Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Estonia -- Family Visit

Last month I made another visit to Estonia, this time particularly to visit my two cousins and their children and grandchildren from my father's side of the family.  I was met with the warmest hospitality, served tasty meals, and shown around Tallinn and the surrounding area. Here's a little of what I saw. Just a heads up: I saw a lot.

The Old Town
Of course, we did a little strolling in Tallinn's old town.  There were a lot more tourists than there were in December, and life had moved outside into sidewalk cafes and markets.  My visit just happened to coincide with Old Town Days, so extra activities were in abundance. 

These little dancers were very cute.  They made me think of our wedding flower girl who wore a similar national costume.

I couldn't resist getting some of this yarn produced in Estonia from Estonian sheep.  I chose a few skeins of natural, undyed wool, though the bright colors were pretty tempting as well.

This tower is called Neitsitorn or Maiden Tower. My cousin Zina and her grandson took me around the old town. He was in his school uniform as I arrived on his last day of school after he had been in a school year closing program earlier in the day. I was impressed with his English skills, which were a big help  at times when I couldn't find the right word in Estonian to express myself.

I wanted to take my cousin to eat at the vegan restaurant we found in December. Unfortunately, they were full and require reservations now because they've become so popular. Instead, we ate Mexican food -- a first for Zina.  As one might expect, it was Mexican with an Estonian twist, but tasty nonetheless.

Kadriorg Palace and Park
Russia's Peter the Great built this palace in the early 18th century for Catherine, his wife.  It is now owned by the Estonian state and is used as an art museum and for state events.  The area surrounding the palace is a beautiful park, with a Japanese garden, forests, and many walking paths.

Estonian National Opera and Ballet
One evening we attended the ballet Bayadere at the Estonian National Opera house. A beautiful performance.

Keila Waterfall
My cousin Sveta with her son and grandson drove me to see some sights outside Tallinn, including this beautiful spot.  The waterfall is jokingly called Estonian's Niagara Falls by my family.  Two suspension bridges connect a wooded park area filled with hiking trails to the waterfall area. The chain railings along the bridges have in the past been a place for newly married couples to come after their wedding and hang an engraved padlock to symbolize the lasting quality of their marriage.  Recently, the weight of these locks became so heavy as to create a safety problem.  Now there is a ban on the practice; however, to substitute for the bridge chains, a new structure of two hearts made of metal rods has been constructed. The falls are next to a hydroelectric power plant and a fine Neo-Gothic manor house which is being restored and will be open for visitors in the future.

The Baltic Sea coast -- Turisalu bank -- west of Tallinn
At this spot, the land ends with a steep cliff of multiple rock layers which drops down to the sea. Nearby, as there is plenty of wind from the coast, are windmills for electricity.

This gull has built a nest here on the rocks.

The summer house
My cousin and her husband spend their summers out in the country, where they have a small cottage, two greenhouses, and the surrounding garden.  The entire family gathers there most weekends, where the conversation, food, and drink goes on most of the day. There are other similar places in the same area, but theirs is definitely one of the most developed. They grow flowers and vegetables to feed their family all summer and well into the winter.

Pirita beach and convent
East of the center of Tallinn lies the district of Pirita which includes a beautiful beach area and the St. Brigitta's Convent.  It was dedicated in 1436 and for about 100 years was the largest Catholic monastery in Livonia.  Russian troops under the leadership of Ivan the Terrible sacked it in 1557.  The ruins are still impressive and are used for services on occasion.  We happened upon one the day we visited. 

The Song Festival grounds and the Tallinn telecommunications tower
Every five years Tallinn hosts Laulupidu -- the 150-year-old Estonian Song Festival -- at these grounds.   Thousands perform in mass choirs and even more sit outside and enjoy it all. I remember from my childhood my mother talking about this as an amazing experience. Someday I hope to witness this in person. Check out this link -- -- for a taste of what it's like and what it means to many Estonians.

The last photo is of the tallest building in Tallinn -- the telecommunications tower.  There is a viewing platform and restaurant on the top.

These little daisies seemed much more prevalent in lawns than dandelions. 

Thank you to Zina and Sveta for making my visit filled with warm family times, great conversation, delicious food, and wonderful memories.