Eastern Europe: Day 1 – Narva to Valate (Estonia).
We awoke after a sound night’s sleep (not a so much as a squeak from her pet rat) in our Warmshower host Julia’s small but comfortable flat. Before setting off, she showed us around her work (a local international youth hostel) and a little of Narva…what a star!We shopped and filled our panniers with enough food for 4 days cycling, took a few photos of the fortress on the Russian side of the Narva river and set off excitedly on the first day of our European cycle at the very late hour of 11.30am.
We had cycled no more than 400m down towards the river when Jon heard a rubbing sound and noticed that his right-side front pannier mount had detached. Just as he stopped to inspect it, the grey clouds above let out a crack of thunder and the heavens opened. We hurriedly pushed the bikes back up to an entrance archway of a fort on the Estonian side of the river, where we sheltered from the rain and repaired Jon’s bike. Fifteen minutes later the deluge had stopped and we were ready to set off again.
The first 15km of our route headed North Along the Narva river adjacent to Russia towards the coast and the Gulf of Finland. The grey skies soon gave way to blue and we enjoyed the woodland scenery. Shortly before reaching the mouth of the river we pulled off the road to look at a Red Army tank which was on display nearby.We then turned in a Westerly direction and took a few moments to admire the pristine golden beach (nobody swimming though!).
We were following signs for Eurovelo 10 (Baltic Sea route) which also forms a part of Eurovelo 13 (Iron Curtain trail) and hugs the coastline rather than taking more direct routes. On the whole it follows minor roads and trails but occasionally by necessity includes major roads.
We were enjoying the variation of scenery, quaint houses, green and bright yellow fields and the comparative ease of the route, compared to Pategonia (the roads were smooth and flat and the wind relatively light).
After a couple of hours cycling, the weather turned again (apparently this is common for summer in the Baltic states. As the heavens opened, we headed for the nearest refuge. As luck would have it this turned out to be a roadside bar. We ordered a pot of tea and initially sat outside sheltering under parasols and eating lunch whilst waiting for the rain to ease. The wind picked up and we decided to head inside where we ordered a second pot (accompanied by a few of our gingernut biscuits) and sat it out for another hour.
By mid afternoon it had stopped sufficiently for us to set off again. Shortly afterwards the route took us down some dirt tracks with the occasional rocky section which tested out Jons repaired front pannier mount (passed).
By 6.30pm we had covered approx 70km for the day and decided to pull into Valate campsite (adjacent to Estonia’s highest waterfall), overlooking the sea, for the night. We were more than happy with our efforts considering we hadn’t been on the bikes for nearly 4 months. We paid the princely fee of €4 to camp and were invited by a fellow camper (Andie) a veteran of multiple international bike tours, who had spotted our bikes, to join him and his wife for dinner and a drink…of course we said ‘yes’.
One thing we hadn’t yet considered, was that we were at 60 degrees North of the equator and it was mid-summer, so we failed to notice just how late it was. At 11pm, with the sun still not setting, we eventually realised the time and put ourselves to bed much later than we had planned upon but very pleased with how our 1st day back on the bikes had panned out.
Day 2 – Valaste campsite to Beach near Selja Jogi river (Estonia)
We woke up feeling well rested, peeked out of our tent and were pleased to see clear blue skies, but soon started to feel the heat rising. We got organised pretty quickly, had breakfast and arranged our panniers.
However before heading off, we had to check out ‘Valaste waterfalls’. We had read that these were infact the highest waterfalls in Estonia 33.8 metres high (which isn’t very high and has probably got something to do with the fact that Estonia is really flat and doesn’t have any mountains). We had already been pre-warned that the bridge to the viewing point had collapsed some time ago and not to expect a long walk. We padlocked the bikes and walked 50 metres along a dirt track to a small clearing where we snapped a few photos.
Then returned to our bikes and set off at 9am following the Eurovelo 10.
We rode along quiet country roads passing fields of mustard coloured flowers, the views were incredible. It was as if we had unintentionally ridden into a Van Gogh painting, with the slight breeze gently moving the long dark green grass, giving a sort of mexican wave effect of various shades.
We meandered along country roads for a few hours before coming to an old fort called ‘Purtse Kindluselamu’. Vanessa was desperate to go to the bathroom, so paid 1 Euro and ventured in, only to find the interior of the fort beautifully restored to its original and that her 1 Euro also paid to explore the fort. Upon exploring the various rooms Vanessa discovered a medieval restaurant hidden away in a basement only accessed via a small spiral granite staircase. Very impressive!
We continued for a further few hours passing so many quaint houses and little towns. One town had an impressive storks nest buion a lamppost (quite a challenge to get any sleep at night for the birds we’d imagine!) Around 1pm, we started to feel hungry and spotted an idyllic area (freshly mowed) to rest and scoffed down some food. A few dogs sensed our presence and started barking but soon settled down (luckily for us they were either tied or behind a fence).
We continued riding, passing through dense forest and little villages. We unfortunately missed one of the Eurovelo 10 signs and ended up on the main highway for 30 minutes or so, which has a lot more traffic and a small hard shoulder (not much fun), before rediscovering the Eurovelo route via a small track off the main highway.
