07/27/2017 Otepaa Estonia

Thursday 27th July 2017 – Otepaa vald, Estonia (Puhajarve Manor)

Took photos of “the red rock” on the lakefront at Kalleste – a local tourist attraction and the cemetery.  Like in Poland, the Estonian cemeteries are adorned with flowers and lanterns and exquisite headstones and the setting in this one was lakefront amongst beautiful trees and gardens – really peaceful and beautiful.  Many of the unit blocks throughout the town were in bad repair and most of the people here only speak Russian.

We travelled to Alatskivi to find a few places on the tourist map.  We passed by many roadside caravans selling local produce particularly onions.   The Lake Peipus region is renowned for its famous onions and they even have a road called “Onion Road” where you can buy all sorts of onions by the bag full if you want.  Many also sell smoked fish – gave that a miss big time – think we are both over fish for a while.

Nearby, in a little village called Nina we found some really interesting old buildings going back centuries and amongst these a fabulous and secluded waterfront resort.  The cemetery here was one of the prettiest and most colourful we have seen.  Ziggy certainly created some interest here, as I am sure most people here would not have seen a motorhome particularly with GB plates.  We were quite relieved to see Ziggy still there waiting for us on our return.

Typical guard tower from the Soviet days in Nina
Interesting architecture in Nina

Friday 28th July 2017 Tartu Estonia

Next on to Tartu, Estonia’s second largest city.  We parked at the top end of town and soon found the KGB Cells Museum.   It is housed in the infamous “Grey House” which was the regional KGB headquarters in the 1940’s and 50’s.  Apart from the lock-ups  themselves, the museum has extensive exhibits on deportations, life in the gulags and Estonian resistance movements.

Tartu street scene

Next a 15 minute walk downtown to Old Town.  If you have not already guessed, we are really interested and intrigued by these magic places and hunt them out in each city.  The focal point here is the Town Hall Square.  This is the marketplace and a cultural gathering point of Tartu and features the Kissing Students fountain.   Again an abundance of churches, museums, open air restaurants and pubs and central seating set amongst colourful flower beds.  The narrow streets also have strings of fairy lights everywhere which in the evening and in winter would be a fairyland.

Interesting way to get a beer in Tartu – a mobile tanker

It began to rain (we have had fabulous weather in Estonia so far) so we made a dash up the hill and then to find a camp for the night.

We had planned to stay longer in Tartu but there is only one registered camp stop here in the Port of Tartu area but it did not take long for us to decide not to stay and move on.

We found an unbelievable camp site in a place called Otepaa, south west of Tartu. They have 10 dedicated motorhome spots and six of these with electricity.   Only one other motorhome here.  Set in the grounds of a health and spa resort with an indoor pool, gymnasium, sauna, tennis courts and even a ten pin bowling centre with four lanes.  The manicured lawns and trees stretch as far as you can see with bike trails heading in every direction around a small lake.  Wow- double wow- and we can use any of the facilities, have a massage, visit the doctor all for a pittance.

We stayed at the resort for 3 days and 2 nights

It was late when we arrived, so we checked out the resort ready for use tomorrow and settled in for the night – it is almost dark at night now.

Only 3 motorhomes here overnight but at 9am the car park was filling quickly with families heading for the beach (pebbles only) but beautiful grassy areas next to the pebbles were quickly snapped up.

Off came the bikes and off we ventured to explore.  My power pack always comes with me but my driver opts to go manpower only.  I chuckled when we hit the first really big hill as I turned on the power assist and watched my best friend struggle up.  Last view as I got to the top was his truly walking his bike up (he nearly made it to the top).  Credit where credit is due to his truly – I cheated.  We continued on for some time and then headed back for lunch and a well deserved break.

Enjoyed the afternoon on the beautiful green lawns and people watched until late afternoon.   Fully refreshed, set off again on our bikes – both of us with our power packs.  The bike tracks went on forever and so did we.  First time we have had the opportunity for a long time to travel so far on our bikes – was fantastic.

