Estonia: A Small Country but Big in Culture, History, and Natural Beauty pt. 3

By Dr. Denise R. Ames

My one day stop in Estonia is not nearly enough time to see everything I want, but at least I am able to visit the Old Town section of Tallinn, the capital and largest city of Estonia.

The country’s past is visible not only in some of the architecture, but also in its festivals. Estonians take great pride in their indigenous heritage. Because of its history and geography, Estonia’s culture has been influenced by the traditions of the adjacent areas, as well as the former dominant powers of Sweden and Russia.

Estonian checking his phone, photo, Denise Ames

They celebrate a host of seasonal festivals throughout the year. Unfortunately, my one day stay did not allow me to partake in any of these but I satisfied my curiosity by reading and imagining about them. These festivals encompass everything from religion, culture, and handicrafts to art, music, dance, and theater, making the festival calendar both colorful and remarkable.

Folk culture is central to Estonia’s national identity. One of the principal expressions of its folk culture is the All-Estonian Song Festival, which was first held in 1869 and has since taken place every five years in July on the Tallinn Song Festival Grounds. It is one of the largest amateur choral events in the world; the joint choir consists of more than 30,000 singers performing to an audience of 80,000 people.

The Estonian Song Festival has been designated by UNESCO, the UN Education and Cultural Organization, as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.

Estonian folk songs have been extensively recorded and studied, especially those sung by women. The songs include work songs, ballads, and epic legends. The Song Festival remains a significant icon for the nation, affirming Estonian identity.

Ring Dance

Along with the song festival the Estonian Dance Festival is held at the same time.

At the end of our sightseeing day, my friend and I limped back to the ship, thoroughly satisfied with our day’s excursion. We expected to see our luggage awaiting us in our room as was promised. However, luggage was nowhere to be found. At least the concierge pitied us enough to give us free laundry service. We had to wait until the next stop, Helsinki, Finland, when surely the luggage would arrive.

Tallinn Walls, photo Denise Ames

Half starving after traipsing around the city center all day, my friend and I decided an early dinner would be the best way to avoid later crowds at the dining room that we were sure would frown upon our pedestrian attire (we had only the clothes on our back to wear). I fluffed my hair, washed the tourist grime off my face, and hoped that our lost luggage story would get us past the maître d and the ship’s dress requirements for the formal dining room and seated for a relaxing dinner.

The dress requirement displayed at the dining room entrance had put a big X through all the clothes that we were wearing: sneakers, blue jeans, and wrinkled T-shirts. At least I had an acceptable sweater to mask the T-shirt, somewhat. The maître d scowled even before I could launch into my luggage story. She did not swallow it, at least not right away. It took some wrangling to convince her that we should be seated and served, I even touted my importance as the ship’s lecturer, she did not seem to be impressed, and then I promised to tuck my sneakers under the table (only shoes I had) and out of sight After exhausting my arguments for why we should be served, she finally relented and brusquely escorted us to an out of the way table.

My friend and I sat back and toasted our first day’s excursion, the delights of Tallinn, and our ability to score a seat in the dining room. As our ship sailed out of the Tallinn harbor, I fondly looked out over the ancient city that has made a big splash in a globally sophisticated world. It was a memorable day all around.    

About the Author: Dr. Denise R. Ames

Dr. Denise R. Ames’ varied life experiences—teaching, scholarly research, personal experiences, extensive travels, and thoughtful reflections—have contributed to her balanced views and global perspectives. Earning a doctorate in world history education, she has taught secondary schools, universities, a community college, professional development, and lifelong learners. In 2003, Dr. Ames founded Center for Global Awareness, an educational non-profit that develops globally-focused books and educational resources for educators and students grade 9-university. She has written eight books, plus numerous blogs, lesson plans, articles, newsletters, teaching units.

Along with CGA’s Gather program, Global Awareness Through Engaged Reflection, a study and conversation program for self-organizing groups of lifelong learners and, Global Awareness for Educators, Dr. Ames is developing a new program: Turn, Transformation, Understanding, & Reflection Network. Turn encourages life-long learners to see with new eyes, learn from the past, understand others, and recognize the relationship of all things. She teaches workshops/classes and writes about Turn’s five topics: learning from the past, cross-cultural awareness, five worldviews, elder wisdom, and transformative travel.

Dr. Ames has written 8 books for the Center for Global Awareness, check out their offerings! Global Awareness Books 

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