Call of The North – ESTONIA 1

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When it was time to leave Helsinki, our schedule called for a noon check-in at the Tallink/Silja Ferry in the West Harbor Terminal Two, just a short drive from our Airbnb. This was our only daytime ferry ride and with a two-hour duration, also the shortest. Naturally, first, you wait patiently.

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Finally, we were moving.

From the top-most passenger deck, I could follow the departure proceedings during which the car ramp lifted away and the stern of the ferry was secured.

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Good-bye, Finland
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Hello, Estonia

The trip from the ferry harbor in Tallinn to our Airbnb, although short, was a bit adventurous owing to some heavy-duty road construction along the way. In one respect our new temporary address certainly had an advantage over the previous one, the street name. Switching from Korkeavuorenkatu to Uus made it a whole lot easier to input on the phone for GPS guidance! We had selected the place on Uus for our stay in Tallinn because of its position, as Uus runs along the very edge of Old Town.

Our location let us explore the historical center of Tallinn on foot, while grocery stores and parking were in easy reach in the opposite direction. As soon as we were settled in, we started to roam vallalinn, the Old Town.

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Lovingly restored
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Needing some attention

The extent of the touristification of Old Town came as bit of a shock to us. On one hand, foreign money brings in the needed funds for the beautiful restorations one encounters mostly in the areas frequented by tour groups, on the other hand, these clusters of curious travelers in their colorful athletic shoes clog the narrow lanes at every turn.  A necessary evil, I suppose.

Trying to stay away from the ridiculously overpriced places for foreigners, we settled for a beer and garlic bread on a sidewalk bench of a brewery where some locals already enjoyed a similar fare.

The garlic bread was amazing. It consisted of roasted chunks of nearly black bread served with a pot of thick garlic cream spread. When I investigated this incredibly tasty bread, I found out that rukkileib, the famous Estonian Black Bread is made with fermented rye leavening or rukkileiva juuretis with a handfull of blackened malt and ground caraway seeds thrown in, but naturally, every baker has her or his own version. And as the Estonian Reddix contributor AnTyx reminded me:

“Unfortunately, you cannot make true black bread outside of Estonia, as it is impossible to achieve the proper level of spiritual despair.”

To which contributor matude responded: “Except only in Finland, perhaps.” Her comment was hyperlinked to a very funny Finnish bread commercial titled Kova kuin elämä, hard as life. Nordic Humor, priceless! The Pilsner at the Beer House wasn’t bad either.

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When we looked uphill more closely, …

… it became apparent how hilly Tallinn Old Town is. The beautiful, neo-crenelated tower flying the Finnish flag was, not surprisingly, the Suomen Suurlähetystö, the Finnish Embassy in Estonia. It is located a couple of levels uphill from the medieval town square just below us. The uppermost tiers of town are reserved for an ancient castle, several churches, further administrative and representative historical buildings, and “embassy row”.  These lofty heights are the most costly neighborhoods in Tallinn, we were told.

Before ambling back home through the nightly flower market, we enjoyed delicious fish soup in a quirky ancient building, housing both the Von Krahli Aed, Krahl’s Garden Restaurant and the Krahl Theater, Estonian’s first experimental theater, founded shortly after Eesti Vabariik, the Republic of Estonia, regained her independence from the Soviet Union on 20 August 1991.  

Tallinna vallalinnas, in Tallinn’s Old Town, we visited three museums. Eesti Tarbekunsti- ja Disainimuuseum, the Estonian Museum for Applied Art and Design, the KGB Prison Museum, and the NUKU Estonian State Puppet & Youth Theatre, the last two entirely by happenstance. [The website of the design museum is currently down, hence no link]

We made our way through the quiet and drizzly streets, past the Hell Hunt venue,

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Shouldn’t that be Hellhound?

Well, that’s my reaction as a foreigner, but one shouldn’t judge quite so quickly. Through Google translate, I learned that hunt is an Eesti word for wolf, while hell can mean tender or affectionate which would explain the loving embrace of Blondy. It’s all in the perspective, isn’t it?

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Walking toward the Tallinna Linnateater, the Tallinn Town Theatre,

where we turned left to reach the brick-red and cream museum at Lai 17 – only to find it closed. But wait, is there possibly an ingress around the corner? There were a few Eesti signs with suggestive arrows which we followed into a completely ransacked courtyard undergoing heavy-duty sewerage re-works which was, miraculously also the currently used rear entry for the museum.

