“Approaching Tallinn Airport,” the screen before me claims. “Please put your seat in the upright position and make yourself comfortable.”
Dressed in ‘Zoom Casual’ aka pajama bottoms, a cozy flannel, and shoeless feet —an attire which would also double as appropriate airport chic for a pre-sunrise flight — I sit in my chair ready to visit Estonia…virtually.
Not unlike my other, real, international excursions, I jumped on this opportunity a week before takeoff in yet another endless chase to see the world and, hopefully, find my place in it.
As we “land”, a sudden injection of excitement and anticipation in my gut surprises me. It’s been nearly a year since my last jaunt out of the country and nine months since I cancelled my trip to the Baltics as borders began closing.
In the “row” beside me, my wife (true to form) is fast asleep, holding our napping infant who evidently will join his mother in leaving me alone and awake during international transits. I can practically smell the exhaust on the tarmac as the presentation zooms in on the plane.
It almost feels real…
Strolling through the streets of Tallin’s medieval old town, freezing rain falls on our video guide. I shiver along with her; it’s -1 there and only slightly warmer here amidst Florida’s week-long “winter”. A nearly empty town square houses the oldest Christmas tree in the world (though neighbours in Latvia would beg to differ). I’d do anything to huddle over a cup of mulled wine right about now.
We leap from Tallinn to Mukri Bog some 100km away, a serene year-round destination for adventure, leisure, and foraging. Our guides sample flavored moss grown in the bog along with other goodies they packed for a picnic; I continue to sit at my office desk, sipping bottled coffee.
Our group, nameless and faceless virtual attendees from all corners of Europe, then moves west to the island of Hiiumaa, one of 2,222 islands and islets in Estonia’s Baltic Sea. Not long after, we backtrack east and arrive in Tartu to explore the Estonia National Museum. Finally — after a country-wide tour lasting a mere 45-minutes — our hosts bring us back to Old Town, raise a glass of mulled wine, and wish us all happiness, health, and, hopefully, a safe in-person visit to Estonia in the New Year.
We “depart” from Tallinn Airport once more, and I wonder, will this be our new normal?
The nearly empty town square, the rush to greenspaces instead of cityscapes, the intimate one-to-one interactions that, though perfect for a truly genuine experience, remove the spontaneity that only the uncontrolled variable of a crowd can provide.
I didn’t have the pleasure of meeting those who attended this virtual press tour, but how close — figuratively and literally — would we have really gotten had we been roaming through Estonia in person?
The video presentation ends and I am suddenly aware of the rising sun just outside my office window. As our Estonian guides prepare for a warm supper, I down the last of my cold coffee and can’t help but sigh.
Will my pre-pandemic plans of visiting the Baltics and the many other global regions on my ever-growing list rematerialize? Or will I, like my fellow virtual attendees, be forced to yield to the uncertainty of the future and settle for virtual travel in the safety of my own home? Whatever the future holds, it was so nice to escape to Estonia and leave the perils of 2020 behind, if only just for a moment…