Once back on the correct route we had a few hours of peaceful roads before coming to a long straight road, which must have been around 8km long. It was monotonous and unfortunately the wind picked up too. We therefore resorted to pelleton style riding to save on energy.
We arrived in industrial ‘Kunda’ town. Our first impressions were not great, as all we could see were large factories. The unusual thing was the hard contrast of interests. One factory restored wind turbines (thumbs up from us), the others seemed to be either slaughter houses or lumber yards.. It didn’t seem to have much going on but we got very excited seeing a cup of tea sign, we followed the signs for a short while, only to discover that it was actually too far out of our way. We retraced our steps, then went back on the Eurovelo 10. Shortly after, we came across a small pub right in front of a huge industrial plant. We wanted a rest, so we did. We got two cups of green tea and played dominoes for 40 mintues or so. Vanessa smashed Jon 100 to 87!
Back on our bikes we felt refreshed and ready to tackle whatever the Eurovelo 10 had in store for us. We enjoyed the last 15 km, weaving through forests, small towns and crossing pleasant bridges. We had already cycled over 65km and were now ready to rest.
We set about looking for a safe wild camp. We passed a sign with a picture of a tent, so naturally we thought ‘campsite’. Cycling down the track, we stopped to ask a local lady (who’s English was fantastic) who explained that this campsite was for school camps only. She also gave us a good tip, pointing us in the direction of a sweet beach camp.
We crossed a bridge and came to a lovely mowed open area right next to a small beach. As we stopped, a lady from the house opposite came out and gestured that it was ok for us to camp there. This information to hand, we trotted off pleased that we had found such a perfect spot to camp at a decent 6.30pm. We set up our tent and as we were cooking dinner another bike tourer rode towards us. Sam from Germany (Dresden). He had already been riding for 5 weeks and was heading to Russia. We talked for a while, exchanging stories and advice, then Sam headed off in search of a mini store to buy some extra food.
We ate like royalty, strolled along the beach, played cards at a random table set up along the beach and went to bed.
Day 3 Beach near Selja Togi river to Turbuneeme (Estonia)
After a peaceful nights sleep, we got up and ate breakfast next to our own private little beach and admired the swans and general wildlife around the bay. Once fed and all packed up we headed off at a slightly later start time of 9.40am.
The weather wasn’t glorious but perfect temperatures of around 20 degrees for cycling, with litttle wind. We rode for several hours through perfect countryside. Estonian people sure do look after their homes, as each house we passed was more quaint and looked after, than the next. We have also noticed how clean the countryside was, people seem to have a good respect for their land and the environment.
We stopped at a resevoir called ‘Mustoja’, then cycled up to a very cool looking windmill and snapped a couple of photos.
Once in ‘Lahemaa Rahvuspark’ national park, the forest became even more dense and the smell of Norwegian pine was devine. We stopped to ask some locals what they were picking? We discovered they were picking tiny strawberries.We picked a couple and tried them ourselves. Very delicious…just small!
Once at ‘Vuso’ our tummies started rumbling, so we ate lunch and then explored the nearby beach, shopped for food and stopped off at a local pub for a quick drink before setting off again.
The last 30km was along quiet streets and through very small hamlets. We rode beside Eru bay, before reaching a grassy patch with various benches, a swing, drop toilet and plenty of space to camp. At a very decent hour of 6pm we decided this would be the nights free accommodation. We ate dinner first. For one, we were hungry and two, there were other people at the park and we wanted to wait for them to leave before setting up camp.
We had plenty of time to explore the surrounding area, which consisted of checking out the bay views, and reading the local park sign which contained a bit of history about the area.
In total we think we cycled around 70km, however it’s difficult to know just how many km, as the Eurovelo weaves in and out avoiding major roads and tries to be as close to the coast as possible.
Day 4 – Turburnee to Pirita (Estonia)
We had a beautifully peaceful nights sleep on the Turburnee village green, next to Eru bay; save for a handful of teenagers who pitched up at around 11pm (it was still daylight) and joked around on the antique swing contraption next to our tent for a short while. We were only concerned that they didn’t mess with our bikes but needn’t have worried.
In the morning the sun shone brightly and the warmth forced us out of the tent at around 8.30am, otherwise we could both have slept a good while longer. There was very little wind and no clouds to be seen, so we looked forward to a near perfect day weather wise.
Although Tallinn was only 70km away as the crow flies, we were following the Eurovelo 13 (also Eurovelo 10 & 11 at this point) which hugs the coastline and takes you around the peninsulas on minor roads rather than the more direct major roads. According to the Eurovelo signs we had seen with distances marked, we had around 100km to Tallinn but we were far happier with the more scenic route with quieter coastal roads, magical pine forests and quaint villages…interspersed with the occasional surreal looking soviet block factory in the middle of nowhere.
