Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Discover the Wonders of Pokumaa!

If you are in Estonia and want to try something new one weekend, why not venture into the enchanting world of Pokumaa! Located in south eastern Estonia, Pokumaa is based on the creation of Estonian writer/illustrator Edgar Valter. First published in 1994, 'Pokuraamat' is the story of the Pokus, childlike grass mound creatures with long golden hair reaching down to their feet and who live in the bogs of south eastern Estonia. They are beloved children's characters who are respectful of the land and live in harmony with it.

Opened in 2008,  Pokumaa brings the works of Edgar Valter to life. Here you can see some of his original oil paintings and illustrations as well as a life size Poku village.

During his 55 year career Edgar Valter has over 250 books to his name and Pokuraamat is undoubtedly his most famous work.

Pokumaa Ticket Prices
Children: 2.50 €
Adults: 3.50 €
Family ticket; 9.00 €
Guided tours are available in English and German as well as Estonian.

Pokumaa is located at Urvasta vald, 66518, Estonia. Tel:+372 5842 4054

More information can be found on the official website:

Monday, 29 September 2014

Uranquinty Migrant Centre - 'Uranquinty Remembers'

For a some time now I have been in search of information about the Uranquinty Migrant Centre that was once located in rural New South Wales. Despite my best efforts, it has been extremely difficult to find more than a few scattered details about this transit camp that acted as a temporary base for refugees like my grandparents when they first arrived in Australia.

Wikipedia has a small article about Uranquinty which was a good starting point but when I contacted the immigration department and the National Archives of Australia, they were unable to supply me with any useful information. Disappointed, I then turned to the Estonian Archives of Australia thinking they would have a wealth of information on every migrant camp established in Australia after WWII. To my surprise however, I was informed that they've never even heard of a camp located at Uranquinty!

Frustrated but refusing to give up, I then spent hours searching online until I found exactly what I was looking for. Someone had written a book specifically about the Uranquinty Migrant Centre and naturally I ordered it straight away!

Appropriately titled Uranquinty Remembers, the book was written in 2001 by Sherry Morris, a historian from the Wagga Wagga area. The book covers all you need to know about the Uranquinty Migrant Centre including daily life, health, education, employment and the impact of the DP scheme.

If anyone else has an interest in the Uranquinty Migrant Centre, you can contact Sherry Morris directly via Linkedin to order a copy of her book.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

20th Anniversary of the MS Estonia Ferry Disaster

Twenty years ago, on the 28th September 1994, one of the worst maritime disasters in Estonian history took place on the Baltic Sea. On a standard routine journey between Tallinn and Stockholm, MS Estonia, a passenger ferry with nearly 1000 people on board, encountered severe weather and capsized, taking the lives of 852 people. The tragedy took place in the early hours of the morning, sometime between midnight and 2am. The ship sank within 40 minutes of the visor being separated from the vessel.

Technical defects were at the centre of this catastrophic event. The severity of the situation had eluded both the captain and crew of MS Estonia until it was too late. Without warning the ship was flooded and capsized toward the starboard under the strain of the waves. Very few people had access to life rafts. By the time rescue helicopters reached the scene at 3am, the majority of passengers had perished inside the sunken ship and only 137 survived.

Half of the passengers on board MS Estonia were Swedish and 97% of female passengers did not make it out alive. Of the lives lost, only 94 bodies were recovered, the rest remain in a watery grave on the bed of the sea.

In the aftermath of the disaster, many relatives of the deceased demanded that the wreckage be raised so that families could give their loved ones a proper burial. In a joint government decision, it was decided that MS Estonia would not be raised, much to the heartache of the families. The site has since been sealed and declared an official memorial.

MS Estonia was built in 1980 by German shipyard Meyer Werft. 
It's intended use was for coastal waters, not the open sea.

