Tuesday, 28 September 2021

Discovering Hiiumaa

Few countries in Europe can boast they have over 2,000 islands but Estonia is one of them.  Northern Europe is home to many islands, Sweden and Norway have the most (over 200,000 each) and over the centuries Coastal Swedes have had their influence in Estonia. Not all of Estonia's islands are inhabitable, but those with populations are unique in their own way and offer respite to those who want to get away from it all.

Hiiumaa is Estonia's second largest island. It has an area of 989 km2 and is 23 km from the Estonian mainland. According to the latest statistics, 9,381 people live on the island of Hiiumaa in one of its 185 settlements. 

Port of Sõru.

This year I decided to include Hiiumaa in my summer holiday to Estonia as I had never been there before and was eager to explore the island first-hand. 

Map of Hiiumaa

After I left the Estonian mainland at Rohuküla I crossed the Baltic Sea by ferry and arrived at the Port of Heltermaa. I then travelled on to Lassi where I stayed in a quaint countryhouse for the next four nights. Prior to arriving I was told that Hiiumaa's water contains high levels of iron and is unpleasant to taste, therefore I was advised to drink bottled water. Each day I explored different parts of the island.

Kärdla centre

25km from Heltermaa Harbour is Hiiumaa's largest settlement and only town - Kärdla. It was smaller than I expected; it had a supermarket, post office and a small selection of cafes, restaurants and other shops. It's a quiet place with few people around before 10am.

Tahkuna Lighthouse

But you don't visit Hiiumaa for the shops, it's all about nature. Being outdoors and exploring new places. Hiiumaa is surrounded by coastline and sometimes you might find yourself deep in a forest, then shortly afterwards near a picturesque harbour. Such beautiful contrasts. Hiiumaa is also home to many famous lighthouses, Tahkuna Lighthouse is the tallest in Estonia standing at 427m above sea level.

The memorial to the victims of the MS Estonia disaster.

Also located at Tahkuna is the memorial dedicated to the children who died onboard the 'Estonia' in 1994. The bronze bell rings out to sea during strong winds.

The incline of the monument has a visual and emotional impact, intended to call to mind the last moments of the ship.

To the west of the island is one of Hiiumaa's most famous landmarks - Kõpu Lighthouse. It was built in 1531 and is one of the oldest lighthouses in the world. Kõpu Lighthouse is renown for its unique shape and impressive history. It is still an operational lighthouse to this day.

Kõpu Lighthouse 

View from the top of Kõpu Lighthouse.

I came across this memorial by chance when I took a wrong turn in search of the Hill of Crosses. This momument is dedicated to the Estonians who were murdered here during the occupation in 1941.  I felt sad when I saw this, not only for the victims but because my own great-grandfather was murdered in a forest (Albu) in 1941 along with four other men. The exact location of their executions has never been revealed therefore it is impossible for me to lay a cross in their memory.

Hill of Crosses

In the forest bordering Reigi and Puhalepa parishes lies the Hill of Crosses. In the 1700s a cruel landowner banished 500 Swedes from Hiiumaa and had them sent to Ukraine. Before they left, each placed a cross here to mark their departure. Today, people still come and leave crosses, there are hundred of them scattered throughout the forest. This forest is also full of different types of mushrooms and it was here that I found my first death cap.

Russian Orthodox Church

This is the only Russian Orthodox church on the island and is an attractive building surrounded by a stone wall. I would have liked to have gone inside but unfortunately it was closed. Very often when I visit churches and cemeteries in Estonia, I find frogs there. This time I did too.

Hiiumaa is a wonderful place to visit if you enjoy the outdoors. There are many harbours, beaches, and forests to explore that you don't have to share with too many other people. Life is very relaxed here, the perfect environment for nature lovers who enjoy hiking and camping. 

During my four days in Hiiumaa I visited every lighthouse, peninsula and key attraction. Of all the things I experienced, perhaps my favourite was the simple pleasure of watching the sunset over the water.  Regrettably I didn't take any photos of this - but there is always next time!

Thursday, 16 September 2021

My 2021 summer holiday to Estonia

A trip to Estonia has been long overdue so when my brother suggested we should go in August I was only too pleased to accept. We have both been to Estonia many times before but never together and so I was keen to create some new memories. We spent three fun filled days together in Tallinn before I set off to Haapsalu and then Hiiumaa.

I haven't flown anywhere during the past two years because of the coronavirus pandemic and I was concerned about airport delays before my departure. To my relief everything ran smoothly, I encountered no problems. Even at Tallinn airport I was expecting some kind of inspection of vaccination documents but there were none, I simply walked through arrivals as usual. My only complaint was the weather, it rained on and off most of the time I was there. Apparently this August was one of the wettest and coolest in years.

One thing I like to do each time I visit Tallinn is to walk around and see what has changed. This time I noticed that the Kaubamaja supermarket has closed down and a new Prisma has opened up not far from Viru Gate.  When I visited the Apollo bookshop I was surprised that they were no longer accepting cash payments, only cards and when I took a look at the Coca Cola cinema, the ticket booth was gone, replaced with a row of ticketing machines. It seems a lot has changed since I was last in Tallinn three years ago. When it came to dining, most of my favourites were still there but some restaurants had disappeared with several new Indian ones in their place. That really took me by surprise because I counted at least four.

