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Estonia Sings!

Estonia Sings!

Gautier Battistella - 2009-12-15

Estonia has received less media coverage than her big sister Lithuania. Of all the Baltic states she used to be the most unassuming but of late she has decided to bellow out her way of life. This is a country where everything is done singing – even a revolution!

Imagine a country so clean that you don’t dare to walk on the grass, smoke in the streets, or entertain a dark thought, through fear of tarnishing its gentle quality of life. Imagine a country so green that you feel you’ve arrived amidst mountain pastures after rainfall; a modern country where Wi-Fi has replaced the traditional cyber cafés and the design rivals that of Scandinavia. This is Estonia, an uplifting nation that we thought to be stuck in the mire of its Soviet legacy. The past is now just a memory, and the future is a Baltic song.
 
Every five years a musical event brings together over 100,000 Estonians for an open-air festival in The Shell, the capital Tallinn’s main stadium. Eighteen thousand singers from the nation’s various choral groups follow one another in taking to the stage. On the pitch dotted with umbrellas, the crowd nibble on cherries and haricot beans. No jostling goes on here, politeness has a priority. Blonde-haired children repeat the choruses. These people possess a quiet joyfulness. Where have they hidden the computer running this collective happiness? What is the secret of this country of blue-eyed gazes and flowers in the hair?
 
Perhaps it comes from its youthful freshness. Estonia exudes an impression of having been born the day before yesterday. Recent history has, nevertheless, left its scars on the outskirts of Tallinn. Disused warehouses, dilapidated housing blocks - these relics of the Soviet occupation have all been deliberately conserved. Annexed to the USSR in 1949, Estonia began its path to liberation with the 1988 “Singing Revolution” that finally led to independence on 20 August 1991. Whilst its medieval past gives the town its identity, surrounded within the city walls, the modern developments gnaw into its outskirts.
 
This youthfulness has allowed Estonia to leap into the present day and age with its investment in ecological concerns. Although gathering wild mushrooms is a national sport, beware anyone who tries to keep snails for consumption – the fine is enough to dampen the appetite of even the most avid mollusc gatherer. This “green culture” and the inclination for keeping fit is not something new. In the countryside there is not one farm which is not equipped with a sauna, even in remote areas. Along with the songs and dances which give rhythm to the sociability of village life, the spa is another Estonian ritual. A ritual to which yours truly, with a bad back, succumbed to willingly!
 
Saunas and Spas
Estonians call them saun. Less than a century ago they were giving birth in them. Nowadays washing and relaxing in them is the norm. Saunas can be found everywhere: in hotels, guesthouses, camp sites and in private homes. The wooden walls absorb the air’s humidity and a bath of dry steam is produced. The heat opens the pores, activates the circulation and flushes out toxins. Try out the most rustic ones situated in rickety wooden huts in the middle of the forests. Then jump into a hole cut into the ice on a lake! For maximum efficiency the whole operation must be carried out twice in succession.
 
One should be aware that an invitation to share a sauna in the evening is an honour that is improper to refuse and that you sweat it out in your birthday suit. Jumping into the icy water, however, is not an obligation.
Those who prefer the gentle charms of a spa to fierce thermal shocks, rest assured: numerous establishments in Estonia offer water, mud, and plant treatments or massages at sites which have been known for centuries for the beneficial properties of their air and water. Located in the elegant coastal towns of Pärnu, Haapsalu and Kuressaare, the Spas are places where treatments and outdoor activities can be combined.
 
Gathering, an Estonian Pastime
For centuries, from May to October, Estonians have scoured the forests filling large buckets with berries and mushrooms. Everything collected is consumed within the family or sold in the markets. If you want to join in, find a local guide who will obviously have a better knowledge of the region’s mushrooms. Failing that there are Ecotourist organisations offering guided gathering outings for tourists. For further information visit www.maaturism.ee.
 
PRACTICAL INFORMATION
 
Places to Visit
The Estonian Open Air Museum
Vabaohumuuseumi tee 12
Tallinn
 
With 11 villages, spread over 84 hectares, it portrays the evolution of Estonian country life from the Middle Ages to the present day. There are diverse activities (singing, workshops etc.) Fascinating.
 
Accommodation and Food
Tallinn:
Hotel Telegraaf
Located in the heart of the old town, this is the most elegant establishment in Tallinn. Refined cuisine with a Baltic accent.
 
On Muhu Island
Padäste Manor (luxury resort & spa)
Muhu Island
Situated on Muhu Island, this superb 16th century manor converted into a hotel offers luxury, voluptuousness and calm. In the kitchen a young and talented cook creates creative seasonal Estonian cuisine.
 

Estonia has received less media coverage than her big sister Lithuania. Of all the Baltic states she used to be the most unassuming but of late she has decided to bellow out her way of life. This is a country where everything is done singing – even a revolution!

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