Last weekend, our group went on our excursion to Helsinki, Finland and Tallinn, Estonia.
Beforehand, I knew virtually nothing about these cities, so I had no idea what I was getting into before arriving!
When we got to Helsinki, it was already nighttime, but we weren’t letting that get in the way of our explorations. That evening, we went traipsing around the city and found adorable Christmas decorations in the windows of shops and lights hung all around the streets. The decorations made being abroad feel a bit more like home away from home by having such a familiar tradition and an environment to what we typically experience in the United States. Even though everything around us was in a foreign language, that feeling of excitement and togetherness that comes from familiarity is universal.
The next day, we went on a tour of the city and then had a free day to explore on our own! In Helsinki, nature is never far away — even in the depths of the city — so we definitely got to enjoy both the outdoors and metropolitan life in one day.
After our second day in Finland, we moved along to Tallinn, Estonia by way of ferry. Arriving later in the day once again, I ended up making plans on my own to meet with a friend of mine who was actually born and raised in Tallinn! It was super cool to be led around Tallinn by a native. She took me to the Christmas market and showed me all around the Old Town of the city, and I even got to try a traditional holiday beverage that my friend described as “tasting like Christmas.” Then we went to an Estonian restaurant where I ordered beet and coconut soup – weird sounding, I know, but so yummy! We explored different corners of town before heading back to the hotel to rest up for another day of getting to know the Estonian capital.
The following morning we got up bright and early to dig into a traditional Estonian breakfast of McDonald’s… okay, so we were feeling a bit homesick. After indulging in guilty pleasures, we saw more areas of Tallinn, including Karja Quarter which features high end stores and even a crystal shop! We ended the night by exploring different traditional Estonian restaurants and pubs. By morning, we were off to St. Petersburg again.
Traveling back by train, we had cabins and beds to relax in on the long ride back, and we were able to reflect on our time. It was an incredible experience to see two other countries in Eastern Europe, but we all definitely were missing Russia. This excursion allowed us to broaden our horizons, showing us two new cultures, and the short break away from Russia even led our love for the country and its culture to grow even greater than before.
This post was contributed by Lexi Saldivar, who is spending her fall semester studying abroad with AIFS in St. Petersburg, Russia.
Did you know? All semester students who study abroad with AIFS in St. Petersburg, Russia have the opportunity to visit both Tallinn and Helsinki — AIFS organizes the excursion! The fee for this excursion includes transportation, accommodation, breakfast and sightseeing as indicated. Learn more here.