A fairly short ferry trip (21/2 hours) brought us from Helsinki to Talinn Estonia and our first glimpse of the Baltic countries. Talinn “Old Town” on a fine afternoon was a delight to walk around for a few hours. Fairly quiet with just a few tourists and some majorly interesting old buildings dating back hundreds of years. Our first impressions of Estonia were very favourable – and stayed pretty much that way!
Not wanting to camp in Talinn itself where the two camping possibilities were reputed to be “average”, we headed off fairly late in the day on the road towards Happsalu and after about 100kms the really nice campsite in the line forests of Roosta Puhkekula N59.16081 E23.53002 www.roosta.ee near Paldiski. The place also had a fantastic rope climbing course for kids ( and older kids) – which we sadly probably can’t have in Australia anymore due to “public liability” insurance? We spent two days at Roosta and walked down the long beach past an old Soviet guard house and machine gun emplacement and through the forests.
Next we trundled into the town of Haapsalu which sported many old and interesting buildings and a castle as well as a fascinating railway station and yard with an old Soviet Russian steam engine and a German engine from WW11 (which did 500,000kms up until 1975) as well as old rolling stock. Very interesting as you do not see this stuff usually.
But even more fascinating near Haapsalu was an old Soviet airfield that we came across with hangers and bunkers just like they were when abandoned in about 1989 when Communism collapsed and the Russians pulled out.
Next ports of call were the Baltic islands of Hiiumaa and Saaremaa which we had been told were worth a visit and they certainly were. Short ferry rides to the islands and then 5 days of old buildings and lighthouses to explore. A particularly poignant spot was a place near Kardla were many crosses were placed in the forest to mark where in the 1700’s ,1,000 Swedes (the Swedish population of Hiiumaa ) were deported and sent to perish on a forced march to the Ukraine by Catherine the Great of Russia when Russia defeated Sweden and took over Hiiumaa in the 18th century.
We camped at a good campsite called Vetsi Tall ( GPS N58.78931 E 22.81.927) near Kassari and also wild camped at night or two at a lovely spot in the National Park called Metsapere (GPS N58.82960 E 22.5237) all on our own. Then only downside was the Stan got stung on the head by a European wasp at Metsapere and had a severe allergic reaction and blacked out for two hours to Marianne’s consternation when she had to pack up camp and the vehicle and look for help. (He recovered before things got too desperate)!
We then skipped across to the island of Saarema with its windmills and forests and wild camped in the Vilsandi National Park on the Baltic at N 58.42490 E22.07467. The main town on Saarema of Kuressaare with its castel was worth a few hours wandering before we went to look at where a meteorite had hit the Earth at Kaali some 9,000 years ago. That night we camped on the next island of Muhu at Liiva in a pretty good campsite where the owner and his wife had actually lived in Australia for several years before coming back to Estonia after the fall of Communism.
Then back to the Estonian mainland, the pretty town of Parnu ( where we met an Estonian guy with a nicely fitted out Land Rover Defender with a Hannibal tent just like ours)! We camped that night at Viljandi and spent the next morning wandering around this very interesting town with its old early 20th century mansions of wealthy German merchants and its old water tower and wooden buildings.
Also managed to get our South African Cadac LPG cylinder filled up in Viljandi by a very helpful guy. (The had totally refused to refill in Denmark/Sweden/Finland due to safety regulations (It’s all “swap & go” there). Just as well as we were down to our last few cc’s of gas!
A camp in a guys farm yard on the road to Tartu (also worth a few hours with its old university and “old town”) then we crossed the border into Latvia and spent the first night on the Gaujas river at Cesis at Zagarkalns campsite N 57.31208 E 25.2266.
What can we say about 10 days in Estonia? It’s a great country and rapidly transforming in to a modern Western European state. The shops and level of WiFi Internet connection everywhere (the Estonians invented Skype incidentally) surprised us. Yet there is a huge mixture of new and old – with the old farmhouses and wooden buildings fascinating. Plenty of old Soviet era hideous concrete flats and crumbling factories, but these are disappearing.
We loved Estonia – its our sort of country where you can “wild camp” just about where you like, have campfires, everyone is friendly, the girls blonde and beautiful and its pretty cheap compared to Scandanavia. The old wooden buildings, crumbling Soviet edifices and quaint farms are just fascinating. Go back any day!
Next stop Latvia- and from what we have already seen, it will be good too if a bit poorer, roads worse and a bit more backward than its neighbour Estonia.
More pictures in the Gallery. https://picasaweb.google.com/110392977689469430264/Estonia
Follow our route on Google maps in “Route”.