Saturday, 28 February 2015

The Northern Lights in Estonia - Nature's Amazing Spectacle

It is rare to see the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) in Estonia but if you are lucky and find yourself in the right place at the right time, you might just witness this truly beautiful spectacle! Check out these stunning photographs. Northern Lights Estonia

If you would like to learn more about when and where you can best see the Northern Lights, this website will help. Aurora Service

For a few insider tips about the best ways to capture the Aurora Borealis, photographer Marko Palm has written some good advice here: How to photograph the Northern Lights 

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Highlights from Estonian Independence Day 2015

If you are like me and weren't able to make it to Estonia for Independence Day this year, you can still catch the highlights from this selection of photographs. Each year the Independence Day parade rotates and is held in a different Estonian city, this year it was Narva's turn.

The day began by raising the national flag at Hermann Castle in Narva.

President Ilves lays a wreath in honour of the fallen soldiers.

Independence memorial in Narva.

Estonian dignitaries.

A beautiful sight to behold, the Estonian national colours - blue, black & white!

Defence force parade in St.Peter's Plaza, Narva. 

It's good to see the local population getting involved.

Many watched on and celebrated at home.

Later in the day President Ilves gave his speech to the nation. You can read it here: 

Head Vabariigi Aastapäeva! / Happy Independence Day! Ilus Eesti / Beautiful Estonia!

Remembering those brave men who fought to establish a free and independent Estonia. 
I am so proud to be related to at least three of them!
Head vabariigi aastapäeva!

If you want to learn more about the Estonian War of Independence,  the Estonian War Museum contains a wealth of information:

Eesti vabadussõda

Monday, 23 February 2015

It's Independence Day Tomorrow!

Time to put up some decorations and make a few sweet treats! Estonian Independence Day is just one more sleep away! This year our beloved Republic of Estonia will celebrate its  97th birthday and in a few years' time it will reach the centenary milestone. There is much to look forward to! 

No doubt Estonian homes across the globe will be adding the finishing touches to their preparations for this special day! Myself included!

I'm no baking whiz but I do try!

This is my first ever attempt of making Eesti heart cookies!

10 Things You Didn't Know about Estonia

Estonia is one of those countries where once you discover its charm you’ll wonder what took you so long to visit.  Apart from its Old Town being the world’s biggest and best preserved mediaeval city (UNESCO World Heritage listed), Tallinn is a dynamic and thriving capital, home to one of Europe’s fastest growing economies and a hub for high tech innovation. Since restoring its independence in 1991 Estonia has been going from strength to strength, earning itself a reputation as being one of the most politically and economically free countries in the world.

So much beauty can be found in Estonia and it’s not just within the city walls, in narrow passageways and along the cobblestone streets. Estonia has so much more to offer. Once you get outside of the city limits you can explore one of its many islands (there are over 1500 of them!), go trekking in the national parks or simply wander through the beautiful forests that cover nearly 50% of the country.  Estonia is simply stunning in both summer and winter but if you want to experience a bit of Nordic magic, then visiting Tallinn during the Christmas season is a must. Snow covered rooftops, turrets and church spires all create an enchanting, storybook backdrop that will leave you spellbound.

If you are yet to experience the wonders of Estonia, here are a few things to spark your curiosity.

1.  Tallinn Airport is one of the best in Europe. 

Most people tend to visit Estonia via cruise ships but if you’re flying in, you’ll quickly discover that Tallinn airport stands out from the rest. An innovative concept that was launched a few years ago is the Tallinn Airport Library. Here visitors can read and even borrow a book at their leisure and return or replace it during their next trip to Tallinn. The library fosters a sense of community and environmental awareness and has proven to be a huge success with travellers. Another great initiative is the business card exchange. People can pin their business cards to the wall and take a card away that is of interest to them. It’s a great networking platform that doesn’t require the traditional face-to-face contact.

Visitors to Tallinn airport are often delighted to discover that the fabrics used to upholster the lounge seats are in fact part of the Estonian national costume. These unique fabrics with their colourful stripes originate from various regions of the country and are thus an integral part of Estonian cultural identity.

