September 8, 2015
While walking through town, we run across the fabulous Russian Orthodox Church. I am sternly warned about wearing my hat inside. We watch a woman kiss various objects and a priest make blessing signs over a few people allowed beyond the barriers. No hat , no photography either. It is much more impressive inside than the Russian Church in Helsinki.
This is the old town wall- up the steps there is a cafe
Another view of the town wall.
This is the fabulous town square. Pricey restaurants abound and aggressive hosts try to pull you in.
We visited the Estonia History Museum at the Grand Guild Hall. A few interesting facts: They trace settlement back to around 11,000 years ago when the ice melted enough to allow for human settlement. The Estonians, a Finnish people, have inhabited the Baltic Sea area for at least 3000 years. The country dates to around 1100 but has been independent for only 40 of those years. Their language is closely related to the Finnish and Sami languages (Norweigan, Swedish and Russian primarily), and distantly related to Hungarian. There are currently a mere 1.5 million inhabitants and an amazing 2200 islands.
Estonia was annexed by the USSR in 1939 following Stalin’s delightful deal with Hitler, then taken by Germany, before being retaken by the USSR and dominated until 1991. They welcomed the Germans in WWII, thinking they would be better than the Russians; they changed their minds in short order. The Finns reacted similarly, having been invaded by the USSR in the same period.
You might think Estonia is rather backwards. It isn’t. It has a high per capita income and is one of the most wired countries in the world; Skype was invented here. It has freedom of the press and is in other ways a developed democracy. English is widely spoken if a bit less fluently than in Finland. Nonetheless, the musuem’s ehibits were in nearly flawless English, interesting and entertaining as well.
Per a BBC podcast, the Estonians are very nervous about Russia and have instituted a draft. About 25% of the population is Russian speaking and they do not feel they are part of Estonia.
For lunch I had pancakes with meat, as they bluntly put it, which turned out to be ground beef, very basic but certainly not objectionable, and Peg had broth with a hard boiled egg in it and potato salad on the side. We shared a very good piece of almond cake with icing. It was inexpensive, just 13 euros for the whole thing. On the plaza lunches were about 13 per person, by comparison. No doubt it was a much simpler meal than those at twice the price.
An interesting walk about town included stops in several artisanal shops- the place is full of them. The quality of the work is impressive. Paintings, drawings, stained glass, leather, jewelry and other handicrafts.
There is an old Dominican church that is now a theater. The order was closed down during the Reformation and its property confiscated, just some 300 years after the forcible conversion to Christianity. Today Estonia is one of the least religious countries on the earth, with 14% saying religion plays an important part in their life. I saw several of the 14% today, sharing germs via religious objects; hopefully the surfaces are not all that hospitable to the little creatures.