A couple of years ago I had the privilege of drawing a family-tree diagram for an Estonian friend. I became interested in her family history and of her coming to the U.S. as a teenager in the 1940s, by herself. She told me about what her family had endured during the Russian occupation of Estonia.
I asked many questions and read many books about Estonia and viewed videos, especialy the Singing Revolution to learn more about the turmoil the people went through. I viewed the documentary about the ship named Walnut and the people aboard, and the ocean crossing.
She had always wanted her son and his family to visit and actually see their relatves in Estonia. When they decided on a trip to be taken in 2014, they asked me if I wanted to accompany them. I was delighted to go.
The landing in Talllinn aboard an Estonian Air plane was met with a view of U.S. Air Force planes sitting on the tarmac. This was no surprise because of the Russian “rattling of sabers” in Ukraine.
We had a sight-seeing and visiting agenda planned, but upon relatives coming to airport to greet everyone, there were to be some changes. We, six in the party, had made plans for accommodations in hotels and arrangements for a van to travel in the country.
My days in Tallinn were truly enjoyed with history and listening about the times of occupation. There was a three hour walking tour in Tallinn’s Old City. It was historically very informative and felt like walking back through time. With massive stone walls and buildings, narrow cobblestone streets – it did seem like being in a different era.
We traveled from Talllnn to Tartu, Võru, Killingi-Nõmme, stopping in Häädemeeste and Pärnu. Visits with relatives and friends were made everywhere en route.
I enjoyed the cleanliness of towns and villages and the absence of billboards along the highways. I can see the Estonians taking pride in their country, and they should. The countryside was awash in greenery. Even the cemeteries, well cared plots and flowers; they would be postcard quality.
From the lakes of Võru to the Forest Brothers old dwellings in the woods, everything was interesting. I heard of the saunas being in almost in every house. I moved quickly to the chance to use one, but in the evening at the hotels all were being in use or full. So we resorted to the hot pools (45C).
Driving in Estonia was a small challenge due to the lack of stop signs and only having the yield signs at intersections. It took some time to get used to quickly see who had the right of way. The drivers were polite: there was no road rage or horn honking as I slowed at intersections. After people told me the signs and names of the road or street could be mounted on posts, fences or even on the buildings, it became easier to locate them.
I heard about the Esotnian food being rather bland, but was pleasantly surprised, and really enjoyed it. The breakfast, I had read about, was prepared for us the European style. I took advantage of the fish, which was very good and new to me.
Most of all I enjoyed listening and talking to the people. The senior citizens with their limited English and my limited Estonian – we communicated very well. Sometimes the younger ones and grandchildren had to interpret.
With my talking to Estonians in the U.S. and in Estonia, the stories are the same, of what they went through with the Russian occupation.
There were sad situations where one couple did not get back their property after indepence. The property of the people sent to Siberia was given to Russians, and most were not able to obtain it when and if they were able to return.
One couple told of having relatives born in Siberia and later having never met them because they died there. I read and heard of the atrocities and think they should be made aware of now because of what Russia is trying to do with the Baltic States (my thought only).
The country continues in forward gear and the people should be commended. The reconstruction and refurbishing of a great number of buildings seems to be an ongoing project.
All in all, I had a very nice time in Estonia and the people were very gracious and accommodating. I have been asked how was your trip?, and would you go back? My answer is: definitely yes!!
William Schrock, (from the Mihklikuu #3 Kleevland Kiri)