Archive for the ‘Europe 2018’ Category

Finale

4 September 2018

Wandlitz to Berlin

It was a short ride into Berlin this morning. We passed through some satellite towns before spying the silver sphere of the Fernsehturm gleaming on the horizon. After arriving in Kreuzberg we needed to offload our luggage for a few hours so asked the friendly bike shop folks at Velomondo who kindly agreed to stash the panniers out the back. Then it was off to the Sommerbad for a swim.

Florian and Lena welcomed us back to their apartment where we stayed after landing here in July. Also staying here are Fanny and Bertrand from France. We had fun playing a board game called Dog around the kitchen table and drinking bottles of lemonade flavoured mate of which Florian has an oversupply remaining from his DIY bike camp. A big thanks from us to Florian and Lena who are extraordinarily generous hosts – it has been great fun to stay with them and to experience a little of daily life in Kreuzberg.

Now all we have to do is pack up and get to the airport on time!

Thanks to all our readers and followers. Bye!

Next we take Berlin

3 September 2018

Schwedt to Wandlitz, Germany

Dawn broke with clear blue skies and wisps of mist around the trees but by the time we had breakfasted and packed, the mist had settled in and we rode off up the Oder River in mild, still conditions. The scenes across the river flats and the ridge to the west were enhanced by the fog.

We left the river at Lunow-Stolzenhagen and headed west towards Berlin. A local bike riding codger called Eric gave us some advice and encouragement and we cycled on through rolling farmland and forest.

A bad, rocky forest track led us to Kloster Chorin (ruined church and cloisters) where, to our surprise, a church service was just starting with four massed brass bands and a large congregation. They sounded pretty good taking turns at hymn verses and all joining in on a bluesy kyrie.

An excellent cycle path led us to Eberswalde and then we were stuck on a nasty, narrow and busy road for too long before finding quieter alternatives to Wandlitz for our last night before Berlin.

Stromy podjazd

2 September 2018

Szczecin, Poland to Schwedt, Germany

Leaving Szczecin we were led by Garmin (GPS) on a dodgy trail across a rail bridge, then over several train lines and along rubbish strewn tracks.

Once in the countryside things improved. We rode along the Oder, on bike paths, unsealed roads and sandy tracks. A sign warned us of stromy podjazd – steep road. It was certainly too steep to ride but didn’t last long.

We crossed the border into Germany and, soon after this, saw hundreds of storks, some flying around and calling out and many more congregating in a field. This was an impressive sight.

One of the small villages we passed through, Hohenreinkendorf, was celebrating its 775th anniversary. The town was decorated from one end to the other with bunting and displays of produce at the front of many houses. The action was taking place near the church where there were marquees and stalls selling wurst (yes, we indulged), beer and roast chicken, and entertainment was provided by a band playing brass multiple-bell instruments that we hadn’t seen before – East German schalmei horns. They have what could be called a robust tone and a vigorous dynamic!

After this we were on the Oder-Neisse Radweg (bike path) for much of the remaining distance to Schwedt, an industrial GDR town after being flattened in WW2, now an attractive modern place with colourful apartment buildings surrounding the remnants of the old town centre.

Polish trains

1 September 2018

Gdansk to Poznan then Szczecin by train

Travelling by train in Poland today was a mixed experience. We had bought tickets online for ourselves and two bikes. When the train arrived at Gdansk it was a real scramble to get everything on board as (i) we were not the only people with bikes (ii) there were already several bikes on board and (iii) there is no dedicated space to put bikes! The only option was to stash as many as would fit in the small spaces at the end of the carriages which then made access difficult for people boarding or walking through to the next carriage. Somehow we made it work and the conductor accepted the result – probably happens all the time.

The train was comfortable and quick but there was no information display showing the upcoming stops, nor was there wifi. On the second leg of this trip we had a 6-seat compartment to ourselves and in the next carriage along so did a cellist who was doing some practice. I interrupted him briefly and found out that his name is Robert, he studied cello in Warsaw and now plays professionally in an orchestra in Szczecin. They are about to go on tour to Krasnogorsk. He was practising his part in a Mendelssohn string quartet.

