Estonia. Before we set out on our journey, that name conjured up in our imaginations a country back in time, a place that was rural and Russian. But as we cycled through Estonia we discovered a vibrant and wealthy country that is so modern, especially in its internet technology, that it claims to be the most wired country in Europe. Thankfully, alongside that modern outlook, we still found plenty of rustic, old world charm.
Our cycle journey in Estonia on quiet back roads and dirt tracks took us through an idyllic mix of wild woods where moose still wander freely, passed small farms and pastures, and through quaint hamlets of wooden houses that still retained thier rustic charm. There are only 1.3 million people in Estonia so there's lots of wild space. We used it for pitching our tent at night and enjoyed some beautiful sunsets
Bart and I are not very good at researching visitor information and tend to be quite content with whatever pops up on our chosen road. So it was by pure chance that we found ourselves cycling into the historic Estonian town of Viljandi, first settled in 500 BC. We loved its colourful wooden buildings and the shade of its peaceful square. We've been seeking shade out on the road as daytime temperatures this last week have been hot enough to turn our Nutella to drinking chocolate and our cheese to fondue.
"The weather is exceptional for April as Estonia normally only gets three months of summer", we were told by an elderly couple enjoying the sun at their holiday home. We had stopped to ask for water when our supplies were low and they kindly filled one of our bottles. A second bottle was filled by a man working in his garden who shuffled slowly back and forward to his house. I was worried we had disturbed him but he gave us a big smile as he passed over the water jug. A third bottle was filled by a old woman working on her farm whose dog followed her every move. "He's a good dog" she told me. And finally we received a huge bottle of water from a mature gay couple who were working in the hot sun in just their swimming trunks! Probably we got so lucky here because Bart told one of them that he had a great body for his age.
But of course the highlight of our journey through Estonia has been its capital city, Tallinn. As we cycled through the ancient city walls we were charmed by its beauty. The central airy square is bounded by brightly painted buildings and bordered by pavement cafés. A maze of cobbled streets radiate out from the square and we happily wandered these for hours, every now and then popping out into a pretty courtyard. From one corner of the square a series of steep steps leads up to the hill in Toomplea and from here you can gaze across the city panorama as spires and minarets rise from a jumble of terracotta rooftops backed by the blue waters of the Gulf of Finland.
Our arrival in Tallinn marks the end of the first part of our bicycle journey through the northern reaches of Europe. Ahead of us now is a boat to Finland to begin the hard cycle north to the Arctic Circle and the North Cape in Norway, mainland Europe's most northerly point. Up there it's currently only 1 degree above freezing, snowing and blowing a gale.
So it's lucky that we are taking a couple of days off in Tallinn. After 1500 miles of cycling to get here, we are feeling more tired than wired.
More photos on flickr click on the link.
Daylight - 16 hours, 11 minutes
Distance - 1520 miles
Days - 25
Route - Crossed the border of Latvia and Estonia at Lilli and headed straight north through Viljandi, Turi and on to Tallin. Excellent dirt roads in Estonia and good wild camping in the many forests.