The Iron Curtain boundary that divided the occupied former Soviet countries from the rest of the world can now be traveled from north to south by intrepid cyclists on the newly developed Iron Curtain bicycle route known as EuroVelo 13. 6462.26 miles long, the journey through twenty countries past fourteen UNESCO World Heritage sites is a tour through a bleak period of history, rolling hills, urban landscapes and the varying climates of Nordic and temperate countries from Norway to Greece.
Read more about it here.
Iceland likely doesn’t rise to the top of your list when considering possibilities for Christmas and New Years. It’s winter. It’s cold and often plagued with winds and blizzards during its deep winter months. And it only has about four hours of daylight that feels more like early twilight that time of year. And yet, it’s precisely those conditions as well as its exuberant, unique and quirky holiday traditions based on Icelandic folklore that make the winter holidays in Iceland an unforgettable holiday experience.
via Winter Holidays in Iceland: Lights, Trolls and Traditions – Wander With Wonder
The small shops in Estonia are filled with colorful handmade textile art – colorful, knitted mittens, fine lacy shawls, vibrant striped skirts and bolts of woven cloth and fanciful, felted hats. Wandering the artists’ guilds, studios and shops in 2017, it’s hard to imagine the conditions its craftspeople endured during the country’s fifty-year Soviet occupation when all art had to be produced and sold in Soviet collectives under the restrictions of Soviet censored themes. That Estonian handicraft tradition survived the occupation is due in no small part to the persistence of its craftswomen. Check out my Global Comment story here.
Music in Estonia isn’t limited to celebrations of its strong tradition of choral music. The capitol city of Tallinn puts on Tallinn Music Week, a weeklong festival in March/April showcasing all forms of contemporary music, the arts, theatre, food and architecture using the city’s bookstores, bike shops, art galleries, bakeries, tech incubators, home decoration stores and shopping centers as venues. It’s a full-on sensory experience, an opportunity to explore Tallinn’s nooks and crannies and much of it is free to the public. Read about my experience here.
During its fifty year history of Soviet occupation, three percent of Latvia’s population was deported, imprisoned or worse. It’s a history today’s Russia denies, but Latvia wants you to know and viscerally experience what life was like behind the Iron Curtain. When in Riga, you can go inside the nearly untouched, terrifying KGB building and prison, tour its occupation history and visit the building that housed the culmination of the fifty-year Latvian resistance movement that contributed to the county’s freedom. See the story here.
In my last post I wrote about Estonian spa/sauna culture. When in the Baltic countries in March, I also spent time in neighboring Latvia who has its own version of a sauna experience. It involves old pagan rituals, sauna masters and, in one case, a full immersion into the curative properties of beer. Beer + sweat = health and a better state of mind. Read about it here.
It’s intimidating enough to cross the threshold of a spa and sauna with its various treatments that include ingredients sounding more like they belong in a dessert and the vulnerability of being naked. Imagine doing it in another country where you don’t speak the language and there’s a spa menu of 149 possibilities. And it involves flailing yourself with a whisk of tree branches. The spa and sauna culture in the northern Baltic country of Estonia is a combination of Finnish and Russian spa tradition with a twist that’s uniquely Estonian. A twist so rare and embedded in culture that UNESCO designated it a global treasure. I was intrigued enough that I overcame intimidation and walked across the threshold of two historic spas in the country’s capitol of Tallinn. You can read about it here.