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If you’ve ever used Skype before,you need to thank Estonia.
Long before it became a global success with 300 million users, it was a tiny start-up in Tallinn.
The coders, who also happened to be schoolmates, Ahti Heinla, Priit Kasesalu, and Jaan Tallinn (yup. Apparently a real name), had no idea how far their code would go.
They first called it “Skyper” which was short for “Sky peer-to-peer” on account of that fact that it used peer-to-peer sharing protocols and it was passing the information through the air/sky. But then it turns out the name was also taken, so they shortened it to Skype.
On the first day, they were shocked to find that 10,000 people downloaded it. A few months later, a million. And now, 15 years later, they have hundreds of millions of users. I’ve yet to meet a single person who hasn’t heard of Skype.
And as we would find out, Skype not only put Estonia on the map, it’s inspired Estonians to transform their country into one of the most innovative in Europe.
Want to start a business online in less than 10 mins?
File your taxes in 5 minutes?
Estonia has you covered. In fact, as of January 2019, Estonia will offer the world’s first digital nomad visa—allowing entrepreneurs and freelancers an eventual path to citizenship. No wonder Estonia now has the highest start-up to population ratio in all of Europe.
I love how Estonia solves problems with innovation instead of bitching. While other countries are grappling with what to do with these weirdo mobile entrepreneurs/freelancers known as “digital nomads”, Estonia is welcoming them with open arms and giving them a chance to pay taxes, contribute to the community, and create jobs.
If you’re innovative and entrepreneurial, Estonia will reward you rather than discourage you for thinking outside the box.
When I was there, our Estonian guide told me their goal is digitize everything and make voting, starting a business, or naming your baby online as easy and seamless as possible with their ID card.
Check out this video of a Japanese digital nomad, Satoshi, who started his online business in Estonia:
Estonia is the Silicon Valley Europe and that’s why I love it.
And since they are so welcoming to digital nomads all over the world, this is reflected in their food scene too.
Not only was I able to find ethnic food easily, I discovered one of my favourite restaurants in Tallinn—serving traditional Estonian food with a twist. I have to admit, when I first heard about this place, it screamed “hipster” and I wasn’t too enthusiastic. I like my food unpretentious, not trying to make a statement, and not covered in avocado, thank you very much. So when I found that this highly recommended “F-hoone” restaurant was in a hipster district named Kalamaja, I didn’t know what to make of it.
Admitted, I did enjoy walking around Kalamaja, looking at the cool art, and checking out the funky shipping container sized food joints:
I was still pretty skeptical of “F-hoone” though, especially given how slow their service is—we practically had to tackle a waiter to get their attention.
But after the first bite of my beef cheek with cauliflower puree, asparagus, and oven-roasted kale (see what I mean by hipster?),I seriously considered moving to Estonia, just so I could eat here every day.
The beef was so tender it melted on my tongue. The cauliflower puree was also an explosion of flavour that brought tears of joy to my eyes. I could’ve done without the mountain of Kale, but even then, I was still blown away.
The beef tartare with egg was also sublime:
This was Michelin-star quality, fine dining at regular restaurant prices. And they have just as many exceptional vegetarian dishes, so neither carnivores nor vegetarians have to compromise.
In addition to exceptionally goodrestaurants, Estonia also has amazing little coffee shops to write in. We enjoyed“Café Grenka” which had amazing coffee and healthy, delicious tuna tartare, pierogees,and salads:
And just so that you don’t think I’m a complete glutton, we also explored some of the beautiful architecture of Tallin, like…
The Alexander Nevsky Cathedral
The Kadriorg Palace:
St. Olaf’s Church:
Raeapteek (the oldest pharmacy in Europe):
One of things I noticed about Estonia is how many grocery stores offer self check out. Which, isn’t surprising considering how badly they want digitize everything. However, I found out the popularity of self-checkout is because Estonians are quite introverted. God forbid they have to talk to another human being every time they buy groceries. It’s insanely difficult to get Estonian’s to open up and tell you their feelings. There’s an Estonians joke that goes:
One time, there was once a man who loved his wife so much…that he almost told her.
HA! Coming from a culture where parents never say the words “I love you” or hug you, it’s pretty understandable.Never-the-less I was told that Estonians open up once you get to know them.
And the best place to get to know an Estonian? At the sauna of course!
(you honestly thought I’d write a post without talking about spas or saunas?)
We learned that one of the proudest Estonianian inventions is the smoke sauna.
What is a smoke sauna, you ask, and how is it different from a regular sauna?
The smoke sauna is unique because it has no chimney. As a result, the smoke from the burning wood is allowed to circulate the room, and once a desired temperature of 100 degrees (Celsius) is reached, the smoke is ventilated out of the room. This helps the room sustain a high temperature.
And once you are nice and relaxed from the sauna, you get to be whipped with birch branches all over your body to help circulation (or so they claim). All I heard was “whip” and branches”, and I immediately started testing it on Wanderer. I had a blast.
Sadly, we didn’t pick up much Estonia while there. It’s a very hard language to learn and everyone spoke English anyway. I was surprised to learn that it’s actually very similar to Finnish. I would’ve thought Estonian would be similar to Latvian and Lithuanian, but as it turns out, Estonian is part of the Uralic language family—so it’s actually closer to Finnish and Hungarian. So to a Latvian, Estonian might as well be Chinese, the languages are so different.
But to the Finns, their languages are quite similar. And luckily since Tallin is only 2 hours from Helsinki (another perk of Estonia), we got to find out exactly how similar, and I also discovered a Finnish cutural trait similar to the Chinese which I will write about in my next post.
Here’s how much we spent in Estonia:
|Cost in USD/couple
|Cost in CAD/couple
|We stayed in Estonia for 2 weeks. The Airnb was super comfortable, walking distance to everything, and even had a soaker tub.
|$38 CAD/day ($21/day for eating out, $17/day for groceries)
|Of all the countries in Eastern Europe, Estonia had the best food and the best variety of restaurants. It's worth it to go to Estonia just to eat at F-hoone, which offered fine dinning at regular dinning prices. Just be patient with their service–as they get incredibly busy and are a bit short staffed.
|Since our Airnbnb was within walking distance to all attraction, we spent almost no money on transportation other than the bus from Riga to Tallin (which strangely enough takes 1/2 the amount of time as the train) and only cost us 5 Euros per person, and a few inner city train tickets to F-hoone when it was too chilly to walk.
|Entertainment was very affordable and consisted of entry to a few museums (14 euros each for a 2 museum combined ticket), the palace (8 euros each), and the Tallink spa (8 euros each if you go on Mon-Thurs before 2pm).
|Just like the rest of Eastern Europe, you can easily live in Estonia for $30-40K/year, but because it's the Silicon Valley of Europe and its welcoming attitude to digital nomads, it wins in terms of livability and innovation.
Of all the Eastern European countries, Estonia is my favourite. From Tallinn, it’s an easy 2 hour ferry to Finland, you can get a digital nomad visa, everything’s convenient and digitized, the food is exceptional and the cost of living is very affordable. It’s one of those places that just feels like home.
If you have time to kill, take this fun quiz from their tourism board to find out which Estonian mythical creature you are and share your results:
Apparently, I’m a “Metsik”–which means I’m obsessed with nature. Really? They didn’t have a creature that was obsessed with whipping?
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