2. You can pay for virtually everything in Estonia via a mobile phone. 

Estonia is one of the most tech savvy countries in the world with one of the highest rates of mobile phone ownership per capita. Most Estonians complete their everyday transactions online and don’t carry cash around with them as much as they used to. This has given rise to mobile phones operating like ‘mini banks’. With Wi-Fi freely available across Estonia, even in forests, it’s easy to pay for your parking, top up your bus ticket or even buy you Christmas tree via SMS. It sure makes life a lot easier than carrying around a pocket full of coins!

3. There are no public pay phones in Estonia

While it’s still common to see pay phones in most countries in the world, they have been obsolete in Estonia for years.  There is no need for them.  Thanks to Estonia’s national Wi-Fi coverage Estonians can enjoy being connected at a fraction of the cost elsewhere. Many Estonians pay as little as 8 € a month for their mobile plans and this includes hours of free talk time!

4. Most Estonians speak English!

One of the fears travellers often have prior to arriving in a new country is whether they will be able to communicate. That’s not an issue in Estonia. Like other Nordic countries, Estonia places great emphasis on teaching English in schools from a young age.  Although Estonians may appear quite reserved, they are very helpful if asked and will assist you whenever they can. The countries in Europe with the best proficiency in English as a second language are Sweden, Norway, the Netherlands, Estonia and Denmark.

5. Estonian garlic bread is absolutely delicious!

One thing that always takes visitors by complete surprise is how garlic bread is made in Estonia. It’s completely different from what you get elsewhere.  When you order a side of garlic bread, or “küüslauguleib” as it’s known in Estonia, you won’t receive a white fluffy breadstick like you do in Italy or in other countries, but slices of black bread fried in butter and garlic and served with a white sauce. Once you get past the initial “oh, that’s different” reaction and actually try it, you’ll soon appreciate how absolutely tasty Estonian garlic bread is!

6.   It is law for pedestrians to wear reflectors at night.

Since 2011 the Estonian Traffic Act requires all people travelling by foot at night or in conditions of inadequate visibility to wear safely reflectors. They can be in the form of a tag, bracelet or key ring and should be attached to either your outwear or handbag.  Most Estonians abide by this law and wear some kind of reflector in order to avoid the 400€ fine.

7. Don’t drink and drive. The legal limit is zero.

Estonia has strict laws when it comes to alcohol consumption. There is zero tolerance for drink driving and the sale of take away alcoholic beverages in shops is prohibited after 10pm. After this time alcohol can only be purchased and consumed on the premises of restaurants and bars.

8. Beware of scam taxi services. 

Unlike other cities there is no set tariff in Tallinn for taxis and companies can charge whatever they want.  Many people, tourists in particular, get ripped off when they don’t read the price list displayed on the passenger window before they enter the taxi. Some firms charge exorbitant prices, triple or more than what is considered an acceptable fare. is what most locals use to order their taxis. It’s a very convenient mobile app that does not require calling to a taxi dispatch number. Taxify has strict quality control based on a rating system which means quality drivers get more rides. Scammers and other unsavoury drivers usually get blocked from the system quickly once they have been identified.

9.  Everyone loves Vana Tallinn!

Estonia has its own unique liquor called Vana Tallinn that both locals and visitors alike simply cannot resist. It is a sweet rum-based drink containing citrus oil, cinnamon and vanilla and is sold in an attractive turret-shaped glass bottle. Vana Tallinn is produced in three strengths 40%, 45% and 50%.  Coffee, chocolate and cream flavoured variations are also available.  No trip to Estonia is complete without a souvenir bottle of Vana Tallinn to take home!

10. The Depeche Mode Baar

If you love 80s music, particularly that of Depeche Mode, then a trip to the Depeche Mode Baar in Tallinn is a must. In recent years the bar has become world famous, featuring in many travel guides and has had many celebrities pass through its doors to sign the autograph wall. The Depeche Mode Baar is located only a few minutes’ walk away from Tallinn’s Town Hall Square and will even impress people who are not fans of the band. Depeche Mode’s songs are played non-stop on the video screens and cocktails have been named after their hit songs.  It’s a fascinating place and worth stopping by if merely for curiosity’s sake.

