Thursday afternoon, April 28: Lihula to Haapsalu
Weather: Sunny, windy, ~60F this afternoon
- a short walk from the bus station to the delightful Beguta Guesthouse
- touring the Episcopal Castle ruins and Park grounds in the sun
- walking along the Promenade where royalty and Tchaikovski enjoyed the Baltic seaside
- walking the scenic trail around Vaike Viik to look for birds
- 10% discount on a delicious dinner at Dietrich
- buying our bus tickets online for Saturday's departure
- Navigating through Haapsalu from the bus station to the guest house, it was quite clear that this spa resort town on Estonia's west coast was not slumbering -- tourist amenities were everywhere. Only a short day's travel by train from St. Petersburg, it became a popular Baltic seaside resort town for Russian nobility in 1825, when the first mud bath house opened. Thanks to tourism, Haapsalu is the largest town in Läänemaa. With a few hours of daylight still left, we were eager to explore some of that history.
- But first we wanted to drop off our backpacks. Our check-in at the Beguta Guest House was quick and cordial. As we would have done even without being requested, we left our shoes in the foyer before heading up to our room on the 2nd floor.
Beguta Guest House is a charming suite of 5 rooms on the second floor of a flower shop and Vegan Cafe. Each room has a private bathroom. Wi-fi is free in the building but stronger in the cafe than in the rooms. Our double bed room faced the street through a thick brick wall with a stone window seat. The ceiling was covered with reed mats, simulating a thatched roof. For €35.00 a night it was a good deal.
- After all the bus riding this morning, walking around the grounds of the Haapsalu Episcopal Castle felt great. Although built in the 13th C., this castle is one of the best preserved in Estonia because until the 17th C. it was the seat of power in the region. In fact, it was built by the same bishop who, in 1228, established his first bishopric (a state of the Holy Roman Empire) in Lihula Castle. Haapsalu Castle, which was upgraded over three centuries as weaponry advanced, was his third bishopric in this region. We did not pay to tour the museum and the southern cathedral, preferring instead stay outside. It is said that on full moon nights in August the ghost of the White Lady can be seen through the cathedral's chapel window. The annual White Lady Festival transforms the streets of the old town into an open air marketplace and the legend of the White Lady is acted out in open-air performances. Climbing the stairs up to and walking along the top of the perimeter wall, we had a good view of Haapsalu.
- From the Castle we wandered through a portion of the restored Old Town to begin our walk on the seaside Promenade from the Kuursaal Summer Cafe north to Tchiakovsky's Bench. On this blustery April day the Summer Cafe was not yet open and the famous wooden Polar Bear statue was not yet floating on his iceberg in Tagalaht (Taga Bay). The Bench on the "Chocolate" Promenade commemorates Pyotr Tchiakovsky's visit to Haapsalu in 1867 with his twin brother Modest. By sitting on the bench, near where he often sat to watch the sunrise and the swans, we triggered it to play some of his 6th Symphony.
- The promenade continued north but we turned west to find the walking path around Väike Viik, a small lake where we optimistically looked for migrating birds. If the winters are cold enough this lake becomes a favourite ice skating and kicksledding venue for visitors and locals. At 17:00 our 4km walk ended at the locally-owned Dietrich Cafe, whose menu of small meals enticed us inside for a light dinner. The Guest House was only few meters away.
What we learned today:
- Bicycle rentals are €2.50/hour or €10.00/day
- The story of the White Lady begins with the love of a monk for a young girl. The monk, who was supposed to lead a chaste life of abstinence, brought the girl into the castle even though women were strictly forbidden from entering. She hid among the monks by dressing as a choirboy but was eventually discovered. For her punishment she was given a piece of bread and a mug of water and sealed into the chapel wall. The monk was thrown into the dungeon to starve to death. The girl's grieving soul still searches for her beloved. In true Estonian fashion, a White Lady music festival is held on the night of the full moon every August.
- While in Haapsalu, Tchaikovsky was captivated by an Estonian folk song, "Dear Mary". Years later he incorporated it into his Sixth (and final) Symphony, more famously known as Pathétique. He wrote the entire symphony in February/March of 1893 and scored the instrumentation of Pathétique in July/August of that year. The first public performance of the 6th Symphony, conducted by the Russian composer himself, was in St. Petersburg later that same year, shortly before he died. Tchaikovsky considered it his best work.