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Estonia
 

 
country summary

 

We entered Estonia from Latvia in the middle of July 2005. We travelled up the coast to Parnu before spending a few days on the Islands of Saaremaa and Hiumaa. We rejoined the mainland and had 5 days in Tallinn before following the Baltic coast the 250 kms to the Russian border.

 
 

 
map

 

 

 
entry & visas

 

Isn't the EU wonderful? No visas or paperwork to worry about. The border crossing at Anazai is for pedestrians and cyclists only. A couple of wooden huts mark the border - a bit like garden sheds - but with policeman sat inside.

 

 

 

 

 
language

Vowel-laden Estonian is truly in another league. It is closely related to Finnish, incomprehensible to us when spoken and a bit laughable when written. It seems like there are many typos. For instance, "radioo uuno" or "stopp".

Luckily enough, many of the Estonians we met spoke a bit of English, sometimes with difficulties. In Tallinn, language was not an issue at all: people might even address you with a "Hello" rather than "Tere" and most of the signs (museum and general information) are in English.

 

 
camping

 

As per Lithuania and Latvia there are very few campsites available. We wild camped for our 7 nights from Riga to Tallinn. There are some campsites marked on maps, but generally these are without facilities - a piece of ground, a bin and perhaps a picnic table.

Due to the proximity of the coast and lakes there was plenty of opportunity for jumping in sea to wash away the sweat of the day (the Baltic Sea is remarkably unsalted 5-7 mg/l, so is quite pleasant for this purpose)

 
 

 
cycle shops

 

There have been no bicycle shops evident along most of our route, despite it following EuroVelo Route 1. Haapsalu had a couple of bike shops but we didn't check them out as Terry had arranged for a parcel of spares to be sent to Tallinn from SJS Cycles in Bridgewater.

 
  cycling routes and maps  
 

Estonia has a range of cycling routes which cover the whole country. The tourist information centres sell a map that shows all of them. However, do not expect cycling lanes or any special arrangements for cyclists. We followed part of route no.1 and it sometimes consisted on squeezing onto the side of a busy dual carriageway (this was North of Parnu).

We used our 1:750 000 Falk map of the Baltic countries up to Tallinn. In Tallinn, we found (after many tries) a bookshop which sells local maps. We had two maps from EOmap (1:200 000 and 1:250 000, which cover the whole stretch from Tallinn to Narva.

 

 
food & drink
 

As we were camping wild for most nights our interaction with local cuisine has been quite limited - but as always there are a number of things that we can generalise about.

Poland had a decent ice cream shop in virtually every town, the three Baltic states are sadly lacking in this department. The dairy product situation is not one of complete woe, we have found Estonian Parmisan (note the spelling) and plenty of delicious yoghurt (sold in 1 litre cartons).

 
 

Beer is still lager, hell, pilsner or sometimes darker types but with an increasing presence of cider - unfortunately tainted with unpleasant and unnecessary additives such as raspberry and kiwi fruit. In Tallinn, Terry went through a thorough review of the local produces (see his selection on the picture). His favourite choice was Albert Le Coq beer. Seems like a bad play on word, but it really was a fine brew!

Outside of the towns the locals all drink their beer purchased one bottle at a time from the local supermarket or corner shop. Small bars and pubs do not exist outside of the cities (much the same as Lithuania and Latvia)

 

Scientific beer tasting in progress

 

 

 
weather

 

We were in Estonia in the 3rd and 4th weeks of July.

The first few days were on the back end of a heat wave and we had days of 25 - 28 degrees C with the occasional shower. Gradually the weather has deteriorated - in Tallinn, it was 17 degrees C and very showery.

We were also confronted with some serious headwinds, and being near to the sea afternoon sea breezes could be quite strong - and always seem to be in the wrong direction.

 

The beautiful beach and great weather at Luidja on Hiiumaa

 

 
medical

 

We still have our E111 forms and hopefully will not need to use them.

 

 
flora & fauna
 

As we have moved further North through Europe the number of forests has increased dramatically. In Estonia vast tracks of land are natural forests - mainly pine and birch. Estonia was once producing much food for the USSR. Since independence, many fields are abandoned and the forest is re-growing in many areas. There is also the unique boggy, marsh habitat that once prevailed over much of europe, but with biting flies and mosquitos not the best place to hang around. These marshy areas eventually turn into raised peat bogs - the deepest of which reaches a depth of 17 metres.

