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Autumn and Winter Travel - Introducing Tallinn

Date Created: 01 December 2012

Separated by the Baltic, Tallinn in Estonia and Turku in Finland have much in common. Over the centuries, both countries have survived occupation, deprivation and conflict and established a similar culture steeped in song, music and dance. Having embraced the technological revolution, they are now prosperous and pioneering members of the IT infrastructure and the European Union. Last year, these historic cities shared the honour of being twin Capitals of Culture. Tallinn and Turku may sound like an Edwardian music hall act but there’s certainly nothing old fashioned about the entertainments on offer. You still have time to discover what makes these twinned cities so individually exciting. Here is a taste of what's in store.

TALLINN

I’d heard Estonians love nothing better than bursting into song, but I wasn’t quite prepared for it to happen so soon. Having checked in to the chic boutique Hotel Telegraaf in the heart of Tallinn’s perfectly preserved medieval old town, I walk a short distance to the Town Hall Square. Head back, gawping at the elaborate merchant’s houses, the gothic town hall and the towering church spires, I’m entranced by melodious harmonies drifting from a nearby cafe. Investigating, I find a choir of rosy cheeked women in brightly coloured national dress singing their hearts out for an enthusiastic audience. Later, exploring the labyrinthine cobbled alleys, I’m enticed by sweet sounds coming from a tavern. Inside a woman wearing traditional costume is plucking a harp like instrument. It is, she explains, a Kannel and it has been played in Estonia for around 2,000 years. Browsing amidst the artefacts at the local museum, I’m hardly surprised when a couple dressed in medieval outfits step forward to trill sixteenth century songs accompanied by a lute. In bizarre contrast, whilst I peruse stalls selling Estonian handicrafts beneath the beefy city walls, a group of chanting Hari Krishna disciples bounce euphorically past, cymbals clanging. Everywhere I go in this medieval maze of towers, gates and turrets, I hear the sound of music. It is enshrined in the battlements and inscribed on the hearts of these passionate people. Estonia enjoyed a long established tradition of Song and Dance Celebrations featuring thousands of participants until l941 when the country was invaded and occupied by the USSR.

It wasn’t until 1988 that Estonians embarked on the long road to liberty by holding a ‘singing revolution’. Hundreds of thousands of people gathered in the Song Festival Ground in Tallinn to make political demands and sing patriotic songs. When independence finally came in l991, these jubilant events were held again. My stay in Tallinn coincides with such a Song and Dance Celebration. Young and old thronged the streets to witness literally thousands of singers and dancers taking part. The atmosphere was intoxicating and the sight of proud Estonians performing and congregating peacefully together in the spirit of freedom moved me to tears. The term ‘singing nation’ perfectly expresses the Estonian identity. Today, you’re likely to find an Estonian in traditional dress with a mobile pressed to their ear and a lap top on their knee. The E-generation of Estonians enjoy free wireless internet almost everywhere and conduct everything from banking to parking via the internet. After all, this is the country which invented Skype. So with one foot in the past and the other firmly planted in the future, Tallinn is a city to make a real song and dance about.

I will send my next postcard from Turku, where exhibitions of art, cruises and more song and dance await... I cant wait!...

Written by Beverley Byrne.

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