There was little to report during the morning, other than stopping for the occasional photo of a highland bull or 10ft tall wooden Pinocchio carving.It was the perfect ride. Three young Estonian entrepreneurs were selling fridge magnets on the side of the road for extra pocket money during their summer holidays (Jon initially spotted a bottle of beer on their table…a ploy we think, as it was empty) so we pulled over for a chat. One young lad was obviously the group’s salesman and spoke very good English. Vanessa parted with 2 Euro for a fridge magnet with an Estonia flag and cable-tied it to the front of her bike before we set off.We stopped for lunch at the a roadside children’s park. One absent minded toddler had left their plastic toys, which included plastic plates, cups, saucers etc. Jon stole a small pink knife, as we have only a cutting knife, and will probably burn in hell. After lunch things went a bit pear shaped. Firstly Vanessa noticed her gears were slipping a little and stopped to tighten a few screws. This succeeded in exacerbating the problem, so she loosened them which seemed temporarily to improve things but there were weird noises coming from the chain…we carried on cycling, resolving to do a thorough check when we stopped for the day.
Soon after that we came across what looked like a quarry filled with water. On Mapsme we could see several of these excavations forming lakes. We didn’t know exactly what they were and they looked out of place, so we headed for a nearby notice board with the heading ‘Rebala Children’s Mounds’ hoping for an explanation. Having re-read the board twice we were even more confused…obviously Google translate was having an off day. We’ve put up a photo for you to work it out!We had another 20km to Tallinn and aimed for a potential campsite 10km before it, on Eurovelo 13. By this time Vanessa was feeling a little tired and her gear changes were playing up, so we were pleased when we got to Kalevala camping. Unfortunately we soon discovered that it had long since closed down…oops.
Plan B – we headed for the nearest campsite, another 3.5km nearer to Tallinn…but no sooner had we set off than Vanessa’s attempt at a gear change resulted in her bike ceasing up…time for a re-think.
We turned the bike upside down in an attempt to locate the issue. We then spotted the culprit, a loose pin and link in the chain. Five minutes later Vanessa had replaced the link. Jon set off on a short test ride but immediately he put pressure on the crank the chain gave way. As he examined the chain a local road cyclist stopped and offered to help. He succeeded only in bending a different link and as we had no further spare links we had no option but to remove the chain completely. The Good Samaritan offered to cycle to a nearby bike shop (which was closed) and then to call a bike mechanic friend but we stopped him as he had done more than enough already. We thanked him and agreed we could walk the bike the remaining 2.5km and get the chain repaired in Tallinn the following morning…So we did (actually Vanessa was able to freewheel a good portion of the way as it was slightly downhill). Therefore we walked our bikes into the campsite in Parita approx 8km from Tallinn city centre. As it turned out it was the perfect area for us, giving great views of old Tallinn town over the bay, with an amazing late evening sky and very close to a bike shop.
A long, and ultimately eventful, day.
Day 5 – Tallinn (Estonia)
This day simply blew us away. We awoke to another gloriously sunny morning, ate breakfast and then wheeled Vanessa’s bike to a nearby bike shop, only to discover that it didn’t open until 11am on Saturday…Never mind; we had a little over an hour to kill, so padlocked the bikes and walked a few hundred meters to the nearby beach. It was only mid-morning but the balmy 20 degrees Celsius had brought a cluster of bikini clad locals to the beach…lots of white flesh on show. Jon ventured into the Baltic waters for the first time and swam for 15 minutes or so, after which we headed back to the bike shop.The mechanic spoke no English but fortunately his hands did the talking and within 5 minutes he had repaired the broken chain links and for the bargain price of €4 Vanessa was back on the road again…happy days!
This was our planned rest day in Tallinn, so we cycled leisurely (without panniers) 8km along the seafront following Eurovelo 13, until we reached the ferry terminal, where we purchased ferry tickets for a cheeky 2 day ‘side-trip’ to Helsinki, Finland the following morning.
This done, we cycled a very short distance towards the old town of Tallinn. Immediately we ventured through the turreted entrance archway into the old town we knew we would love the place.
It did not disappoint in any respect. The cobbled streets contained so many magical old buildings…the more we explored the more we discovered.
There were wonderful buildings with spires, secret stairwells and beautifully preserved alleyways. We spent all afternoon wandering the town, which fully deserves its UNESCO Heritage status and we could have spent far longer. Vanessa mastered the art of walking from one street vendor to the next sampling their roasted peanuts until she had consumed a packet’s worth without a single purchase…yum!
Towards early evening we cycled back to our campsite, stopping briefly to explore a more modern Communist block war memorial, which only served to emphasise the contrasts of architecture in this part of the world. We ate dinner in the late evening sun and reflected on how good the day, and the old town in particular, had been…We went to bed very happy but had to remember to set our alarm for an early (6am) start for our Scandinavian adventure the following day.
The shops and cafes contained labyrinths of antiques and the locals wore medieval clothes which only added to the ambience. Venturing through one shop, which turned out to also be a tavern, a barmaid in medieval clothing asked if anyone fancied a shot of Estonian schnapps? Of course we accepted the challenge but first had to learn how to hold the cup the correct way (between thumb and pinky finger), with other hand on head, whilst shouting some undecipherable word and then skulling the cup. Vanessa opted for berry flavour, Jon for pepper…it tasted very good and brought a glow to our cheeks.