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.
It was the power of choral singing that sustained the Estonian people during their fifty years behind The Iron Curtain. There are over 700 choirs in the tiny country of Estonia and from 1987 to 1991, the power of unified choir voices singing forbidden songs became a resistance tool in the country’s effort to gain independence. Check out my latest article in Global Comment.
Roadside attractions were popularized during the heyday of United States early, long distance, automobile travel. The back roads of the U.S. highway system are still littered with quirky tourist attractions thought up by the town leaders to convince the motoring public to visit and spend money – statues of flying saucers, tunnels through redwood trees, the world’s largest strawberry, largest yo-yo, largest Paul Bunyan statue, home of the world’s tallest man.
Washington State’s Yakima Valley may be better known as a wine destination, but it also has a giant teapot, the world’s only hop museum, a town full of murals and a growing herd of dinosaurs, all that can be checked out in my newest article in Northwest Travel and Life Magazine
Our museum started on a hot January night in 2002, when an intricate woman headdress was acquired at the Night market in the northern Thai city of Chiangmai. This woven hat, decorated by cowries, silver plates and Burmese coins, unexpectedly became the start of the huge collection of traditional headware which now encompasses over 400 items.
It was impossible to resist an intro like that. I’m a fan of small, single themed, well-curated museums having been regularly overwhelmed wandering through the bucket list museums of the world. I was in Riga, Latvia doing research for upcoming travel articles and its World of Ethnic Hats Museum sounded like a perfect addition to one of the articles.
Founded twelve years ago by Russian linguist, businessman and traveler, Kirill Babaev, he began by buying traditional ethnic clothing in his global travels and quickly realized the collection would be difficult to house. It made more sense to purchase only the headgear. When his collection outgrew his homes in Moscow and Jurmala, Latvia, Babaev moved it to four rooms of a second floor building in central Riga and opened a museum. I’d hoped to meet the founder when I visited, but he was in India searching for more hats. “We don’t know where we’ll put them,” laughed the museum curator.
The collection is organized by continent allowing visitors to study hats and headgear as an ethnographer might organize artifacts. Each hat has an informative multi-lingual explanation about its origin, use, age and composition. Many of them are accompanied by photos showing the original owner wearing traditional clothing and the hat.
Most of the hats and headgear are only used for special occasions – festivals, weddings, and funerals. They’re intricate works of art usually, but not always, designed and handmade by women. In countries of colder climates, making hats and headgear was a winter activity for the summer festival and wedding season.
The variety of size, shape and materials was astounding. Boiled wool, silk, grasses, plated metals and many were embellished with buttons, embroidery, bead work and feathers.
When I posted this one among others on my Facebook page, it drew far more likes than any museum hat photos. That’s when I realized its similarity in shape to the pink pussy hat that I and millions of women wore during the January Women’s March.
The museum can be found at 7 Vilandes in Central Riga outside its medieval Old Town. A small sign at the entrance points you into a courtyard where you buzz the intercom to be let in and climb the stairs to the museum.