Norma and Rhys Rolfe are off again, this time to Astonia. Though a lesser-known destination as part of the Baltic States, it proved to be an intriguing stop, with agricultural, nuclear and political history contributing to its unique story. Here follows the Rolfe’s latest instalment.
We were surprised, impressed and so pleased that we decided to visit Estonia, one of the so-called Three Sisters in the Baltic States: from Tallinn in the west, to Narva on the Russian border in the east, to Valga on the southern border with Latvia. Of course, Tallinn is the star turn, one of the best and most beautiful old towns we have been fortunate enough to visit. Much progress has been made in the smaller towns and cities, and the contrasts between Soviet era buildings and new and restored buildings is enormous. The roads are in good condition, and much EU money has been spent upgrading them.
The farms have many new houses and outbuildings, and the quality of farming is quite good. Farmers believe times were better under the Soviets because there were no restrictions on the quantity of produce produced, whereas now they can only produce what the EU allows. We visited Sillamae, a town without a name and not shown on any maps in the Soviet era, because this had a nuclear facility in the 1950s, one of the first in the USSR. The town was beautifully built, quite a contrast to any other town we have seen.
We visited Kallaste, a town on Lake Peipsi, where the Old Believers fled in the 1600s after disagreements with the Orthodox Church in Russia. This is also where many people were killed during World War II by the Russians, then the Germans and then again by the Russians. The cross featured in one of our photographs is still used in their churches today. We were amazed to find Sangaste Castle, modelled on Windsor Castle, in the 1870s. It was used as a German hospital in World War II and by the Soviets as a youth centre up to the 1990s.
At Narva, we saw the Friendship bridge between Russia and Estonia. There was a citadel in Estonia built by the Danes in the Thirteenth Century, and the Ivangorod fortress in Russia built in 1492 .The Nava River is the border between the two.
We look forward to our stay in Latvia and Lithuania.