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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Am I Really, Truly Here?

We loaded into the car Saturday morning to drive to Haapsalu, just about a two-hour trip from my friends' house. On our way in, we stopped at a small museum dedicated to Swedes who lived in Estonia. The centerpiece of the exhibit is an embroidered wall hanging that depicts the important events in Swedish/Estonian history. The whole place was homespun and charming, and our host was enthusiastic to show us around.

Somewhere along the way, I mentioned that Nancy Bush was going to be in Haapsalu. (The Internets told me so.) I told my friends that she was a knitting author who was primarily responsible for bringing Estonian knitting, specifically Haapsalu lace knitting, to the attention of American knitters. She was, I explained, a bit of a knitting celebrity. Despite our best efforts (and to my friend Stig's great disappointment), we did not manage to find Nancy on Saturday. (I suppose this entry could have well been titled "Confessions of a Knitting Stalker," though stalker has such negative implications. As it is, my mother has accused me of stalking a certain male rock star, to which I reply, "It's not stalking if I pay him to see him.")

Vendor Selling Smoked Fowl
The White Lady Days or White Lady Festival is an annual event named for the town's most famous legend. In short, it is a tragic tale of boy meets girl, boy sneaks girl into the cathedral dressed as a choirboy, boy and girl successfully manage said deception for a couple of years, then boy and girl are put to hideous, painful deaths upon discovery of their misdeeds. Girl then shows up as an apparition in the cathedral window during August's full moon. (There is even a lace pattern depicting her in the window.) There are craft and food vendors, singers and dancers, a large-scale outdoor pageant that begins at 10:30pm, bands, and the like. I will admit that I did have a hard time wrapping my American brain around the notion that people were buying and eating all manner of meats, cheeses, and fish that was sitting about unrefrigerated and open to the elements. I did not see anyone dropping dead in the streets, however, so it must have been fine. (While most things were smoked, it was still pretty warm out, and it did give me pause before tasting any samples. Clearly, I survived.) My friends took me to the most charming cafe in an art gallery on the main street. This place was so delicious, so delightful, that after we had lunch, we returned a few hours later for...CAKE! And, after my friends departed for home, I went back a third time, where I was greeted as a regular customer and treated to...FREE CAKE!!! (I ended up eating there one additional time before leaving town. Fortunately, my friends gave me a gift of the cafe owner's cookbook, which I am madly, passionately in love with. It is so charming and features two of the best things I are while I was there. In fact this was her second book, and I located her first book through a Russian bookseller, and it should be making its way to me soon.)

A Charming Building. A Former or Current Bakery, Perhaps?

Haapsalu is a delightful seaside town. The likening isn't quite right, but it shares certain characteristics with New Orleans. There are lovely frame buildings with charming details, but many are in disrepair. There is that essence of decadent decay that I quite love. The streets twist and turn, and the cobblestones threaten to reach up and trip you. Each time you walk the same street, something else beckons your attention. I quickly fell in love with the place.

This building reminds me of Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop in NOLA.
A lot of attention and capital has been dedicated to the promenade along the sea, and it is stunning. The walkways are lovely, and the views are magnificent. Apparently, in winter, this very shallow part of the Baltic freezes, and you can drive across from Haapsalu to a neighboring island.
The gem of the promenade is the Kuursall. This building, with the nearby band shell, and its lacy, gingerbread trim was the perfect backdrop the the Haapsalu Lace Day on Sunday.
I would be cheating you if I didn't give the Lace Day its own entry. There are pictures of lace, and ladies who make lace, and contests for making lace that deserve to be highlighted. My apologies for stringing you along. but the day was so full of "pinch me" moments that you deserve to see as much of them as I can fit in here.

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