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The day was grey and overcast and the Polish countryside was flat and pretty featureless – a good stretch to do on the rails. We are in Szczecin, proudly the capital of West Pomerania, an interesting city on the River Oder, with trams, churches, a new white Filharmonie and many grand streets with impressive architecture. A sign near the entrance to St Jacob’s Cathedral explains about the Pomeranian Way, the Baltic section of the pilgrim route to Santiago that we travelled along two days ago.

In the supermarket near our accommodation you can buy a whole sunflower head! Can’t do that in Foodland.

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A day in Gdansk

31 August 2018

(I was banned from having G’day in Gdansk as the title for today’s blog. Is that fair? Is that just?)

So, last things first, we had an excellent dinner experience this evening. Rosalie went out on a flaneurism expedition this afternoon while I did lip slurs in our hotel room (don’t worry it’s a trumpet thing). She found an unassuming restaurant called Kresowa on the intersection of two side roads off the main King’s Walk in old Gdansk. One name on an awning and a few linen-clothed tables under a linden tree was all Kresowa had on display but it was a fine un-touristic experience. The salmon blinis with caviar were excellent. We did agree that Rosalie’s Lithuanian Zeppelins (dumplings) were a little stodgy but had it been winter or had we’d ridden 100km we wouldn’t have complained. The world needs more Kresowas.

We spent a grim morning at the Gdansk World War 2 Museum. Having grown up with the Western Allies’ perspective it is interesting to learn from those that lived at the heart of successive disasters.

With a weight of justification, the museum portrays Poland as a main victim of the war and 20th century politics. A close reading reveals a few veiled acknowledgments of local complicity with the Holocaust – a hot political topic in Poland these days. The Catholic Church seems to get off scot free with no mention of its cosy wartime arrangements with Nazi Germany. The unrelenting internal decor of slate grey, cast concrete and subdued lighting combined with the confronting content to make a memorable impact.

After the museum we went on to the Memorial to the Fallen Shipyard Workers of 1970 (remember Lech Wałęsa & Solidarity?). While WW2 finished for us in 1945, in many ways the Solidarity movement marked the next page in Polish history after the German/Russian then Soviet domination of the preceding decades.

An early morning foray onto the desrted and freshly washed, cobbled streets was worth the sacrificed lie-in as the buildings highly ornamented buildings looked fine.

Gdansk is an impressive city that is managing the touristic load pretty well.

On the pilgrim trail

30 August 2018

Yesterday we saw scallop symbols for the Santiago de Compostela pilgrim route fixed to trees along the road. We have seen many more today and this morning passed two walkers with scallop shells on their rucksacks. It’s a long way from here to there!

We had a couple of hills to climb and then descend with good views across the Vistula Lagoon from the top. Today has mostly been spent on quiet country roads through small villages as we crossed the flat farmland along the Baltic coast. Crucifixes and shrines were numerous, tractors were out reaping and ploughing, old blokes were fishing and riding their bikes.

We had a power supply problem to solve as the plug that worked throughout Scandinavia and Russia is not compatible with Polish power points. We found a small shop that had the solution we needed but it was the first place we have come across that didn’t accept credit cards – and of course we had no zlotys. This was also an issue on the ferry across the Vistula, near Gdansk, but fortunately we had just enough Euros in cash and these were acceptable.

Gdansk has an impressive old centre. We are staying directly opposite the Basilica of St Mary, second biggest brick building in the world after Albi Cathedral.

Out of Russia again

29 August 2018

Kaliningrad to Frombork, Poland

Kaliningrad is proud of its past as Konigsberg, based on the historical photos on display, but it seems that little of this remains after two World Wars. It is now a busy city with lots of traffic, trolley buses, trams, Sovietsky apartments and statues and a few grand houses and buildings from more prosperous times. We managed our navigation by retreating to the footpath as much as possible.