Monument for the victims of MS Estonia in Võru

Ms Estonia memorial in Stockholm

Documentary: The Sinking of MS Estonia

To gain a better understanding of what happened to MS Estonia, this documentary presents a good timeline describing the series of events that led up to her sinking. The film features interviews with several of the survivors as well as reconstructions. One thing that shocked me and which I wasn't aware of prior to watching this film is the fact that looters attacked people and robbed them of their valuables as they scrambled to the top deck for safety. It was such a despicable act, beyond comprehension, and many people would feel satisfaction knowing these three men went down with the ship.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Estonia's Soomaa Among the 10 World’s Best Active Holidays Destinations

Soomaa, Estonia's wilderness capital was recently included in the Lonely Planet's top ten adventure holiday destinations. Located in south-west Estonia, the area comprises a labyrinth of quiet waterways and forested islands that is ideal to explore by canoe. Soomaa is best known for having five unique seasons with the fifth being the high water season. This is where, in late March or early April, rivers naturally burst their banks and flooding of up to 5m occurs.  Undoubtedly, this is the best time of year to go canoeing in the region.    

Read the full Daily Telegraph '10 of the world's best active holidays' article here:

To discover more about what Soomaa has to offer, please click on the link below:

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

President Ilves at the United Nations World Conference on Indigenous Peoples, 22 September 2014

Konstantin Petrov - The Photographer from Estonia Who Captured Unique Images of the World Trade Center

This is a fascinating story about Konstantin Petrov, an avid photographer from Estonia who went to work in the World Trade Centre in New York in 2001.  He captured hundreds of images during his time there which are now considered to be of great value and set to be included in a documentary by filmmaker Erik Nelson. Sadly, Konstantin will never see this film. He passed away in 2002.

Please click on the link below to read the full story:

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Books Featuring the Works of Arthur Lestal

I was absolutely thrilled to discover this year that five books have been published featuring the works of my great grandfather, Estonian photographer Arthur Lestal.  I came across the first book completely by chance and since then have discovered that many more of his images have been reproduced in books relating to Albu, Ambla and Järvamaa. Arthur was a prolific photographer during Estonia's first period of independence and it fills me with great pride knowing that his images are of sufficient historic value to be included in these books. In his memory I have made a collection of his photographs which can be viewed on Flickr com.

I am constantly on the lookout for any of Arthur's old postcards, here are three of my latest finds.

Kehra railway station.

Grain machine. Raka village, Ambla.

Kehra river, Soodla bridge.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Ten Splendid Things about Lake Peipsi

Lake Peipsi is Estonia's largest lake and the fifth largest in Europe.  Straddling the border between Estonia and Russia, some 44% of the lake is Estonian territory.  Visiting its beautiful shores is a must if you are touring Estonia.  The region is teeming with wildlife and steeped in history.  Here are ten interesting and surprising facts about Lake Peipsi:

1. The lake is very shallow with an average depth of just 7m and a maximum depth of 15.3m. As a comparison Scotland's Loch Ness has an average depth of 132m and its deepest point is 230m.

2. 30 rivers and streams flow into the lake but only one, the Narva River, drains out of it.

3. The surrounding countryside is very flat, as is the lake's bed, and subject to flooding in the spring.

4. The lake's water is considered environmentally "clean" with grades of I and II although the silt content makes the water less transparent than it otherwise might be.

5. There are 29 islands in the lake, among them Piirissaar (literally "border island") which is famous in Estonia for its onions.

6. The shores of Lake Peipsi are home to ethnic Russian Old Believers who found refuge there from 1658 onwards when the tsar and Patriarch Nikon declared them outlaws.

7. Peipsi is extremely rich in freshwater fish with an annual catch of some 10,000 tonnes.

8. In the winter of 1242 a huge battle known as the Battle on the Ice (Estonian: Jäälahing) took place on the frozen surface of the lake.  4,000 thousand Teutonic Knights were defeated by a force of 4,000-5,000 Novgorodians.