Had dinner (and sweets) at the Resorts Cafe and listened to some live music (couldn’t understand a word) but the beat was great.

Saturday 29th July – Cesis, Latvia

Good news – BIG WIN!!! – over six weeks ago, the day we arrived in Norway in a beautiful little town called Son, we parked in a “free for 24 hour parking zone” and on return from a long walk found an infringement notice flapping on our wipers to the tune of $AUD100.    We wrote to the local council and complained.  We also lodged a complaint with the parking company Europark.  There was no logical reason for the ticket so stuck to our guns on this one.  We received an official notice from Europark advising that the ticket was cancelled but gave no reason.  

Left our resort spa reluctantly.  Such a beautiful place, free and included electricity at no cost.  Hard to believe but these places do exist.

We had just finished our last drop of rum the night before and needed to find a shop to restock.   We were out in the country and did not expect to get to a reasonably large town for some time.  We passed by a sign to an Alko 1000 which was just a little out of our way so headed towards the small town to find it.  Don’t you just love the name Alko – very appropriate!!  The shop was mega huge and cars and buses were lined up everywhere.  Like a small city in the middle of nowhere. 

We parked Ziggy in the bus zone (there was no room in the car park) and fought our way through the crowds to get through the front door – could not believe what we saw.  People had trolleys stacked and overflowing with beer and spirits- some people had two trolleys.  Couldn’t believe what we were seeing so asked a shop assistant why this shop was so busy.  Unbeknown to us, we had crossed the border into Latvia and these were Estonians stocking up across the border at much cheaper prices. 

Our last bottle of Captain Morgans cost us around €24 for a 700ml bottle.  Here it was €14 for a litre(that’s around $20).  We bought 3!!!  Beer was also €0.70 per 500ml which is around $1.00 a bottle.    Not much difference in the cost of wine though.  Evidently Latvia is heaps cheaper than Estonia and Lithuania but not as cheap as Poland.

Cesis architecture

The small town of Cesis is in the centre of Gauja National Park and is just delightful.  We parked in the middle of town only 500 metres from their Old Town and Cesis Castle.   Couldn’t believe the number of tourists at the Castle, in this small town in the middle of nowhere – several buses had just arrived and the queues to see the castle was a mile long.  Stunning grounds of manicured lawns, picturesque gardens and fountains formed a magic backdrop to the castle.

Unusual roundabout in Cesis with beautiful flower arrangements

Old Town is only very small and many of the buildings were in the early stages of restoration – scaffolding hiding some of the beautiful features of the old buildings.  The Old Town Main Street was totally ripped up, no doubt to lay cobblestones at some stage soon to add more appeal to the streetscape.  Quaint shops lined this street, no doubt unhappy right now, but once completed, this street will be the focal point of Old Town.

Cesis old town mainstreet – towns seem to be getting the idea that old towns are a gold mine from tourism

We stopped at a pizza restaurant just on the corner of Main Street.  We have found most staff in touristy places speak English.  The waitress arrived and spoke to us in a language I couldn’t understand.  I asked her if she spoke English and she smiled and said “I am speaking English”.  We both laughed and ordered a 45cm pizza and a couple of beers.  The pizza arrived and it was humungous – we couldn’t possibly get through it.   A Doggy bag and an hour later, we headed back.  So pleased that the darkness of night has returned – have really missed it,

My navigator at the Pizza Restaurant in old town



07/23/2017 Tallinn Estonia

Saturday 22nd, Sunday 23rd July – Tallinn, Estonia

As the Helsinki Zoo car park fills up very quickly we opted to leave around 9.30 am so that we would not get parked in.  Car parks are quite narrow here with not a lot of room to manoeuvre if cars are parked opposite.  We headed straight to the Eckero Cruise terminal.  The MS Finnlandia was not set to sail until 3.15 pm however check in was requested for 2 hours earlier.   Quite relaxing sitting at the terminal watching other ships loading in the comfort of our 5 star accommodation and soon it was our turn to join the line.

