12 December 2010

Charmed, I'm Sure

Viljandi is one of those towns that makes you struggle to find a word other than "charming" to describe it. The word implies everything that it is: small, attractive, storybookish (of course, it seems to mean something entirely different when applied to princes). The snow had let up just long enough for us to go out with our cameras, something we haven't done in days. "Let's go be charmed!" we thought, though neither of us said it aloud, because that would have been weird. A charming church next to a charming row of houses greeted us at the edge of, charmingly named, Castle Park.
The park was one snowy hill after another and we could see sled tracks from a day's worth of playing. Now and then, we'd catch a glimpse of a plastic saucer with two stuffed snowsuits on top. At the top of the largest hill, we discovered a magnificent view of Lake Viljandi and the town on its edge. Lakes automatically double a place's charm.
We ran down the hill to keep up with our sliding feet and discovered an arts center. Two people walked out carrying a handmade birdhouse, so we went in to investigate. There were musical instruments made out of gumdrops and gingerbread and a few tables putting away their crafts for sale. The place was swarming with children and a Santa-looking man in a sweater vest taught a group of them how to hand-dip candles. It was both charming and warming and after we had defrosted a bit and purchased a few small Christmas gifts, we set back out.
What makes a charming European town different than a charming American town? A castle, of course. We walked up an even steeper hill to explore some remnants we saw poking up in the distance. The Viljandi Castle Ruins were breathtaking in the snow. We walked through and around them, feeling sort of miniature amongst the huge walls, giant trees and cascades of snow. It was completely silent. The absence of sound and stark white blanket covering everything made me feel like I was anywhere and nowhere all at once.
It's amazing to think about the castle that used to be here and that these walls have been snowed on for centuries, perched up high on a hill overlooking Viljandi and its lake. I wish I could convey just how high we were and how the waves of snow sort of resembled the massive sand dunes of the Curonian Spit, but white on white on white just doesn't provide much photographic perspective. We lingered for as long as we could, which meant as long as our appendages could stand the cold, then made our way down the other side of the hill.
As we descended cautiously, finding a set of stairs mostly obscured by the snow, we saw a strip of red that emerged into a suspension bridge. Over the two hundred year old red bridge we walked, looking down at the steep drop below us. We imagined ourselves tackling the slope on a sled and were amazed that more children weren't daring to. A few feet over the bridge, we saw tracks that suggested otherwise. I have no doubt that Viljandi is just as charming in the springtime or summer or fall, but I was glad to be here in winter, when a good heaping dose of charm really gives a jolt of much needed warmth.

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