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To commemorate the Smithsonian Presents Travels with Rick Steves magazine -- now on sale online, and at newsstands nationwide -- Rick is blogging about the 20 top destinations featured in that issue. One of those destinations is Tallinn, the capital of Estonia.
Visiting a tiny land like Estonia, I'm impressed by the resilience of a small nation. How can just over a million Estonians survive the centuries wedged between Russia and Germany? With the agenda of tyrants to the East and West, I'd think Estonia would fare like a sheet of Kleenex in a flushing toilet.
And not every tiny land survives. There are countless sister cultures that are simply gone or nearly gone today. (For example, Livonia, in this same Baltic region, or the Sorbs of Germany.) But the pride and strength itself of nationalities like Bulgarians, Montenegrins, Kosovars, Icelanders, Estonians, and Basques as they maintain their traditions and language in the brutal (if not flushing) demographic currents of the 21st century is an inspiration.
With our new TV series, I find myself highlighting the Basques, Montenegrins, and Estonians. Come to think of it, even Norway (with about the population of Alabama) is a mighty mite, and we're doing two shows on that country. Maybe, subconsciously, these days -- when the media work to homogenize us all, globalization tries to convince us that selling our souls is the only option, and material values have become "too big to fail" -- I'm in the mood to celebrate the cultural underdogs.
So here's to the 1.25 million people who speak Estonian, the 700,000 people who speak Basque, the 150,000 people who speak Montenegrin, and the 5 million people who speak Norwegian. And here's to traveling to a place where you can hear Estonians, Basques, Montenegrins, and Norwegians -- in their own language -- drink to your travels.

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