I break my silence to announce I have landed in Estonia! After weeks of fibro fatigue and bone-crushing melancholy that spans from fibromyalgia’s lovely host of unpredictable symptoms and whims, I am relieved to find I can communicate, navigate a map, count my euros. I actually thought this was the trip that would catch up with me, when fibro would mockingly force me to meet the Baltics from a hostel bed.
I have awoken my first full day in Tallinn, Estonia’s capital, with a clear head and a fountain of energy.
And what a city I’ve awoken in. It’s not too cliché to say I’ve emerged as if from a dream into a medieval warren of castle towers, old slanting homes, and a soaring church around every corner as seagulls sing their soundtrack to the waxing and waning of the thunderstorms. I expected a medieval fairy tale in Tallinn; I find a real, lived-in and gritty city. The medieval Old Town is still an everyday parade of life within the shadows of sooty, looming history. The tourists swarm the main artery, but the rest of town is left to the locals.
Yesterday the clouds swooped in low and heavy, dark and troublesome, to be chased at intermittent periods by dazzling bright sun, a cosmic good versus evil clash above the skies of Tallinn. God played with the faucet, soaking downpour one moment, sweet sunshine and rainbows the next. The puddles and slick sheen glistened on squares and cobblestones, the stage for romantic photographs of people-watching across crystal-clear mirrors of bright yellow and white churches. I clicked my camera shutter and sighed as a bike kicked up a misty trail through a brilliant yellow church spire shimmering in the cobblestones.
Tallinn is a modern city with a historic core, a classic walled city with the castle on the hill. Remnants of the old wall and battlements remain, hugging the old Baroque and Renaissance faces of the buildings. I hiked the grueling uneven stone spiral staircase up St. Olaf’s Church bell tower for a birds-eye look; my knees hate me – this is not a climb for the unhealthy. I took rest stops and watched my footing on the treacherously uneven cut stone steps, worn smooth and slippery by centuries of intrepid climbers ringing the massive church bells. My reward – a sunny, storm-tossed panorama of the castle, towers, higgidly-piggidly houses, and further out the modern city and Baltic Sea. Salty wind caressed my hair. Rock music from the harbor festival wafted up into the molded copper spire where I hugged the catwalk.
Estonia’s more recent past inhabits a museum just outside the city walls. The Museum of Occupation and Deportation chronicles the tiny country’s whiplash suffering between the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, and back to the Soviet Union. After winning independence in 1918 after centuries of German and Russian domination, Estonia fell again to the carnivorous desires of the Soviet Union. In the secret pact between the Nazis and the Soviets in 1941, the Soviet Union took over much of the Baltics, beginning the process of nationalizing Estonia. One year later, the Nazis marched in for 3 years of war and terror. Then back to the Soviets, as they pushed Germany back in the last years of the war. So began decades of Soviet domination, with a local Estonian Communist government. I pride myself on my knowledge of history, but I was surprised to learn about the Brotherhood, a resistance movement of Estonian young men hiding in the forests during the early years of Soviet rule. Most went home in the 1950s, but the last one held out until 1976 when he committed suicide.
But hope abides in this grim museum of old Stalin busts and Nazi Stormtrooper uniforms. The footage of the last days of Communism stir emotions difficult to pinpoint. Termed the “Singing Revolution”, the youth of Estonian used a national folk singing festival to jumpstart a final surge of protest against the Soviets, as hundreds of thousands sang patriotic Estonian songs. The momentum spread until they declared independence in 1991.
And on that note, I head back out into the streets in search of some breakfast.