Dancing, touristing, eating berries…

In my last post, I promised a couple of posts about my summer. Here’s the first of them. I was super fortunate this year to get to spend my July in Northern Europe. I have a strong connection to Northern Europe, as my family is Estonian, and I have studied both in Sweden and Norway. I had a few reasons for heading to that part of the world this July, but the biggest reason was that I was heading to Tallinn, Estonia to dance in a HUGE folkdance festival with my Estonian folkdance group from Toronto.

Every five years is Song and Dance Festival year in Estonia. This year’s dance festival had 10 000 performers and about 40 000 spectators over 4 performances, while the song festival had 32 000 performers and around 100 000 spectators over two days of performances. This in a country of 1.3 million. I had been to the festival in 1990 and 1994 (no, my math isn’t off – it used to happen every 4 years). My sister performed in the dance festival in 1994, and since then, I’d known that I wanted to perform in it as well some day. Little did I know it would take twenty years. But finally, this dream came true. Our group danced 3 dances, as part of the performance’s finale. With 9200 dancers on stage at once. (The “stage” was a football stadium…) It was pretty spectacular. It was hard to realize that this 20-year dream was finally coming true and the wave of emotion I’d been expecting took a while to reach me – it just didn’t feel real. Finally during the third and fourth performances, I felt goosebumps running down my back and tears welling in my eyes. But really, it wasn’t until about 2 weeks later that the emotions overtook me. It might be 5 years until I next go to the festival, it might take 20 years again, but I am truly thankful that I had the opportunity to dance in this year’s festival.

(If you want to see how the dance performances looked like from the air, check out this link. Spectacular!)

Between lots of practices and performances, there was a bit of time to play tourist in Tallinn as well. Though this was my 12th time there, there are always new things to discover. Just outside of the Medieval Old Town walls were a whole series of small gardens designed by a variety of artists. There’s also a part of town which has become the young, hip neighbourhood (Kalamaja), which I finally visited. Some great restaurants, cafes and shops!

I also (re)discovered some of the fantastic names of the different neighbourhoods in Tallinn. The part of town where I was staying is called Onion Town (Sibulaküla). There’s also a Fish House (Kalamaja), Flower Town (Lilleküla), Eavestrough (Veerenni), and two neighbouring areas named after two different types of bagpipes (Torpilli and Sikupilli). Really, I could keep going…

After Tallinn, I spent a few days on the island where my mom’s parents grew up, Hiiumaa. I’ll admit it, Hiiumaa is not the world’s most exciting place – the main attractions on the tourist map are lighthouses, churches, trees and boulders. But to me, it’s one of the most beautiful and relaxing places on Earth – while in Estonia, it is my home. Though I was equally close with all of my grandparents (all of whom were from Estonia, but just my mom’s parents were from Hiiumaa), I have always felt a stronger connection to Hiiumaa than to any other part of the country.  When there, I stay at the farmhouse where my grandfather grew up, one of my homes-away-from-home. It’s by the sea. It’s calm. There’s always something to do, but also the opportunity to sit and do absolutely nothing. And I don’t think there’s anywhere in the world where I sleep as well as I do in “my” bed there. Ahhhh….

Well, after a couple of weeks in Estonia, it was time to head over the Norway. Seems July isn’t the best time for me to go there, as everyone is on vacation… Many of my friends were away, but I was still able to catch up with a few people, which was lovely. And I borrowed an apartment from friends for the few days I was there – turned out to be nice to have my own space for a bit after a couple of busy weeks in Estonia. This was when the emotion of the Estonian Dance Festival really started to hit me, as I finally had some time on my own to let it sink in.

One morning in Oslo, I felt like I hadn’t eaten enough fruit in the past couple of days. I was headed on a hike for the day, and bought myself a couple of apples to munch on. Well, turns out that wasn’t needed. The whole 12 km route was lined with blueberry bushes which were just FULL of berries. The following day, while going with a friend to pick up her son from daycare, we stumbled upon a giant patch of raspberries, and in their beautiful backyard garden, we gobbled up lots of black currants (after a wonderful garden tour by her 3 year old son). Add to that some local strawberries too. Yum!

And next, it was time to head to Sweden. The second wonderful reason for going to Northern Europe this July was a good friend’s wedding. It was fun and lovely weekend of festivities, meeting lots of new people and getting to speak LOTS of Swedish. The wedding ceremony was outside on the shore of a big lake, and the reception was in a lovely old barn. And the town of Hjo has its own little local organic ice cream factory, which of course had to be visited. And then off to Stockholm for a few last days of the trip. By then, the heat-wave that was hitting Northern Europe was really getting underway. I loved the heat which was drier than Toronto summers tend to be, but with no air conditioning anywhere, it was tempting to spend lots of time in the fridge sections of grocery stores… A great week of visiting, touristing, swimming, wandering… And a visit to Stockholm for me is not complete without a bowl of the best fish soup I’ve ever had, at Kajsas at Hötorgshallen. Seems I eat my way around the places I visit…

I hope you enjoyed this post, though it diverged from the general theme of my blog… But I did stick to the food theme, anyway. 🙂

Happy growing!

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