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Located on the Baltic Sea, only about 37 miles (60km) across the Gulf of Finland from Helsinki, Estonia spent 2 centuries as one of Russia's Baltic Provinces before becoming an independent republic in 1918. Little over 2 decades later, it fell back under Russian control when Soviet troops rolled in and incorporated the country into the Soviet Union. It became independent once again in 1991. Separated from the west for 50 years, the capitol city of Tallinn is now visited frequently by tourists sailing aboard hydrofoils and other vessels from Helsinki and Stockholm.

Tallinn, a UNESCO world heritage site, was founded in the 12th century and has been under the rule of Denmark, Sweden, and Germany as well as Russia, and all left their mark on the city's architecture. It is one of the best preserved medieval towns in northern Europe, and makes a beautiful impression from the sea, with its ancient city walls, church spires, and red-tile roofed homes. At the Old Town, you pass beneath the arches of Tallinn's ancient stone walls and enter a world of cobblestones, narrow alleys, and medieval buildings. It's a fun place to explore on foot.

While under German occupation in 1944, the city was bombed and 1,100 people were killed or wounded. Also at that time, about 11% of the old town was destroyed, and was replaced afterward by bleak Soviet architecture. Today, the city is growing rapidly, with modern buildings joining the old.