modern architecture. You can find stuff to do there at http://www.tourism.tallinn.ee and also Estonia has a national tourist site http://www.visitestonia.com

If you are coming in January you might also consider visiting Riga, since it's the European capital of culture next year, there's going to be light festival and probably some other stuff to see, despite it being winter and it is just few hour ride from Estonia

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Re: estonia! and finland! language and what to see...

Postby Trapy » 2013-12-23, 18:49

Sol: we actually did cancel Kusemaare, mainly due to a long bus ride and bad hours (we would only be able to spend 4 hours there before we would have to leave). Is there many trains that go to Riga? I've pretty much decided on going to Haapsalu, but if we can get 8+ hours in Riga (by arriving at, say, 10AM from Tallin and leaving at 7pm, or so), I would definately think about it!

edit: I say train, I actually meant train / bus, since I have looked at timetables and trains are SO SLOW! vs buses
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Re: estonia! and finland! language and what to see...

Postby Levo » 2014-01-31, 17:05

Now please tell us how your trip was...


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