Estonia

view from the Patkul viewing terrace by CC user jenniferboyer on Flickr

Introduction

While the Baltic States in general have fared well since being freed from the clutches of communism in the early 1990’s, Estonia has had the best record of economic development in the ensuing time since then.  Those expecting a 2nd world country where the locals are relatively impoverished and willing to sell traveler amenities at a cut rate may be in for a bit of a surprise here.

Compared to Western Europe though, accommodations, meals and attractions are quite a bit more affordable, allowing those arriving from the uber-expensive travel trail of France, England and the like to take a deep, cleansing breath of fresh air, for their wallets will be under less stress here.

While remnants from Soviet times can still be found throughout the country, the real attractions for culture vultures lie in this nation’s churches, castles and old architecture.  With a lengthy frontage on the Baltic Sea, those seeking a break from the sweltering heat will find plenty of places to cool off with the locals during the short but eagerly anticipated swimming season, with islands in the mix in addition to the resorts on the mainland.

Throw in a bevy of rock festivals ranging in genre from classical to folk and good old fashioned rock and roll, and you have a Eastern European nation that should find a spot on your summer travel itinerary.

Currency: Euro

Languages: Estonian, Russian

Old Town, Tallinn, Estonia by CC user karnad on Flickr

What To Do

Despite having some of the most vaunted architecture in the world, many towns and cities have had a surprisingly bad record at preserving their heritage building stock in recent decades.  Being located in the vacuum of Communist rule for 50 years, Tallinn’s Old Town escaped much of this carnage, and thus, many people flock to this city for the sheer volume and diversity of its design styles.

Dating as far back as the 11th century, the cobblestone streets and buildings are much the same as they were 1,000 years ago, save for wear, tear and restoration over that time.  Plan for at least 2 to 3 days of wandering.

Leaving Talinn behind for the Estonian countryside, head to the city of Tartu to see Jaani (St. John’s) Church, a Lutheran church that started out as a Catholic hall of worship in the 14th century. Known for its terracotta figures, some say that they are modeled after residents of Tartu, though the presence of crowns on the heads of some of the figures has some doubting that theory.

One of the better known castles in Estonia is Narva Hermann Castle, a gem that was built in 1256 by the Danes, who ruled over this domain at that time. Due to intense carpet bombing in the Second World War, most of the city of Narva consists of Soviet-era block architecture that makes its castle stand out brilliantly in this area.

As such, it is a magnet for community festivals and events, to say nothing about the castle’s aesthetic appeal, making it worthwhile to come here and see this attraction on its own merit!

If the heat of midsummer is starting to make you cranky during your journey, make for the Baltic coast to refresh your body and spirit in the brisk Baltic Sea, which averages an invigorating 18 degrees Celsius in the peak of the warm season.  The best place to base yourself during this time is Pärnu Beach, which has shallow water that warms up quickly in the summer, and allows for a safe swimming environment for kids, spas to pamper yourself in, and plenty of concerts and festivals to attract the culture and party lovers out there on the travel circuit.

Kaali crater by CC user brostad on Flickr

Every so often, the shooting stars that we admire on a nightly basis sometimes manage to slip the net of our atmosphere and crash onto the Earth.  It doesn’t occur regularly enough for fresh evidence to be visible to most, but to the trained eye, ancient remnants of collisions from many thousands/millions of years ago can still be seen across the world.

The Kaali meteorite craters are just such a place, where we humble human beings can see that we are just as vulnerable as the dinosaurs … it just isn’t a matter of if, but when. The main Kaali crater, formed by the biggest fragment of a collapsing meteor, has a lake that has been regarded for years by local religious folk as sacred due to its perfect circular shape, and its presence at a bottom of a significant depression in the ground ringed by bedrock (the impact crater formation).

Verivorst by CC user hinnosaar on Flickr

What To Eat

One of the better loved foods in Estonia is Verivorst, or blood sausage.  While it used to be widely eaten on a regular basis throughout the country, it has taken on the status in recent times as a delicacy.  As such, Estonians normally serve this dish at Christmas time these days, which involves taking pork blood and fat, barley, and onions, and stuffing it into intestine, which serves as a casing for the stuffing.

Usually served alongside Verivorst is Mulgikapsad, a sauerkraut stew that many new samplers find quite addictive. Cooked together with barley, bacon and onions, this side dish often gets treated as a main course by many who fall in love with its savoury flavour.

If you’re looking to really stretch your culinary palate, do so at dessert time in Estonia.  Go ahead and try some Kohuke, which is a cheese curd snack that is stuffed with extra ingredients like raisins, chocolate, or jam, which fill the centre of the candy.  It is served chilled, which is good, as eating it at room temperature might prove to be a bit too daring for many people!

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