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After purchasing tickets and depositing back- and fanny packs, rain hats and coats in lockers, we proceeded to the galleries in the entirely deserted [Hurrah!] museum. Right away, we were being somewhat baffled – again. What, pray-tell, is a national song festival, let alone 27 of them over the last 150 years? Each one with an especially designed poster?

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Laulu means song & pidu means party = the Song Celebrations

Estonians, it appears, love music. They love to sing their hearts out. They sing to celebrate their national heritage. They sing to celebrate having overcome oppression and occupation. They sing because they love their country and its traditions. And every five years, they sing especially joyously during the Estonian Song Celebration which is one of the largest choral events in the world, where more than 1000 Estonian choirs with more than 30 000 singers perform for an audience of nearly 100 000. Not surprisingly, this choral happening has been declared a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. As the introduction to the exhibit indicated, each Song Celebration’s emblem was carefully explained in both Eesti and English.

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First …
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… and Last Festival, so far.

Aside from its collections, the 17th-Century museum building was quite remarkable in itself.

The mezzanine bridges afforded a changed perspective of several exhibits. Case in point the tableau below,

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Plums by ceramicist Mai Järmut 
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The “peanut” is the work of ceramicist Lauri Kilsuk who more recently has become most interested in 3-D printing. His porcelain 3-D printed objects are fabulous.

as well as this grouping of ceramic pieces.

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Leo Rohlin, Thaw I – III, 1977 – 1979, 3 earthenware pods with crackle glaze …
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… and Naima Uustalu’s Blue Continent, 1971

But especially dramatic was the display of these leather pieces.

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An allegorical sculpture called Öö nagö, possibly meaning Face of the Night. It is the neo-surreal work of Eesti leather artist Elo Järv 1939 – 2018. Her opus is mindboggling and mesmerizing.

Slightly more orthodox leather art could be admired in case after case of leather-bound books, notebooks, boxes, and other articles.

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L to R: Book covers by Ella Külv, Endel Valk-Falk, Elgi Reemets; boxes by Maret Kuke & Reemets
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Book covers by Naima Suude, the left is either dedicated to or contains the work of celebrated Eesti author Friedebert Tuglas

Many other display cases were dedicated to ceramics. Most of the art on exhibition was created by contemporary artists born during the second half of the 20th Century.  With the notable exception of this charming service by the painter and all-around artist of many media Erich Carl Hugo Adamson aka Adamson-Eric [1902 – 1968] who has his own museum in Tallinn.

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One could, however, also find considerably less conventional pieces.

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Cone-bra sculptures à Gaultier by Haja Eist. He was born the same year as Madonna, might there be a connection? Anyone remembers the 1990 Blond Ambition Tour??
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Nobby critters by Anne Türn strongly reminiscent of rubber dog toys 😳 …

… but that’s only the case because I am a dog person who automatically and involuntarily makes these unjust connections. Mea culpa, Anne Türn! In addition to her “Thornies”, she has a remarkable and astounding repertoire of artistic expression. Please click through the collections on her website, you won’t regret it.

In addition to the crafts, we’ve already seen the museum has collections of metal artworks, glass creations, textiles, and weavings.

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Mask by Piret Hirv, 1969
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Glass Fusion Installation by Rait Prääts

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Ivo Lill, 1955
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“In Memory of the Estonian Forest” by Kai Kiudsoo-Värv, 2001

Textiles and weavings are a major subject in applied arts in Estonia and thus for the museum. Sadly, most weavings collected through the ages in Estonia were burned to cinders in 1944. Eventually, the country reached back to extant original artist drawings of those early weavings. These drawings were then recreated by contemporary weavers to augment the national heritage of crafts lost in wars and during the years of occupation.

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Wool weaving, Viida Pääbo-Juse design from 1931, executed in 2004 by Peeter Kuutma Studio

Even though only one gallery was open to the public during our visit, it was a remarkable experience of cultural riches – fleeting as it was. Wouldn’t it be nice to go back again and again?

2 thoughts on “Call of The North – ESTONIA 1

  1. Thank you so much for your kind and encouraging words! We were extra busy lately, hence this delay to respond. I shall read your post on Lappeenranta this weekend, promise!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Gorgeous post. I loved the variety of your beautiful photos. Glass art was awesome. I love it, because very near there a fantastic glass museum BTW, if you want to see our sand sculptures in Lappeenranta, they are now in my newest post. Thank you sharing you travel adventure with us.

    Happy and safe travels!

    Like

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