Before we left for Europe we attempted a small amount of research via the internet on the countries we would visit just to get a little better idea of where we would be going. When searching Estonia, the web provided only a small amount of information and consequently I don’t think we had high expectations for that tiny country that for so long was part of the old Soviet Union. The short version of this story is that our perceptions prior to arriving were ever so mistaken. I did, however, pay a small amount of attention to some comments made by our friend Conn Nugent who suggested that Estonia was a place to be appreciated. Turned out he was right and this is our version as to why. Because of all we would like to say, I think I will try to divide the Estonia entries into three or four parts.
Old City Wall – Tallinn
Estonian history is very complex, too complex to discuss much here. Essentially they have been dominated and ruled by various nations. Any independence they enjoyed was brief. Most recently during the 20th century by the Germans until the end of the World War II and then by the Soviets until 1991. They describe themselves as Finno-Ugrian people who are related to the Finns. Estonia is one of three Baltic States that also include Lithuania and Latvia.
That’s all the background for now and on to what we liked about it. Upon arrival, we were escorted by our host, Sven Aluste, to one of the oldest buildings within the walls of Old Tallin. The building, owned by Sven’s in-laws, has remained in the family through the Soviet occupation. Entering the building there was an immediate sense of antiquity that we so seldom see or experience in the States. The rather large multi-storied building is now a mix of apartments, shops, Italian restaurant and a new age type treatment center. We spent the next morning touring the old city with its narrow streets, tall and thick walled buildings, small shops and the huge wall complete with towers that surrounds the area.
Old Tallin Street
Orthodox Church – Old Tallinn
The contrast between Old Tallinn and the new is rather extreme. This vegetarian restaurant where Sven took us for lunch is a good example.
Vegetarian Restaurant – Tallinn
After lunch we left for the area around a small village named Esna where both Sven’s home and the old Esna Manor which would be the center for meals and accommodations during the workshop. The city of Tallinn quickly gave way to a rural landscape of fields surrounded by dense forest, the roads got progressively smaller, the homes and barns less and less modern. Many fields were covered with a profusion of dandelions we have never imagined. Estonia has a small population of only 1.5 million people thereby leaving the landscape open and not densely populated. The villages we passed through were tiny at best. Nothing modern was to be seen, only a stark contrast between that which seemed to be older homes/farms and others that were by-products of the Soviet era, mostly concrete in one form or another.
Esna Village House
Esna Area Farm Building
After a brief stop at Sven’s straw bale home, that I will describe later, we were off to “Esna Mois,” or Esna Manor which is an old German manor that was to be the place where people attending the workshop, including ourselves, would stay and would also be the place where a weekend of talks would also be held before our workshop began. The oldest part of the building was constructed in 1740 and has recently been undergoing restoration work by Sven who is now the current owner. From what I can gather, the history of manors in Estonia is also complex, however, I will attempt a brief description. I think my prior description of them as European versions of the old Mexican Haciendas is would be somewhat accurate. From what I can see the Estonia version did grain, potatoes and vodka, the Haciendas corn and tequila. By the end of the 19th century there were about 1100 one-and-a-half or two-storied, baroque manors in Estonia. In 1918 there was agrarian reform and all manor lands were taken under control and divided into 55,000 small farms.
The main building at Esna Manor was smaller and simpler than some we saw. However, it is sufficiently large to keep Sven busy completing its restoration work for some time. Currently it has been sufficiently restored to comfortably house guests with a functional kitchen and meeting room. The manor sits in the middle of the densely wooded countryside, surrounded by fields and old stone buildings. A small creek, dammed at one point into a pond runs through the property past the old family chapel. Perhaps my most memorable moment was the song of the nightingale while sitting on the front porch in the quiet of early morning. Only one regret, not enough time to walk the surrounding countryside. Next installment will be our workshop, materials we used and the like.
Esna Manor Ruin
Chapel – Esna Manor
Esna Manor Pond