Whenever I'm in Tallinn I'm always on the lookout for new experiences but I also like to visit my favourite places too. Coffee and cake at Maiasmokk is always a must. I like going there knowing my grandparents went there in their youth. I also like walking up to Toompea and buying stamps at the old post office there and invariably I walk through the the door of the Raeapteek.

A place I've wanted to visit for quite some time now is the Memorial to the Victims of Communism in Maarjamäe. It's easy to get to, just drive towards Pirita and you will see it on the right.

 Several members of my family died as a result of Soviet terror and I wanted 
to see their names on the wall and pay my respects.

Estonia lost a fifth of its population due to the Soviet occupation.
So many people perished, many of whom are in unmarked graves.

The Electronic Memorial can help you find family names in the database.
The memorial is a very impressive structure that needed to be build.

Over 75,000 people from Estonia were murdered, imprisoned or deported by the Soviets  
The Memorial to the victims of communism is dedicated to all of them.

Afterwards, we made a brief stop at Pirita.

The ruins of Bridgettine Convent in Pirita.

The convent was destroyed in 1577 and has been a place of fascination ever since.

It's always nice to visit Käsmu and take a dip in the Baltic Sea.

After my five days in Tallinn I travelled on to Haapsalu. I have never been there before and discovered it to be quite a sleepy town, with few people around during the day. During the weekend the streets become livelier. 

Haapsalu is famous for its old railway station. It was built in 1904 and is known for is long 216 metre platform.

Many Russian Tzars have visited Haapsalu by train. They had a separate arrivals pavillion.

The history of Haapsalu station.

Today Haapsalu station is inactive but a museum of sorts, dedicated to old relics.

One of the main tourist attractions in Haapsalu is the Haapsalu Episcopal Castle. Construction began in the 13th century to create the residence of the Bishopric of Ösel–Wiek and continued for the next three hundred years. Up until the 17th century the Swedes used the castle as a defensive stronghold but after Estonia fell to Russia during the Great Northern War, Peter the Great partially demolished the castle wall and it fell into ruin. Today, the castle houses a museum.

When the castle was operational it would have thrived with activity.
Many Bishops ruled here over the centuries and hundreds of people were employed.

Many of the castle rooms have been restored.

Mediaeval finds reveal Haapsalu's past.

St. Nicholas Cathedral. The Bishop of Ösel-Wiek had his throne here.

Legend of the White Lady.

To learn about any new place, a trip to the local museum is alway worth a visit. I found Haapsalu Town Hall Museum quite interesting.

Many famous people have passed through Haapsalu over the years including Pjotr Tsalkovski, Lord Mountbatten and Phillip Jakob Karell.

Example of an 18th century home.

Haapsalu has many traditional wooden houses that have been there for hundreds of years. They are typically build close to the road with no front garden. This house located at Ruutli 4 is over 300 years old and Peter the Great stayed there in 1715.

Haapsalu used to have a thriving Swedish population but they were forced out during different periods in history. The Coastal Swedish Museum in Haapsalu is dedicated to the Coastal Swedes who used to call Estonia home. 

There was not a unified Estonian-Swedish dialect, but several.

More information can be found on their website. 

After my nice stay in Haapsalu, I left the Estonian mainland and caught the ferry over to  Hiiumaa. As Estonia's second largest island, I have always been curious about Hiiumaa but never ventured over. The ferry service to Hiiumaa departs twelves times a day from Rohuküla, near Haapsalu and takes 75 minutes. I found the crossing over to be very pleasant, the vessel was modern, clean, with everything you need.

I spent four very relaxing days in Hiiumaa but I will tell you all about that in my next blog post.

Sunday, 12 September 2021

Estonian jokes

It's Sunday morning and a good time to explore this Estonian jokes animation series. Got a chuckle from a few of them. Enjoy.

Far to Tallinn?

Fox or rabbit?

The pleasure of marriage

Man's treasure

Head vanavanemate päev / Happy Grandparent's Day

Today is Grandparent's Day in Estonia. According to the Estonian Bureau of Statistics there are currently 129,780 grandfathers in Estonia and 224,990 grandmothers. Best wishes to all!

Thursday, 9 September 2021

It's mushroom season in Estonia

One thing I noticed when I first visited Estonia in 2003 is that Estonians love their mushrooms. As I drove through the countryside, I saw no-one for miles yet at times I would come across a car parked by the side of the road and see a figure in the forest, bucket in hand, searching for mushroom. In time I learned Estonians have their favourite spots to pick mushrooms and they return year after year.

During me recent trip to Estonia I spent five days on the island of Hiiumaa and was regularly in the forest. I saw many different species of mushroom, ranging from the most sought after to the most deadly. I'm no expert on mushooms but I follow the rule, 'if I don't know, I don't touch.'

Porcini (means little pig) are highly sought after mushrooms.

The death cap
If you eat this mushroom you will become violently sick then die from liver failure.
It is recommended not even to touch this mushroom with your bare hand as it is extreemly toxic.
Avoid, avoid, avoid.