September has now arrived. Unbelievably one month of my sabbatical is over. The time has passed much too quickly. We decided that while the nice summer days are in place, we should do our sightseeing, because as work moves to the forefront and as the rainy days of fall begin, it will be much harder to take the time and to walk around outside.
In the early part after our arrival in August, on a beautiful sunny Sunday Dr. Everaus and her son invited Juri and I to come with them to see the city of Narva at the northeastern part of the country. The city is situated right across the border from Russia and has probably the largest Russian population than other Estonian cities. On the way there we also stopped at Sillamäe that was a “closed” city during the Soviet occupation. What is meant by a closed city I learned, is that it was not shown on any of the maps of Estonia or Russia, people could not go there without special permits. A post office did not even exist there. It was as if the city did not exist, although thousands lived there and worked at the chemical plants and nuclear facility located there. It was a planned city, built in the early 1950’s from the ground up. When one visits Sillamäe in the present day, one immediately sees that the architecture is different from buildings seen in the rest of Estonia. The city center not far from the sea and has somewhat an mediterranean appearance. Large boulevards fan out from the center with trees planted in rows. The trees are now around 60 years old. We drove around and saw in the distance the large port from which products were shipped back to the former Soviet Union. As one drives out of the city, we pass the typical grey colored, block apartment houses where the workers live.
We continued on to Narva and to the border with Russia. Just before the border gates, we make a right hand turn to go to the old castle. The large old fortifications exist on the banks of the Narva River, both on the Estonian and Russian side of the river. On a the day that we were there, there was to be a reenactment of a medieval battle between the Swedish and Russians. Quite a few were dressed in the dress of that time and exhibits were set up of food, dress, and military tents used in that period. We climbed around the old fort, as well as followed circular steps going to a top tower and observation post overlooking the river and countryside. Interesting to me was to see a large statue of Lenin with an arm upraised and pointing off into the distance. It most likely used to be in a prominent position in a central city square. It was now set in a rather obscure position in a small corner of the fort where when you walk into the fortification, one’s back would be facing it and would not really see it, unless you turn around. I asked why Estonia had kept the monument at all? Dr. Everaus answered it was still a part of Estonia’s history. Unfortunately, it remains as a reminder of of a very bleak time in Estonian’s history of being occupied.
My older daughter and her family arrived in mid-August. Juri and I took time to go sight-seeing with them. We started off with walking around Tallinn. The kids enjoyed seeing the turrents and hopping from cobblestone to cobblestone. There are a lot of tourists from all over the world in Tallinn. On one day in the same week we were
there, it was reported that on just one day 12,000 tourists had been in the old Hanseatic city. It is a beautiful and picturesque city, well worth visiting. I always enjoy walking the old cobble-stoned paths. Outside the old city walls a new Tallinn is rising with architecturally interesting buildings. We visited this area with a brother of one of the architects who has designed some of these buildings. While in Tallinn, we parked our car underneath a large square (Independence Square of Vabaduse Väljak) where is located the large new monument commemorating the Independence War (Vabaduse Sõda ) and one of Tallinn’s oldest churches – St. John’s Church (Jaani Kirik). An interesting aspect regarding the underground parking structure is that while doing the excavations for it, more parts and alley ways of the old city wall were uncovered. The city maintained parts of the excavations and incorporated them into the parking structure. Everything is being kept very clean here – no graffitti in the structure nor litter to be seen. When we walked out of the underground parking structure, a woman was washing the parking structure’s windows. I don’t recall seeing that happening in our parking structures in
the big cities of the US. Windows usually are dirt and grime laden and one can barely see through them. Tallinn is, of course , not that big of a city in comparison. It has approximately 300,000 inhabitants, close to one-third of Estonian’s whole population. I have to say I was impressed by that parking structure.
After leaving Tallinn, we visited several Manor houses in the northern part of the country – Palmse and
Sagadi that have been beautifully restored. Near Palmse, we ate at a new restaurant called Kohvikann owned by a German couple who came to Estonia from St. Petersburg where they had also owned a restaurant. Jamie declared that he had the best meal in that restaurant. I thought I would mention this, as we ate at quite a few during their stay, so to say this was the best, it meant something.
From there we went to Tartu, where they stayed with us, and we took day trips – we saw Tartu, of course, then took trips to Rakvere to see another castle and to Viljandi, Soomaa to see the bogs and marshes… Jamie only had a week to spend with us and returned to Seattle. Kadri and the two girls stayed on for another 10 days.
I had to leave them for several days to take a work-related trip to Tromsoe, Norway- way north of the Arctic Circle.
I have a good colleague there with whom we are working on a large Program Project grant to be submitted for the end of September. Tromsoe is a lovely small town on the ocean in northern Norway. Ganesh had arranged for me a room with a wonderful onto the sea and across the bay. It was 3 degrees celsius when I arrived, but warmed up slightly during my stay there.
When I got back, Jüri and Kadri and the kids were at the airport to pick me up and we made one more trip to Hiiumaa, the smaller of two larger islands situated in the western part of Estonia. There are actually many small islands located all along the western coastal region, some inhabited and many more that are not. That whole area is rising and it is said those numerous islands will all join the mainland in the future. Now there are ferries shuttling year-round locals and summer tourists back and forth. We stayed at a brand new small hotel that was opened this past June. It is called “Lest ja Lammas” (Flounders and Sheep). In Kassari where we primarily stayed, fishing and growing sheep appear to be two primary occupations. In the morning we walked along the beach of a slip of land (Sääre Tirp) that juts out far into the sea. It is quiet and peaceful with only the sound of waves and birds calling to each other. Far off one can see swans swimming along the coastline. The tempo of life slows down and nothing can be more relaxing than just sea and sky around you.
In the last few weeks the air has a different feel to it. It feels more and more like fall. It reminds me of New England in the United States after Labor Day. It is currently rainy. Kadri and the grandchildren left last week. Our lives settle down to a new routine.