It has always been a dream of mine to visit Estonia. The culture, which most people do not know, Estonia is one of the most digitally advanced societies but also maintain deep routes to their ancient culture. With the beautiful landscape in site I was ready to start exploring.
I flew in during the sunset, out my window I could see the castle-studded story book skyline of Tallin. I was so excited, it was exactly how I always expected. Although I was so excited, I opted to check into my hotel so I could start the next 10 days with the energy needed to explore beautiful Estonia.
I started my day early and decided I wanted to find out more about Estonia’s history. I found that located in a wonderful fifteenth-century building, once the headquarters of the Great Guild, Tallinn’s History Museum houses a permanent collection entitled “Spirit of Survival” that traces Estonian history over the last 11,000 years with a series of interactive displays. I am a sucker for architecture so to me, the building alone is worth a visit. It has large cellars and intricate woodwork. The basement displays light on the buildings former days as an auction house for art in the mid-eighteenth century, up until 1896 when it hosted the country’s first film show.
I spent most of the day exploring the museum, after I decided to grab a meal at Lido which was suggested to me by some friends who have visited before. It was great, very budget friendly which was nice.
After my first day being mostly indoor learning about history, I wanted to get outside into the fresh air. I opted for Tallinn’s award-winning Seaplane Harbour Museum , which is undoubtedly one of Europe’s most exciting museums. The uniquely designed seaplane hangars were the world’s first structures to use reinforced concrete shell domes (originally 8cm thick) and were built in 1916-1917 as part of the naval fortress of Peter the Great that sought to protect St Petersburg. A series of bridges connect the museum’s exhibits, which include seaplanes and icebreakers, offering explore the ocean’s surface or delve into the underwater world. One of the museum’s highlights is the British-built 1930s submarine Lembit, the only surviving warship of pre-war Estonia, which visitors can board to experience life on an underwater warship. I have never experienced such an immersive experience with learning about sea exploration crafts.
This was the day that I decided to plan my bus ride to start making my way to Tartu in more central Estonia. I had read great things about Lake Peipsi which is slightly a detour but very worth it. Lake Peipsi is Europe’s fifth largest, and sits on the border between Russia and Estonia. The area was founded by members of the Old Believers, an offshoot of the Russian Orthodox Church, fled Russian persecution in the seventeenth century, eventually settling on the fringes of the Russian empire along the shores of Lake Peipsi. To this day, the Old Believers maintain age-old traditions and survive on fishing and cultivating cucumbers and onions. Experiencing this was a great travel back in time. I booked a room at Alatskivi Castle.
Originally dating back to the sixteenth century, Alatskivi Castle was rebuilt between 1876 and 1885 by Baron von Nolcken who was inspired by the royal residence of Balmoral in Scotland. With its protruding towers with cone-shaped roofs, the building is considered to be one of the most beautiful net-gothic manor houses in the Baltics. I spent the day walking around the historic building, enjoying being in the beautiful nature only 3KM from Lake Peipsi and reconnecting with myself through the beautiful nature of Estonia.
Back on the bus and ready to get to Tartu which I heard such interesting things about. I decided my first stop off of the bus was the wonderful Toy Museum located in one of the oldest surviving wooden buildings of the university city of Tartu. On display is a wealth of objects including Estonian farm children’s toys, such as handcrafted wooden pastoral animals, and Soviet toys that we mostly educational in nature. These well-loved objects provide a fascinating insight into the lives of Estonian children throughout the years.
I chose to get some rest and enjoy the beautiful city of Tartu, this city has more statues than almost any other city I have ever been to. I would definitely suggest to soak this one up. I grabbed a book, found a nice cafe and sat around all day.
After I rested up I was ready to tackle the road again, Viljandi here I come! The quaint little town of Viljandi in southern Estonia overlooks a picturesque lake, and is home to the impressive hilltop ruins of the twelfth century castle of Teutonic Order that covers an area of eight hectares. Viljandi is the capital of folk music and the country’s largest annual music festival that takes place on the last weekend of July during which concerts are held within the castle and other venues around town. Being able to experience this was absolute joy. Viljandi’s charming streets are decorated with with large concrete strawberries that point to the gallery of painter Paul Kondas, where the artist’s colorful works are on display, including his well known The Strawberry Eater
My bus from Viljandi to Otepaa stopped over in Valga very old school village town. Folk art and handicrafts play an essential part in the country’s cultural heritage. Estonia excels in a number of fields despite its population of only 1.3 million, including icon painting, wooden toy production and the art of stained glass. The Estonian countryside is dotted with artists’ studios and sculptors’ workshops, where craftsmen and women can be seen at work practicing age-old traditions. I was able to peer into a few of these little workshops and lodges when stopping over.
Yes! Ski day! The small town of Otepää really comes alive in the winter months – it is the Baltics’ best-known winter sports centre and the country’s skiing and ski-jumping capital. The town attracts skiers, snowboarders, tubers and sledgers from all over the country, and is also the training ground for the Estonian Olympic team. Otepää is a pleasant spot to relax in the spring and summer months when the surrounding countryside, home to the beautiful Lake Pühajärv, offers the perfect setting for walks in the area’s gentle lowland hills.
Back to Tallinn to head home, unfortunately I was not even close to being ready to go home. One of the best things that I have heard about and will definitely be coming back for is the popular Song Festival, a large open-air choir concert where hundreds of groups participate, only takes place every five years (the next is 2019) but is certainly worth the wait. This tradition dates back to 1869 during the National Awakening, a time when Estonians started to acknowledge themselves as a unified nation. Later, the Singing Revolution of 1988 saw thousands of people gathering in the Song Festival Grounds singing patriotic songs and demanding Estonian independence from Soviet rule. Hearing 18,000 voices sing at once during the festival is a truly unique and moving experience that I am looking forward to!
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