The sacred and the silly: Estonia at Christmas

I really enjoy travelling to a place. Trains, planes, automobiles. Sometimes I enjoy it just as much as the place you visit. I think because it's like you're in a space that is outside your normal life. And being a visual person I love seeing the changing panorama especially on the train or bus. I've got better at flying but I still basically feel sick being in the air for longer than an 1 hour. The quality of the airport- the staff, nice cafes to sit in while you're waiting, free wifi, all make a difference if you really don't like flying. It all calms you. Stockholm's Arlanda airport and Tallinn airport in Estonia, which we were recently sitting in again, I'd thoroughly recommend to lounge around in. As long as you're not stuck in them for days because of weather delays. Luckily we weren't.

On the way to the city square. Hiie went through a blizzard to light a candle for her grandmother and father at their graves. It's an Estonian tradition to visit your ancestors on Christmas eve and light a candle in their honour.

Tartu city square. There was an old boat sitting in the middle, the mast decorated with fairy lights. The smell of burning beech hovered in the air.

Tartu university. Founded in 1632. The kids in Estonia have a very demanding curriculum compared to Australia.

This time to Estonia we took the ferry across to Tallinn from Stockholm. It was fantastic. I'd always heard of ferries sinking over the years so I was ever so slightly tense. I imagined this crappy old ferry with an alcoholic sailor asleep at the wheel. And Titanic. Instead it was luxurious like an ocean liner and it was all smooth sailing through the ice. Plus fantastic food. Well if blood sausages are your favourites you would've loved it. You cannot be a vegetarian in Estonia or Sweden really. But Estonia's worse. Meat and more meat. Nobody eats vegetables much except for the ubiquitous cucumber which basically accompanies everything. And tomatoes. And of course the humble potato.

The view walking over the Emajogi bridge in Tartu, Estonia. Kind of a desolate beauty.

The Estonian flag flying on a local street. 

I was looking forward to skiing for the first time in Estonia but alas not to be. My back went out because trudging through the incredibly heavy snow is like climbing the Himalayas. The streets and footpaths are piled high with snow. The councils do some snow clearing but it seems most homeowners are responsible for clearing and ensuring the safety of the footpaths in front of their houses. Which is a bit rich I reckon. But everyone gets on with it anyway.

Some Estonian
Hello: Tere
One language is never enough: Ühest keelest ei piisa kunagi
I love you: Ma armastand sind
Goodbye: Head aega

Everywhere looks like it's been iced like a cake or with dollops of icecream.

Estonia joins the euro zone on the 1st January 2011 and they're really worried about it. I don't blame them judging by the experience of other euro countries recently like Spain. The government just decided to go with the euro without a referendum. I suppose they knew that if they asked the people they would've said no. Like all the Scandinavian countries except Finland, which has the euro.

I was given a CD of Jaan Tätte who is very famous in Estonia and currently on tour around the world. Like many people in Estonia they work in multiple mediums. He's a well known actor (not very good I'm told), a playwright (great supposedly) and you can judge for yourself as a folk singer/songwriter. Don't know if he's ever been a politician. Every public figure in Estonia whatever their talent seems to end up as a politician at some point. Certainly they have a variety of backgrounds in their politicians unlike Australia where nearly everyone's been a lawyer or union leader at some stage.

Jaan Tätte singing 'Ojalaul', which is about a small stream.

Everyone sings and plays an instrument from young to old too. On the ferry from Sweden a deadly serious Estonian choir singing Christmas songs entertained us before the can-can dancers who came onstage dancing to 'Pull up to the Bumper'. Interesting combo. Still love that song and the 'Nightclubbing' album by Grace Jones. Only the kiddies were gutsy enough to dance on the dancefloor.

Some of the singing in Estonia's almost unearthly in it's perfection. We went to this concert the other night at St John's medieval cathedral in Tartu. It was a famous handbell group called Arsis. Didn't move me much but it was interesting. They were the best handbell ringers I'll ever see. Then at the end they sang the most perfect version of Silent Night (in Estonian of course) which was incredibly moving. The perfection of the harmonies and effortless of it was like magic. I'll never forget it.

A peaceful break in the weather at the Tallinn airport. It snowed most of the time.

Arvo Pärt is Estonia's most revered composer and another musical magician. You may have heard of him. Though probably not unless you listen to classical music radio. It's very ethereal and cosmic music and well worth a listen. I received his Symphony No. 4 CD for a Christmas present. Nice. Arvo dedicated the symphony to the Russian entrepreneur Mikhail Khodorovsky in jail presumably for political reasons since 2003, (he funded opposition parties to Putin). I listened to it the first time on the day the Russian 'justice' system decided to keep him jailed a bit longer. Awful and moving.

If you're interested in reading more on Estonia take a look at these posts:

The delicate landscape of Estonia.


  1. Ooh look at all that lovely lovely snow!

  2. Yes I love it too but it wasn't so lovely walking in it. The councils don't have the same resources to clean it up so it's hard getting around.


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