Expat Recovery Room: Estonia's Winter of Content
By Mike Dunphy
Without a stitch of clothing, I stepped out into the snowy Estonian landscape. Days of sub-zero temperatures had transformed the white coating underfoot into sharp crystals. Scooping a handful, I ground it in a circular motion into my bare chest, then a second handful across my shoulders and a third down my back. By now, the skin began to redden and burn, while my nether regions retreated into the available pelvic cavities. As the last moments of tolerance withered, I turned my gaze upwards to the stars, the only source of light filtering through the thick, inky dark of Scandinavian winter nights. Watching the winking billions, long disappeared from my life back in New York City, I brushed a finger across my nose in grateful acknowledgment of the shared secret about Estonia before stepping back into the steaming sauna.
The most common question during my recent trip to Estonia was "Why did you come in winter?" It's a fair question, considering the near impenetrable darkness that cloaks the country nearly 24 hours a day in January and wind chills that burn the face within minutes of stepping outside. However, even in warm weather, Estonia is not a very popular destination for tourists. The 1.8 million that stayed overnight in 2012 may seem like a good tourism numbers but is relatively tiny compared to the 83 million that arrived in France during the same period. Comparably-sized Denmark saw approximately nine million arrivals, while fellow former Eastern bloc Bulgaria got 6.5 million. Estonia's tourism numbers diminish further when considering about half were from Finland, with a mere 29,000 from my country, USA. Of these, few trickle south from the capital city Tallinn, leaving just me, standing naked in the snow in the village of Kilingi-Nõmme.