Toole Castle on the Gulf of Finland [again, courtesy of the panorama setting on my camera]

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Entry VIII: In Which We Excurse For The Last Time

Well, I've done it again. I've successfully put off chronicling a weekend excursion until a week after the fact. I could blame technical difficulties again, but I would only be fooling myself and insulting your intelligence, gentle reader. In any case, this waiting game will continue no longer. Allow me to tell you a bit about last weekend's trip to the south of Estonia.

Last Friday, we piled into the bus at 8:30 and puttered out of the city center. I felt tired and a little ragged around the edges. My mouth was dry and filmed over, thoroughly flavor-scorched with Riina's garlicky beet salad from breakfast. Speaking of the morning meal, it seemed like my food was upset with me; it had formed an angry ball in pit of my stomach and proceeded to tumble and twist malcontentedly every few minutes. I wouldn't say I was hungover, but I definitely drank a little the night before, and my body knew it. [side note: I went to a club called Plink Plonk the previous night, where I saw some excellent music. The first and best band was a hip-hop/jazz/blues ensemble whose show I stumbled upon in a street fair back in September. I was ecstatic to see them again, and this time I remembered their name: Külalised, meaning "the guests."]
Well, excursions wait for no man -- or his physical malfunctions -- so I would just have to get over it.

On our walk through Viljandi
Our first major destination of the day was Viljandi, the artsiest town in Estonia. It is home to the Viljandi castle ruins, originally built by --you guessed it-- Teutonic Knights. The ruins are cool, as ruins tend to be, but the real point of interest in this town is the Viljandi Culture Academy, a school specializing in art, music, theater, traditional handicrafts, and more. We got a tour of the main university building by a soon-to-graduate student of cultural event planning. Swimming in scarves and clinking her bangles, our guide proudly led us through art studios, set shops, dance studios, and black boxes. Overcrowding was the theme of the day; she would introduce rooms by stating their holding capacity, then proudly follow that with how many people they actually fit inside, which always exceeded the limit by at least 100 people. 

After an hour it was time to go, but our tour guide promised she would see us at the folk music festival later that night; she had helped plan this particular cultural event. We toured a manor house in the afternoon before returning back to town for the folk music festival. There, I fell in love with a folk quartet called Gjangsta. Cameras weren't allowed inside, so I have nothing to offer you but a hearty recommendation.

It seems that I've already spent a few paragraphs of this entry and I haven't really said all that much about the excursion. So, time for a shotgun retelling! Here are some highlights:

Sangaste Loss is either a red brick castle that looks like a mansion, or a red brick mansion that looks like a castle. Whatever you choose to call it, it's beautiful, and heavy with the history of about three hundred years. And it's bigger than any human could ever need. In my wanderings, I went down an extra flight of stairs and ended up pacing the long halls of what seemed to be a haunted hospital in the basement. It was immaculately clean but completely uninhabited, with some doors spookily ajar to pitch black rooms. Outside, the place is itching with decadence: rolling lawns, serene ponds, mighty oaks just beginning to shed their leaves...the place practically screams for a match of croquet.

Pastoral Estonia.
Suur Munamägi (Big Egg Mountain) is the highest point in the Baltic states. By all accounts, this isn't saying much. The hill (it's less of a mountain and more of a hill) is only 1,043 feet above sea level. But still, superlatives are always nice for bragging rights, and Estonians are very proud of their Highest Point status. They lord it over their Latvian neighbors, whose tallest peak is a full twenty feet lower than Suur Munamägi.
Suur Munamägi tower. The observation deck up top was inhabited by a middle-aged couple who made out for the entirety of our visit.

At one point we drove through a slice of Russia. This piece of the country protrudes into the Estonian road system, and travelers are permitted to drive through. However, getting out of the vehicle is strictly forbidden. I don't know what would've happened if we had stepped out of our van. Our driver made it sound like the forest would explode in siren song, and Soviet tanks would come crashing through the underbrush flanked by armed guards. We decided not to test this theory, instead choosing to take pictures from inside the van. Now I can say I've been to Russia (for about 35 seconds).

Well, that's all for now. I have a paper to write and an accordion to play. And I'd like to take a walk --it's supposedly the last day in a string of nice weather. Rain and sleet are on the way, which doesn't bode well for me. I didn't pack enough warm clothes for the Estonian autumn, so I have resorted to using my travel towel (super absorbent and compact!) as a scarf. If I tuck the ends into my jacket, it looks like an honest-to-god article of clothing. I'm not sure how the towelscarf will perform in the rain; I think the absorbency might work against me in that case. I guess I'll find out soon. Nägemist! 

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