July 25th, 2020
Estonia, officially the Republic of Estonia is bordered to the north by the Gulf of Finland across from Finland, to the west by the Baltic Sea across from Sweden, to the south by Latvia, and to the east by Russia. The territory of Estonia consists of the mainland, the larger islands of Saaremaa and Hiiumaa, and over 2,200 other islands on the eastern coast of the Baltic Sea. The capital city Tallinn and Tartu are the two largest urban areas of the country. The Estonian language is the official language of Estonia; it is the first language of the majority of its population, as well as the world’s second most spoken Finnic language. It is larger than Denmark or Holland in area but only has 1.3 million people
Shortly after the end of Ice Age in Europe, the first Estonian ancestors settled along the Baltic coast in 9000 B.C. By 800 A.D. traditional Estonian villages and village society had already formed. Many villages established in this era are still inhabited today. The most striking example of the culture of ancient Estonians is the rhythmic verse, as well as the aural tradition of folk song where each line is repeated several times with thematic variations. Estonians have one of the biggest collections of folk songs in the world, with written records of about 133,000 folk songs.
800-1200 A.D. was a period of raids and counter-raids by Vikings around the Baltic Sea, including by Estonian Vikings. By this time, the inhabitants of Estonia’s largest island of Saaremaa, known at the time as Oeselians, had formed considerable naval force. The most famous event of the time was when when Estonians kidnapped the Norwegian Queen Astrid and her son and future King, Olaf Trygvesson. At the beginning of 12th century they sacked and destroyed Sigtuna, then capital of Sweden. Even today, Saaremaa is rich of Viking-age treasures, mostly containing silver coins and bars.
By 13th century Estonia was confronted by, and subsequently converted to, Christianity and ruled by Teutonic Order and Danes. During this time is when the Germans became landed gentry and wielded huge influence over Estonia for the next 700 years. Territory known as Estonia and Latvia then became Medieval Livonia – a loosely tied group of small states included in the German ecclesiastical states of the Holy Roman Empire.
Tallinn, Estonia’s medieval pearl, was granted Lübeck city rights by the Danish king in 1248, under which Estonia’s capital and many other local towns were governed until the end of the 19th century. Soon enough the country’s thriving medieval economy caught the attention of the neighbouring kingdoms looking to expand their geographical influence, and by the 18th century, Estonia had been governed by the king of Denmark, Sweden and the Russian tsar. This time also saw the founding of University of Tartu by the Swedish king Gustav II Adolf, an institution that later played an important part in Estonia’s national awakening, as here is where the blue, black and white tricolour was consecrated, becoming the official flag of the independent Republic of Estonia in 1918.
The Republic of Estonia has been an independent state since 1918, shortly interrupted by the half a century long Soviet occupation following the World War II. Estonia restored its independence in 1991, known as The Singing Revolution that was inspired by the more than century-old song festival tradition.
Today’s Estonia is a thriving and forward-looking member state of EU and NATO, where you can vote online and start your own business in less than half an hour. Many have done so already, including the founders of Skype and Wise.
The national flag of Estonia is a tricolour featuring three equal horizontal bands of blue (top), black and white.
The tricolour was already in wide use as the symbol of Estonia and Estonians when the country gained independence in 1918. Formally, it obtained the status of the official national flag on 16 July 1922.
The blue is said to represent the reflection of the sky in the lakes and the sea, symbolising endurance – “until the skies last”; black stands for the black greatcoat of an Estonian man or for the earth that feeds its people; white marks an aspiration towards light and purity.
Diesel price: €1.89 a litre – about $7.40 USD a gallon
EU License plate letter(s): EST
The ferry ride went smoothly and we left ten minutes early.
We saw the many outlying islands of Finland’s archipelago s we left Helsinki. (the windows of the ferry were not clear, so excuse the photos). The sunset, the first we’d seen in several weeks, seemed to last over an hour!
We arrived more or less on time in Tallinn at the ferry terminal after midnight. We had already picked out two parking lots very close to the terminal where we could spend the night and the cheaper, larger one had plenty of room. It’s not fancy, just a dirt/gravel lot but there was plenty of room (and a few RV’s were already there and more joined us later) and there’s port Wi-Fi.
It had obviously rained recently but no more was forecast for the night. We got settled and went straight to bed. This is really late for us!
Monday morning we awoke to clear skies and after doing some chores and getting on line, we went to explore the city.
Wel,l what a spectacular surprise we got! The old town of this city is beautiful! It’s clean, well maintained and there’s plenty to see – every corner brings a new delight. We took so many photos it’s hard to choose what to upload! Doug had some “pings” on his phone for us to see in particular but we wandered off course a great deal.
Upon first entering the old town, we met an American couple from Texas, Eric & Andrea, who were here on a day excursion from their Baltic Cruise. We ran into three more times as we explored the city.
Here are a few of the sites we stopped at:
The very photogenic cathedral:
The pedestrian streets:
The gate into the city called Viru Gate (first mentioned in history in 1362!):
The former KGB prison
The medieval city walls
We finished off in the town square with a local beer:
After waking up to a mostly sunshine Tuesday morning we began the drive eastward towards the Russian border. It’s mostly boring, flat highway lined with trees and at time times dual carriageway.
We stopped at a campground about 80 km / 50 mi from the border to spend a night in order to get some stuff done like laundry, Wi-Fi and hot showers. This campground is very nice; has a kitchen, dish washing area, two washers and two dryers, modern bathroom facilities (and an expensive sauna which, of course, costs extra) as well as all the usual amenities with the bonus of a staircase down to the Baltic Sea.