On the way to Kaliningrad South station we stopped at a mobile phone shop where Ian bought a phone for under $100 to replace his recently deceased one. Then we noticed and followed the red line that had been painted on the footpath to guide World Cup visitors from the station to the FanFest.

A large statue in the Soviet style, presumably of Kalinin but not identified, dominates the approach to the station. As at many Russian train stations, this one requires the scanning of all luggage at the entry, so we unloaded everything and went in, to discover that there are only two trains each day to Mamonovo near the Polish border. We had missed the first and the second one was not until mid-afternoon. Timetables for local trains are not available online. Therefore we decided to cycle all the way.

Riding out of Kaliningrad was not too bad. We stayed on the footpath where possible and once out of the city fringe the traffic gradually decreased, the countryside became more scenic and the weather improved.

We reached the border at about 1pm, cruised through fairly quickly and were greeted in Poland by three stork nests, of which we saw none in Kaliningrad.

Now we are in Frombork, a small town on the Vistula Lagoon with a massive cathedral and memorials to Copernicus who lived here.

The tiles on the cathedral roof are being replaced – wonder who pays for that? Delicious dinner of fish and fried potatoes.

Kaliningrad

28 August 2018

Nida, Lithuania to Zelenogradsk by bike – Zelenogradsk to Kaliningrad by train

A nice breakfast, a quick trip to the Nida lighthouse and then we were off to the Russian border for our traverse of the Kaliningrad enclave.

The passport formalities were a breeze with even the Russian border officials verging on friendly. Just past the border, after paying 150 roubles ($3) national park entry fee, we spied a moose. A female (no antlers) was standing in the middle of the road about 200m away. We managed one poor photo but were thrilled all the same.

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The rest of the Curonian Spit passed easily in cool, sunny conditions. The Russian half of the spit affords few scenic opportunities but we did get some views of the lagoon and Baltic Sea. There were plenty of mushroom pickers out with their buckets and little knives.

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Zelenogradsk, at the southern end of the spit was bustling. It must have been a splendid seaside resort in its heyday and is still popular but is looking a bit the worse for wear with abandoned apartment buildings on the seafront and failed attempts to preserve the sandy beaches. Nevertheless, it has many attractive buildings, parks and a refurbished mall.

We caught a train to Kaliningrad. The tickets cost $1 plus $0.26 for a bike but in other respects the railway system needs to lift its game.

Firstly, while the Kaliningrad is currently on Eastern European Summer Time along with the Baltic States, the Kaliningrad trains run on Moscow time (one hour later). So we went to the Zelenogradsk station at 14:45 to catch the 15:15 train but had already missed it! Fortunately, we could catch the 16:10 train at 15:10!

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Secondly, the new trains are almost impossible to board. They are schmick, fast and quiet in the Bombardier mould but are really designed for elevated platforms. Kaliningrad has ground-level platforms so the carriage floors are almost 1.5 metres up. Steep external steps have been added but they are more like ladders than steps. Able-bodied passengers can just cope but it is difficult to lift luggage up to the floor of the carriage and precarious to climb as the handrails are inconveniently placed. We struggled with our bikes and helped several old women in and out. One of them had already barked her shin before we got to her. The accessibility of these new trains is a DISGRACE. It is hard to imagine that elderly passengers will persist with them.

Kaliningrad is hectic with a mix of Germanic and Sovietsky architecture, mostly needing maintenance.

Klaipeda and the Curonian Spit

27 August 2018

Klaipeda to Nida, Lithuania

We went out for an early morning exploration before breakfast.

Klaipeda was controlled by successive German states until the Treaty of Versailles on 1919. Its Germanic heritage is immediately apparent in the buildings, squares and town layout. The old town has survived (or recovered from) the privations of the 20th century. So too have many cobblestone streets which shook us awake.

