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Impressions of the island Saaremaa

Updated: Aug 30, 2020

We are located in beautiful Saaremaa, an island of Estonia in the Baltic sea. It's more or less as big as Luxembourg and is sparsely populated with it's circa 31.000 inhabitants. The impressions below are a selection from our personal ones - the touristic 'hotspots' like the well-preserved medieval castle, the mystical meteorit crater and the high Panga cliffs are also worth visiting, but were not our focuspoint this time. We started to explore the landscape closest to our place, and spend most of our time in Vilsandi National Park.

The Land- Slow fields and wild forests

The island buzzes, waves and flourishes in all timelessness. It is perfect weather when we drive on a lazy rhythm on the restorated roads through the landscape. Everywhere we look we see poppies coloring the fields, wich evertytime yields an 'aaah' and an 'oooh' from me. The one field even more expressive then the other, in alternation with pieces of cornflowers waving through the grains stalks. It's a very nostalgic landscape with big haybales that dry in the sun. Here and there a farmer is busy on his field with a tractor. The fields are not rectangular here, but their borders wave, in dialogue with the surrounding forests and the relief of the landscape. Big lost stones are spread around the edges. Often there is an island of trees in the middle of the field, where birds fly in and out.

A watchtower in Vidumae- a forest reserve close to us

But the land has also a real 'untamed' character, with gnarled oaks and big stretches of fir forests with blueberries underneath. At the coast there are many juniperbushes and the reed waves gently. And the crazy thing is- definitely for a Belgian- if you go for a walk, you don't meet anybody!

The flat landscape here is not dramatic or very remarkable, yet beautiful for those who can behold it. There is a certain old athmosphere, through the many memories presented in the landscape of a time long past by. It makes you connect with the past. You can sense by seeing the renovated wooden windmills, the neat gardens with flowers and the clean coasts that the island is in the heart of the local people.

A dry toilet in the countryside - the most common thing here

The sea- Camping in silence in Vilsandi National Park

Finally a meeting with the sea! It seems like the sea and the coastlines have very different faces here in Saaremaa. The sea is for me an almost alien personality. I look forward to connect deeper with this all-enclosing body of water. Together with jonas I've spend many hours these days at the coastline, sitting on stones and strolling besides the exceptional coast vegetation of Vilsandi National Park. It's very near to our land, so we take our time discovering it. The park exists for 2/3 out of water and includes hundreds of islets. According to the information centre there are many special kind of birds that brood here, and the seals are abundant in numbers. We haven't seen seals yet, they are far off shore.

Timeless limestone beaches with seakales in Vilsandi National Park

Camping in silence - sunset at the sea- some filmfootage

With the beautiful summer weather we could go for a swim on multiple occasions! These are rare and cherished moments for me, that I can slide into the sea. At the south side of the island there is an 7 km stretch of coastline with sandy beaches, surrounded by forests. Perfect for a refreshing splash. It's not hard to find a privat spot here, as we see just some dozens of people hanging out on the hottest time of day. The sloshing of waves against our bodies is healing and empties our minds.

The closest 'beach' from our land is one with juniper bushes and grass, accomponied with a little but lively harbor.

The 'beach' 5 km from our land

The people have a sense of humor.

Ah, the people. While I've read everywhere that peope here are supposed to be introverted, are there ones that confirm this and ones that prove the opposit. The lady's behind the cash desk of the local shops are rather timid, and sparsely with words. However, by a visit to an artisanal soapfarm on the island we were blown away by the waterfall of words from the warm-hearted houselady. She seems honestly happy seeing people from that far away in her tiny shop. She tells us that all bustrips organised from Lithuania and Latvia are canceled, and they always stopped at her farm for soap and coffee. Her story of life rolls out. I almost feel intimidated by the wordly and open view of this lady an her well-articulated 10-year old daughter. We buy four deliciously smelling soaps and wish her much luck.

There seems to be a certain kind of humor present on the island. Sometimes it becomes a bit visible, when you spot an entrance to a farm decorated with strangely carved wooden figures in a funny setting. Or a little busstop with a small house where a chessboard is waiting for you. Or when you read that the Chrismas tree on the central square of Kurresaare makes it every year into a local drink. I believe people here like a bit of stubbornness and crazyness. And you feel the pride they posses, proud on the island-identity, connected with seasons, sea and land.

Landscape poetry with a touch of humor?

The Architecture: a mishmash of everything

The buildings one can find on the island are cleary influenced by occupiers from the past. Since the island is among others occupied by Germany, Sweden and the Sovjet-Union, we see as a result German mansions that serve as spa's, small wooden Swedish houses in red and yellow that show off in the villages, and the showy and ugly ruins of Soviet buildings that are fulfilling a second life as a cowshed. In between we discover the buildings reflecting the local culture: farms and churches built from local limestones, or wooden barns made in a traditional way with full trunks and a lot of craftsmanship.

A kiln in the nearby lime quarry in Lumanda - a place where traditional lime products are still produced

Around our new home we find a striking number of 'surrounded gardens': low walls of stacked limestone in different sizes. Sometimes recently renovated, other times overgrown by climbing plants and falling apart. The farms and houses are quite far apart, everyone here has space and privacy around him/herself.

The nearest church in Lumanda with stone walls - it even looks a bit Portuguese with it's limeplaster.

A restaurant in Leisi - Euh ... I'm impressed!

The Food- 'Slow food' seems a thing here

Maybe it's my focus, but I do notice how much energy is put into promoting the local products of Saaremaa. Various guides will show you around the island's artisan producers and their farm shops. Slow food seems a thing here. We visit different farms and restaurants and taste and try as much as possible. In principle, you could eat a rich diet of only what the island has to offer: organic bread, cheese and milk products, meatproducts, flour and flour, vegetables, ...

The nearest restaurant is 3 km from our land and is located in the 'large' village of Lumanda (200 inhabitants) so we wanted to visit it. By entering the red-painted Swedish house, you come into a room with low ceilings and dark wooden walls. A real tavern atmosphere with many old details. You can order at the bar upon arrival, English is also provided on the menu. It turns out to be a restaurant that offers traditional food. There is a choice of ten or so dishes, with fresh vegetables from the garden and the daily catch of the local fishermen. We order fish and boiled pork with fried potatoes.

We sit outside at a robust picnic table and are soon presented with a tray of dark home-baked sourdough bread and creamy butter. Oh, what a heavenly bread! I am already sold. I've read somewhere that coriander is added to the bread, which gives it a special character. The rest of the meal with fermented white cabbage and beetroot, great tasting potatoes and soft fish just makes it better. Jonas has to get used to the new palette of flavors. The presentation is simple and straightforward.

Thank you for reading! Hopefully you already have a small impression of the unknown Saaremaa. If you follow further into the future, you will together with us gain some more insights about the rich culture, the people and the land.

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