9. 40km of sandy beaches line its northern shore. A combination of wind action and the sand's silica content cause it to emit a unique sound when blown around, giving it the name "singing sand",

10. Lake Peipsi is an angler's paradise and home to fish species such as trout, perch, pike-perch, bream, roach, whitefish and smelt.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Count Reinhold Anrep-Elmpt, the Baltic German Who Had Lunch with Ned Kelly

There are not many 19th century connections between Estonia and Australia but one story of particular interest is that of Count Reinhold Anrep-Elmpt, the Baltic German who concealed his identity and travelled to Australia  in search of adventure. For several hundred years the Anrep-Elmpt family owned the Kärstna Manor estate located in southern Estonia and remnants of their family chapel and cemetery can still be found there today. Both Reinhold Anrep-Elmpt and his father Joseph were career military officers, generals in the Russian army. 

Kärstna Manor, Estonia. 
(Helme Parish, Valga County.)

Count Reinhold Anrep-Elmpt travelled extensively during his lifetime and was seldom at home. His world travels included South America, USA, Egypt, Japan, India, Sri Lanka, the Caribbean  in addition to trips to other countries in Europe and Africa. The Count travelled twice to Australia but it was his trip in 1879 that saw him meet unexpectedly with Australian bushranger and outlaw Ned Kelly.

While in Australia Count Reinhold Anrep-Elmpt passed himself off as a free settler, telling no-one of his nobility and travelled modestly at all times. He paid for his travels by tuning pianos and organs in churches and private homes and went by the name Reinhold Anrep. He recorded all of his experiences in detail, almost in military fashion, which included that day in December 1879 when he encountered Ned Kelly. The Count wrote his diary in German and this experience was later translated into English by J. Tampke. You can read part of his diary below.

Meeting Ned Kelly - The diary of Count Reinhold Anrep-Elmpt

Count Reinhold Anrep-Elmpt

I rode over numerous bridges and dykes across the marshes of the Murray to Wodonga, the terminus of the Victorian railway line which will soon link Melbourne and Sydney by rail. Wodonga station lies 537 feet above sea level and the rail distance to Melbourne is 187 miles.

Wodonga is a small place situated in hilly bush country. There is only one long road in Wodonga, which is situated in the county of Bogong, Murray district, on the Wodonga creek, an arm of the Murray. Town buses link the railway station with Albury and there are six hotels, two banks, four insurance agencies, four churches - a pretty Lutheran one among them, two mills and one saw-mill upon a hill, a brewery, a public school and a number of private schools. There was also a customs office and a few houses for the tradespeople, craftsmen, fruit merchants, agents, auctioneers and money-lenders. Some cottages and huts were also spread here and there around the town.

The place looked fairly lively, as one would expect of a place where the railway line terminates. The town may possibly retain this busy character even after the linking of the Victorian rail line with the NSW line, as it is a border town.

After I had fortified myself with a good breakfast in the Imperial Hotel I left the town which extended a long way along the road and passed the elegant railway station on my right, before I disappeared into the dry woods.

The mountainous road and the gorges of the numerous creeks looked picturesque but the road was in poor condition and very steep, going uphill most of the time around countless curves. It was an isolated area and the few dilapidated farmhouses and generally gloomy looking huts appeared deserted. The country looked wild and desolated.

It was about twelve o'clock when two riders emerged from the bush. Their horses were slender and strong and the two men rode towards me and with the call 'Halloo old man' they asked me to stop. One of the riders was a good-looking gentleman with broad shoulders and a neat beard. He was wearing a rider's outfit typical for this country, that is, a colourful woollen shirt of best quality, trousers made from good fabric and an excellent pair of high boots, his strong leather belt carried a couple of handy revolvers, and a wide-brimmed felt hat, weatherbeaten but nevertheless still very sturdy, covered his head, the saddle, too, concealed heavy armament. His companion was taller and more sloppily dressed. His lean face showed clear signs of a restless character.

