Need a holiday handknit? Time for a Schmatta!

Tallinn, Estonia: Land of Many Contrasts

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Dear Kay,
At about this point in the trip, I started to feel seriously stupid. The street signs were starting to get to me–I couldn’t figure out the name of anything, and the increasing number of umlauts and serial vowels meant that I was sounding out words in my own made-up Danish/Swedish fake language. I sounded like somebody from The Vague Land of Scandinavia.
Furthermore, all the money in my pocketbook was colorful, varied in size, and the coins were sometimes surprisingly valuable. There’s nothing like holding your hand out with a pile of coins in it and letting the store clerk pick out which ones she likes.
Hoping to get a peek at Estonian, I blew some 25-cent-a-minute cruise-ship Internet to see what the deal was with the Estonian language. It’s like this. I found cheerful encouragement over at Speak Estonian!:

So why learn Estonian?
You enjoy a challenge
With fourteen different cases and an utterly unrecognisable vocabulary, Estonian should test even the most capable linguist! If you’ve studied other European languages in the past, you may find it refreshing to learn one where you effectively have to start entirely from scratch.

Refreshing? Try Mystifying. Supersecret. Like Ubbi-Dubbi. Hats off to anybody out there who can rattle off some Estonian.
I had only a knitter’s understanding of Estonia. The words nupps, Estonian mitten, and Nancy Bush pretty much sum up my understanding of the place. I knew it was small, that it was recently independent, and the whole country had the population of Nashville.
The tour we took provided a moving window into a place where I came to see that the fierce knitting comes from a fierce people. Our guide Annili told us about her upbringing in the 1970s when Estonia was still under Soviet control, and it took about ten seconds for us to figure out that she and her fellow Estonians pretty much TOTALLY DESPISED the Russian government, even as they lived with Russians who were imported to Estonia to colonize it. The tsar-built superdeluxe cathedral in the middle of the city, the Alexander Nevsky, was seen as a symbol of Russian oppression. Daily life was unspeakably grim.
As we passed the big ampitheater on the edge of town, she showed us a postcard of a sea of people at the ampitheater, and pointed to the lower right corner. “That’s me,” she said. It was the Singing Revolution, the nonviolent protest in the late 1980s that resulted in Estonian independence in 1991. I just found a documentary, “The Singing Revolution,” that I want to see. Here’s the trailer, which is lovely. People rising up and singing for their independence is the sort of thing that really amazes me.
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A dome from the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. The Estonians are feeling better about this place now, which they express in new plaster and paint.
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Beautiful gate, troubling place. This was the KGB headquarters in Tallinn.
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Apparently there were some quality control issues with the stone collecting. Somebody got fired, about six feet into this wall.
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Ah, who doesn’t like a Soviet submarine tour? Hotbunking! Sleeping over a torpedo tube! Thirty days with no baths! Just like our cruise ship!
I let the guys go back to the ship so that I could wander around, illiterate and armed only with some colorful currency that might or might not work, along with my ATM card and a map in Estonian. About three minutes passed until I came across my first Estonian mitten, which was followed by dozens more, and sweaters, and hats, and nupps and lace and piles and piles of socks. I had come across the Knitting Wall, a bunch of stalls stuffed with knitting. OMG, take the day off, ladies!
At a yarn shop called Jolleri Käsitöökamber (I’m sure it means Purl or Loop or Yarn Barn), I found a piece that looked not particularly Estonian, but it looked particularly beautiful to me.
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A linen wrap, knitted on a size 2 or 3 needle.
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It cost $31. I think.
Love,
Ann
PS Next: Another day, another indecipherable language.

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41 Comments

41 Comments

  1. Aren’t indecipherable languages fabulous? Bring ‘em on! :) I love that wrap — so beautiful, so much handwork. Thanks for taking us along vicariously on your trip!

  2. I love Estonian – like Finnish, only slightly more hilarious. :D
    (Also, well done on the shop’s name – it actually pretty much translates to Craft Chamber.)

  3. You did buy us each one of those linen wraps, right?

  4. That wrap is gorgeous! Keep bringing on the vacation updates…I love reading all about it. Vicarious living and all.

  5. I like that such a beautiful wrap is made from such a simple pattern.
    I’m inspired to make something similar, using the Barbara Walker treasuries.
    Oh, wait. I should probably finish the simple lace scarf that I started, ah, 2 years ago.
    Loving your travelogue.

  6. I’m more charmed with every post! Thanks!

  7. I’m so glad you enjoyed Tallinn! I spent many years there and miss it much.
    One thing: While you’re absolutely right about there being no love lost between the Estonians and the Russians, the Soviets didn’t build Alexander Nevsky or any other Orthodox cathedrals. All religion suffered under the atheist Communist regime.
    Nevsky was built in 1882, under the tsars, whom nobody in Estonia much liked, either.
    I hope you stocked up on big spools of linen thread! And I hope it’s still as affordable as I remember.

  8. Tallinn is wonderful, we spent a few days there last February.
    About the Alexander Nevsky cathedral – it was built several years before the Soviet Union was “invented”, but Estonia was under Russian oppression during this time. During the Soviet time religion was more or less forbidden, so I’m not sure if they cared much for the building at all.
    Käsitö means craft, and villa means wool, very important Estonian words.

  9. I’m so glad you liked Tallinn! I spent many happy years there.
    One thing: While you’re right about there being no love lost between the Russians and the Estonians, the Soviets didn’t build Alexander Nevsky or any other Orthodox cathedrals. All religion suffered under the atheist Communist regime.
    Nevsky was built in 1882, by the tsarist government, whom nobody liked much either.
    Head reisi! Enjoy the rest of your trip!
    (If you need any other Estonian terms translated, esp. for your knitting, I’d be happy to help.)

