Saaremaa – Windmill Capital of the World

Saaremaa and Homeward Bound

From Parnu, we headed to our final (sad face) destination.

And we went by boat. Well ferry actually!

Did I ever say how much I like boats?

This boat ride came with a price – an eight hour drive from Parnu to the ferry terminal, and another hour from the other ferry terminal to Kuressarre, the capital of Saaremaa. But it also came with creamy forest mushroom chips. And they tasted like creamy forest mushroom!

What is Saaremaa you ask? An amazing, stunning, beautiful (you get the drift) island on the west coast of Estonia in the Baltic Sea. The architecture of Kuressaarre (below) had us from the start.

We only had two days on the island, so we jumped right in and had pancakes for lunch. Yep, awesome.

Then we went to Kuressaare Castle, the best preserved castle in the Baltic and the only medieval stone castle of the region that is still standing. The castle was amazing and the WWII exhibit (detailing the effect of WWII on Saaremaa) eye-opening.

However, the ‘zoo’ in the basement was just spectactular. I’ve never been this close to a bear before! Yep, weird. Why would you build a zoo exhibit in the basement of a castle?

There were also a whole range of stunning shields. This one, in a slightly Christmas theme was one of my favourites.

Here’s a random picture of Michael in the oven!

Oh and here’s Michael and I in days gone by.

That evening, we went to Veski Trahter and ate our wild boar hotpot in a windmill from 1889. The windmill was in operation until 1941 when the wings were sawn off to prevent the enemy using it for signalling during World War II. It’s 17 metres high, or 24 metres if you count the wings.

Later we were treated (again) to some wonderful Estonian dancing.

The next day, we hired a car and drove around the islands of Saaremaa and Muhu. Here’s us with the car!

First stop, Kaali crater. Approximately 100m wide, this water-filled crater has existed for about 2700 years. In Scandanavian mythology, it’s the ‘sun’s grave’.

From Kaali, we visited a couple of churches. This one is St Martins in Valjala. It’s the oldest church in Estonia, built just after the conquest of Saaremaa in 1227.

Then we went to St Mary’s Church in Poide. After the conquest of Saaremaa in 1227, the eastern part of the island belonged to the Livonian order who built a fortress at Poide. On 24 July 1344, Oeselians in Osel (the islands of Saaremaa and Muhumaa) renounced Christianity, killed all the Germans, and drowned the priests in the sea. They assembled around the Castle at Poide, which eventually surrendered. All were promised free passage but killed as they left the castle. Eventually (in 1345) the Livonians returned and peace was sorted but not until much fighting, lots of frost getting in the way and many murders of priests and kings. The walls of the chapel on the grounds of the fortress form the central part of Pöide Church.

We finished the morning with a trip to Koguva, the home of the Muhu museum. It’s a preserved fishing village where you can walk through a number of houses and a schoolhouse.

These are two of the walls set up in one of the old houses, now converted into a museum. Some of the work here was simply amazing.

Here’s me “learning” in the school house. Here also is the statue of Juhan Smuul, a famous Estonian writer who lived in Koguva.

After lunch, we travelled to the ruins of the Maasi fortress, established by the Livonian Order in 1345 when they took back control of Saaremaa. The building of the fortress was a punishment to the islanders for destroying the stronghold at Poide and killing all the Germans. Why? Well, the islanders had to build the fortress of course. The German name for the fortress is actually Soneburg, or penalty fortress.

The conflicht between Denmark and Sweden in the 1560’s and 70’s brought the end of the fortress. The Danish king realised the fortress was easily captured, so he blew it up. It’s only just starting to be reformed now.

The picture below left is the fortress, while the picture below right is me in the random boat out the front of the fortress.

After the Maasi fortress, we headed to the Angla windmills. This is the only remaining windmill hill on Saaremaa. At one time, every village had a windmill hill, which is a hill open to the winds where all the windmills for the village were built. In 1925, there were nine windmills in Angla but now there are only five.

Next stop was St Katherine’s Church in Karja, a small but incredibly beautiful medieval church.

Particularly amazing was that we arrived for band practice. And the band was simply incredible. You cannot go much better than Estonian folk music in an Estonian medieval church.

Then we stopped at another church. We believe it’s called Metskula Church. We stopped because we had fallen in love with Estonian churches, and this one looked different. It was locked; perhaps it’s not a very interesting church. We took a photo nonetheless.

The second last stop for the day was Panga Park, the highest cliffs in Western Estonia. Traditionally, Panga Park was a sacred place for praying and making fire (naturally). Each year, a human or animal was sacrificed to please the “Sea God”. Later, beer and vodka was used. On Christmas Eve and New Years Eve, Panga Park is visited to determine whether the coming year would be full of joy or unpleasantness.

Our trip to Saaremaa and Muhu finished with two of the best wooden folk windmills I’ve ever seen. I’m not sure anything more needs to be said about these!

From here, the trip sadly ends. A one hour bus ride, a two hour ferry, an eight hour bus ride, a short flight to London, a four hour queue at Heathrow airport and two eight hour flights later, we were home! Til next year, overseas!