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
Holding hands. It’s a simple act that usually signifies love, friendship, or caring. But on August 23, 1989, the simple act of holding hands freed six million people in the Baltic countries of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia.
On that fateful day in 1989, more than two million people joined hands in a human chain that began in Tallinn, Estonia, stretched 430 miles across Latvia, to Vilnius, Lithuania. The date was chosen to focus the world’s attention on the day in 1939, exactly 50 years prior, when Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. This secret agreement was created during the early years of World War II, when Germany and the Soviet Union were allies. Not only did it pledge non-aggression between the signatories, in a blatant violation of international law, it detailed how Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Romania would be divided between the two countries. The Baltics were given over to the Soviet Union.
With Russian influence neatly tied up, Germany invaded Poland eight days later, starting World War II. The Soviet Union subsequently invaded Estonia and Latvia on June 16, 1940. Though the Soviets switched to the side of the Allies after Germany attacked them in June of 1941, the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact essentially remained in effect. The Soviet Union continued to occupy Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania throughout and following the war, all the while denying the existence of the secret protocols of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. Read More