The first bright morning since we arrived in Tallinn. We had grazed on the buffet breakfast for the best part of an hour and we were now at the door and ready to go. This is fantastic, there is nothing worse than setting off in heavy rain. Which is a bit of a shame, as within 400m, that is exactly what we were doing. Where had that come from! Deep puddles and pot holed roads, with the added excitement of tram lines and navigational unhappiness. We know we have to keep the Baltic on our right, but it would be best not to end up biking around the half dozen small peninsulas that would add 20k or more to our route.
We cut the best line that we could find by riding on paths up one way streets. Cars threw up great bow waves as they passed. A miserable 12k and things started to thin out a bit and we picked up a bike path running alongside a retail park and car dealerships. Everything was here, from Marks & Spencer to McDonald’s and Lexus and more distressing than those, a Soviet era Zoo. But then, a sign for Euro Velo 1 and we were in the right place and even had a bit of blue sky.
The town of Tabasalu comes up, and things start to feel more rural . Spirits are peachy, with the sun out and our wet weather gear, back in our bags. An abandoned cemetery comes up. We start to walk around, but get just a few paces before mosquitos chase us off. A few meters latter, the Church of Madise, obviously the church that the cemetery belongs to. We go in and read of the usual terrible battles that this area has seen. We do not have Sweden marked down as a warring nation but perhaps we should. Ever since half way up Germany, there they are on the info board. In the thick of the action of every battle. If it is not them then it is the Danes causing trouble all over Northern Europe.
The sun is now out and it is hot enough for steam to be rising from the heated tarmac. The strongest smells of unseen mushrooms waft from the roadside woods. We have had our first days of Autumn, but the sun still has a summer heat to it. We camp near the town of Padise on a wonderful campground. Half a dozen other touring cyclists turn up over the next few hours. The Baltic coast is a surprisingly popular route. As usual, with hundreds of square meters to pitch in, they all want to be next to us. This breaks the very first rule of camping etiquette and is a crime in my books. I sulk, but Esther will not help me move and set up the tent again and I am not quite angry enough to do it on my own.
It may as well have rained all night, the dew is so heavy. Since first light, Cranes have been calling. There is not a breath of wind and mosquitos are taking advantage of the good flying conditions. They help to motivate us for a speedy start. It is well before 9 and we are rolling along in bright sun. A man in a dark suit is at the side of the road up ahead. For no obvious reason he topples over and as we get near he is lying on the ground clutching his knees to his chest. There is a clear glass bottle now lying on the ground next to him. Esther says she has seen many old paintings from Eastern Europe that feature family groups with an Uncle or Father lying in the background, pole-axed by drink. It is a bit of a standard motif.
We have a poke around the church at Harju Risti. It’s tower is a bizarre semi circle, with angles going all over the place. This is wonderful countryside with scattered farms and cottages. We take a dirt road towards the coast. We are riding through Pine forests that have a full carpet of Berries under them. It is coming into wild harvest time and the best spots have family groups bent double at the work. Many have thick clothes despite the heat as today is a bad day for bugs. If we get a puncture I may just walk away from the bike and leave it. It would be horrible. Dozens of Dragonflys are enjoying the warmth and in the denser parts of the forest, shafts of sunlight have columns of insect pulling tight spiralling flight paths.
Never pass an open cafe, you will remember is our motto. It is just 11.30, but we have a tasty and very cheap lunch, sitting next to labourers and farm workers. We order in English and when we have a further question, several people can help. This linguistic brilliance turns out to be quite normal. You can get by here with English, and what is just as amazing is that this little cafe has WIFI. It is everywhere here in Estonia and always free. The most remote shop we come across will have a WIFI connection for you. Estonia is connected that is certain and it knows more about computers than most places. Next time you use Skype, think of Estonia, the home of Skype and world class contemporary composers too.
The campground we stay at that evening has an example of another of Estonia’s obsessions. WWW.Kiiking.ee will tell you all that you need to know about these oversized swings. Esther has a half hearted go on it. The aim is to swing higher and higher until you pass over the top. This becomes increasingly more difficult as the swing is lengthened, with the record standing at over 7 meters. Your Mum would have to look away.