The western coast and islands is a haven for birdwatchers - but unfortunately for us only during the migration season. These areas used to be a non-access zone during the cold war and have been very well preserved. They are now national parks. Estonia also has the largest population of seals of all the Baltic countries - but once again the thick forest, bogs and sea reeds prevented us from seeing them.

There are two surprising things with the Baltic sea: it is not always easy to get to the sea as there are plenty of sea-meadows, which now tend to turn into fields of reeds as there is less cattle, so less need for hay. The sea is also very shallow: we have seen people hundreds of meter away and still with water only up the waist.

 
 
The Estonian landscape, despite its similarities with Latvia and North Lithuania (its flatness) has many erratic boulders carried from Scandinavia, as leftovers from the glaciers of the last ice age. The boulders are in the strangest places, sometimes out of sea, other times in the middle of a field - it gives a bit of magic to the landscape.
 
 

 
graphs & stats

 

In Estonia we cycled:

Total Distance: 870 km

Total Cycling Days: 10

Average Distance per day: 87 km

Furthest in a day: 137 km (furthest of the trip so far)

 

 
On Yer Bike in Eesti
 

16th July 2005 - Turaida (Latvia) to Kabli 137 km

We finally found a camping spot in a field next to Kali. There were many opportunities for camping by the beach in the forest, but no room as the whole of Estonia seemed to have gathered there for a week-end camping by the sea. We fancied a bit of peace so we headed away from the sea. It seems that people just camp anywhere amongst the trees in this area, it was bonfires galore, cars, music and people everywhere.

17th July 2005 - Kabli to Komsi - 121 km

We carried on following the coast up to Parnu. Despite the road being marked as green on our map, we did not get much chance of a view as the forest was always between us and the sea. But there were some compensations, like a short walk in the marshes next to the Via Baltica. A beautiful information board, all in English, showed us all the wildlife we will never get a chance to see. It may be as well: there are moose and lynx in the area!

 

Evening sun over the mirror calm Baltic Sea

 

 
 

(above) A long day in the saddle and raining in the evening - a nice cup of tea soon puts things right

(right) or perhaps it doesn't, how can a cup of tea cope with hair like that - only one solution - HAIRCUT (or gardener)

 


 
 

Many roofed, pointy church in Liiva

 

We spent a few hours on the beach at Parnu and had a quick look around the town, while looking for ice cream (Terry had another "I want an ice-cream" attack).

Back on our bikes, we were now heading West towards the harbour of Virtsu. We were surprised to find that we were still on the EuroVelo route 1, despite no cycling lane and being in the gutter of a dual-carriage way. There was also something else missing that day: open shops for water. We forgot it was Sunday and did not refill adequately in Parnu (ie to last 24 hours). After far too many kilometres of "let's keep going, there must be something in the next village", we finally gave up, too tired to carry on any further. We got some water from a nice Norwegian man living in a small block of flats, literally in the middle of nowhere (Komsi). By then, we only had a few kilometres left before reaching the coast and taking the ferry to the island of Saaremaa.

18th July 2005 - Komsi to Kuressaare - 95 km

There are ferries every hour in the high season to the island of Saaremaa. It takes about half an hour for the crossing and costs 50 eek per person with bike. Once on the island the sea views are often blocked by the forests, except from the main causeway that links Muhu and Saaremaa. The views there are smashing, but we only half enjoyed them because of the ridiculously strong headwind.

 
 

There are many beautiful things to see on the island, and some are definitely unique. But the ride between the various attractions can be rather tedious, sometimes hard depending in which direction the wind fancies blowing. When going to an island one expects wide open sea vistas - this is definitely not the case on these islands, forest and sea marshes and the flat terrain all conspire against that idyllic view.

The island is very popular with cyclotourists. We suddenly lost count of how many we have seen. If you go there, expect to see all kinds of cyclotourers and organised cycling groups. It stops you thinking you are some kind of unique cycling hero because nobody knows how far you came from (good for the ego).

 

 

Big church in Valiala

 

 
 

19th July 2005 - Kuressaare to Emmaste - 65 km

Kuressaare is a lovely, though very touristic town, with the best conserved castled in Estonia. It used to be a bishop's palace, and since it had no military function since the 18th century, it has avoided damage in the numerous conflicts to affect the region.

After the castle, we decided to check out some meteorite holes nearby. Waah, well impressive! Must remember to get out of the way when warning is given!