I thought at first that I had run into two troopers. I had come across troopers occasionally and they wore similar clothes.  The friendly manner with which the former addressed me dispelled all suspicion and I halted. They came closer and the first one asked questions in an abrupt, military manner. He wanted to know where I came from and where I was going to, whether I had seen anyone on my way, what I had heard and seen in Albury and Wodonga. After I had answered all his questions the first one nodded amiably to his companion and then said to me: 'Well, old man, come and have some lunch.' I followed them into the bush where a small fire was burning near a creek.

The excellent lunch was made up of a good whisky, cold meat of the best quality, bread and butter and tea in a tin cup. During lunch they asked more questions, especially about the country constabulary and whether I knew anything about the Kelly brothers.

Australian bushranger Ned Kelly.

When I had finished my lunch the first one accompanied me back to the road and when we arrived there he asked me with a smile 'Will you be frightened if you see Kelly in the bush?' 

'Ha! No!' I answered, 'because I carry nothing of value and I know that this gang concentrates upon bank robberies and the shooting of police constables but leaves wanderers unharmed.'

Whereupon he quickly replied, 'Goddamn you, you're right, the Kellys are not as bloodthirsty as the bloody mob beleive. I am Ned Kelly himself and I tell you that I seek only bloody revenge for damned bloody bloodshed. Goodbye old man.' He then returned to the bush where his brother Dan had already mounted his horse after having extinguished and removed all traces of the fire.

I could not say that having the dreaded Kelly around was very pleasant news and as I rode on I kept looking around involuntarily in all directions. Because a man who could hold entire settlements captive for several days with only three men, after gagging the police and cutting the telegraph wires, is capable of any evil deed. However it was said that the gang only plundered banks (in a most successful fashion) and killed policemen, while ordinary people escaped with threats and scares.

Although the police of both Victoria and New South Wales are chasing the robbers and although the forest is not all that thick, so far no one had been able to track the small gang down. Their hiding place was in the mountains of the Back Range, which I was crossing, and which was wild and rugged country abundant in water.

After several months the news spread that they had disappeared inland or even that they had long left for California. Some rumours even had it that the dreaded Irishman had become a farmer in California and wanted his mother and sister to join him. His sister Kate is well known here for her bravery, and allegedly it is because of her that he pursues a war of revenge against the police. But then suddenly bank officers are tied up again at some bank and the gang takes off with the cash, and although the countryside is immediately encircled and thorough searches are made, there is no trace of the Kellys. Hiding is made easier for the gang by the fact that most tenant farmers and settlers in this area, between Beechworth and Wodonga are Irishmen, who supply the robbers with all necessities and who keep them informed about the moves of the police. Those farmers and settlers who do not support the gang keep quiet just the same for fear of reprisals.

This unexpected adventure had cost me a good hour and what was merely a bad lunch could easily have ended more unpleasantly.  

The Anrep-Elmpt family chapel and cemetery now lies in ruins in Estonia.

Count Reinhold Anrep-Elmpt died nine years later in Burma in 1888. He was 54 years old. His former home at Kärstna Manor has since been used as a school and today houses a kindergarten and library. 

Estonia Ranks No.1 on the 2014 International Tax Competitiveness Index

Friday, 12 September 2014

Estonia's First Cartoon - Kutsu-Juku seiklusi / The Adventures of Juku the Dog

In 1931 Estonia produced its first ever short animated film - Kutsu-Juku seiklusi / The Adventures of Juku the Dog. The cartoon was written and directed by Voldemar Päts (President Päts younger brother) and produced by Aleksander Teppor. Animation  was by cartoonist Elmar Jaanimägi. The experimental short film comprised of approximately 5000 drawings captured on 180 metres of film stock, only 100 metres of which survive to this day. The Adventures of Juku the Dog is a black and white silent film with a running time of just four minutes.

