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Finns travel to Estonia for many reasons. The quick trip, cheaper booze and great restaurants among the popular ones. But those taking the boat trip over the weekend will come ashore in the midst of Estonia’s centenary celebrations of its independence.
The year 1918 marks as one of the turning points in Estonia’s tumultuous history. The Estonians had lived for 200 years under the rules of different conquerors from Germans to Danes and from Poles to Swedes and—last but not least—the Russians. February 24, 1918, marks the beginning of the Estonian Republic. Later, the former Russian Empire recognized it in a peace treaty in Tartu. De jure. Forever.
As we know today, that didn’t happen. The Soviets took over Estonia again during the Second World War. By the end of 1940, Estonia was attached to the Soviet Union.
And so began Joseph Stalin’s purges, where opponents and non-opponents of the Soviet rule—a total of about 20,000 Estonians—were deported to Siberia from where as of this writing the freezing air is blowing to the southern parts of Finland.
On August 20, 1991, when the Soviet Union was collapsing, Estonia was finally able to claim back its independence.
Today, Estonia is known—among other things—as a world leader in digitalization, but it’s also a good time to take a moment and think about the people, their stories and their persistence during the periods of living with its various oppressors.
We were reminded of Estonia’s colorful history during our stay at Solo Sokos Hotel Estoria, opened in 2014, which rises almost unnoticed next to its famous cousin, Hotel Viru in the heart of the capital, Tallinn. When Viru itself rises as a monument of Soviet architecture, and the hotels are linked by a mutual lobby, the modern building of Estoria (originally an add-on to Viru built in 2004) conceals Estonian design and stories.
The first thing we noticed when entering the room was how spacious and colorful it was. The Solo King bed was soft but firm, and we were told it was developed by no other than NASA. The pictures on the wall gave a glimpse to the history of the National Library of Estonia, established in 1918.
A book on the shelf titled “Did you know that there are over 100 exciting, quirky, unique and important reasons to visit Estonia!” reminded us that Estonia is a world leader in literacy: 99.8 percent of the people can read. Within the same breath we were enlightened that the nation is one of the least religious countries in the world but 69 percent believe that trees have a soul.
While we kept perusing the book we were told that the world’s first space meal for astronauts was made in Estonia, and Skype indeed was invented here. When Finland was struck by the Prohibition Law between 1919-1932, Estonian smugglers responded to the need and shipped cheap German spirits across the Gulf of Finland in canisters of tin.
There are 93 rooms in this beautiful hotel, where the chairs and shelves in their bright colors of green or red appear something between art deco and the surreal imagination of the Estonian designers.
When in some other Estonian hotels one can still smell the smoke of KGB, in Estoria your mood is set ablaze when pulling on the complimentary orange bathrobe.
After one of the best buffet breakfasts, where the setting was as quiet as our room, we left assured that there will be 100 more reasons to visit Estonia in the years to come! Hotel Estoria is a great reminder of that the Estonians are proud of their culture and that the nation of about 1.3 million people has their eyes locked on the future.