Kuressaare Castle on Saaremaa Island

 

 

Kuressaare Castle on Saaremaa Island

 

 
 

(above) Terry was initially scoffing at the size and impact of the islands famous meteorite crater.

(right) Terry was forced to eat his hat as the real meteorite crater revealed itself (Isa is just visible on the foreshore)

 

 

 
 

Windmill selection on Saaremaa Island

 

 

The old, rescued, well travelled ship at Soru

 

 
 

 

There were still plenty left to be seen on that day. We saw a few more churches and many wooden mills, the symbol of Saaremaa (there used to be more than 800 on the island!) and by some kind of magic, we even managed to catch the late ferry to the island of Hiiumaa (see what we meant by vowel-laden language!).

Heaven of heaven, we landed in the tiny but beautiful fishing village of Soru. In front of us, a camping site (no facilities) with the greenest grass and the flattest ground. The sun was still shining and the sea was calling for us to jump in and refresh ourselves.

 

 

Wooden Houses look nice, are warm in winter and cool in summer, but there are fundamental drawbacks with the building materials

 

 
 

Another beach and another chance for a bath au naturel

 

 

 

Only one word needed - HAIRCUT

 

 
 

The high point of Hiiumaa island, Kopu Baltic Light

 

20th July 2005 - Emmaste to Kardla - 93 km

Unfortunately, we woke up under strong rain and wind. We cowardly waited for the rain to stop. At 11.00 we were finally mentally ready to come out and tackle the very uneventful road that leads to Kopu lighthouse. Though the road seems to flirt with the coast (on our map), we again did not get a single view on the sea until we got on top of the lighthouse. This was after a small detour of 38 km!

The place is a bit of a tourist trap, literally. There is nothing else to do once there but climb to the top. Additionally there is not enough body or head room in the stair case and it gets very personal when two people try to pass each other. And once on top, we could see where we came from (flat forests) and where we were heading for (flat forests). It took a lot of sandwiches to gather the moral strength to get back on the straight roads.

 

 
 

But luckily enough, we found a lovely beach a bit further at Luidja, that we did not spot on top of the lighthouse. The weather was perfect, and we had no excuse to refuse one more dip in the water (also remember that the sanitary facilities are rather limited on the island).

A few hours later, we reached the island tiny capital of Kardla. It must one of the quietest capital in the world, no need for earplugs when camping nearby.

 

 

A chance to freshen up with the natural facilities provided on Hiiumaa Island

 

 
 

Typical Estonian swing, designed such that 10 adults can jump on board and try the loop the loop

 

This chap was also unhappy with the weather

 
 

Church near Suuremoisa

 

21st July - Kardla to Rummu - 106 km

We promptly set off on that morning: there were still a few kilometres between Kardla and the ferry back to the mainland. We wanted to catch the 10.30 ferry and on our way, we still managed to visit another church, typical of the island, and a big manor house that used to belong to the Ungern-Sternberg family. This name surely means nothing to you, but there are a few weird stories related to this Baltic-German family who used to rule the island (Baltic-Germans have ruled Estonia for 800 years under both Swedish and Russian powers until the first world war). One of the them used to set up false lighthouses to generate shipwrecks so that he could then loot their contents. And in 1918, Major General Baron thingy bob from Ungern-Sternberg began a three-year struggle to forestall the establishment of communism in Mongolia. He personally tortured and killed hundreds before being shot by mutineers in his own army. He is know in Mongolia as the "Mad Baron". We will see if we hear about him over there.

Their manor house must have been splendid, but it has long passed its hey-day. It is now a school and the only attraction to us was the massive swing that could withstand Terry's weight.

 
 

We arrived bang on time for our 10.30 ferry at Heltermaa, only to find out that there was only a ferry at 12.30. Pants!

After a lovely sunny crossing, we reached the mainland again and went straight to visit Haapsalu, which was - and still is - famous for its mud-baths. Compared to the non-eventful roads of the islands, everything got quite interesting as soon as we left the ferry port. There was a massive disused airfield and a few old buildings totally in ruins. One of them (picture on the right) was used for only one night before his landlord died without heir and the locals and Soviet Air Force started helping themselves to building materials.

