Hidden Treasure in Estonia

Toward the end of my trip to Russia, Estonia and Finland this summer, I visited the more than thousand year-old walled city of Tallinn, Estonia, crowning the Toompea Hill and overlooking the Bay of Finland. It was conquered by the Danish King Waldemar II in 1219 and became a medieval merchant town and then a majestic Gothic city during the Middle Ages, known as the greatest burg in northern Europe. Subjected to Sweden and Russia in following centuries the beautiful medieval Old Town remained virtually untouched until the 19th century when a more modern Tallinn started to develop and expand below the citadel.

Tourists today are enamored by the charm of the narrow winding streets, medieval Town Hall, residential homes, churches, guild houses, and the ancient town wall preserved in more than half its length even today.

Walled Tallinn

Walled Tallinn

I spent several days wandering the lanes discovering shops with wonderful handicrafts for sale, taking pictures of ornate doorways and leaning buildings, and tasting elk soup with friends.





The last day before departing on the ferry to Helsinki, Finland, a small group of us visited a monastery at 22 Laboratooriumi Street and were greeted by the parish priest, a monk called Volodymyr Palijenko, who proudly showed us around. He presides over the Church of the Blessed Virgin With the Three Hands, which is a Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. This Holy Mother is the protector of the innocent who have been wrongly convicted, deceived and sinned against, and there is a slot in the stone wall outside the church where people can leave a letter and the priest will pray for settlement of their problem.

Letter Slot

Letter Slot

Monastery Facade

Monastery Facade

Our group was led into the main room where worshipers gather and our guide translated for the monk who explained that this monastery also serves as a Ukrainian cultural center which showcases handmade crafts, but, little did I know, a huge and thrilling shock was awaiting me.

In my book, SHE HAD TO KNOW, the setting is in a 17th century Scottish castle that had been a monastery in medieval times, so I was curious to see if this European monastery had any similarities.

Monk Volodymyr walked to the back of the room in which we were gathered and I heard what sounded like chains clanking and some mechanical mechanism moving. When I turned to look back, I saw the center floor moving forward and disappearing into a pocket of space in front of the altar. In place of the floor, a huge hole was revealed. Railings went up to protect the hole and a stone stairway leading downward was visible. I couldn’t believe my eyes! I had written a similar concept in my book! I have an architect friend who assured me my floor could actually have worked the way I described, but my story was fiction. Here I was witnessing a true life floor in a monastery moving and revealing rooms below. This was like a déjà vu moment for me! And to think some of my readers thought I had a pretty vivid imagination!

Plain Floor

Plain Floor

Railing up

Railing up

Steps Downward

Steps Downward

Our group was then led through the monk’s workshops where wooden toys and paper and books were made and hand decorated Ukrainian eggs and icons were painted and displayed. We were led up and down narrow spiral stairs (like in my book) with tiny windows to light the way and eventually out into the courtyard. This place was so like my book, I had the shivers! I’ll never forget this experience as long as I live.

Spiral Stairway

Spiral Stairway

Ukrainian Eggs

Ukrainian Eggs

Did I say I’ll never forget this experience as long as I live? Have you ever had a déjà vu moment concerning a setting in your book? I’d love to know. (Note: click on photos to enlarge).



Filed under books, musings, Travel, writing

14 responses to “Hidden Treasure in Estonia

  1. Linda pappas

    I was so glad to be able to relive this, It was truly a little know secret on our trip, I know my husband would have enjoyed the mechanics of this floor and stairs that appeared from nowhere. I remember how the monk used stones to make the floor move. Remarkable! And to think you had this in your book, too!

    • Oh, Linda, it all happened so quickly, I wasn’t sure I saw what I saw!!! The floor in my book was different, but did have a mechanical mechanism that worked with gravity. Really blew my mind. I loved this excursion!!!!! I wish your husband could have seen this. Thanks for reading and commenting on this recounting. Such a treat!!!

  2. Hi Coco! Loved reading your blog! Your writing, descriptions and pictures were just wonderful! I am sure that many will thank you for taking us on your trip again! Great Job! I am so proud of you!!!!

    • Thank you, missygirl1. I’m so glad you enjoyed reading about this experience. It actually was my favorite of my trip!!! Thanks, too, for leaving a comment. Ciao fer niao!

  3. Robert Warms

    Very interesting, to think things made so long ago are still working!! Or maybe it’s just European craftsmanship, which has a long history of mechanical perfection. You did good on this one…..and yes it is amazing how your book had an example of a real mechanical device that old!! “Shows to go you,” how amazing time parallels occur!!

    • Bob, I was curious to see if there were any similarities of my fictional monastery to a real one, but I NEVER expected this!!! I know you read my book, so your comment is special!!!! Thanks so much!!!

  4. Wow! That floor sounds really cool. What fun!

  5. Renee

    Amazing story and such fun to read!! I felt like I was there too! I hope you left them a copy of your book. Could you relate any of this to the monks?

    • I wish I could have, Rene. I’d already run out of books by then. Oh well, the monk didn’t speak English anyway. I was too shocked to think of telling my tour director and ask him to translate my experience. Oh well, I’m glad you enjoyed my blog. Thanks for going to all that trouble trying to get to it!!!

  6. sherry

    What a wonderful adventure,, filled with treasures,, maybe in a past life you were there,, and saw the floor moving!! The picture are awesome … so much detail. How did the places, the doors and eggs feel to you.. in the expression of texture.. to look at your pictures there is so much depth to it all .. I guess it has to be .. hahah it wasnt built last week.. and the parts didnt come from wallmart or home depot… Thank you Coco for sharing you gift’s with us.. sherry

  7. It definitely was quite an adventure, Sherry! Iwish I could have shared more of the pictures I took at the monastery. I have several of alchemist bottles and beaurifully painted religious icons and cave-like stone-walled rooms with low ceilings. Eerie and cool. Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment.

  8. Pat Gordon

    Hi Coco,

    Anthony and I very much enjoyed reading your Tallin blog. Your description of our visit to the monastery as well as your interesting photographs brought back wonderful memories of that lovely historic city.

    You have been truly blessed as an author.

    We wish you many, many years of creative writing.

    All the best, Anthony and Pat.

    • Thank you so much, Pat! I’m so glad you enjoyed reading about our Tallinn adventure. We had so much fun there, didn’t we? ! I wish I could have included more pictures. Thanks for your comments, too.

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