  10. Thanks for the link to the video – what an inspiring story…

  11. I know that Knitting Wall and that shop in the square – had to be dragged away from it….The Baltic is one of our favourite places to cruise, closely followed by Norway – pencil that in for your next one!

  12. At first I thought those gates lookes like stylized balls of yarn.
    I guess you could torture some people with knitting…I could have been a secret weapon, “Sir, we can’t break her, she’s been knitting stockinette for 12 days, she’s asking for more yarn!”
    I wonder if Kay is designing a linen wrap at this moment?

  13. Thanks for this fantastic travelogue! I am enjoying each episode and want to follow in your steps some day. Anxiously awaiting the next post.

  14. You *did* buy the wrap with some of that interesting money, right?

  15. I too am enjoying your travelogues. Quality control issues in the wall had me hooting. I find it ominously symbolic that the KGB gates look like two stylized eyes looking out.

  16. Wow – it’s so cool that you were in Tallinn! I was there last month with two friends. I do know the Jolleri Kasitookamber. There are actually two in Tallinn. We liked the one that had another art and yarn shop across the alley/street from it. I bought some linen laceweight and quite a bit of yarn similar to Kauni. Jolleri is part of the name of the woman who owns it, and Kasitoo means handwork. There was another (third) small shop but it mostly had common american yarns and novelty yarn. The man from that shop told us he had “the best” yarn. Uh, no. We wanted Estonian yarn.
    We also took a day trip to Haapsalu. Absolutely hands down the best. Ever. I’d love to go back for a week stay.

  17. I had the same experience with the language when I went to Prague last year, except with way too many consonants. I really find it all part of the charm of traveling.

  18. subounds lubike uba fubascubinubatubing tubime, subimubilubar ubin clubuenubessnubess tubo muby fubamubilubie’s vubisubit tubo Bubudubapubest uba fubew yubears ubagubo. Cuban’t wubait tubo subee mubore ubof thube knubittubing frubom yubour ubadvubentubure. :-)

  19. The linen made my mouth water. Thanks so much for these posts. You should be a travel writer. If you want another language challenge, try Hungarian. Less umlauts, no prepositions. (But, oh, the food!)

  20. Wonderful travelogblog! I’m enjoying every bit of it. Thank you.
    Laura

  21. Don’t know if I should mention this, but Finnish, 15 cases. Yup.

  22. oh my word I’m having a heart attack over that linen wrap. I’ve been searching for just the right pattern for a wrap from my louet euroflax and honey – this is IT. There has got to be a way to figure out the stitch pattern on it. I’m off to go back to your post and click on the photos for enlargement (fingers crossed and trying not to drool)
    p.s. loving the travel commentary :)

  23. I’m loving reliving your trip and I can’t believe how many readers have been to Estonia. And I’m with Liz on Prague. I couldn’t pronounce much, but at least I could follow the subway stops and match them to my map!!

  24. oh my word I’m having a heart attack over that linen wrap. I’ve been searching for just the right pattern for a wrap from my louet euroflax and honey – this is IT. There has got to be a way to figure out the stitch pattern on it. I’m off to go back to your post and click on the photos for enlargement (fingers crossed and trying not to drool)
    p.s. loving the travel commentary :)

  25. oh my word I’m having a heart attack over that linen wrap. I’ve been searching for just the right pattern for a wrap from my louet euroflax and honey – this is IT. There has got to be a way to figure out the stitch pattern on it. I’m off to go back to your post and click on the photos for enlargement (fingers crossed and trying not to drool)
    p.s. loving the travel commentary

  26. double dutch brings up in my mind
    trying to jump rope double dutch
    this is a grand tour
    thank you ann

  27. I love this! I feel like I’m taking a virtual vacation with you. But now I have to go look up nupps – I’ve forgotten what they are.

  28. I love Tallinn! It’s such a beautiful city! I have great memories of visiting it while I studied in Russia.

  29. Does that linen wrap feel as cool and silky as it seems? *Exquisite*! [Look Ma, no nupps!]

  30. Your blog posts require popcorn. They’re *that* good!

  31. Thanks so much for sharing this with us. I am loving living so vicariously through you. If this trip is you taking a break from knitting what happens if you give up knitting altogether? Will you end up down under on a sheep station or surrounded by llamas and alpacas somewhere? Inquiring minds want to know.

  32. Love this. When I pay off college for the kids, I am going Somewhere with an indecipherable language.

  33. Thank you for sharing this trip with me. My uncle and his parents escaped from Latvia while it was under Russian occupation…and he never talks about it, so the story of your guide was very interesting to me.

  34. Your visit to my ancestral homeland sounds lovely. I really want to visit Estonia and spend a few days soaking it in.

  35. That wrap is lovely. Thanks so much for including all of us on your trip. All I can say is, “More, more!”

  36. That wrap is lovely. Thanks so much for including all of us on your trip. All I can say is, “More, more!”

  37. That art deco-ish iron gate, former KGB entrance, looks like some fancy quilt lines to me (shhh, don’t tell Kay…).
    Am really enjoying your travel log!
    LoveDiane

  38. Loving your travelog. I’ve been on my own little (much less charming) journey so haven’t been able to comment. I love a post that includes weird facts, hot bunks underwater , and ends with a handknit. Only at Mason-Dixon….

  39. Bravo! Loving the travelogue, the hand knits, and the different cases.

  40. Just to bring in more nations: Talinn actually means “City of the Danes” and was founded by a Danish King, only to loose it to the Swedes who lost it to the Prussians who lost it to the Poles who lost it to the Russians… or something like that Standard Europeqan history, sometimes you guys “over there” frankly had it too easy.
    Linen! Great fibre.
    Not that I’m leaving wool behind, but for a summer wrap it is great stuff.

  41. The wrap is a lovely souvenir of your trip!