Review: Crusader Castles of the Teutonic Knights (2), Stephen Turnbull

Crusader Castles of the Teutonic Knights (2): The stone castles of Latvia and Estonia 1185–1560Crusader Castles of the Teutonic Knights (2): The stone castles of Latvia and Estonia 1185–1560 by Stephen Turnbull
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I enjoyed this a bit more than the previous volume, mostly because Mr Turnbull had described the religious and organisatorial aspects of the Teutonic life and was able to input more about various episodes. Primarily, as the nature of the subject here is the Livonian chapter, these episodes concerned undertakings in the Northern Baltics but some were also relevant in light of the previous volume. Continue reading “Review: Crusader Castles of the Teutonic Knights (2), Stephen Turnbull”

Bischofsburg Hapsal (Haapsalu)

English regrettably lacks the term I was looking for here, or at least it’s clumsier than Bischofsburg: Episcopal Castle, so I’ve gone with the German term. I guess this comes from the fact that rarely were bishops there highest secular power in a region/area in the British Isles and so their construction efforts took the form of palaces and priories more than castles (North Elmham is a good exception but it’s still called ‘castle’ and it’s bishop was definitely subservient to the King with regards to secular folk in the Bishopric of Norwich). Continue reading “Bischofsburg Hapsal (Haapsalu)”

Tallinn Old Town

Reflecting on my trip to the Estonian capital last month, I can say I noticed some things I have not previously been aware of even though that may have more come about from my own previous ignorance.

Firstly, it is important to know that the history of Tallinn–of Reval, of Koluvan, of Lindanise–spans firstly many centuries and secondly many cultures, of whom nearly all have left some mark. A wandering around the capital can lead you on streets financed by German merchants that gave birth to Danish legends and which were partially uprooted by Swedish axes or Soviet bombs.

One of these items I thought of going to investigate up close, but did not, was the famous Danse Macabre by Bernt Notke that I think I have seen once before. The thought behind it–of everyone’s equality–is probably more to my liking now than fifteen years ago. However, the motivation to spend an exorbitant sum to go into a museum for a few tens of minutes did not exist. Clearly, one can become too comfortable with the free museums offered in some other places…

Tallinn’s depth of history also means that one needs to know where they are going or what they are doing if they are looking for something specific. For me, this time round, I was not looking for anything else than an opportunity to see what was there.

The Danish gardens by the Old Town, the city perimeter, the abandoned modern fortifications… and the list goes on–what do you want to see? A Soviet-style prison? Also there. A Hansaetic guild house? Go and take a look…

A lot of these places, naturally, carry their own local myths and legends, and even if I was more able to differentiate between their varying history; I had also forgotten some, if not most, of the legends that accompanied these sights.

A medieval atmosphere definitely existed though I have previously laughed at some writers who have mentioned Tallinn as the ‘medieval’ city of Europe; of course, this atmosphere won’t be found on the Town Hall Square at bars charging €5.50 for a beer while grumpily acknowledging your presence. Instead, one needs to know which places are worth going to, or at least be willing to experiment outside of the traditional options (probably best defined as the ones which are easily signposted). The advice of Mr Cowen to look for places (especially for food) out of the way and frequented by locals won’t go amiss.

A final surprise which was pleasant at least to my mind was the plurality of street musicians. The good weather naturally helped, but it was an absolute delight to stroll down a street while decent (folkish) music played aloud. It was even possible for me to leisurely listen to these tunes–something which might be less true for the tourist of the cruise ship who is sailing out again in four hours’ time…

There. Here.

What and where would be two questions on my mind for this past week. For simplicity’s sake, I’m writing these posted on different dates as much as they came to my mind at very different moment, but ideally today is the 21st of December.

This “here” and “there” became important. For I felt that things had changed so much — what used to be the place where I enjoyed being, had stopped just that. Why? I couldn’t possibly say — unless if I tried to reason that this other location had grown closer to me and thereby the first further removed. Is that a valid argument?

So, with respect to the day at hand (16th), I could easily say “Not here; there!”. That would have been the truth of my mind. For now, it is Norwich I view as the place I am at. For how long? How long can we truly be anywhere, and contented with it (having seen greater causes and possibilities elsewhere)?

Cities and Seasons

Autumn is in full bloom. Wait. Autumn in full bloom ? A contradiction… Oh well, autumn is at its best right now : no rain, no extreme warmth, this colder weather with clear skies and leafless trees. At night, the stars shine so very bright. “The wandering moon gleams under the clouds.”

The season looks good here; even better is the look of streets (the Avenues) compared to what they were. It truly is a beautiful place.

I saw a video of Tallinn a number of days ago, again in the full colours of autumn. It seems to me that any city which looks good in the summer or winter, shall also look wonderful in autumn.

I think I’ve once mentioned here my idea that to truly know any place a person needs to have seen it at all times; and that is most certainly true of Norwich for me. It is a lovely city and yet it manages to escape resembling anything else : it is not a Tallinn or Stockholm, or Pärnu or Barcelona. It is Norwich, no matter what.

Same is not true of Glasgow, and consequently not of Edinburgh either. Glasgow was Helsinki remade, especially the more central areas of it. Edinburgh. If Glasgow was Helsinki, then Edinburgh was Stockholm. A bit more regal and grand, but still in the same class.

Thoughts Reimagined

 What is this life… 

.. And this would likely make the day … if I continued with William Henry Davies. ‘Leisure’ is, after all, an excellent piece of poetry. However, what I wished to say today is not in reference to ‘Leisure’ (With the possible exception of purposefully misquoting him and saying "What is this life if, full of care, We have no time…") for what seems to be lacking lately is time. Nothing else, but time. And I’m not speaking mainly of myself — I am speaking of everyone and no one, and this tells me that something is wrong. I actually made a (very short) note before writing this and that reads as:

"A life of interest.
A vain person. To make
friends is nearly not as easy
as keeping them."

[Original spacing preserved for excellence.]

I’m sure that many will draw their own conclusions from the previous (indeed, an experience that more people should follow — thinking, after all, is a most useful experience!) but those are likely to miss what I meant to say.

So, what did I intend to say?

I think I’ve managed one thing I wished to accomplish, though it was by no means on the top of my to-do list. What I feel most strongly is that I’m growing more distant from Estonia with every passing moment. (That should be no surprise to anyone). What indeed I hoped would not happen was that I have not found much reason to keep going back there. I know of one upcoming trip, and I suspect another… but to spend a summer there, again? Even though summers in Norwich are likely to lack what I except (a warm sea) then it will most likely be a more interesting and enriching experience (especially if I’ll be able to do more than be in Norwich). As I see it now, I’d expect a visit back "home" in June and then August, or it might be possible indeed that I’ll have to accommodate the two important summer-time birthdays which would mean July (in which case August would be outright foolish). Oh well, I’ll see how it turns out. Whatever happens, it will be interesting. 😉

What I did not however expect was that the idea of Estonia (and what it has stood for) would be so clear in my mind. A discussion on the pros-cons of our policies (not directly, but indirectly at least) of the last twenty years was an example of that. No matter what they did wrong, I am slightly offended by the thoughts that they could have done it better. As it stands, the few names which allowed for the creation of such a state as it is today are still strong and powerful — I wouldn’t want it any other way. And, having grown up in it, I can see the beauty of such a system, as it is. Wanting it in any other way is… [!!]

And, I’ve finally kindled the thought of reading A.T. Mahan in his original [pun intended]. That should be fun… and somewhat more original than the usual book I read.

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