You can watch the cartoon here:
http://www.ef100.ee/public/files/kutsujuku.wmv  (downloadable video file)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LYul7XwcXSQ  (youtube)

The Adventures of Juku the Dog was created in this building at Suur-Karja 9, Tallinn. In November 2001 a memorial plate was placed at the front of the building.

Juku memorial plate.

Estonian Company Builds the World's Biggest Steel Fish-Feeding Barge

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

New Milestone - 50,000 Pageviews!

It delights me to discover I have now past a new milestone - 50,000 pageviews! Thank you to everyone for your continuing support. It is important to do what you love in life and researching and sharing information about Estonia is one of my enduring passions. There is no place quite like Estonia and I am proud to be part of this great and innovative country.

Ansip Named Vice-President and Digital Single Market Commissioner | News | ERR

Thursday, 4 September 2014

The First Ever Baltic Film Festival Sydney

If you're a Sydney based Estonian or have a connection to any of the Baltic States then you'll be delighted to know that there's a new film festival in town! The first ever Baltic Film Festival is due to start next month and the inaugural event will screen a selection of contemporary films from Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

The Baltic Film Festival runs from the 15th - 18th October 2014.
Venue: Dendy Cinema Newtown
Tickets are on sale now!

For more information please refer to their website:

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Obama: 'You Lost Your Independence Once Before. With NATO You Will Never Lose It Again' | News | ERR

Obama: 'You Lost Your Independence Once Before. With NATO You Will Never Lose It Again' | News | ERR

US President Barack Obama gave an exceptional speech in Tallinn today. Full of historical accuracies and clearly stating the indisputable truth regarding the crisis in Ukraine - these are the words the world needs to hear.

To watch Obama's full public address in Tallinn, please click on the above link.

Monday, 1 September 2014

11 Types of Foreigners You Might Encounter in Tallinn

Here is a light hearted and fun article written by Mart Virkus. Many Estonians would agree it's quite true and to the point. It evoked a smile and little chuckle from me. Happy reading!

Estonians are a reserved lot, quietly working away on internet start ups in a constant effort to follow up on Skype’s success. But we are not oblivious to the fact that we share the planet with other humans.
Tallinn attracts a lot of foreigners and for better and for worse, Estonians are forced to engage with them. Below is a list of a few different types of people you might come across in Tallinn. Yeah, we know – these are stereotypes. But without stereotypes we’d have to accept that the humans are diverse species of deeply individual beings, each as unique as the next. And that’s just crazy talk.

1. The Cruise Ship Crusader

Found in: Old Town exclusively, between 10am-4pm
People go on cruises for different reasons – some are genuinely interested in the travel destinations, others simply want to enjoy a good time with their family and friends. The Crusader, however, has only one goal in mind. After disembarking they head to the absolute nearest church and photograph it to death. They may or may not be aware of which country they are currently in and will insist on greeting everybody in Russian. The crusader will leave Tallinn believing that 30 Euros for a schnitzel is normal.

2. The Backpacker

Found in: the shadows
The polar opposite of the Crusader, the backpacker will steer clear of anything touristy. They come to Tallinn in search of the post socialist niche and are surprised when they see that the local prices are not only listed in Euros, but that they are also surprisingly high.
A true backpacker looks like a Jedi knight (or a homeless person). They tend to maintain a low profile, having acquired impressive stealth skills from travelling around conflict zones. If you call them a tourist they will react like a vampire would to holy water by hissing loudly, and hastily retreating to the nearest dive bar.

3. The Independent

Found in: all over the place
The Independent is essentially a backpacker plus money. They yearn for alternative entertainment and have a flair for the unorthodox, but prefer hotels to dorms. They can be found both within and outside the Old Town, as well as in the countryside on a quest to find the elusive giant moose.
The Independent is often curious about all aspects of Estonian life and is usually surprisingly well informed, given that most people couldn’t find Estonia on the map even if we pointed it out. Because we’re tiny. Haha.

