Few people know that Estonia is only a short ferry ride from Helsinki. The capital city Tallinn, is considered one of the best preserved medieval cities in all of Europe. Charming and quaint best describes the old town. My journey to the Baltic states started here. People often ask why I choose such places? I choose places like this because we live in a time where everything is mass produced and disposable. We want more, cheaper and faster. I have a true appreciation for finely made “slow goods” and the stories behind the people who produce them. I combine that with my love of interior design to provide my clients unique items for their homes that tell a story. Not everything I sell in my shop is handmade, it’s not economically feasible and I would be traveling 365 days a year. But I’ve found a nice balance that I hope my customers appreciate.
I always start my journeys by asking a guide to “take me to the places you would never take a tourist”. They often look at me like I have two heads. I want to go to the small villages or parts of the cities that your average traveler doesn’t venture into. I always do my research before hand. I know about weekend flea markets, towns where specialty goods are made and artist enclaves. When I told my Estonian guide where I wanted to go to, she said “are you sure”? “It’s not very pretty”! Yet, Telliski is where we headed. I would describe it as very Communist looking with rows of grey concrete apartments and shops, but it’s on the verge of being gentrified and therefore, has become an area known for its local artists, designers and craftsman.
Many of the artists are second or even third generation craftsman carrying on time worn traditions but, with a new twist. Knitting and weaving are a national pastime. Estonia is known for its brightly colored wool mittens, hats and scarfs. Each pattern intricately knitted in various design tells the region it was made in. Not only does it indicate the region but, it’s pattern also tells a story. Deer for hunting season, snow for the holidays and flowers for the hopes of an early spring. The hand knit mittens will run you around $40 USD each but are well worth the investment when you consider the workmanship involved. I happened upon a women who was proud to show me her hand woven wool blankets, pillows and shawls. She was proud to tell me that the Estonian prime minister was seen in one of her recent creations. Each piece is a one of a kind creation woven in the softest grey, blues, blush and creams. If you have shopped in my store, you know these are my favorite tones.
Other things to look for in Tallinn are household items made of juniper wood.I was up early on a Wednesday morning to hit the outdoor markets to find many stalls selling beautiful hand carved utensils, bowls and boards. If you haven’t seen juniper wood it’s a beautiful combination of wood tones and it smells wonderful. Finally, my trip to Estonia would not be complete without a visit to Kalev Marzipan store. It’s said to have been invented here for medicinal purposes during medieval times. This weak almond paste is hand molded and hand painted into the most intricate designs. Each piece is unique and it’s a favorite gift of choice for Estonians to commemorate birthdays, graduations and christenings.