Estonia offers refreshing diversity as summer destination

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Northern Europe, a region best known for bitter winters, endless dark nights, and stark naked jumps in the snow after hot sauna sessions, may initially evoke an “I don’t think so,” remark when suggested over hot spots like Ibiza, or the Caribbean. Maybe it’s time to re-think that decision and set your GPS north this summer. I opted for a change and I was pleasantly surprised.

After thawing out from rough cold spells, Nordic countries like Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Estonia are sights to behold in their short summer months. And their capital cities are diverse centers welcoming people of all ethnicities. English is also widely spoken in the capital cities so language barriers are low to overcome. So while you may be one of very few black Americans getting your passport stamped upon arrival, you will encounter people from Africa, India, Thailand, Haiti and more living, visiting and working in these Nordic lands. Now that your comfort level is at ease, why choose North over South in the first place?

For me, change is always an incentive, but I can admit, making this choice while basking in hot and steamy Miami, made it tough to ditch my bikini for what I thought would be an overcoat and boots in the summer. Little did I know, on my first visit, that temperatures can reach over 90 degrees.

While Norway, Sweden, and Finland are some of the countries in Northern Europe more frequented by people of color, my country of choice was Estonia. It wasn’t purely a shot in the dark as I am married to an Estonian-native, but now it’s a destination of choice. Estonia is a small country with a population of just 1.3 million, located just south of Finland on the Baltic Sea. The Baltic country, most popular for its role in developing Skype, gained its independence in 1991 from Soviet rule.

Tallinn, Estonia’s capital, is a manifestation of the technology mindset that drives the country. Almost every place in the city has free wireless, including beaches, concert halls, cafes, and more. And get this—- no more scrambling for change for parking meters as payment can easily be conducted by your cell phone.

Tallinn also boasts beautiful parks for evening walks, and beaches, yes beaches—why did I ditch my bikini. The most happening spot, however, is its Old Town. The Medieval architecture and cobblestone streets are truly a sight to see. I spent most of my days shopping here, chilling at cafés or just sitting on a bench in the town square observing the culture and people-watching. According to Karen Alamets, Analyst from the Tallinn City Tourist Office and Convention Bureau, Old Town is always the busiest tourist spot.

It’s an easy sight to get to as its walking distance from the port and just a 10-minute drive by taxi from the airport. The history and appeal of Old Town makes it top on the travel itinerary, but Tallinn’s modern art museum, national opera house, restaurants and rooftop cafés are also a must do while in the city. “Visitors are often amazed by the newness of the place, the gleaming shops, the stylish interiors, and the plush hotels,” said Alamets.

My favorite places are Café Moscow, because its very hip and stays open late with great food and Kaheksa, a young and trendy lounge. But sushi, and interestedly enough BBQ restaurants, are also among the offerings in town. Romantic and historical places like Gloria, a restaurant in Old Town, have top wine cellars and there are other restaurants serving typical Estonian cuisine consisting of meat and potatoes, herring, thick soups dolloped with sour cream , and even blood sausage.

After a great meal, if you are ready to get your shop on, The area malls are worth taking a visit. They house familiar retail chain stores, but ladies make sure to bring enough of your hair and make-up products because while people of color are warmly received, there is not a market for Black beauty products. I once spent over an hour trying to find powder to match my skin tone, but the sales reps went the extra mile for me and graciously dug out every product from every line until we found a match. Now that’s customer service.

So, after visiting Tallinn and spending 3 months living there during its winter months, I can honestly say this is still a place I would travel to again.

But where ever your journey takes you this summer, Northern Europe should definitely be on the list of places to consider. Check it out!

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