Leaving Helsinki with Ziggy on the MS Finnlandia

All the car ferry/ships are massive and set up like other cruise ships with shops, casinos in every spare corner and a multitude of choices of places to eat and drink.  Even had on board entertainment though the trip was just over two hours.  We sat on the top deck in the sun overlooking the sea and took advantage of the wifi to do some more work on our blog.    A perfect sunny day with little or no wind so was just wonderful.

Docked around 5.30pm and soon were settled into our overnight camp at the Port of Tallinn – just around the corner.  The location, though a mixed parking area only, was perfectly situated right beside the heart of the city – only a 5-10 minute walk to Central and Old Town.

Passengers for the cruise ships came and went and the area was alive.  We headed off on foot to do some preliminary exploring and found a magic spot in the Rotermann  Quarter to have dinner.  Situated next to Old Town it is an old factory complex turned into a commercial centre with avant-garde architecture.    The little stone walkways threading through narrow alleys with restaurants on either side.  Fairy lights across the cobblestone alleys would be spectacular (if we had night but it is still light right up to midnight).

Rotermann Quarter – a mix of the old and the new
Rotermann Quarter

We returned to Ziggy at around 8.30 pm really tired after hours of walking and decided to move Ziggy to another position to get better internet reception.  We had not even had time to turn the engine off when we were approached by a lady (another Aussie) who had seen the Aussie flag on Ziggy.  After a few minutes Allison and hubby Alan invited us to have a wine with them in their motorhome a few doors up.  We sat and talked and talked and talked until after 1 am (we had no idea it was that late).    They have been travelling in Europe for 7 years and have no immediate plans for returning home any time soon.  They were not leaving for Finland until Monday so we made plans to meet again Sunday afternoon for a few more wines and dinner somewhere in Old Town.

We toured for nearly 5 months before seeing any Aussies in a motorhome and then we saw 2 couples in 2 days – Phil and Mads in Helsinki who have been touring Europe for 5 years and now Allison and Alan who have been touring Europe for seven years – made us feel like newbies.

Bright and early, we set off for Old Town – a real Jewel.  Twisting cobblestone lanes and iron street lamps.  Gothic spires and medieval markets.  This enclosed neighbourhood of colourful, gabled houses, half hidden courtyards and grandiose churches is Tallinn’s greatest attraction.

Tallinn Old Town Architecture

It took us literally hours to walk up and down the narrow courtyards and through the multitude of shops and museums and churches, at times stopping to listen to the lone guitarist or three piece orchestra.  The restaurants in market square packed with tourists who sat people watching as vendors in traditional and medieval costumes sold their wares from the markets.  Ŵe were just one of those tourists who did exactly the same.  The area is massive and covers several blocks – by far the largest we have seen so far.  So many beautiful old buildings. 

Lunch in Tallinn Old Town

 We left Old Town and passed through some beautiful flower markets.  The perfumes and colours were astonishing.   We walked through parks and gardens and street after street of restaurants and finally back to the Port for a well deserved rest before our reciprocal with Allison and Alan which no doubt would linger longer again.

Tallinn Old Town Architecture
Tallinn Old Town Architecture
Tallinn Old Town Busker – great sound – strange instrument

We started at our house at around 5pm and after about 3 bottles of wine and some excellent conversation and much laughter, headed back to Old Town for dinner.  Found a great little restaurant (so many to choose from) and finally got kicked out when the restaurant closed.

Monday 24th July – Lahemaa National Park, Estonia (Oandu Village)

Waved our goodbyes with the promise to keep in touch with Allison and Alan – they headed to Finland on the ferry we came across on and we continued our journey to eastern Estonia.

The supermarket at the port housed one of the biggest bottle shops we have seen anywhere and judging by the prices, we were back to the land of plenty at not much cost.  The supermarket (while only small) displayed some interesting varieties of Estonian foods and prices were back to what we would call better than home (but not as good as Poland).

We looked for the nearest Lidl to stock up after Scandinavia but it appears from the web there are none as yet in Estonia but they have plans to open some soon – what a disappointment. 

