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The unknown country of Kalevipoeg

It is the smallest and the least known Baltic Republic. Due to its land area and population, which is slightly less than 1.5 million, it is also one of the smallest European countries. By some it is called the bedroom of Finland. Located between the Bay of Riga and the Bay of Finland, Estonia with its dramatic history, medieval Tallinn, which is on UNESCO’S list of cultural heritage and unique nature, it is one of the most beautiful places in Europe.

Heritage parks, parks and wildlife reserves which receive more and more tourists from around the world, Tallinn, Tartu – the university city and Narva inhabited almost in all by Russian speaking populace as well as many other attractive places only waiting to be discovered.

In order to get to know Estonia well, a short trip is simply not enough. Other than fascinating cities there are also 38 wildlife reserves (e.g. UNESCO Biosphere Reserve by the Matsalu Bay), 4 national parks and 17 scenic parks, all in such a small area. Over 9% of the country is legally protected. Environment protection is one of the most important issues in Estonia.

There are post-glacial boulders spread throughout the coast, which are a favorite among ringed seals, the only polar, and the smallest species of the three present in the Baltic Sea. The second largest group in Europe can be found in the Gulf of Riga. Legends say that the boulders on the coast were thrown around by a great ruler Kalevipoeg (which is also the name of the national epic of Estonia).

More than 1.5 thousand islands and rocky isles belong to Estonia. The largest of these are Muhu, Saaremaa and Hiiumaa. Those who enjoy peace and quiet can rest there looking at the magnificent one hundred meter cliffs and coves full of luscious plant life. Estonia is located in the lowlands and swamps and backwater make up one-third of the country. Nearly one-half of the country is covered by forests where pines, oaks, and spruces are predominant. Small, 300-meter hills known as “Estonian Switzerland”, small ponds and waterfalls create a beautiful scenery.

The best season for travelers eager to find out more about Estonian flora and fauna is early autumn. The spectrum of colors provided by September and October provides a unique climate. Oranges, reds, gold, shades of brown, and green as the early morning sun brightens up the trees it creates impressions which are difficult to resist. It is a view which the human eye cannot pass up.

It is worth remembering, however, that early autumn mornings in Estonia differ greatly from the Polish ones. Frost makes it difficult to stay out without gloves. A scarf is also a welcome addition, as there is often a cold, northern wind blowing about. Yet that is what the charm is all about.

Going down the coast, twenty kilometers east of Tallinn, there is Rebal Heritage Preserve. The name comes from a small village established about 2000 years ago. This is a place known for its largest amount of archeological finds in Estonia. One of the most interesting discoveries is oblong, boat-shaped, deep openings in the ground. It can be assumed that these are the remains of the Vikings. That is the opinion of some archeologists. In the town of Jõelähtme, there is also Rebal Museum. Traveling back in time to the Bronze Age, we can let our imagination run wild and become ancient Estonians for a while. To add to this feeling there is also a seven-meter waterfall, Jagala, however most people aren’t quite amazed by its size or the rush of cascading water. It also isn’t Niagara Falls, but it does make for quite an attraction with its high, limestone cliffs. Although everything in Estonia is small, that is exactly what makes it such a beautiful place.

The trail most often visited in Estonia is the, Viru Natural Marshland Trail, which is located within the Preserve. A three-kilometer, narrow, wooden footbridge leads deep into the swamps, which were created by the passing of the glacier 7 thousand years ago (the largest swamp is Laukasso spread in the area of 1000 ha). During an hour-long walk, one can see up-close small water gardens and tiny islands with colorful plant-life, where lonely wild trees grow. Calculations show that in this region there are 100 different kinds of moss. However, it is the gaudiness of nature that really catches the eye. This is why, the marsh country is best visited in autumn.

Yet the Rebal Preserve is not only the settlement with its, houses built here and there, it is not only the museum. It is also a part of the Lahemaa National Park – the largest in Estonia.

The land of four bays. The Park was established in 1971 with the goal of preserving the unique northern landscape, which was recognized as the national heritage of Estonia. It is worth mentioning that it was the first such undertaking in what was then the Soviet Union.

It now occupies 752 km2, of which 1/3 runs deep into the Baltic Sea. This broad region is located in two separate regions, Harjumaa and Virumaa and four bays (Kolga, Eru, Har, Käsmu).

For many Estonians, the park in not only a tourist attraction, but most of all a symbol of efforts made to keep the land in its natural state. There is still much work to do, due to the fact, that especially, eastern Estonia has serious ecological problems, caused by the industrial nature of the region. The biggest threat is the air, polluted by sulfur dioxide, which comes from the burning of bituminous slates in the thermal-electric power plant, and water. Luckily more than 70% of the Park is covered by virgin forests. Furthermore 8% of it, are confined natural preserves, which are closed off to tourists due to its highly unique flora and fauna.

In all, in Lahemaa Park, there are 50 species of mammals, 838 species of plants, and 24 species of fish. The further development of the region depends on research which is being conducted throughout the park. This is the only park in Estonia in which is managed in such a modern way. The coast is split apart by four peninsulas: Vergi, Juminda, Pärispea and Käsmu. Ancient boulders, out of which trees grow, are a curious peculiarity of the park. Estonians call this region “stone field”. Therapeutic underground springs as well as 15 lakes are also located in the park.

The unknown country of Kalevipoeg. In order to get to know Estonia better, it is not enough to just visit Tallinn, or to drink the famous Saku beer. It is only a shortened version of this journey, and it won’t be enough to get the true feeling of this small country.

 

Translator: Szczepan Witaszek

About Joanna Felicja Bilska