Estonia is a Baltic state and former part of the Soviet Union, located on the Baltic Sea and Gulf of Finland. Its terrain is diverse--the country is more than half-covered in forests and has more than 1,500 islands and 1,400 lakes.
The skyline of Tallinn, Estonia's capital, is speared by the steeples of churches ranging from that of 13th century St. Olav's and the 20th century onion-domed Russian Orthodox Alexander Nevsky cathedral. The outskirts of the medieval center encompass the inspiring Song Fesitival Grounds as well as the grim former Patarei Prison.
The country's cultural capital is home to the Estonian National Museum and the Song Festival Museum as well as Tartu University and St. Anthony's Guild, where master craftsmen and artisans can be seen engaging in ancient creative traditions.
Parnu is a port town was an important member of the Hanseatic League, an economic alliance of trading cities and their merchant guilds that dominated trade along the coast of Northern Europe from the 13th -17th centuries. Several centuries of architecture can be seen in a stroll around its cobbled streets, through its many parks and along the banks of its river. Parnu is best-known as a spa and resort destination and Estonia's "summer capital."
Muhu Island is timeless place of thatched cottages, iconic Estonian swings,ancient churches, sacred stones, and swirling patterns--where evidence of Soviet occupation endures in the form of an old missile base. Saaremaa is Estonia's biggest island and reached via a causeway from Muhu over tranquil waters. Its coastline is dotted with windmills and fairy tale-like castle adorns the picturesque spa town of Kuressaare. At an atmospheric church in the village of Kaarma, Iattended a choral concert held to celebrate Estonia's 20th anniversary of its re-independence from the Soviet Union.
Estonia's seventh-largest island is home to four communities and 600 people, who keep alive rich traditions of handicrafts and song. Colorful folk costumes are daily wear for the women and about 70 local men continue the age-old maritime wayof life. UNESCO proclaimed Kihnu's cultural space and traditions as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity in 2003.
The fifth largest lake in Europe spans the Russian border--along its shores live the Old Believers. This community of 11 congregations was founded here in the 17th century by members of the Russian Orthodox religion being persecuted for their conservative views at the time the church underwent a reformation. Today, the villages are known for their cultivation of onions.
In the southeastern corner of Estonia is Setomaa or "Seto Nation," an ethnic and linguistic minority who practice the Orthodox faith and the tradition of "leelo" singing, a style of folk songs where the singer improvises the words, which the choir then repeats.