Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Magic Milestone! 100,000 Pageviews!

During my recent trip to Estonia I was thrilled to discover that Estonia - Paradise of the North had surpassed 100,000 pageviews. This is a new milestone! 

Thank you so much to everyone who reads regularly and to all those who are visiting for the first time. I would also like to say a big thank you to everyone who has written to me recently. Your feedback, stories and kind words are very much appreciated. 

Over the years I have covered many different topics on this blog and I am never at a loss for ideas. There are always new things to explore, discover and rediscover in Estonia! I look forward to bringing you more interesting insights into this beautiful country in the months and years to come!  

Sunday, 26 July 2015

My Estonian summer holiday comes to an end

After leaving Saaremaa I headed back to Tallinn for a few days before flying home. Like always I made a final trip to the supermarket to stock up my favourite Estonian foods. I can never get enough Eesti leib!

It's been absolutely wonderful spending time in Estonia and travelling around the countryside. The past two weeks have been extremely relaxing and at times there's been no other cars on the road - it's been just me and nature. Before leaving Estonia I wanted to explore a few more areas near Tallinn that have a connection with my family. It was wonderful to finally visit these places.

Jägala Waterfall is only a short drive from Tallinn.

Home turf for some members of my family.

Anija Manor House.

Although this manor is in need of repair there are many fascinating things to discover here.

Several museum rooms can be found inside the manor.

One room is a school room.
There is also a cafe inside the manor which makes lovely soup and pancakes.

I visited Kehra while in the area but its not the same as it was before the war.
The Sovet occupation obviously ripped the heart out of this place.

I was thrilled to finally visit Raasiku. It was once home to my grandfather and his father.
This is a small yet quaint village that has its own character. 
Several new homes have been built here recently all proudly displaying the Estonian flag.

Raasiku church

Friday, 24 July 2015

My Estonian Island Adventure

Before heading over to the islands I decided to spend the night in Estonia's summer capital Pärnu. It's been a while since I was last in Pärnu and I noticed there have been quite a few changes. Many of the amber shops that once lined the streets in the city centre have disappeared and many new restaurants have sprung up. One restaurant that I was pleased to discover still exists is Steffani's. I first ate here in 2003 when I visited Pärnu with my family for the first time. Business has been so good that they have even opened a second location - it is so popular that the queue stretched out of the door and onto the street!  

Steffani's Italian Restaurant

Pärnu Beach

Pärnu is Estonia's summer capital.
Visitors come in droves from Sweden, Finland and Russia. 

The ferry port at Virtsu in mainland Estonia.
Virtsu is about an hour's drive from Pärnu.

During the summer season the ferry to Muhu runs regularly, approximately every half hour.
It's great value for money, only €2.60 for a one way adult ticket and €7.40 to take your car. 
The ferry crossing to Muhu Island takes 25 minutes.

A road connects the island of Muhu to Saaremaa.
Once you leave the ferry terminal it's a 76 km drive to Kuressaare, the capital of Saaremaa.

There are ten villages on the island of Muhu.

Liiva is a popular stopping point for visitors. 
Here you will find a cafe, restaurant, supermarket and a beautiful gift shop.

In this shop you will find many wonderful handmade embroidered items.
Estonian handicrafts at their best!

The island of Saaremaa is the most ethically homogeneous part of Estonia. Approximately 98% of people living here are ethnic Estonian. Saaremaa is known for its windmills, sheep breeding, fishing, vodka distilling and tourism. It was once completely covered by an ice sheet during the last ice age and the island is still slowly rising out of the sea to this day. One day it will naturally be joined to the mainland and further islands will appear offshore.

Suur Tõll and Piret, two mythical characters from a local folk legend.
They are regarded as the guardians / protectors of Saaremaa. 

The folk legend written in several languages.

Kuressaare Castle -  a museum is located inside.

There are many idyllic spots in Saaremaa in which to take photographs.

The market is open every day.

Saaremaaa has many beautifully restored buildings on the island.

To experience some really good traditional Estonian cuisine, a visit the Saaremaa Veski restaurant is a must!

By the seaside there are two resort hotels named after former Estonian presidents.

The Spa Rüütli and Hotell Meri

Map of Saaremaa and list of attractions.

Visiting the Angla Windmills is a must when visiting Saaremaa.

This museum is really interesting. There are five windmills on the property as well as several old tractors you can inspect and sit on. Inside the main building there is also old farming equipment, tools and a centuries-old blacksmith's forge on display in addition to handicrafts.

The famous windmills of Saaremaa.

It's really lovely walking around the grounds here. You can go inside the windmills and feed the goats, ducks and rabbits who live in the animal enclosures.

It's truly delightful spending time in the Estonian countryside during the summer months.
Warm days, long nights and even if it rains the sun always makes an appearance in the afternoon!

Harvesting equipment.

Inside the main building at Angla is a cafe and exhibitions.

Estonian loom.

I stayed in a few different places on Saaremaa. Here is one. Accommodation is hard to find during the summer months unless you book way in advance. I like these country retreats where you can rent a cabin and relax and enjoy nature.

A traditional Estonian swing.
So much fun!

Leaving Saaremaa, the weather was much better compared to when I arrived.
Several different vessels are in service between the mainland and Muhu.

View on board the ferry.

My summer holiday in Estonia is almost at an end but before I go, I will spend a few more days in Tallinn. I will definitely stock up on my supply of 'Eesti leib' - the best tasting breads in the world!

Thursday, 23 July 2015

A Trip to Estonia's Far South

After spending five relaxing days in charming Tartu I decided to head to Võru County. The county's largest town Võru is one hour's drive from Tartu and lies in Estonia's extreme southeast. The Ostrova Festival ran from the 17th - 18th July 2015 in the tiny hamlet of Ostrova just 2km from Estonia's border with Russia.  I was fortunate to hear some traditional Seto "leelo" singing for the first time. This ancient folk singing is better preserved in Setomaa (home of the Seto people in southeastern Võru County) than anywhere else in Estonia.

Both the singing and the costumes of these Seto women are absolutely lovely.

The Seto male choir was equally as charming.

It was great to mingle with the performers afterwards.

The festival had many food, drink and craft stands.  
It was a great atmosphere in which to chill out and unwind.

Only a short drive away is Setomaa's "capital" Obinitsa, home to the statue of the Lauluimä (Song Mother).  The lauluimäs have been the guardians of Seto oral history preserved in song for countless generations.  Near the statue are memorials to various song mothers from the past two centuries.

She has a beautiful view of the Obinitsa Järv (Obinitsa Lake).

I was thrilled to finally see Ott Lepland perform live at the festival.

He performed all of his hits including tracks from his new album.

Ott put on an outstanding show and sounded just as good live as he does on his albums.

Fans were calling out "Otti! Otti! Otti!" after which he concluded his show with his touching ballad "Kuula".  

After leaving Võru I headed to Estonia's highest point, a hill called Suur Munamägi (the big egg hill).

Estonia is primarily a flat country but its southeast is quite hilly. 
Suur Munamägi lies 318 metres above sea level.

After 10am the viewing tower is open and offers stunning views of Estonia and nearby Latvia.

A cute little gift shop can be found on the way up the hill.

Driving through the Estonian countryside is absolutely beautiful in the summer.
Storks are a common sight.