 

 

Old manor house and disused Soviet Hanger near Haapsalu

 
 

Another top castle/cathedral combo - slap bang in the middle of Haapsalu

 

 

Haapsalu was totally destroyed by Peter the 1st in the 18th century as he did not want the Swedes to come back to Estonia (did they like mud baths that much?). The castle in the middle of the town, which once was a grand bishops palace, was massively damaged but it still is an impressive place to wander around. And as most of the attractions we have mentioned so far in Estonia and Latvia: it is totally free, gratis with no charge. Haapsalu is a really pleasant town with the usual wooden houses and a beautiful shallow bay with the warmest water in the Baltic sea.

We then headed North-East towards Tallinn. The road was rather pleasant, but after 40 km and much water drunk, we noticed the lack of poods (Estonian for shops). Not even a petrol station to refill our bottles.

We briefly forgot our water trouble while visiting a beautiful, but again derelict, cloister at Padiste before some locals told Terry that there was a shop 1 km down the road. We have done 60 km since leaving Haapsalu by then. And suddenly, not one, but three shops, all identical selling food and water. This is still a great mystery to us. But anyhow, we bought what we needed for the night and started looking for a nice spot to pitch our tent.

 
 

The next town was not the camper's dream place for a rest. After a few rows of very sad looking blocks of flats set next to a giagantic pile of sand (taller than all the forest trees around), we were under the gaze of two men in watch-towers behind some tall barbwired walls. We soon worked out that we were cycling along Rummu prison. The site was immense and many buildings far into the countryside were abandoned. A very chilling place, not good for inspiring happy dreams. We decided to push on a little further in search of squirrels and fluffy bunnies.

Waterfall over a limestone cliff near the coast

 

5000km's on the way to Tallinn

Limestone Cliff overlooking the Baltic - No trees and a view!

 

 
 

View over the old city of Tallinn

 

 

22nd July 2005 - Rummu to Tallinn - 70 km

We followed the road around the cost, West of Tallinn. We thought that again the forest will keep us away from nice views over the sea, but there are many absolutely beautiful limestone cliffs all along the way from Keila-Joa. You can find them easily if you get away from the main road. The best spot was a park after Rannamoisa, but nothing was indicated so we were lucky to find such a good views. Despite the clouds and the forthcoming rain, we could even see Tallinn spires in the background.

 
 

23rd - 28th July 2005 - Tallinn

Tallinn is extremely pretty and relaxing. Contrarily to the rest of Estonia, which has greatly suffered during the many wars the country has endured, part of the Old town only suffered during Soviet bombing in 1944. So it is extremely well preserved and it has everything to please any kind of tourist: old mediaeval walls, tourist tat shops, lots of museum, all types of churches, traditional ice-cream shop for Terry, etc...

Tomb of the lost soldier, still with it's Soviet emblems behind

 

Tallinn - pointy spires, old defensive walls and the sea

 

 
 

Old Tallinn Streets

 

Most people speak English so it has been pretty easy for us. Even in the Russian embassy we managed to communicate with stubborn secretaries in English! But this is another story... (see the Russian visa section if you have loads of free time and an urge to visit Russia)

Due to our extended stay waiting for our Russian visa to be issued, Terry has been forced to make an appointment to a hairdresser for the first time of his life (it seems that you cannot turn up and get a cut on the spot). He asked for a Beckham haircut, but we are not sure whether he is going to come back with a shaved head, a tub of brylcreem or beaded plaits...

The last building built by the Soviets - now the national library

 
 

The Orthodox church - built in 1900 on the top of the Old Town - completely out of character with the Estonian architecture around. Estonians still talk about demolishing it!

 

More old cobbled streets and houses

 

 

 
 

View of the old town from St Olafs church spire (which was the highest structure in Europe)

 

Would you decorate you're home with zizi's?

 
 

In England magazines for 14 year old girls are called "Just Seventeen", in Estonia there is the choice between "Tom and Jerry" or "Spunk" magazine - what a choice.

 

 

The largest waterfall in Estonia

 

 
 

Nature reserve and fantastic spot for a picnic

Delightful beach on the Northern Estonian coast - Isa was, as always, keen to jump into the Baltic Sea

 

 

28th July 2005 - Tallinn to Pudisoo - 66 km

We left Tallinn on a beautiful sunny day with a nice wind in our backs. We followed the beach eastwards and the views back on the old town and the ferry port were beautiful and a million miles away from the enormous grey suburbs we had crossed to get there six days before (gosh, this was a long rest!).

