Have you ever encouraged your children or grandchildren to resolve conflicts in a peaceful way? Maybe you should introduce them to Estonia. After spending more than 50 years in occupation – first by the Soviet Union, then the Nazis, then the Soviets again – Estonians began the quest for independence. They had no army so they used what they had – music. Estonians joined hands and began singing forbidden political songs. Those peaceful musical protests led to the country’s independence in 1991.
I don’t know about you, but I think any country that gains its independence through peaceful music protests is absolutely enchanting! I had the opportunity to get acquainted with Estonia recently and it is a place rich in culture and tradition – a place I would like to introduce to my grandchildren someday. Here are three ways to introduce your family to the enchantments of Estonia.
Explore Tallinn’s Medieval Old Town
Estonia’s capital city, Tallinn, has managed to preserve its medieval and Hanseatic origin earning it UNESCO World Cultural Heritage status. Cobbled streets date back to the 13th-century. There are houses and warehouses in their original form dating as far back as the 11th-century. The town hall is the last surviving Gothic town hall in northern Europe. For seven centuries the Town Hall Square has been the heart of the city hosting concerts and fairs during summer and transforming into magical Christmas markets during the holidays.
The medieval Old Town is home to galleries, shops, plenty of cafés and innovative gourmet restaurants. It is also home to Raeapteek, the oldest continuously working pharmacy in Europe. Medieval legend claims the pharmacy is the birthplace of the sweet treat, marzipan.
For a bird’s eye view of the medieval Old Town, the former city wall and the surrounding Gulf of Finland, take a ride in Balloon Tallinn. The helium filled balloon anchored to the ground whisks passengers up 120 meters high for spectacular vistas.
Experience the Magic of the Bogs in Soomaa National Park
Located in southwestern Estonia, Soomaa is the country’s second largest national park. It’s known for having five seasons. There are the usual four – winter, spring, summer and autumn. And then there’s flood season in early spring when the water levels are so high in the park canoeing is the best way to navigate through the wilderness and even the front yards of nearby villagers. When the waters recede, expansive bogs are uncovered.
Elevated wooden walkways meander through the forest and over the bogs. You can stay on the walkways and keep your feet dry, but I recommend taking off your shoes and walking into the bog to feel the spongey earth between your toes. Of course you might sink down to your knees so be prepared! Wilderness outfitters offer guided bog walking excursions with rubber boots and specially designed bog shoes. Be sure to keep an eye out for fairies – you know they live in the bogs, right?
Enchanting Culture and Folklore of Kihnu Island
Estonia has more than 1,500 islands, but you won’t find one more charming than Kihnu. It is the largest island in the Gulf of Riga and the seventh largest Estonian island, and it is absolutely enchanting. For centuries, the men of Kihnu have gone to sea while the women run the island and protect its cultural heritage of handicrafts, dances, games and music. The minute I set foot on this island of about 500 residents, I knew I was in a special place. What’s not to love about an island run by women?
Housed in the former schoolhouse of Sääreküla Village, the Kihnu Museum displays the tools, clothes, handicrafts and furniture of the Kihnu people. The most visible emblems of Kihnu culture are the woolen handicrafts worn by the women. Using traditional looms and local wool, the women weave and knit brightly colored mittens, stockings, skirts and blouses. Vivid stripes and intricate embroidery enhance the garments. The symbolic forms and colors of the handicrafts are rooted in ancient legends. It is quite common to see an old woman in traditional clothing riding a motor bike.
The hands of the Kihnu ladies and girls are never idle. There is always a handicraft to knit or a musical instrument to play. Traditional handicrafts and music are passed down to younger generations and UNESCO has proclaimed the Kihnu marriage ceremony as a “Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.”
During our visit, we were invited to a scrumptious lunch at a home restaurant where our hostess served a traditional Estonian menu which always includes breads, potatoes and herring. After, we visited with the ladies in the village and watched them dance. As I watched the grandmothers dancing with their granddaughters I was completely enchanted – and you will be, too.