The Soviet Boroughs looked shabby but not as bleak as we expected. They stretch for kilometres in repetitive blocks south of the centre. We visited the brutalist St Joseph’s Catholic Church. Finished in the 1990s, it is a massive concrete structure that resembles an ugly power station. Perhaps the architects were unable to throw off the Soviet yoke. Sunday Mass was underway so we discreetly peeked inside and went on our way. Under a leaden sky, St Joseph’s was scowling across the road at a more conventional Orthodox Church.

After dodging some heavy rain showers by taking refuge in bus shelters, we sped back to the hotel for breakfast.

We took the pedestrian/cyclist ferry across the lagoon and headed south on pleasant bike paths along the Curonian Spit towards Russia. This slender, sandy, forested peninsula stretches for 100km separating the huge Curonian Lagoon from the Baltic Sea. It is a popular holiday destination but the high season is over now and the crowds have thinned.

On the way we were befriended by a young Lithuanian cyclist, Marius, aged 17 from Kaunas, who rode with us for awhile. He was curious about us and said that old people (ha ha) in Lithuania don’t do sports like we were doing. He is in year 11 at gumnasium and plans to study IT at university. He told us that he broke both his legs in a skiing accident in Norway a few years ago and that since his recovery he has taken up cycling and is now a serious road rider. We formed a peloton for awhile with Marius ‘making a tunnel in the air’, as he described it, but eventually we released him from this responsibility and he soon vanished ahead of us.

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About 20km north of Nida we took a break from the bikes and a board-walk to the top of a high but eroding dune for a spectacular view of the lagoon, spit and Baltic Sea.

We are staying in Nida on the shores of the lagoon just shy of the Russian border. This is place is popular with local tourists. The houses are well designed and maintained and brightly painted in a blue, white and Swedish red colour scheme. There are few cars driving around the village which is thronging with pedestrians and cyclists.

Unscheduled day in Siauliai

26 August 2018

Mazeikiai to Siauliai to Klaipeda by train

Today’s plans fell apart! We left Mazeikiai early to take a train to Siauliai, thereby foregoing breakfast at the hotel. That part went OK (except for no breakfast). And seen from the train: a woman hand milking a cow in a field while nearby a man was scything the grass.

At Siauliai we intended to take the morning train to Klaipeda but, based on prior experience, we counted on the train not being booked out. It was! The next train at midday wasn’t booked out but the bicycle spaces were. Therefore we bought tickets for the 5.09pm train and came to terms with the necessity to spend the day in Siauliai.

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This is Lithuania’s 4th biggest city, probably best known for a nearby tourist attraction, the Hill of Crosses, a pilgrimage site since the 1830s. We could not bring ourselves to go there so concentrated on other local features of which there were plenty. Siauliai (pr. Shooly) has more museums than you’d expect including the Cat Museum, the Angel Museum, the Railway Museum (closed on weekends), the Photography Museum and the Bicycle Museum. We started with the latter which was good value for 2 Euros entry – and they also let us park our bikes inside. It displayed bikes from various eras and of a range of styles accompanied by photos and information highlighting the local factory where bikes continue to be manufactured.

Siauliai the city has more than its share of decrepitude but it is making progress with the renovation of the central pedestrianised area, where one half is newly paved. The other half is in a state of apparently long-term disrepair with much of the paving dug up and left in piles. It is well served with better cafes and bakeries than we have seen for awhile.

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The local park by a lake has an iron fox, a labyrinth and water sports. There are interesting sculptures, monuments, murals, a university and a cathedral. Preparations were taking place for an outdoor concert in the city centre. The overcast sky turned to drizzle and rain in the late afternoon.

Eventually it was time to catch the train – we had precisely one minute to locate the correct carriage, unload the bikes, lift them up three steep steps into the train and get our panniers inside. About 20 seconds of this time were taken up by a woman in front of us who struggled to climb in with her heavy bags. Luckily for us, a security guard came to our assistance and we made it!

