Discovering Estonia: Fear and Loathing in Sillamae

Article published on July 27, 2008
Article published on July 27, 2008
Someone told me it is just because I ended up here on an incredible sunny day but, seriously, Sillamae did not look as one of the ugliest and most dangerous places in Estonia as, even yesterday night, someone wrote me on Facebook. The day started early in the morning with a table decorated with ham, cheese, butter, bread, omelettes, coffee and orange juice.
Almost what I asked because – someone from the hotel red my post and did not really like my words?  - I did not find any cold water for refreshing my mind.

After a small chat with Julia, nice English speaking administrator of the place I say that I would prefer to avoid the cab and I start walking toward the port, enjoying one of the warmest days I had this year in Estonia.

In couple of minutes I find myself staring at some enormous chimneys and I decide to walk till there, pretending not to see all the signs in Estonian and Russian warning me not to trespass the area. Keeping the Ipod off for being ready to react to anything and press card perfectly visible, I walk towards some sort of check point of the port area.

Lucky me, the guardian seems to be too busy on his phone call to care about me and so, slowly, I get in into the administrative block. Nothing extremely interesting as between me and the chimneys stands a wall which only an idiot would considerate climbing and as the only way for walking there is to avoid another guardian who stared at me and my camera until I decided to move away.

What a pity.

A wall separated me from one the places I would like to see the most and I cannot do anything for walking to the other side.

Or maybe I am wrong.

Few steps away I find a building with an door open and, so, I try to go in. Being lucky I might have found what I have been looking for: a place where it is Sunday morning also for the security guys.

How naive of me.

After less than three steps a guy wearing a black uniform greet me in Russian and politely advices me to get back on my way and leave the place.

But now someone else is definitely being too naive because I do not really want to give up so easily.

I show off my press card and my business card using the only word I know he will understand even if he does not speak English: Journalist and director.

Something start moving and a lady and a guy wearing the same uniform come to me trying to convince me to desist: there is no way that I will cross the door and get to the other side without the invitation I obviously do not have.

But, still, this is not enough for sending me away: I ask to speak with someone who can understand me because, if I cannot get in today, I seriously want to know to whom I should address my invitation request.

They seem to like me somehow and so they start an endless number of phone calls until the lady gives me her mobile as someone would like to talk to me.

A male voices asks me who I am and what am I doing there without any invitation and I kindly explain him that I am writing about Sillamae and the invitation is exactly what I would need to have. Unfortunately with no luck as after a couple of “I wish you a nice day”, he hang down the phone leaving me alone again with the security guys.

But it is not over, yet.

Few seconds later it is time for a new phone call and this time I am greeted by a “Good afternoon!” Coming from a nice young female voice. Once again I am kindly told that I will not get the permission to go in as I did not even try to ask for it and I explain that the only thing I would need at the moment is to know to whom I should address such request, nothing else.

The voice understands immediately the situation, gives me the name and the contact I need and tells me that, if next time I will follow the appropriate procedure, I will not have any trouble on getting what I want.

Thanking everyone for having been so polite with me, I leave the place and try to get back to town even though, after few minutes walking, I hear someone yelling at me.

I turn back and I see the first guy with the uniform I met running to me trying to tell me something. I understand that there is a phone call for me and so I run back to the place as fast as I can.

The same lady called back and asked me if I, beside going to the port for some pictures, I would have also liked to interview a member of the board.


Amazed by her kindness I accept her proposal, write down the new contacts and promise her I will write back as soon as I will be in Tallinn so that we will fix everything in the best way.

Then it is time to have a nice walk and discover the city of Sillamae.

A somehow surprising one, because even if the Soviet blocks all around are there for remembering the dark side of its past, many pretty ones from the 50s and 60s made me think that who considers Sillamae as one of the worst places ever should try to go out a bit more and see many other places.

As it still is Sunday morning, most of the young people is still sleeping – except for a few heavy drinkers sitting in a park and enjoying their weekend booze till the end –but what impresses me a lot is the number of people carrying trolleys with babies inside. I could not check everyone of them but I would not be surprised if some were empty or used to carry puppets. Otherwise Sillamae’s birth rate would be really worth of being investigated.

The turg, open air market, is a bit less than what I expected. Few old ladies covered with foulards sell cucumbers, onions and potatoes while some others propose me to buy some Chinese made clothes and shoes: I guess globalization is in every sector of our economy nowadays.

The sand and stones beach could is not that pretty as those big chimneys I have seen since the beginning are enriched by huge pipes standing right next to the water, but this does not stop some brave people to swim.

Old people seem to be quite relaxed in here: they sit and they all look like they are waiting for something. Which I do not think it will never come.

Sometimes I have the impression that we, people living in capital cities, are trying to forget about them, about their problems and their needs. Sometimes I think we just wait for these places to disappear, to finish as they would be some useless towns with precise expiring dates.

When I get back to my hotel for getting my bags, I try to talk a bit more to Julia asking there whether she might know someone crazy enough to join me to the nuclear plant when I will be back with all the papers I will need.

I start saying that I will have to go to the port and then I would not mind to do some nuclear tourism, but I would really need someone able to talk on my behalf, to translate what I all the time try to say to people but, no luck. She tells me that she does not know anyone and none of her friends would accept to go there, too risky she tells me with her pretty smile.

We will see.