USSR 1991

USSR 1991

USSR 1991


The railway journey last night from Leningrad to Tallinn was not as smooth as the earlier journey from Moscow to Leningrad a few nights ago, but I managed to get a good sleep nonetheless.  In fact, I was able to sleep through the screams and the laughs of the four ladies in the next cabin (members of my tour group) when they found themselves locked in their compartment.  Unable to attract the guard’s attention, they actually began to unscrew the lock from the door with a penknife.  Maybe the rumours are true that I can sleep through anything.

The day in Tallinn has been an interesting insight into what the USSR could become one day.  The Estonians have been heading towards a market economy and democracy for several years now, and they seem to have aspirations to become another Denmark (small, flat, successful nation) or Finland (its neighbour, only 80 kilometres away across the Gulf of Finland).  Certainly, compared with Russia, the people in Estonia dress much more elegantly, there are many more cars on the roads (including some western models), prices are higher, and most of the signs are in Estonian (which is close to Finnish, and uses the Latin – not the Cyrillic – alphabet).  Tallinn is much more typical of an old European city rather than a Russian one, which is perhaps understandable as Estonia was only incorporated in the USSR during World War II.  Having said that, the lack of maintenance in some areas and the antiquated exhaust-belching cars and buses are a constant reminder of the legacy of the last 50 years.

Our time in Tallinn today basically comprised two tours.  This morning we toured the old, medieval town centre of Tallinn, and this was probably the more interesting of the two tours.  Beginning with a circuit drive around the port and then the old walled city, we proceeded on a walking tour through the oldest part of the city.  We began at Big Hellemann’s Tower, which is a 47-metre high stone tower, before proceeding to the Estonian Parliament building where there was an anti-communist demonstration underway.  Some demonstrators were proclaiming that communism and fascism were equivalents, demanding that residents of Estonia who were not ethnic Estonians (Russians, essentially) should not be involved in planned referenda to determine Estonia’s future. 

From the Parliament building we went across the street into an active Russian Orthodox church where a service was underway.  It was great to experience this, seeing (and hearing) the congregation standing throughout the service, lots of candles burning, with confessions being heard in another corner of the church building.  It was so fascinating that the rest of the walk was something of an anti-climax, even the views from the lookouts and the drink we enjoyed in Virgin’s Tower (no relationship to Richard Branson).

This afternoon we toured other parts of Tallinn including a park and gardens, residential areas, a cemetery where Estonia’s past president is buried (they think), and the rowing course used in the 1980s Olympic Games.

I tried getting some Estonian stamps to use when posting today’s letter – they were apparently issued today for the first time.  However, the Central Post Office had sold out by the time I reached the head of the very long queue.  So the rubber stamped envelope I’m using today will have to suffice.

Day 11

Tallinn, Estonia, USSR


8 October 1991