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The train was slow and noisy and stopped at every station, making it a 3 hour trip to cover about 130km to Klaipeda on the Baltic Sea. On the way we counted over 20 stork nests and also saw cows, goats, vegetable gardens, abandoned industrial sites and many small villages. At one station, the train conductor alighted to collect windfall apples from a heavily laden tree near the platform.

Tomorrow morning we will explore Klaipeda.

Gravel road to Lithuania

25 August 2018

Riga to Jelgava by train – Jelgava to Mazeikiai by bike

We took an early morning train from Riga to Jelgava, 50km south, to give us a head start on a long day to Lithuania. Jelgava impressed us with its orthodox church, fine historic buildings and attractive public areas along the river and in the city centre.

Latvia is about to celebrate 100 years of nationhood and this is commemorated in Jelgava by an unusual public sculpture.

Our route commenced on a busy road but traffic lessened as we turned off on to secondary roads. Three storks were spotted early and, after that, many nests, but none occupied – either abandoned (indoor plants taking over) or maybe just vacated until next year. What did storks do before people were around to provide them with poles for their nests?

We had a good opportunity to observe Latvian farms. There was crop reaping occurring on several but otherwise pretty quiet. At a roadside shop we spoke to a Latvian tradie in his hi-viz gear who enthusiastically told us about his 2 month trip around Australia. At Auce, our halfway point, we had black bread, cheese and sausage bought at the Riga market, but only unchilled drinks could be found in the shop.

Soon after this the bitumen ran out and we were obliged to endure 30 km on loose gravel with clouds of dust covering us each time a vehicle passed.

At one stage I looked back to see if Ian was in sight and saw instead a man in back. He was an toothless Latvian man on a single speed clunker with a metal jerry can on his carrier. He had cruised past Ian and caught up to me. He stopped for a brief conversation in which we agreed (with no language in common) that the gravel road was bad, then he rode off.

The temperature was too warm (high 20s) for dusty riding but we slogged it out and reached the bitumen just before the border into Lithuania. Big road works were underway to improve a badly worn out road and these gave us the chance to test out new stretches of smooth hot mix that were inaccessible to cars.

On the approach into our destination, Mazeikiai, a Volvo had run off the road and got bogged in soft sand. We watched as some blokes in an Audi tried to tow it back on to the road with tyres spinning and smoking until the tow rope broke! Our hotel, located in an industrial area overlooking a trucking company, was both cheap and good and provided delicious Lithuanian food. However they had the underfloor heating going which made the room uncomfortably warm, so we opened up the windows and got both fresh air and high volume live music from the bar.

Riga at a glance

23 August 2018

We are staying in Cheap and Good Apartments near the railway station. They are neither particularly cheap nor good but manager Jarek was friendly and the location convenient.

The rock music in the station square stopped at about 11pm so that the road works outside our room could continue in peace for the next few hours. We eventually overcame our addiction to fresh air, closed the double glazed windows and went back to sleep.

 

We went on an early morning sortie and saw the Opera House, Freedom Monument, old city and the splendid Daugava River. We had a hearty breakfasts at Merkel’s Restaurant across the under- construction road using half-price coupons from our lodgings.

 

The huge Riga Market is amazing. It fills 5 relocated Zeppelin hangars. Several have fresh produce. One is dedicated to pickles and another to fish (mostly smoked or dried) and expensive caviar. We can’t carry any of it. However, looking is free and most stall holders are happy with photos. Riga is a party town with hundreds of bars and cafes. We haven’t seen so much street life since Germany.

Brooding next door is the Riga Holocaust Museum on the site of one of Riga’s wartime ghettos. The museum provides a sobering reminder of unspeakable things that happened here during the second world war.

 

We caught a lift to the observation desk of the imposing, neo-gothic, sovietsky Latvian Academy of Science for tremendous views of the city and river – well worth the 5 Euro price.

We had dinner with Anastasia who lives in Riga and stayed with us in Adelaide a few years ago. Her family is of Russian ethnic background and we heard that the Latvian government considers Russian-Latvians aliens in their own country.

