“Estonia? Where’s that?”
It’s here. Tucked in Europe’s northeastern corner up against the might of Russia. It’s one of the three Baltic states; with Latvia and Lithuania.
Beside the Baltic Sea, these three countries have had a long and eventful history. Their territories have been fought over for centuries, right up to the Soviet occupation after World War II. It took a two-million-strong human chain stretching for 600km from Tallinn in Estonia to Vilnius in Lithuania on 23 August 1989, for the world to take notice and recognise the independence of these three Baltic countries a couple of years later.
Our first venture into Europe was by bus from Saint Petersburg to Tallinn; the capital of Estonia. But before we would check out our first European city, we headed to the seaside town of Haapsalu, to see what the fuss was all about.
Trains don’t come by here anymore, but the regular day-trip buses from Tallinn do. Beyond the stretching platform canopy, old trains and carriages fade in the fresh salty air.
Haapsalu is a quiet retreat town, known for its healing spas and treatments. The warm sea mud has been famous for its therapeutic healing properties for centuries.
Not something we’re really into, though. We came for the quiet atmosphere of this 750 year old town, complete with its own castle and narrow streets of cute wooden houses.
It was a glorious warm, sunny day. Our good friend back home in Australia, Danica, had always wanted to come here. So we stole her idea!
This main street cafe restaurant was well known for its great food and cakes. And boy, did we have the best lunch, coffee and cake! (Especially after a month of Russian food!)
A lazy Sunday in Haapsalu felt like we were the only visitors in town, which is an unexpected delight for travellers like us.
The town is built around the restored ruins of Haapsalu Castle; founded in the thirteenth century. It was severely damaged during the Livonian War (1558-1582) and partially demolished by Peter the Great of Russia during the Great Northern War with Sweden in 1710.
An eye-catching tower overlooks the partly ruined walls and nicely manicured lawns open to the public.
The centrepiece is Haapsalu Cathedral (St. Nicolas Cathedral); the biggest single-naved church in the Baltic countries. It was built in accordance with Cistercian traditions, characterised by the Rose window above the portal.
The Legend of the White Lady is celebrated on full moon nights in August, where an image of a maiden is said to appear on the inner wall of the chapel. During the first bishop’s reign in the thirteenth century, every canon was supposed to lead a chaste life and access for women was forbidden. However one canon fell in love with an Estonion girl, who hid and dressed as a choir boy in secret for a long time, until she was later discovered.
The canon was put in prison where he starved to death. But the poor girl was entombed alive, walled up inside a cavity of the chapel by the builders with a piece of bread and a mug of water. For some time her cries for help were heard, yet she could find no peace. Every year she is said to appear on the Baptistry’s windows to grieve for her beloved man and prove the immortality of love.
You can stand and look at the window from outside, while a creepy speaker hidden in the wall echoes her muffled cries every now and then. We didn’t even notice until we heard it walking by. Or did we?
Visited 14th September 2014.