Pickling and Tickling in Sillamäe: Rejoicing Localness


"Hello! I am Toyon from Bangladesh and I am one of the new members of the Study in Estonia Student Ambassadors' team. I first came to Estonia in 2016 to obtain a Master's degree in Economics from University of Tartu. I am a cultural relativist and addicted to folks, dance and theater, and so I completed a second Master's programme in Tartu in Folkloristics and Applied Heritage Studies. I have volunteered in Estonia with a range of non-profit organizations and have assisted in several projects linked to cultural integration with the involvement of local and foreign people. Last year, I enrolled in the PhD program of Estonian Business School  and I want to use the opportunity to share my experiences of Estonia with others." - Toyon


The biggest advantage of studying in Estonia is that you never know what to expect - places, people, pickling or tickling! After graduating from the University of Tartu, when I thought about where to live, my search began and ended at an extraordinary beach of the Gulf of Finland.

Like many, the quintessence of love and life can only be found here - in the small town of Sillamäe in Ida-Viru County. The sound, sight, and sea of the northeastern part of Estonia are shaped by waves of mystery and history. After splashing on the sun-soaked beach I rested at the shore of the Sõtke River, and finally decided that this was the destination.

Sillamäe mere puiestee

Mere puiestee (Sea boulevard). Photo by: Toyon

With the heart and soul of this multi-faceted town, I melted in food, music, dance, art and magic. Wondering at the coastal greenery, admiring the splendor of the stairs of "Mere puiestee"  (Sea Boulevard), dancing "Pulga tants"  (stick dance) at a street party, eating "sochnik"  (popular Soviet pastry) as if it were a free gift from a babushka (an older grandmother type woman), cooking "seljanka"  (a spicy soup) for the entire neighborhood, beating your heart to the fiery "Hopak"  music (traditional Ukrainian folk dance), and marveling at the "Graniit" (granite, rock commonly found in Ida-Viru County) - more is less here.

Sillamäe is a thriving multicultural town sprawled at the increasingly important corner of the Ida-Viru County. Sillamäe has soul and a contagious love of life. Life has a discrete kindness that belies its illustrious past. Quite notably, this glittering stretch of Estonia's secret corner offers more than just a first-class beach vacation.

My experiences of living in this town and spending time with Estonians of this part of region are much more similar than they seem to be different from any other part of Estonia. Unlike most of Estonia, I didn't know much about Sillamäe and its population. This was a journey of discovery for me. My aspirations have been to embrace a dynamic and fascinating subculture, to get to know the people who make this place home.

Sky in Sillamäe

View by the sea in Sillamäe. Photo: Toyon

The distinctive thing of Estonians in this area, which amuses me, is pickling. This refers in particular to the babushka-grandmothers. Sitting on a bench in the park and observing is their luxurious hobby. Some of them are without teeth - legends of localness. When someone unexpectedly goes to talk to them the first thing they're going to do is offer a jar of pickles and say "Kak dela?"  ("How are you?") So, don’t make a grouchy face if you are offered a cornichon or "Ogurets" (pickles in Russian). Eventually their pickles seem to expose untold stories of Sillamäe, but their faces are quick to smile, especially when they see a brown person like me. I must say that the connection and synergy that is created through the act of sharing a pickle, by people who want to communicate and find ways to feed, nourish and nurture each other, are just simply amazing.


Pickles. Photo: Pexels

From the countryside to the holiest shrines, Estonians are indeed magic lovers. Sitting next to the sea and tickling means it's time for you to wander around. If you don't want to walk, you can only be rescued by reciting magic verses by layering sea sand, water and rock. Maybe these tickling magics are still undiscovered yet necessary to keep you moving forward. Perhaps this is a tradition that has been passed on from one to another, proving that the continuity of Estonian history is flowing in the whirlpool of time.

Undoubtedly, festivity is in the blood of the people of Sillamäe. They don’t need any reason to rejoice but can celebrate anything with absolute joy. Friends and foods are at the center of their outside gatherings. Nature, in all its beauty, appears to shout out the joy of being together in Sillamäe, and everywhere the invisible bonding is celebrated. People are peacefully sharing the town. In the warmth of the early evening, the community comes out and celebrates life in the stately yet friendly spaces. 

Estonians in this part of the county are typically heterophilous and curious. Young educated people are multi-lingual, internet savvy and well-informed about the American dream. On my way home, I mostly see happy faces, and every day I find myself in an amiable ambiance. I have been working in this town for a year now, doing my research, and I can't think of a better place to live. Perhaps, the town is witness to history.  It might bewilder the tourists, but its occupants will tell you that it is now home.

History museum permit

Historical entry permit for Sillamäe Museum. Photo: Sillamäe Museum


Text: Toyon