As an American citizen and a Japanese citizen we were allowed up to 30 days in Russia so according to our visas we had to leave by July 5th before midnight. Based on our research, you don’t want to mess around with Russian immigration when it comes to exiting the country because you could easily be stuck in the country for an additional few weeks while getting the proper documents to change your exit date if you don’t leave by the original specified date. Since we didn’t want to be sent to the gulags, we planned our exit for July 2nd which would give us 3 days of buffer time, just in case. Fortunately, when we arrived at the Estonian border, Russian immigration didn’t give us any trouble and we breezed right through into our first European country.
We went through Ecolines and managed to score two bus tickets from St. Petersburg to Tallinn for only €21; that’s a 50% discount from the regular fare and a pretty sweet deal. The ride to Estonia was comfortable and mostly empty; there were only ten of us on the bus. I really enjoyed the Estonian countryside with its picturesque fields of yellow flowers and endless blue skies that made me fantasize about walking through those fields with my arms outstretched a la Russell Crowe in the end of Gladiator style. Anyway, it was visually a pleasing bus ride.
We arrived in Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, after a 7-hour trip and hopped in a cab to our hostel. When we arrived at the hostel I thanked the cab driver in Russian and he snapped his head around and said, “WHAT?” I quickly realized my mistake and apologized profusely, explaining that we had just arrived from Russia after being there for a month. Because of Estonia’s history with the Soviet Republic, there are Estonians who feel less than kindly about Russia and mistaking an Estonian for Russian could lead to fisticuffs or at least a very angry “WHAT?” Anyway, he accepted my apology and taught me how to say thank you in Estonian. I barely used it for the rest of the trip since just about everyone in Tallinn speaks fluent English.
Most people in the US have probably never heard of Estonia and the only reason I’ve heard of it is because I had a high school classmate whose family originated in Estonia, but I have to admit that I never expected to visit this small country. I’m glad I did. Tallinn, the capital, is a small city with a quaint cobblestoned Old Town that was a delightful change from the cities that we visited in Russia. Even though it’s the closest Baltic state to Russia, it has the least Soviet era remnants. The Old Town is rather touristy and there are hordes of cruise ship day-tourists during the day since the port is within walking distance and because of this the Old Town is a little pricier than you would expect for a small country bordering Russia. It was still cheaper than Russia and the food was better.
On our last full day in Tallinn we visited a nearby abandoned prison and were surprised by the uncanny resemblance between the prison rooms and some of our hostel dorms.
Tallinn was a fine city to relax in for a few days and a great place to go after a month in Russia. I think three days is plenty of time to explore, relax, and enjoy a moderately priced outdoor meal in the Old Town before heading off to your next destination.