Aegna is an island in the Bay of Tallinn, one of Estonia’s many islands (1,520 is the official count), but one of a handful that caters to travelers. It’s a fairly recent tradition of mine to visit a new Estonian island every year. Last year, we ventured to Kihnu for my wife and daughter’s double birthday. This year we picked something a little less touristy to visit together.
The boat to Aegna leaves from the Kalasadam (“The Fish Harbor”), which is situated beside the Linnahall, a Soviet monstrosity if there ever was one, that occupies prime real estate. Nine years ago when I was penning stories for the seminal regional newspaper, The Baltic Times, I wrote a piece about the possibility of a Tivoli-like theme park being erected on the site. Today, the vast hall, assembled for the 1980 Olympics, is in even more terrible condition, graffiti everywhere, small weeds writhing out of the cracks of the crumbling concrete. And for too many, this is their first impression of Estonia.
The trip to Aegna takes about an hour and 15 minutes. It was choppy both ways — several passengers got sick. I saw one person yack in a garbage can, and a grown, fit woman lying in the floor with her hands over her eyes. But I managed to keep my breakfast down and was rewarded with a pretty island of thick forests, boggy patches, sandy soil, well-kept paths, uprooted pines, silence and serenity.
I think Aegna’s greatest asset is its abandoned military installations, most of which date from the First World War. When Epp heard this she was truly impressed, because 1915 seems like a very long time ago (even though my grandmother was born a month after the Armistace and she’s still alive). But, still, so much has happened since then, that walking among military ruins from 1915 is a bit like looking at those photos of Titanic lying at the bottom of the sea, that same, “Men really lived here? Who were they? What were they thinking?”
I’ve seen a few too many scary movies (and read too many Stephen King books) but these thoughts were racing through my head when I ventured into the forests to check out the beach battery installation alone. This may sound creepy, but the farther in I went, the more thoughts came to me, as if I could not see the shadows of the men who lived in those buildings, but instead feel their feelings, moods, sensations. I didn’t see anything, but I felt lots of things, most of them somber, a few ominous.
Maybe it’s because I recently read A Farewell to Arms, and something was similar, those men sitting on the Italian front so long ago, waiting for something to happen, those men sitting on this little island in the Baltic so long ago, waiting for something to happen.
There are several sandy beaches in Aegna, and this has to be the place’s best-kept secret. While others drive down to Pärnu for the full effect or even tough it out at Pirita Beach in Tallinn, Aegna’s beaches were, at least on that windy day, completely deserted, and we had one all to ourselves. We barely made it there, because wild strawberries abound, and my Estonian entourage went into foraging mode, as Epp (and Kaja and Anna) think that it is their duty to consume any and all wild strawberries they can find. I told them, “Look, you can’t eat them all!” And Epp replied, “What do you mean, I can’t eat them all?”
Like I was challenging her foraging skills or something.