After a visit to Latvia and Lithuania we were quite curious about Estonia - what's the difference to the other Baltic states? The very first impression was rather bad: An ill tempered border guard didn't promise a hearty welcome. Unfortunately we only had three days in Estonia - one of the reasons for the short stay was the lousy weather in November - definitely not the best time to explore the islands of Saaremaa and Hiiumaa for example.
Most Europeans and Americans, Canadians etc. do not require a visa. Some nationalities can even enter with a valid ID card. However, it's always best to check with the Estonian embassy first.
Estonia's currency is called Kroon (also: crowns, koruna, kronen etc in other languages). The common abbrevation used in bank business and price tags is EEK. One Kroon is divided into 100 Sent. Since 1993, the Kroon was tied to the Deutschmark, with a fixed rate of 1 DM = 8 EEK. This hasn't even changed after the introduction of the Euro in Germany. Together with →Lithuania and →Slovenia, Estonia joined the so-called Exchange Rate Mechanism II. This means that the exchange rate Euro - EEK must not differ more than 15% from the common rate. The common rate is fixed at 1 Euro = 15.65 EEK - and this is what travellers will get at all banks. Estonia had the chance to join the Eurozone in summer 2006, but the introduction of the Euro has been postponed until at least 2008.
Bills are more used than coins, with 2, 5, 10, 25, 50, 100 and 500 kroon bills circulating. Additionally, there are 5, 10, 20 und 50 Sent as well as 1 and 5 kroon coins, with the latter rather rarely used.
It's as easy to withdraw money in Estonia as it is in any other central or western European country. ATM's are everywhere, accepting all common credit and cash cards, such as Cirrus- and Maestro cards etc. Many banks also exchange foreign currencies. Needless to say that the Euro is the best foreign currency to get along with in Estonia. Most banks charge € 4 or so as a fee for transactions using foreign cash cards.
|25 Estonian Kroon|
Unfortunately we've only been to Tallinn, and as everywhere the capital is the most expensive place in the country, so the following information might differ from what you'll find in the countryside.
However, one thing is for sure: Estonia is the most expensive place of all Ex-Soviet Union countries! No matter if it's lodging, eating out or entrance fees - it's substantially more expensive than in →Lithuania, →Latvia, not to talk about the →Ukraine etc. Expect to pay the same as in Germany or Austria, or even more when in Tallinn. But it's still possible to stay in a basic place near the old town in Tallinn for some 20 euro per person or 15 euro for a bed in a dormitory.
Eating out will set you back 10 euro or more, although there are also much cheaper eateries outside the tourist spots. Prices for souvenirs in Tallinn are almost exorbitant. This is probably due to the countless visitors coming from the North (ie Finland). Transportation is still rather cheap, but since the country is not very large, it doesn't cost too much to get from one corner of the country to the other. A bus ticket from →Tallinn to Narva at the border to Russia costs around 4 euro. Travelers should count on spending around 50 euro per person and day. This can be much less in the countryside, depending on accommodation, activity and where to get food.
There are many ways to get to Estonia. The fastest of course is by plane. Not many intercontinental flights serve the small country, but some airlines such as www.easyjet.com offer very reasonably priced tickets to Tallinn from several destinations in Europe since autumn 2004. Tickets start from 29 € for a one-way flight. Add some extra fees, but it's possible to fly to Tallinn from Berlin for example for as less as 50 Euro. Provided that you can book far in advance and online. Several other airlines fly to Estonia, too.
It's also possible to get to Tallinn by boat. Several ferries a day run between the Finnish capital Helsinki and the Estonian capital. The trip takes between 1½ and 3½ hours, prices start at 15 €. There is also a daily ferry to the Swedish capital of Stockholm. This tour takes some 16 hours, prices start at 400 SEK (around 40 €).
Unfortunately, Estonia doesn't seem to be eager to keep it's railway system. The one and only international connections left are those to Moscow and St. Petersburg. Once there was a train via →Riga to →Minsk, but this line is out of service now.
The best way to get around quickly is the Bus. The dominating bus company is called Eurolines. Almost all international busses bound for Estonia from the West and the South go via →Riga. There are countless busses per day running between the two capitals. The trip takes some 5 hours, the fare is 8.5 Lats (around 13 €) from Riga to Tallinn or 230 EEK (15 €) from Tallinn to Riga respectively.
Estonia shares several border crossings with →Latvia and Russia. The main crossing to Russia - if not the only one, foreign travellers can use - can be found right in the centre of the border town Narva halfway between Tallinn and St. Petersburg. Note that everyone must obtain a visa for Russia beforehand.
The usual custom regulations apply to Estonia. Entry and exit procedures do not take much time, but be prepared that the vehicle might be examined by detection dogs - even when coming from Latvia. I have noticed that the attitude of border guards towards non-EU citizens can be quite rude. Maybe it was an exception, but at the time I was crossing it was more than obvious.
Food and drinks
Staff in the hostel in Tallinn seemed to be in trouble when I asked whether they knew a good restaurant serving traditional Estonian food. I didn't get a clear answer - instead, they started discussing what traditional Estonian actually is. One thing is for sure - there's an obvious German influence. Quite famous seems to be the Verivorst (which almost sounds like "very worst", making every order pure fun: I go for the very worst!). Veri means blood and "vorst" derives from the German word "wurst" for sausage. It's some sort of black pudding. The sausage often comes with potatoes and sauerkraut (so much for the German influence). Another common dish is Sült (aspic). Some smaller food stalls also sell the typical Russian diet such as Pelmeni or pirogi. These food stalls are relatively cheap.
One Estonian told me that there's one characteristic Estonian dish called Kama - coarsely ground cereals, mixed with buttermilk and sweetened with honey. Breakfast cereals so to say. There are many good bakeries around, many of them selling some dark-brown cake, which looks very much like brownies but contains candied fruits and raisins. Very sweet but very tasty.
Most restaurants serve rather international food. The quality in general is quite good but, again, prices are quite high compared to other countries (except Finland of course).
Beer is very common in Estonia, with most of the brands being quite strong and sweet. Half a liter costs around 0.50 € in the supermarket and starts from 1.50 € in restaurants. Stronger types of alcohol are quite expensive, but very obviously still cheap enough to attract thousands of thirsty Finnish tourists each day.