Tuesday, April 26: Day Trip to Alatskivi Castle
Weather: Snow/rain in morning, changing to long periods of rain in the afternoon/41F
- making the 8:00 bus, a good practise run for tomorrow's 7:00 bus trip
- seeing the countryside between Tartu and Alatskivi
- touring some of the castle ruins to appreciate the amount of restoration done so far
- catching the 11:25 bus back to arrive in Tartu by 12:25
- eating the €5,00 daily lunch special at Krempel -- 2 chicken legs cacciatore-style, rice and salad -- near Tartu University
- shopping downtown at Bio-market and mini-Rimi for 99% chocolate, dried soup mix, frozen stir-fry veggies and 2 potatoes for dinner (€4,40 + €4,00)
- listening to the rain while we were dry and warm at the hostel, enjoying tea and chocolate
- fretting about how to buy bus tickets for Thursday when they are not available online
- being packed and ready for tomorrow's 6:00 departure
- chatting with Heidi about life in Tartu
- There was a light dusting of snow on the rooftops when we opened our eyes at 6:30. Waking up early isn't quite as difficult when there is light, even if it is cloudy, rainy light. I had packed a rain poncho for days like this, but since the hostel offered to lend umbrellas I gladly accepted. Hubby timed the walk to the bus station for tomorrow's schedule, arriving 30 minutes before the Go Bus departure time, 25 of which we wasted trying to buy a ticket from the self-service kiosk machines. It was 5 minutes before 8:00 when the bus pulled into the platform. We noticed the passengers were just paying as they boarded so Hubby paid the €4,60 for two seniors and we found seats in the mostly empty bus. Aha! So bus lines within one county didn’t sell tickets in advance but long line or inter-county buses did. We finally got it!
- This county bus was not equipped with wi-fi or entertainment and stopped at many villages along the route. The scenery at this time of the year, before Spring is really in full bloom, was quite monotone -- its dreariness enhanced by today's rain. On the up-side, there were no tree leaves or bushes to hide the views of farms and birds.
- The grounds and entrance were deserted when we walked up to the doors of Alatskivi Castle but on a Tuesday it would open at 10:00 (closed on Mondays). It was a little after 9:00 so we had an hour to kill. We expected the bus ride to take longer than an hour -- impressively even the county buses run on schedule.
- The reason we wanted to explore this area was because southern Estonia, near Lake Peipsi and the Russian border, has a distinctly different culture from Tartu even though it is still in Tartu County. The "Onion Road", as tours call it, is an area where Russians settled to escape religious reforms forced on them by the Russian Orthodox Church. The Old-Believers still practice the Russian Orthodox religion as it was in the 1600s, pre-reform. They made a good living growing onions to sell in Russia. Had we been feeling more adventurous we would have tried to walk to Lake Peipsi, but without good directions we didn't know which of the small dirt roads would take us the 8 Km to the lake or the Kolkja Old-Believers Museum. A bike, a bike...my kingdom for a bike! Instead we explored the grounds of the estate.
- The Estonian language took the word "park" from the Latin "parricus", meaning a fenced in area. The majority of Estonian parks, like Alatskivi Park, developed around old manors, so it was interesting to first read about the ownership of the property:
- 1601: Documents of the day first make mention of the Manor. The Alatskivi River probably was already dammed by this time to form Alakskivi Lake since the documents describe 3 mills on the river. The mill ruins can still be found on the estate, as well as the ruins of a fort.
- 1628: Sweden's King Gustav Adolf II gave the land to his secretary, Johan Adler Salvius
- 1642: the land passed to the Cronmanns
- 1753: the Stackelbergs bought the Manor and created the initial terraced park
- 1870: the Nolckens inherited the Manor, whose original Manor House was located closer to the road.
- 1876-1885: Baron Arved George de Nolcken was considering upgrades to the Manor when he became enchanted by Balmoral Castle (Queen Victoria's summer home) on a trip to Scotland. A new stone Manor was constructed on the high side of Alatskivi Lake. Baron Nolcken's asymmetrical design included turrets, a tower, balconies, a decorative facade and a slate roof. 57 outbuildings of natural stone surrounded the Manor House. They housed all the necessary activities of the Manor, such as the kitchen, laundry room, barns, cheese cellar, cemetery, church and various storage sheds. Small parterre gardens flanked each side and the back of the house. The back terrace looked out over landscaping which reached to the lake shore. The original park was landscaped with Linden, Alder, Oak, Ash and Maple trees. Pavilions and sculptures, one of which is now in Tallinn's Kadriorg Park, highlighted areas of interest. A second dam, dividing Alatskivi Lake into Castle Lake and Mill Lake, may have been added by Baron Nolcken.
- 1919: The state expropriated the land and gave oversight responsibility to the Ministry of Agricultural Work. The buildings were used as a school, a military post, a machine and tractor station and an agricultural holding center. The gardens, except for some trees, were mostly destroyed.
NOTE: Nobility was seen as a form of oppression when Estonia won its first independence in 1918. Manors were confiscated without compensation and given to the farmers, veterans of the independence war and tradespeople. Later the government recanted and reimbursed up to 20% of the value to the landowners. Under the period of Soviet rule following Estonia's first independence, landowners were considered enemies of the people so the beautiful manors became even more dilapidated, except in a few cases.
- 1929: the Alatskivi Castle Foundation began conservation efforts. Their goal was to restore the Castle, the original Manor House, the outbuildings and the park to their original state. Renovations to the Castle made from 2005 to 2011 have accomplished some of that goal. The Eduard Tubin Museum, devoted to one of Estonia's most esteemed composers, occupies 5 rooms on the first floor.
We paid our 'Pensionari' entrance fee, €4,00 each, to begin a marvelous walk through the open sections of the museum. Two long rooms were filled with life-sized models showing the activities needed to support the castle. Each model had a description of what a typical worker's daily life would have been like, allowing us to imagine ourselves in each role.
- After seeing the inside of the castle we walked a portion of the hiking path which circumnavigates the lake, imagining how beautiful the park would be on a sunny day a month from now, with wildflowers and birds everywhere. Today it was very muddy so we turned back after reaching the bridge. We would have preferred to explore the area more after lunch but the castle restaurant was not open for the season yet and unfortunately there did not seem to be any lunch options within walking distance. Why had we not brought our own picnic food just in case? Oh, well...
- We only had a short wait for the bus back to Tartu. My one last hope was that the bus would take the route which followed the road along Lake Peipsi and passed through Kolkja so I could at least see the homes and gardens there. Hubby was glad it was the faster 1-hour ride through Kousa and Pilka (€5,80/2 seniors) -- he was hungry. Walking from the bus station through Town Hall Square we spotted Krempel Cafe and stopped for lunch, then cashed in our Tartu Bus card (€4,49 refund). We made one last stop to shop for dinner food before sheltering out of the rain for the rest of the day in the hostel.
It was disappointing to not be able to explore more of the Lake Peipsi area and hear stories of the people, but we did expect that some things would not yet be open for the season when we planned to visit Estonia in the off season.
What we learned today:
- County Line bus tickets can not be purchased online; only from the bus driver at boarding time