We got set up, Fran got laundry going and began doing some chores before we had showers and took a walk to check out the beach. Its very narrow and has a lot of rocks but the water was a little “off” although the temp was pretty good. There were campers going in the water but it was not warm enough outside for us to consider doing the same – only low 20’sC / low 70’s F.
We had happy hour with a French couple from Normandy who spoke very good English. Eric and Katherina are university professors on vacation.
Wednesday morning, knowing we didn’t have to drive far today (so nice after the long days in Norway – not so many tourists here so roads don’t get as busy), we had a leisurely morning and after some breakfast made our way to Narva on the river that separates Estonia from Russia.
The highway is very good, sometimes 2 lanes, and the scenery is nothing special; farms, small towns, all flat and lots of fields of grass/hay etc. We saw a few cows but few people. The price of petrol seems to be exactly the same almost everywhere so far which is odd to us. We saw only one station where the price was ever so slightly less.
We parked at the north end of the boardwalk and took a stroll along it to where you see two castles facing off against each on the river banks: (couldn’t get them in the same pic)
We saw the odd car cross the bridge into Russia and several pedestrians. It all looked pretty calm over there with not a lot of signs of life.
We returned to Minou and because the weather was getting cloudy with the odd sprinkle (and the parking lot was rather sloped) we decided to push on rather than stay here. We first drove north to the beach also on the Baltic Sea here as it’s supposed to be the longest in the country – about 10km. There is NO beach access from the roads and finally before the road curved away from the beach after all the resorts and homes, we found a small pullout with a path through the woods. To go check it out.
It was much nicer than the one at the campground because it was wider but the water was not very nice – kindy brown with a lot of stuff in the water.
We began to drive south to the lake in the middle of the same river Narva that is the border and there’s a couple of free or virtually free public campgrounds in the woods between the lake and the highway. We found ourselves a spot and got parked by 3.
It was a little buggy here in the woods so thank goodness we have screens on all our windows to let air in and keep bugs out! Fran took the short boardwalk out to check out the lake but was not impressed with the “beach” here although it’s so large you cannot see across it.
We’d read people swim here but to her it didn’t seem conducive to that at this spot. She saw a lesser road going a different direction that a car was driving down so she began following it but after five minutes the road didn’t seem to be veering towards the water and the bugs were getting worse so she turned around. We had a very quiet night here.
After a leisurely “get up” today as well, we made our way about 80 km /50 mi to the university city of Tartu to visit a print museum we’d read about. Before arriving in the city proper we stopped to do some grocery shopping (mostly all fresh produce cause we still have at least half of all those dry goods and beer we bought back in Germany). As we weren’t sure if we’d stay the night we headed toward a parking lot we found on park4night but it turned out it’s now a construction site! Across the road was a large dirt lot so we parked there, made brunch and then walked into the city to the museum.
The TYPA museum is small and there seemed to be only two people working there. They are only open Wednesday to Sunday in the afternoons. We were the only visitors. For €10 each, you get a guided tour complete with talks about paper making and printing including making a piece of paper yourself and then printing a postcard! They print their own tickets:
So after some info about papermaking and the materials that can be used, we were given a frame over a mesh and we dipped them into pulp – we had to put them on a woolen sheet, then we pressed the excess water out
Daneli then put them in a dryer and they came out like this:
Just after the paper part, a young couple from Austria arrived so they joined our tour as we were about to start the printing part (they did the paper part after we left).
In the printing room after the discussion, we each chose a coloured blank postcard and a stamp on which we rolled ink onto. It was then placed in a press and when they came out they looked like this:
There were simple stamp printing machines and lots of printing presses:
Book binding machines
Book cutting machines
It was quite enjoyable and interesting to see the various types of paper and printing machines.
Our dried sheets of paper:
We then figured out where “old town” Tartu might be and took a walk over there and it did not disappoint.
We decided we were not sure if staying the night in that lot was a good idea so we returned and found a place about 45 km / 28 mi out of town on the road in the direction we were heading. We arrived just before the rain started at a parking area at a tourist info building on a small lake. The cost was nothing and there were pit toilets, a water tap and as well as a good cell signal – what more did we need? We had some on and off again rain and the temps were about 20C / 70F and dropped to comfortable sleeping temps overnight.
Upon rising on Friday morning the sky was clear and we had high hopes of spending some beach time in Parnu on the coast. The landscape became rolling hills as we drove towards the coast. We arrived in Parnu by about 10:30 but as we driven west the clouds were building and it didn’t warm up much past about 17C / 63F – not beach weather but it wasn’t supposed to rain. We parked at a lot we found on park4night an walked towards the beach and then along it:
It’s quite lovely with a wide, long stretch of nice sand, seemed to have a shallowed slope to it based on the bathers we saw in the water (!). There were chair rentals and food buildings and official life guard stands – so quite organized but it was in no way warm enough for us to sit there especially because there was quite a cool breeze off the water. We did take a stroll down most of the length of the beach and then went back into town to check out “old town”. While not spectacular like Tallin, it had some lovely old timber buildings and a couple of lovely looking pedestrian streets:
As it was nearing noon and we both agreed it was too cool to make the effort to sit on the beach, we went back to Minou, had brunch and made our way toward the Latvian border.
Total mileage in Estonia: 636 km / 395 mi
Fun facts about Estonia:
- Over 50% of the country is covered in forest
- It’s the 132nd smallest country in the world
- Many citizens speak three languages or more
- Estonians love the Spa – there are over 1200 spa beds for 15,000 people
- Estonia won the 2001 Eurovision Song Contest
- It has the highest number of supermodels per capita in the world
- The country embraced on line voting in 2005
- Estonia has the most start-ups per capita in Europe – Skype started here!
- According to WHO, Estonia holds the fourth place in urban air quality in the world