On 14th September 2003 the people of Estonia voted in a referendum to become members of the European Union.
When the Baltic States of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia made their accession into the European Union in 2004, few people were even remotely aware of where the mysterious sounding capital cities of Vilnius, Riga and Tallinn actually were. Up until the end of the 1980s, and the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe, these countries were subsumed in any World Atlas into the smear of scarlet that represented the USSR and these once great cities had been hidden behind the Iron Curtain for so long that they had disappeared from the consciousness of many of their Western neighbours.
Even after they were restored to independence the view of most people was that many years under the jackboot of communism rendered them greyer than an Old Trafford sky on the first day of an Ashes Test Match and they didn’t feature on many travel itineraries. But Estonia has caught up quickly, it has more internet access than any other EU country, is the birthplace of the internet application Skype and in 2009 it was ranked sixth in the Press Freedom Index, which is an annual ranking of countries, compiled and published by ‘Reporters without Borders’ based upon an assessment of press freedom records.
Estonia is located in the North East of Europe (the most northerly of the three Baltic States) and South of the Gulf of Finland, which separates the country from Scandinavia. It has nearly four thousand kilometres of coastline and one thousand, five hundred and twenty islands in the Baltic Sea. It is one of the smallest countries in Europe (148th in the world), and although it is larger than both Belgium and the Netherlands the population is a little over 1.3 million.
Whilst Estonia is a member state of the European Union it hasn’t met the economic criteria to join the Eurozone and this is a country that makes financial transactions in thousands rather than tens of units so for the first time since Croatia in June we had a wallet full of unfamiliar notes and we enjoyed the self deception of feeling like millionaires when we visited the city in December 2009.