Mobile phone roaming update

23 August 2018

Riga

I need to update my previous glowing report about international roaming with a mobile phone in the EU.

All was rosey, as I previously reported, until the initial month ran out and I sought assistance with an extension while in Finland. It was not smooth sailing.

It transpires that, while they took our passport details, the small mobile phone agency in Berlin that seemed to assist by registering our Ortel SIMs for us didn’t actually do that using OUR names. Consequently, we were unable to extend our contracts.

Ortel advised that this problem could only be rectified at a post office, any post office, in GERMANY.

Lessons learnt?

  1. Register your own cards or supervise the process closely.
  2. It’s cheap and easy to buy prepaid SIMs in Russia and the Baltic states as there is no registration process.

I wonder which dodgy person ended up with our reputable SIMs.

Riga

23 August 2018

Purtsi to Valga, Estonia by bike – Valga to Riga, Latvia by train

It was cold and sunny at Purtsi this morning. We stopped for breakfast at Torva where the centre of town has been partly modernised with a big plaza and the rest has extensive road works in progress. It was a pleasant surprise (1) to find a cafe and (2) that it was open. Many Estonian towns have only a Coop or Konsum supermarket and little else.

We saw one stork today as it flew close by us with a stick in its beak, obviously doing some home maintenance before setting off for Africa.

Our destination was Valga another 30km down the road. As we approached Valga the road followed the Latvian border which was marked with black and white bollards.

The town is divided between Estonia and Latvia. It has an orthodox church of St Isidor with a cluster of onion domes and a huge bright white railway station. The big Maxima supermarket has a good fish selection, and in the entry a was woman selling delicious smelling smoked sausage and pork laid out on a long table.

We took the 2.37 to Riga, a three hour trip at speeds we are accustomed to in Australia. It had wifi though and space for bikes. There is no integration of train services between the Baltic countries with each terminating its lines at or short of the border.

Arriving in Riga, our accommodation plans fell through and we had to make last minute arrangements before finding a Latvian beer in a shady park and a slightly overwhelming but good value buffet restaurant – too many food choices is not such a bad problem!

Avoiding a bad road

22 August 2018

Rapla to Purtsi

As we approach Latvia we’ve been worrying about the coast road between Parnu and Riga. Although part of a Eurovelo route, cyclists have described it as heavily trafficked, narrow, lacking a sealed shoulder and offering no respite or alternatives.

In Rapla, we considered our options and this morning caught a very schmick Estonian railcar to Viljandi. From their, two easy days will get us to Valga in Latvia and then a train to Riga. With time running out we can choose which bits we ride on bikes and which on trains.

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Rapla Church

The weather is cool and sunny and everything looks fresh after yesterday’s rain. We enjoyed a fine breakfast at the Jõe Guesthouse with the other cyclists and then caught the train to Viljandi.

Viljandi street art

We struggled to find the centre of Viljandi but as we did so we learnt that it is quite a big town. A bakery with a golden pretzel sign filled us with hope but was a disappointment. A cafe in a shopping centre had a better range of pastries but we’d already stocked up. We’re looking forward to being back in Germany with it’s countless bakeries.

We sheltered from a heavy rain storm at a bus shelter in Mustla.

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In front of the bus stop is a diminutive statue of the town’s famous son, Martin Klein. Martin represented the Russian Empire at the Stockholm Olympics in 1912. He won what should have been his penultimate bout in that contest after an 11 hour grapple with the reining work champion but was left too exhausted to wrestle for the gold medal the next day. He took silver and became the first Estonian Olympic medal winner albeit for Russia.

Martin Klein statue, Mustla

A glorious tail wind helped us spin our wheels in fine fashion through pleasant rolling farmlands to a guest house near a lake at miniscule Purtsi.

Purtsi, Estonia

Rainy ride to Rapla

21 August 2018

What we didn’t know until late this morning is that 20 August is Day of Restoration of Independence, celebrating the dramatic events of 1991. Tallinn was quiet but the shopping centres were open. We began to suspect something when we saw many houses with wet Estonian flags flying limply as it was drizzling with rain.