Tallinn itself is very modern but once out of town, the Soviet influences took over quickly.  Lots of old grey buildings in many cases dilapidated and unit complexes three to five storeys high, rectangular with small windows and no balconies, spread out over whole blocks took over the landscape.  Just outside of Tallinn we were pulled up (along with every other car on a two lane highway) and breathalysed.  Zero was the result and the policeman wished us a happy journey.  There would have been at least 30-40 police and cars used for this operation.

We travelled through the countryside with only very small towns with little or no town centres.    Only a short journey today and the first of many after the massive miles we travelled in Scandinavia.

What a joy this campsite was.  Perched among the forest trees, enough room for about 10 motorhomes and a patch of grass beyond the fence that would comfortably take 20-30 tents.   Provided were huts with benches and tables alongside BBQ pits  and large community fire places – and believe it or not – they had a hut, brim full of timber for anyone to use.  Had planned to do a walking trail this afternoon, but instead, claimed the best spot and set about getting the fireplace stocked with timber and kindling ready for what we classify as “our ultimate evening” of good food cooked on the fire, a blazing fire under the stars (though there were none) and our iPod playing our favourite music and of course a beverage or two.

My Navigator – exactly where she likes to be – in the bush with an open fire

Strangely, the area filled with campers coming in cars and even on bicycles with tents who had the same idea as we did.  It was lovely to see families coming together and enjoying this great place.  Reminded us so much of when we did this with our kids.  We were the only motorhome again.

Tuesday 26th July – Ida-virumaa, Estonia (Valaste Kula)

We had such a wonderful afternoon and evening the day before, but did not do what we had set out to do by coming to this national park – though got to say the distraction was just wonderful.

The Village is about 100 metres away and offers for viewing, traditional old buildings with exhibits spread around tranquil ponds.  Being a national park it also provided details on the various walks around the park and the animals and plant life that thrive in these forests.  We took our backpacks and water and headed off on the beaver trail in the hope of sighting some of these in their natural habitat at the edge of streams.  Unfortunately, we had a group of tourists with dogs that were in front of us, so any chance of seeing any of these shy creatures was doomed.   Not sure if they allow dogs in national parks here – but would not be surprised as man’s best friend seems to be allowed absolutely everywhere over here.  The walk was just great despite the noisy group.

We have not found many spots to wild camp here so our next destination was more so to do some washing and to give the batteries a deep charge by connecting to power.  Think we have only been connected to power at 2 or 3 places in over 4.5 months.  Ziggy’s solar panels and batteries have been more than ample.

Again at Valasta Kula we are the only motorhome here though they can take 6.  The camp is adjacent to a small restaurant and the lady here said that this northern part of Estonia is not popular and most people prefer the south.  We are right on the Gulf of Finland with magnificent views over the ocean and right across the road from some waterfalls, though these were not very spectacular

Wednesday 27th July – Kallaste, Estonia (Hostel Lagoon)

Kallaste is a seaside village at beginning of Tartu County.  Only very small with a population of no more than 100 or so people.  Our campsite is on the lake front – Lake Peipsi and the only thing between us and Russia.  There are a number of guests who were out all day in the sunshine and on the beach.  Many looking a dark shade of crimson by day’s end.  The manager here gave us a town map and some history and we set off for a long walk through town and then along the bluff and beach and then back to town to visit the local fisherman (recommended by the manager) who was a legend and master of cooking smoked fish.

The Soviet influence still very real here in the eastern countries

We dropped in and he took us around the back and showed us how it was done.  The fish did not look very appetising and not being a lover of fish, reluctantly bought a full smoked bream with his recommendation and a bottle of picked gherkins to have with it.  His suggestion (he only spoke Russian so was a bit hard to understand 😳) was to have the fish with bread and gerkins.  Think we were doomed from the beginning as yours truly is not a lover of fish and his truly does not like gherkins.   Long story short, first mouthful was good until his truly nearly choked on a small bone and we discovered the big fish was full of very small bones.  Canned the fish, ate the gherkins and the slice of bread already buttered and then waited an hour or so before having a chicken (with no bones) for dinner.