4. The Domesticated Australian

Found in: hostels and bars, working or drinking (or both)
The Australian moved to Europe and decided to settle down in Estonia based on a first impression from an unusually warm summer. Despite having lived here for years, still refuses to accept that shorts are not proper winter attire. Facial hair and/or tattoos are a must.
Over time, Estonians have come to accept the Australians as their own, despite their easy going nature and positive outlook on life. Their accent is still sometimes puzzling, but we have learned that sentences must always end with “mate”. Likewise, Australians have learned that in Estonia, sometimes sentences don’t start at all. But they are used to locals being on the quiet side, and still try to teach them that physical contact with other humans is OK.

5. The Finn

Found in: ferries (or near ferries)
Finland is just across the water from Estonia and many Finns come to Tallinn to enjoy the city’s cultural life, museums and gaze at its sights. Just kidding – they’re here for the cheap booze. Alcohol sales to Finns are pretty much the driving force behind the tiny Estonian economy. Though we must admit, if alcohol was as expensive here as it is in Finland, there would be no army big enough to stop Estonians from swarming across the Russian border.
Estonians might not always admit it, but the Finns are quite close to their hearts, as both nations share an appreciation for the subtle art of short conversations.

6. The Exchange Student

Found in: Anywhere, except the university
Being a foreign exchange student constitutes an experiment in human alcohol tolerance, disguised as a cultural learning experience. Exchange students take pride in blending in with the local Estonians, though their language skills are normally limited to a small selection of pleasantries and profanities. Instead of “cheers”, they say “terviseks” and insist that it means “healthy sex” in Estonian (it does not).
The exchange student living in Estonia has only two goals – to attend a Song Festival, and to make an Estonian smile. May be encountered studying in a library, though not very often.

7. The Stag

Found in: strip clubs at night, invisible during the day
If you see a grown man dressed as a bunny rabbit and it’s not Easter, they’re probably here for a stag party. A stag party is a rite of passage for soon-to-be-married men, during which their friends take them to a foreign country to be humiliated in all kinds of more or less creative ways.
The Stags are horribly drunk at their worst, and badly hung over at best. Despite this, they are relatively harmless, if somewhat annoying. And apparently, popped collars are a thing (are they?).

8. The Football Fan

Found in: any Irish bar, head towards the noise
The football fans always travel in a pack. They appear when another country’s team has come to Tallinn to beat the Estonians at soccer. This is not a difficult feat and once the match is over, the fans usually stick around for a couple of days to gloat. On rare occasions, when Estonia does manage to win, they will vanish from sight almost instantaneously.
The football fans are rarely sober, and are always shadowed by unmarked police vehicles.

9. The Russian

Found in: behind tinted glass, never too far from the Old Town
Estonia has a sizable native Russian population, so distinguishing a Russian tourist from an Estonian Russian can be difficult. The only giveaway is their Mercedes SUV’s (local Russians prefer BMW’s), sporting Russian license plates. They tend to have a taste for the finer things in life and seem to be very fond of money clips. They never pay with anything smaller than a 100-Euro note.

10. The Accidental

Found in: ferry terminal, trying to convince spouse to stay
The Accidental had never heard of Estonia until they decided to take a day trip to Tallinn from Helsinki. Upon arrival, they immediately regret their previous itinerary as they realize that the money they spent travelling in Scandinavia could’ve bought them a house here. They are mesmerized by everything they encounter and quickly grow attached to the city. The Accidental is reluctant to leave and always vows to return in the future.

11. The Latvian

<Image not available, as there is little evidence of Latvians ever coming to Tallinn.>

What the hell, Latvians? Every time we drink together in Riga you say you’ll come, but never do. Maybe you’re really good at blending in? Whatever the case, the invitation is still outstanding. Buses leave every hour – be quick (we love you).