#9 Estonia, July 26, 2011

Dear Everybody,

I think I left you as I was going to try to catch a 7:40 AM train when arriving at the station on a 7:39 AM bus. The bus arrived on time and the train didn’t pull out of the station until 7:43, so I made it!

 

The train rumbled along through the rural areas, which were beautiful, as always.

 

 

 

 

I came upon a type of pump that I hadn’t seen in decades. My country school had one like it.  After 2 ½ hours, I came to Valga, Estonia.

 

 

 

 

 

There I would get a bus to Tartu, my next destination. When I inquired about buying the ticket, it became clear that I had to have Euros, Estonia’s currency. Luckily I had an hour before the bus would come so I could walk a couple of km and find an ATM, which I did.

Every place that I visit is different about checking bags on a bus. Sometimes you must buy a ticket for your bag; sometimes you will receive a claim check from the porter; sometimes you must tip the porter for putting them in the bus locker; sometimes the driver must come out of the bus and open the locker; well in the Baltics, it’s completely self-service. You pull open the locker door, put your bag in, and close the locker. Nobody helps and nobody needs any money or gives you any claim check.

It was really warm on the bus as the AC wasn’t working properly, or there wasn’t any. Eventually I arrived in Tartu, a smallish but elegant town. I stayed in a hotel with a hostel section,—the hostel rooms sleep three, but they don’t put you in with strangers, so I was by myself.

I walked to the center and saw many groups in costume doing Estonian folk dances, which I learned were in honor of Hanseatic Days. Estonia belonged to the Hanseatic League, a highly developed business enterprise, based in Leubeck, in what is now northern Germany. They held sway over neighboring countries’ business from the 14th to the 18th centuries.

The next day I did some big-time sight-seeing. One of the problems in the Baltics is that museums, churches and other public buildings aren’t open until at least 10:00; many open at 11:00!

 

Anyway, I looked at the Town Hall with its Kissing Couple fountain, churches, museums, bridges, a 19th century citizen’s home furnished in the period.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The University had quite an interesting detail. Up in the attic there were a number of rooms called ‘Student’s Lock-Up,’ which were used for solitary confinement of 19th century students who had committed rule infractions. Some of those were overdue library books, disturbing others who were sleeping, insulting a lady, etc. There was a wealth of graffiti on the walls done by bored students.

The Tartu Art Museum had a mean lean, which made the building more interesting than the art!

In the late afternoon I went for a boat ride on the river that runs through town, which was a little boring. We went as far as the nude beach and turned around, then went the other direction and turned around and came back to starting.

I saw a poster listing a concert event for that night; I got some help in reading it (Estonian) from some young student types. Yes, there would be a 7:00 concert featuring a gusli player (a what?)—a gusli player, named Olga Siskina. She, and the instrument, are from Russia, and she would have a Russian flautest playing with her. It turned out to be in St. John’s church, which dates from 1323, which I had visited earlier in the day. She introduced the concert, speaking in English! At intermission, when I commented about this to two young Estonian women who sat next to me, one said that Olga was Russian, living in Finland, and probably didn’t know Estonian. The concert was terrific—the gusli is an admirable instrument (‘twas present at Catherine the Great’s Court) and she played it very well. It’s a little like a small harp and it is played by plucking the strings. Actually she played two types of gusli—one was sort of a table, and the other she held in her lap while playing. The concert was over by 9:00, so I could walk back to my hotel in broad daylight.

The next day I took a bus to Rakvere, a small town in the north of Estonia. Rakvere has its castle, which I visited the next day. The town’s history goes back to 1302, when the town was granted the ‘Leubeck Law’ and the first castle was begun. Subsequent ‘owners’ of the castle were the Danes, Germans, Russians, Swedes and Poles.

 

In 2002, the 700 years of the city were celebrated by erecting a statue of an aurochs (an extinct bull), which gave its name to the city in early times—Tarvanpaa. Pikk Street, where my guesthouse was located, (the red awning) was the center of the town in the 19th century.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Also on this street was the Rakvere Trinity Church, dating to the early 1400s. Many places in the Baltics suffered great losses during cataclysmic wars over the centuries. They certainly have made a valiant effort to reconstruct/repair their heritage buildings, but little is original.

Pushing on, I took a bus to Sagadi Manor, not knowing what to expect. I had intended to go to Altja, a small fishing village, but had learned that no bus went there directly. Sagadi Manor turned out to be an ancient estate, now a hotel and hostel on the edge of Lahemaa National Park. The Manor was begun in 1469 but the present manor building is from the 18th century, now a museum, which one can tour. There are paths around the property, which I explored. The hotel building, with its hanging pots of geraniums was a welcoming venue. I had the entire hostel building to myself, which had a nice common room with a fireplace. I ate in the hotel restaurant across the way from the hostel and had pasta with mushrooms and beaver meat. They’re big on wild game here.

I did some walking, on the first day to Altja, a tiny village on the Baltic Sea where someone with a sense of humor had chopped wood for next winter. The forests in Estonia are outstanding and omnipresent, and there was an interesting museum on the Manor grounds about them. The information in the museum said that in joining the EU, Estonia had received an exception regarding hunting animals, apparently prohibited by the EU, because they have a surfeit here and many people depend on hunting for their livelihood.

Today I took the bus to Vosu, a small village also on the Baltic Sea. It has a very nice beach, although the tide was out, and pretty cottages.

 

 

The Forest Museum also catalogued the many berries, mushrooms, and medicinal plants utilized by local people.

 

 

In Vosu, I bought a cup of wild blueberries from a vendor, thus getting my antioxidants for the day. They were tiny and delicious.

 

 

Tomorrow I shall bus to Tallinn, the capital city of Estonia.

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