This article also appears in the UK travel magazine Wanderlust.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Five Common Misconceptions about Estonia

It's easy to form a false impression of Estonia when you don't have all the facts and English-speaking journalists are notorious for getting them wrong.  In order to set the records straight, here are five common myths dispelled with the facts which will help you avoid unintentionally offending an Estonian. These points should also provide you with a better understanding of Estonia and its people.

1. Estonia gained its independence in 1991.

Fact: Estonia won its independence in the bitter two year War of Independence (Est: Vabadussõda - "freedom war") lasting from 1918 until 3rd February 1920 when the Treaty of Tartu was signed with Soviet Russia.  This was a culmination of a national awakening which had gathered momentum in the preceding decades.  In 1940 the Soviet Union invaded, occupied and illegally annexed Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.  The countries continued to exist as far as international law was concerned and their entire statehoods are based on the concept of legal continuity.  Estonia restored its independence in 1991. In February 2018 Estonia will celebrate its 100th birthday!

2.  Estonia is a Slavic country (like Poland, Russia, Czech Republic etc.)

Fact:  The nearest relative of the Estonian language is Finnish, part of the Finno-Ugric language family.  There is no relationship between Estonian and any other European languages except Finnish and, more distantly, Hungarian.  Many cultural similarities are also shared with the Finns.

3. Estonia is "tiny".

Fact:  Estonia isn't among the world's largest countries but it isn't "tiny" either.  The Vatican City, San Marino, Andorra and Luxembourg are "tiny".  Driving from Läbara in Estonia's southwest to Narva in the country's north east would take at least 7 hours without stopping.  Estonia is larger in area than the Netherlands, Belgium and Switzerland.

4. Estonia is an impoverished, run-down ex-Soviet country.

Fact:  Estonia has a thriving economy with the lowest national debt in the EU.  It scores very high in freedom from corruption, rule of law, security of private property and press freedom.  It is one of the easiest countries in the world in which to do business.

5. Estonia is an "Eastern European" country.

Fact: Ask any Estonian and you would be rebuffed.  Estonians consider themselves very much a Nordic people, part of Northern Europe.  Estonia lies in Europe's far north on the same longitude as Finland and the same latitude as northern Scotland.  Estonians' nearest relatives are the Finns and Sami (Lapps) and they share a very similar mentality, work ethic and value system with their Nordic neighbours such as Finland, Sweden, Norway, Iceland and Denmark.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Today is Shrove Tuesday! Vastlapäev!

Today is Vastlapäev! The day traditionally associated with the anticipation of spring. 
Time to enjoy some cream buns, pea soup or sledging! 

The Estonian Open Air Museum will host their annual 'Shrovetide' event today. 
Looks like a lot of fun!

This historic document, dating back to 1546 reveals what aldermen ate in Estonia on Vastlapäev.
I'm not too keen on the pig trotters!

To learn more about Vastlapäev, please click here: Shrove Tuesday / Vastlapäev

Saturday, 14 February 2015

Happy Valentine's Day! Head Sõbrapäeva!

In Estonia, Valentine's Day is a celebration of friendship rather than romance.
Head Sõbrapäeva! Happy Friends Day!
True friends are some of the most precious things we have and stay in our lives forever. 
Cherish them!

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Stuck for ideas this Valentine's Day? Why not send a romantic message to space?

I love innovative new ideas and there seems to be quite a few of them coming out of Estonia recently. Why not surprise your loved one on Valentine's Day this year with something a little different and become a space Valentine!

Until midnight on 13th February you can submit your message and the Estonian built satellite ESTCube-1 will store it on its radiation resistant memory for two years as it orbits the earth.

Once sent on 14th February, your Valentine will receive your romantic message and confirmation that it was sent to ESTCube-1.

Let your love be out of this world!