We ride into Haapsalu in the morning after a second cold night. I am amazed at the amount of fertile fields here, all waving in the breeze with long unharvested grass. There is so little livestock here, it feels wrong in such a fertile country. As we reach Haapsalu we find nice cafes and rows of wooden houses. It was a Spa town, so popular that the great and the good and even the jus downright loaded, travelled here to take the mud treatment. The Soviets liked it enough to make it ‘ off limits ‘. Like the agriculture, it looked underused for such a picturesque place. I guess that the Germans in their motor homes will find it eventually and then I will moan that it is overrun.
We find a bike path that runs from the rail museum to the ferry at Rohukula. We are going to ride across the island of Hiiumaa. This was not part of our plans, but a couple we met, were so keen that we should go, that we will do just that. We sit in the terminal and have a nice meal and some time on the WWW. as we have managed to be here almost 3 hours too early. So what do we think about Estonia? Well we like it very much indeed. The language is impenetrable that is for sure. We pass advertising that could be for garden furniture, but could just as easily be offering trips into space. I have worked out what porridge looks like. No small task when there is a bewildering variety of oat based foods available on the shelves.
The ferry is much larger than we expected and many more vehicles are linked up. And there for the first time in the world, a segregated line with signs for bikes. Well done Estonia. We wait for the traffic to pull away and then set of towards the North coast of the island. We pick up a minor road shown on the gps. and follow it. Either side of the road are beautiful wooden houses all immaculately painted red, yellows and greens.
We want to wild camp and once again Estonia is amazing. There are so many free or cheap sites to chose from. We come across a community picnic site that allows camping. It is all free and so well maintained, an absolute gem. We pitch the tent and settle down early tired from the early start. We are just getting comfortable when children show up on bikes and put in a good hours Kiiking practice on a very squeaky swing behind our tent. We are near Hellamaa, and want to bike all along the North coast to the far peninsula and then south to the ferry to the next island. We have a bit of a plan, which is unusual for us.
Next morning it is overcast and just 15’c as we ride on. This is an awkward temperature, too cold for summer wear and too warm for anything more. The first bit of the ride is along a bike path that runs by a fast straight road. There is so little traffic, you could put down your pullover as goals and play football in the road. With a few exceptions this is what we find everywhere and it all adds up to cycling heaven.
We come to ‘ Cross Hill ‘ at Ristimagi and stop to have a look. In the midst of time, two wedding parties met here on this narrow road. Neither agreed to give way, and a violent fight broke out that ended in one of the grooms being killed and one of the brides. So, we are left with a bride and groom who have hardly met and have got off to a poor start. Love is strange indeed and despite this, they eventually married each other and lived quite happily. There is a tradition to make a cross at this point in the road. It should be made of what you can find here, but it looks as if some cheat. There are hundreds of crosses stretching back into the forest and Esther adds ours.
We head to pick up the route 301 bike path around the peninsula and are heading towards Kopu. The path is rough and hard on the bikes and rider. Again, we are going through perfect berry picking country and even this remote, people are out fighting off the insects and picking berries. We head towards the lighthouse at Ristna, looking for a spot to camp. There is a sign ‘ surfers paradise ‘ with the offer of an amazing campground, but we are a little cautious. Surfing is a lifestyle choice where the participants keep what could be called ‘ jazz hours ‘. We need a good nights sleep and early into our sleeping bags and it is not compatible. Hurrah then that on the way we find the perfect spot right next to the sea. It must be one of the best pitches we have ever had. Well done Estonia once again.
We ride around the coast and back out to the Tuletorn lighthouse, before we pick up the 84 towards Emmaste and the ferry terminal. We will catch the early ferry in the morning to the island of Saaremaa. Once again, just where we want it, is a free camp site. We pitch and then go a walk along the harbour. Evening sun casts a warm glow on the boats and then a star filled night sees temperatures dip into the low end of single digits.
The ride along the coast on the island of Saaremaa is one of the best stretches of our European journey so far. There are so few cars here and perfect roads. We ride through fertile country dotted with wooden barns and houses with the Baltic Sea an almost mediterranean blue to our left. We need a shower and a bit of a rest and we need time to take it all in. The town of Orissaare is surprisingly small, but it has a cheap hostel and two good cafes. Perfect then for a day off and a bit of Blogging ‘.