Couple months back I published my realistic travel bucket list for this year. And I can already tick off one of the items on the list:
Local travel, aka road trip through Estonia including Patarei prison, Keila Waterfall and Rummu.
I don’t own a car, but my brother does and he ventures from Finland to Estonia with his girlfriend once a year to see me. Okay, more importantly they drive here to fill the car with cheap alcoholic beverages, but I’ll keep up the illusion of myself being the sole reason for these visits.
This time I shamelessly took advantage of them and told them that we’re going on a wee road trip in addition to getting the booze from the border of Latvia. Thankfully they didn’t object. I had a wee trick in my sleeve just in case;
I knew of places in Estonia that nobody seems to know about, and some of those places are rather gory. Which just increased the appeal for my brother, who recently discovered the Chernobyl series on HBO (watch it!).
So, here goes:
Road Trip Through Estonia You Have To Experience
I’ll introduce each place to you now, but beware, couple of these places aren’t one of those comfortable, fun and inspiring tourist attractions. I’ll start with the most depressing one and then move on towards the more positive sights.
But no matter how gory, I feel it’s important to remind everyone of how things used to be in Europe not that long ago(!). We have to make sure to never ever allow things to get as bad again! So, we start with a tour to Patarei prison, only 10-minute walk from Tallinn Old Town: one of the main torture-murder sites for the late Soviet Union.
Patarei Prison – International Museum for the Victims of Communism
The Patarei complex was originally built to serve as military barracks, but when Soviets took over Estonia, they transformed the frightening looking fortress into a prison for political prisoners in 1940.
Within just one year it is estimated that altogether 9 850 people were locked up within Patarei’s thick walls for “political” reasons. Some of them would be killed within the year: shot in the yard or in the execution room, open for the public to see; tortured often to their death; or sent to Russian prison camps.
Patarei’s gloomy history as a Soviet prison, and as the last place in Europe where executions were still practiced, ended in 1991 when Estonia became independent. But even after that the building was used as a prison hospital… Which seems insane:
The building is moldy throughout, the thick stone walls have no insulation but a lot of holes in them. We were there in Summer time but it’s so cold inside that there were blankets provided to visitors at the front door. Imagine when it’s -30 Celsius! How could anyone have survived?
It’s a building made out of narrow corridors, doors with multiple heavy locks on them and a lot of bars everywhere. The exhibition, that runs through Summer all the way to October, is all about shining light on the people who were kept there under false pretenses and possibly died there as a result.
Many of the old cells have been left untouched, as they were when the Soviets retreated from Estonia. So, Patarei is perhaps the best place in Europe to see what horrors Communism held for those arrested during the time.
The exhibition has brought a tad more ‘life’ to the complex by adding stories of the people kept in the cells next to the doors. It really gives you an idea of what went on there.
In my opinion the exhibition was brilliant; for just 5€ there was plenty of interesting areas open for public and a lot of material to really shine light on a piece of history that my country thankfully never had.
I don’t know if the issue opens up so well to someone born and raised in Western Europe. But coming from a country that shares the longest border in Europe with Russia, I couldn’t shake off the thought that “This could’ve been us…”
Patarei was an experience that made me appreciate freedom and independence, both nationally as well as personally, on a whole new level. A huge recommendation for this exhibition from me!
Rummu Prison and Quarry
I have had the pleasure of visiting Rummu already last Summer. This time the weather didn’t permit us to go for a wee swim, but it was cool to be back to see the unique place again.
In Rummu resides another Soviet era prison. But this one differs from Patarei in a way that it was kept quiet and hidden in the middle of a forest, away from prying eyes. Why? Because it wasn’t just a prison, it was also a labour camp.
The Soviets had built a quarry behind the prison where prisoners were forced to work mining for limestone. The quarry area is the whole point of visiting:
There’s a mountain of limestone that can be seen all the way to the road driving by, and behind the ‘mountain’ there is a lake consisting of beautiful clear water, with some of the quarry buildings visible underwater or poking through the surface.
When the quarry was still operational there was no lake. But after the Soviets left, and the prison was emptied, the water bed started rising. It didn’t take many days for the water to drown most of the quarry buildings.
Even though the area now looks like a beach, which it is, it’s not a soft sandy one. It’s all limestone, hard as rock. But you can actually swim in the lake! You can also climb up to the half-sunken buildings if you like.
For the more adventurous type there is a possibility to rent diving equipment, sup boards and canoes, to better explore the gory Atlantis of Estonia. Entrance fee for the area is just 3€ (cash only) plus equipment rent.
… I’ll tell you a secret, though; if you want free entry, contact me and I’ll take you through a ‘secret’ route through the stone wall that’s surrounding the area ;D
Keila Waterfalls and Castle
Estonia is a completely flat country, no mention of mountains or even proper hills (except the Toompea hill in Tallinn Old Town). So, one wouldn’t expect to bump into any spectacular nature sights there. But thankfully a friend of mine had previously stumbled upon the place, so she spread the news.
The most cheerful stop on this particular road trip was just 30 km away from Rummu; the little town of Keila and the beautiful waterfalls next to it. And as an added surprise, there was also a castle!
Nobody’s ever mentioned of the fact that there had ever been any castles in Estonia. And Estonians sure have kept quiet about them too! Well, I’m here to spoil things for them now and to reveal to y’all:
Estonia has a shite-load of castles!! Get Googleing, people!
The Keila-Joa Schloss Fall is in fact a luxury hotel these days, offering amazingly luxurious suites. From the window you can admire the beautiful Keila waterfalls, which have generated power for the near-by village since 1555.
I could’ve stood there staring at the water cascading down for hours, but there’s a lot more to see and do around the falls as well. You can walk around to the other side and cross the river by a suspension bridge.
Here’s my ultimate recipe for visiting Keila: Pack some lunch and chill. This area was made for gathering together with friends with a good bottle of wine and some snacks.
I love traveling, no matter if it’s local or abroad, because you always find something new and extraordinary! And despite Patarei having an incredibly depressing history, the place is impressive and the stories super interesting.
And I am definitely going back to the Keila waterfalls with a huge picnic basket and a friend or two to spend an ultimate Summer day. I can’t imagine a better place for a picnic!
And as travel goes, in just couple of days I can tick off another item on my travel bucket list; On Saturday I will fly to MILAN! If you don’t yet follow me on Instagram, now is the time! I will be updating all travel greetings there throughout the weekend.
Have a happy weekend y’all! ♥
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