The fuzzy silhouette within the long rod of amber seemed familiar, yet I wasn’t quite sure what I was seeing. I turned my head sideways and squinted to better focus. With a start, I realized I was looking at the complete body of a lizard that had been trapped in amber. The specimen at the Amber Gallery and Museum in Vilnius, Lithuania, is rare. Of the millions of pieces of amber that contain inclusions, only six lizards have ever been discovered.
In part, it was these mysterious inclusions that had drawn me to the Baltic States of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. I wanted to know more about the semi-precious material known as amber, and to learn how it became one of the most prized materials of the ancient world. Perhaps most of all, I wanted to understand how plants and insects came to be trapped inside. Read More
Click on title to view photo in large format. During the 13th ad 14th centuries, Town Hall Square in Tallinn, Estonia, was the main market square for merchants associated with the powerful German Hanseatic league. Goods sourced from around the Baltic and Scandinavian regions were sold and traded to customers who, in some cases, traveled great distances to reach the market. Though the square still supports a thriving market, most of its present-day customers are tourists, and the bulk of the items offered for sale are crafts, souvenirs, and traditional foodstuffs. Read More
Click on title to view photo in large format. Good fortune was with me during my visit to the capital city of Estonia. It coincided with the Day of Estonian Bread and Autumn Fair at the Estonian Open Air Museum in Tallinn. With its authentic collection of farms, windmills, watermills, houses, and chapels from all geographic regions of Estonia, the outdoor museum is well worth a visit any time of the year. Eight workshops in the center allow visitors to witness traditional means of producing ethnographic and polychromic wood, furniture, painting, leather, textile, ceramics, metal, and paper restoration.
During the Autumn Fair, the focus was on bread making, with a very competitive contest to choose the best traditional black bread. Of course, no bread competition would be complete without a generous dollop of butter. Read More
I knew very little about the Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania when I decided to visit. I was aware that the Baltic States enjoy long hours of daylight in the summer months and endure dark, despair-inducing winter months with barely fours hours of light per day. I knew that each of the countries have completely different, tongue twisting languages that are said to be some of the world’s hardest to learn. And I’d read that their cuisine relied heavily on meat. As a vegetarian, I was prepared for difficult mealtimes.
Meat is definitely a staple in the Baltics. Menus featured blood sausage, smoked trout, and barbecued chicken. Pork was served in more ways than I could count, including pig snout; crispy fried pig’s ears; and pork ribs with potatoes, slathered in heavy cream sauce. But to my delight, I also discovered a surprising number of vegetarian restaurants in the Baltics. Not only do all three capital cities offer dedicated vegetarian and vegan eateries, the menus of almost every regular restaurant I visited offered something for non-meat eaters. Read More
Click on title to view photo in large format. It took several attempts before I finally located Saint Catherine’s Passage in Tallinn, Estonia. The moment I turned into the charming lane, however, I knew it had been worth the effort. St. Catherine’s Guild, a collection of merchants specializing in traditional crafts, occupy the tiny 15th to 17th century workshops. I strolled from shop to shop, observing artisans engrossed in the production of glassware, pottery, textiles, and jewelry, using Read More
Click on title to view photo in large format. Town Hall Square in Riga, Latvia. The historic House of Blackheads Guild Hall, originally built in 1334 to host events of the Brotherhood of the Blackheads, dominates the square. Members of the brotherhood were unmarried merchants and craftsmen, mostly of German descent, who were engaged in trade for the powerful Hanseatic League. The guild house was almost entirely destroyed during World War Two, but an epithet carved over the entrance, “If I am destined to ruination, I will be rebuilt by you!” seems to have been prophetic. The structure was rebuilt in 1999 with extreme attention to architectural accuracy. Read More