"Viisakas Linn" - Estonian for "Polite City" - is how the Mayor of the town likes to promote Pärnu. And for good reason: his hometown has no traces of the sternness of the Estonian north, and happens to be a beach paradise. Located on the south-western seaside, Pärnu is a 13th century town that happens to be modern Estonia's summer capital. On bright sunny days, it has an infectious atmosphere with mostly Finns, Russians, and Estonians from other parts of the country zooming into town for its peaceful beach promenade, famous spas, shopping, and planned exhibitions and festivals throughout the summer. They call it white nights - the timeless summers of Estonia with 20 hours of daylight. I chose Pärnu for its annual Grillfest - a 2 day festival that takes place in June on the scenic meadow of Pärnu Moat. During the festival, more than 250 food vendors from Estonia and abroad offer their delicacies in open-air restaurants and cafeterias and the town sees a lot of visitors.
I am staying in a cheap dormitory right opposite to the Pärnu Moat, and arriving a day before the weekend festival, I was a little taken aback to notice no one else on my entire floor. The very next day, the dormitory is a full house - the summer has arrived!
Pärnu happens to be historic in more ways than one. It got populated after the Ice Age itself, and much later in the 13th century, developed as the only major sea port in Livonia - a term used in those times for the eastern shores of the Baltic Sea. That's when it joined the Hanseatic League and became a seat of medieval trade. Amongst others, Russians and Swedes ruled the town in various phases until it came under the Soviet occupation - the phase depicted as "red terror" in most of Estonia I have seen so far. In between, after the World War I, the Republic of Estonia was declared in Pärnu, though the joy was short-lived. Russians withdrew from Estonia only in 1995, and the country has been an EU member State since last 12 years.
The city of Pärnu has been carefully nurtured with walking and biking paths, numerous parks, hiking and fitness trails, outdoor gyms, and basically anything that can promote movement. The beach itself has shallow waters and limited waves considering Pärnu's coast being located at an inlet of the Baltic Sea, making it ideal for swimming during summer days. Pärnu is also famous for its spas, water centres, and health resorts. One of the oldest spas is the Pärnu Mud Bath that can be traced back to 1838 that was burnt and reconstructed in the early 20th century. It now houses a slick modern hotel and spa, and I was pleasantly surprised to notice how it promotes several treatments that are 'aligned with principles of ancient Indian ayurveda' that may lead to self-healing. The description of the treatments were tempting, but the right hand column desisted me from indulgence!
The weather was unlucky enough for me in Pärnu - after the highs of 20 degree temperatures last week, the mercury has plummeted to sub-10 degrees this week, and walking too much outside in the wind was difficult for my rather equator-adjusted body of New Delhi. Carrying no headgear other than a women's scarf, I did brave the weather to visit some of the notable sites in the city. One of them is a 1747 built Lutheran Church: the St. Elizabeth's Church where I again reached at the 6 pm evening prayers, sat through the priests' singing of the rosary, and ate the bread and wine offered after the mass. Renting a bicycle and exploring wider wasn't an option in the wind-chill, and I covered most of the old town on foot. On arterial streets such as the Rüütli, shops alternate with cafés, and there are a number of bars all along to eat and drink pork, potatoes and beer. The beach promenade itself was deserted, and stacked sunroofs and closed kiosks were the biggest disappointment for someone who carried swimming and running gear from 6,300 Kilometers away! Rains washed away the evening, and are predicted to continue tomorrow - a bummer for the locals considering its impact on the Grillfest. Luckily for me, though, I spent 3 hours at the Moat this morning, sampling the traditional roasted pork, baked potatoes, handmade chocolates infused with Vana Tallinn, and Estonian craft beer. Despite the cloudy skies, the festival kept up its tempo with revelling music, hordes of people, and savory aroma of fresh meat and vegetables all around.
With Pärnu, I am bidding farewell to Estonia and moving further south in the Baltics. However, some part of me believes this is the best of the three States with its rich seafaring life, food, and amalgamation of the new and the old. Until next time, and hopefully in better weather, hüvasti!