At Freedom Square in Tallinn there was an outdoor exhibition of photos from turbulent times in the 20th century when the Baltic states were under Soviet and then German occupation.

We had just seen a large number of Estonian soldiers chanting as they marched along the footpath near the city centre – not sure where they were going.

On the edge of Tallinn, heading south, we came across a sign commemorating the Baltic Way, when people from the three Baltic countries formed a human chain on 23 August 1989 to express solidarity against their loss of independence in 1939.

After this we slogged it out with continuous rain and drizzle through forests, farms and unremarkable towns.

The last 15km along the main road inspired us to investigate the train as there was a station was nearby, but a 50 minute wait wasn’t worth it so we rode on.

Rapla is a small town that has a large church with two steeples, a nice guesthouse where we are accommodated along with a number of other wet cyclists, and a cosy pub that serves good Estonian fish soup and schnitzels.

Coffee in Kuusalu

20 August 2018

We breakfasted on bad Russian muesli in our hostel before receiving a goodbye hug from our host. She may have just been grateful that we paid her in cash! It was cool and drizzly as we set out on quiet roads (bitumen all the way today – yay!) through the forest – no elk though.

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After 40km or so we were looking for coffee and, arriving at the town of Kuusalu, we felt moderately optimistic. There was a hamburger kiosk on the edge of town – not open until 12. In town there was a supermarket, a bus stop and a church but no cafe. We visited the old Lutheran church where the 11am service was about to begin with a small congregation – 2 people were coming in as we departed. As Estonia is one of the least religious countries in the world, churches are not numerous here.

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On the way out of Kuusalu we passed a large sports centre and, as the rain was increasing, we stopped there to find that, as well as team sports, they had coffee and nice food available – muffins, open sandwiches, salad rolls, fruit salad. Great! After a break waiting for the weather to clear, we set off again just in time to get rained on again and to meet a couple of cyclists approaching us, Rudi and Barbara from Switzerland, who had set off from Tallinn this morning. In a 5 minute chat we let them in on the news of our coffee discovery and gave them some tips on Russia where they are headed.

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Several dozen storks were grazing in the fields nearby, the most we have seen in one place on this trip. That was a lovely sight!

Closer to Tallinn we detoured a short way to see the Jägala Waterfall with a drop of 8 metres – for Estonia that’s pretty high.

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The approach to Tallinn is not at all medieval. As we travelled through the industrial fringe an intense rain storm drenched everything – but not us as we sheltered in a bus stop.

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Soon after this we reached the waterfront from which the cruise ships, ferries, old town church spires and modern skyscapers of Tallinn could be seen.

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Stork and elk

19 August 2018

Ian is the expert at spotting wildlife. This morning he saw another stork perched high on a tower and, later, a mother elk with a calf in the forest.

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Today we specialised in off-road tracks and became closely acquainted with Estonian forests. Before this we passed through the town of Kunda where there is a paper factory, a cement factory and a Cement Museum, presumably to educate people about the wonders of this material that so many of us take for granted. Like other towns, there were few people visible on the streets in Kunda and hardly any shops. We visited the supermarket and by chance noticed a cafe and stopped for coffee.

Our route followed the coast where at one place we could go right to the beach and rest on a couple of old armchairs to observe hundreds of white swans on the water.

The final part of today’s ride was all on tracks that varied from hardly visible (thanks Garmin! We rejected that one) to soft and sandy to single track with tree roots everywhere. It was hard going.

But we eventually emerged on to a sealed road (there should be a Bitumen Museum) and arrived at Vosu, a charming holiday town on a small bay. We are in a slightly dilapidated but comfortable hostel with a friendly proprietor.

