Pärnu, Estonia

On the Baltic Sea at Pärnu, EstoniaYou can see I’m not exactly dressed for swimming, but I had to touch the waters of the Baltic Sea from the beach at Pärnu, Estonia.

Statue of Johann Voldemar JannsenPärnu boasts native son Johann Voldemar Jannsen, who was a leading figure of the Estonian National Awakening Movement. He lived from 1819 to 1890, started a continuous tradition of Estonian journalism, and composed the words of the Estonian National Anthem. The statue is the work of artist Mati Karmin, and was the initiative of the local newspaper. It is good to see journalists commemorate a founder, as that is rare to see.

Reval

Michael and TallinnFor most of its history, Tallinn was known by its German name, Reval. Our guide today, Eha, said that Tallinn means “fortress of the Danes” and that Reval is either from German “falling down” (like a deer brought down by a hunter) or from a Finnish word meaning “centre [place].”

Great Guild, Tallinn, EstoniaThe Germans kept power over the Estonian people even into Russian Tsarist times. Reval was an ethnically German city and the Estonians were bound to the land by serfdom through the power of the orders of knighthood and the merchants’s guilds. This is the hall of the Great Guild, on Pikk street in Vanalinn (Old Town).

EML SulevWhen Estonia was liberated from Soviet occupation, new allies got the resurrected Estonian navy back to sea. This is a minehunter, built in Germany, which was given to Estonia in 2003, renamed the EML Sulev, and it now is an exhibit at Lennusadam – Seaplane Harbour museum. This military co-operation among new allies needs to be renewed and strengthened today, as Estonians feel very keenly the imminent threat from Russia, as a front-line defender in NATO. As Eha said, Estonians have fought to keep their identity in the face of foreign invaders for 800 years, and can’t stop now.

Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Ukraine

Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Ukraine flagsWheels up today, for a trip of a lifetime to the Baltic countries, Poland, and Ukraine. Tallinn is first, then Riga, Vilnius, Warsaw, Krakow, and Lviv. A very emotional reunion will happen in Lviv region, as the descendants of Ivan Taras and Maria Kulyk meet for the first time after having been divided by immigration for almost 90 years. I look forward to seeing a bit of four fascinating countries which are new to me. Bon vol!