For more information and to submit your message, please click here - ESTCube/Space Valentine

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Remembering Beautiful Pre-WWII Narva

Narva is located at Estonia's easternmost point and was once considered to be one of Northern Europe's most beautiful cities.  Built in the Baroque style, its beauty rivalled that of Tallinn's Old Town earning it the moniker "Baroque pearl of the Baltic Sea".  Estonia's beloved chess genius, Paul Keres, was born here in 1916.

World War Two forever changed the face of Narva.  In 1944 the city was completely razed to the ground when the Soviets reoccupied and annexed Estonia, driving out the Germans who had also occupied the country 3 years before.  Much of the destruction took place on 6th March 1944 when Soviet warplanes dropped thousands of bombs on the old city.  Retreating Germans also set fire to many remaining buildings and only three were left standing once the war was over.

Narva's original Estonian inhabitants who had fled the hostilities were forbidden from returning to their city and migrant workers from different regions of the Soviet Union were settled there instead.

The city has almost no resemblance nowadays to the Narva of yesteryear.  If you are interested in catching a glimpse of Narva in its former glory the "Vana Narva" (Old Narva) website has an excellent collection of old photographs, showcasing the beautiful city that once was.

Click here to view the Old Narva photo gallery:  Vana Narva

Monday, 9 February 2015

Estonian President: West Should Not Back Down in Front of Russian Intimidation Tactics

Here is an interview with President Toomas Hendrik Ilves by FRANCE 24 News at the recent Munich Security Conference.  

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Estonian Henri Kaarma Breaks Ice Swimming World Record

Congratulations to Henri Kaarma who broke the world record for the 1 km Ice Swimming Championship in Northern Ireland. He completed the distance in 13 minutes, 58 seconds. The new sport of ice swimming requires participants to swim in water with a temperature lower than 5°C without wetsuits, a feat requiring immense mental strength to go the distance. Swimmers often use techniques like counting to distract themselves from the cold. During the race, competitors are monitored for signs of hypothermia.

Well done Henri, you have done Estonia proud!

Friday, 6 February 2015

Estonian Apple Cake Recipe

It was a chilly -9 degrees yesterday, the perfect time to stay indoors and enjoy some baking. In the past I have made several apple based desserts including apple pie, apple slice, apple puffs etc. but never apple cake. This is the first time I have tried this recipe and I am happy to say I'm pleased with the result. This is a traditional Estonian recipe and if the photo doesn't do it justice, I can assure you it's very tasty!

Estonian Apple Cake

6 apples, chopped
1 cup sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup milk
125g butter
2 eggs, separated
1 tsp cinnamon

Preheat oven to 200 degrees. Beat egg yolks and sugar then add in the milk and butter. In a separate bowl, mix together the flour and baking powder, then add them to the milk and egg yolk mixture. Stir in chopped apples. In a separate bowl beat egg whites until frothy and gently fold them in to the batter. Grease a 26 cm round baking tin and sprinkle some fine breadcrumbs on the bottom and sides. Pour apple mixture into the baking tin. Bake for 40 minutes. Serve with cream custard or ice.cream.


Medieval crime novel tops Estonian 2014 bestsellers list | News | ERR

Monday, 2 February 2015

Food Tripper Estonia

Here's an interesting clip from Helen Hokin's travel programme 'Food Tripper.' In this episode Helen explores the fascinating food history of Estonia from Medieval times to the present day.

95th Anniversary of Russia-Estonia Peace Treaty Marked | News | ERR

Today marks the 95th anniversary of the Tartu Peace Treaty. A pivotal day in Estonia's history, never to be forgotten. You can read more here:
95th anniversary of Russia-Estonia peace treaty marked | News | ERR

The Tartu Peace Treaty, Declaration of Estonian independence.

Sunday, 1 February 2015

New Film Coming Soon! - The Story of the Baltic University

The Story of the Baltic University: Adventure and Struggle will be released in September 2015. The film is the work of documentary filmmaker Helga Merit whose father was a student at the Baltic University in Germany after WWII.  As my grandfather Alexander was also a student here (he studied economics) you can imagine I am very eager to watch this film!