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Modesty screen on the beach at Vosu

All quiet on the Estonian front

18 August 2018

Narva to Kortsialuse, Estonia

(Apologies to Erich Maria Remarque)

Narva, a fort city, is situated on the Narva River which forms the border between Estonia and Russia. It has been the location of many battles, most recently during WW2 when great damage was done to the old town. All appears peaceful now though. We saw a line of cars queued up to go across the border and the town cleaning team sweeping up as we ventured out for breakfast.

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We have had a long day on the road, much of it along the coast. Narva-Jõesuu, where the Narva River reaches the sea, is a holiday area with beach access and lots of accommodation. There are also some large abandoned apartment buildings.

We followed Eurovelo Route 13 for much of the way, making slow progress towards our destination. We had some stretches along rough unsealed tracks that were about as bad as Kangaroo Island! Interesting sights were a bride and groom having photos taken with the sea as backdrop and two young Belgian cyclists with way too much luggage including a Viking scarecrow.

There were a number of small towns, all of which had little or no commerce and few people around. We went into a shop in Sillimae that was invisible to us until we saw some people emerge from it. Like the shops in Russia, it had a wide selection of goods available, a significant proportion of which were alcoholic beverages of all kinds.

There are high cliffs above the sea giving a good view of the Gulf of Finland and a couple of islands far offshore to the north. By mid afternoon we decided to follow Garmin (GPS) rather than the bike route and this gave us a variety of sealed roads and forest and farm tracks, while avoiding the highway to Tallinn which is not ideal for our purposes. We saw reaping of crops, two storks in a field and one on a nest, farms and villages, apple trees (fruit tested by Ian and found to be inedible) and a large slag heap that had been vegetated and turned into a downhill gokart track. No shops, no cafes, no bakeries.

The last 12km on a dirt road through an uninhabited area made it hard to believe that we were headed towards our accommodation. We had no idea whether we would be able to get an evening meal and were mentally preparing for instant noodles. Emerging on to the main road though, our hostel appeared and everything we needed was available – cold beer, hot meal, shower and bed. Our companions here are a group who look as though they are on a work team-building jaunt – they are playing musical chairs and other developmental games.

Out of Russia

17 August 2018

St Petersburg to Ivangorod and Narva

We have our train tickets and are waiting at Baltiyskiy Vokzal for our train to Ivangorod on the Estonian border.

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Major railway stations in Russia are called ‘vokzals’. There are several explanations for this and they all relate to Vauxhall Station in London. The more entertaining and least respectful are similar to those stories about why Europeans call those large hopping marsupials kangaroos. The most credible explanation is that the first Russian railway station was built at a popular pleasure garden in Pavlovsk that was modelled on Vauxhall Gardens in London. That railway station became known as a vokzal and subsequently so did all major stations.

We spent our last morning in SPB travelling on the Metro to look at the stylish stations and their environs. In Soviet times, a large investment was made in the Metro and the stations were lavishly and tastefully styled in neo-classical and art deco themes to celebrate and elevate the workers who built and used them.

Marble, brass, bronze, mosaics and cut glass adorn these proletarian shrines. Friezes of noble male and female workers and busts of Lenin are everywhere. I’ll let the pictures do the talking but suffice to say the system is clean, well-maintained, efficient and heavily used.

Trains run at 3 minute intervals so there’s no need to rush to catch that one at the platform as another will be along in a jiffy. Single trip tokens cost less than a dollar. Polite young locals leap to their feet to offer their seats to silver-haired passengers.

Many of the stations are deep underground. One can barely see the bottom from the top of the vertiginous escalators. Smartly uniformed women sleep in booths to monitor possible hooliganism.

We boarded the train with a few other cyclists and it steadily filled until an on-time departure.

We struggled to make our bicycles seem small and only a small inconvenience to the other passengers and train staff. Others successfully hid their uncontained pets from the conductor.

Hot and stuffy, we pulled out into the sunset and rattled and bumped our way through industrial areas, weekend dachas and vegetable plots then scrubby farmland. The dilapidated villages looked romantically rustic in the late summer evening light.

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This train took us to Ivangorod on the Estonian border

We’ve made it to Estonia. Good night.