After a few kilometres, we met Jurgen, another cyclotourist who has just arrived to Estonia and wanted to go to Narva. Since it also was our destination, Jurgen decided to tag along with us. The difficult thing for us that we had to switch our brains back to German as Jurgen did not speak English at all.

The three of us set off for the coast (the sea being our usual bathing area, I am sure you know it by now). On our way, we stopped to see the largest waterfall of Estonia in Jagala. A woman was bathing under the waterfall and stood below it to get a very invigorating back massage (and she survived!).

 

 
 

29th July 2005 - Pudisoo to Altja - 65 km

We cycled the whole day through Lahemaa natural park and this was without a doubt our favourite bit of Estonia. The area was a military zone during the Soviet occupation, so it has been preserved from any industrial developments.

The landscapes are varied (forests, sand dunes, fields, marshes, beautiful beaches), the roads quiet and the villages beautiful. The area has also an other characteristic: there are many manors left from the well-off Baltic-German families. Some are more like little castles with distillery, green houses, stables, chapels, etc... So plenty of stops en route to rest our legs.

 

 

 

 

 
 

Fishing village of Altja

 

 

In the evening, we reached the fishing village of Altja, a real little jewel. And oh joy, there was the first pub we have seen for ages. A stop for beer and cider was called for. One litre of beer later, a longer stop for food this time was needed.

After the meal, we set off for the beach and the fishing huts. We were treated to the most beautiful sunset we have seen since Slovakia. Terry braved the mosquitos and his digestion by jumping in for a night swim.

 

 
 

30th July 2005 - Altja to Kohtla-Jarve - 100 km

The morning later, Jurgen said he had some postcards to write and that he was happy for us to set off without him. As he had been only in Estonia for three days (and two were spent with us), we got the hint and left him behind. Terry had enough to have is German pronunciation constantly been put right, and we parted without too much regret.

Welcome to Aseri - the brick and cement capital of Estonia

 

 

When the USSR resumed control of Estonia after WWII they lined the entire coast of the Gulf of Finland with barb wire and set up watch towers along the coast (above) - they even banned fishing - whci had a terrible affect on villages such as Altja above

 
 

 

As we left Lahemaa natural park, the landscape started to be doted with high chimneys and huge mountains of limestone slag heaps (left over from oil shale production and excess to the cement production industry). At the same time we were following the high limestone cliffs which border Northern Estonia, with an outstanding view on the Baltic. It is a beautiful but spoilt landscape. In addition, the development of the phosphorus and oil shale industry have created have created some serious environmental problems.

Still, this did not stop us having one more bath in the sea in the evening. We found a spot by a beautiful beach, which we shared with many other estonian families camping and not put off by the bad weather. It was well worth it as we were treated to our last sunset over the Baltic sea.

The Gulf of Finland runs from West to East and at this time of year the sun sets towards the North West - thus every night the sun low sun provides a prolonged, glorious sunset - over the normally mirror like baltic sea.

 

Aseri town centre - lovely old buildings but completely delapidated. The new Estonian government does not appear to have invested in this Russian speaking area

Another Gulf of Finland sunset

 

 
 

The tallest waterfall in Estonia

 

 

31th July 2005 - Kohtla-Jarve to Narva - 89 km

This was our last stretch through Estonia, but it felt like Russia already.

We crossed some towns like Sillamae, which as Tallinn tourist information leaflet put it, are "an open-air museum of Stalinist development". We translated this by "pretty ugly" but we made a little detour to check it out. It was not too ugly, but definitely well run down. Fortunately the nearly empty local shop we found some ice-creams!

On reaching Narva in the evening, it was clear that we were not in Estonia anymore. Everybody speaks Russian, the shop signs are all in Russian. The only statue of Lenin left in Estonia is in Narva. The city, which is said to have been as beautiful as Tallinn, was totally destroyed during WWII and the reconstruction was Soviet style, i.e., a lot of concrete apartment blocks all facing the same way.

 

 
 

One thing that survived the war is the fantastic castle that overlooks the river Narva (also the border with Russia) and faces the equally impressive russian castle of Ivangorov.

That night, we found an awful soggy camping spot infested with mosquitoes in a field close to the town. We fell asleep thinking about the morning border crossing and big mother Russia...

 

 

 
 

Old Vladimir is still pointing back towards Moscow (but is now hidden in a corner of the Narva castle)

 

In no-mans land between Estonia and Russia

 
         
         

 

     

 
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