Day 3 – The Road to the Isles

26 Sep

Morning became slightly easier, and the bag was packed ready for a day of driving.  But first I managed to catch up with Becky and Lynsey (sp?), from Cheltenham and London over breakfast.  Avoided the chicken sausage, but topped up on toast and porridge.  Becky was busy gathering lunch from the salad table.  I’ll pass.

Our minibus was a comfortable 16 seater affair, which meant I got the back row all to myself.  5 seats should just about do me.

Guntas was our driver and Tauno was our audio guide as we drove off through the foggy streets pointing out barely visible buildings that had all of us riveted to our seats.  The highlights included the car showroom where he first swore at the age of 3, the city rubbish dump, and a local swimming pool.  We did pass through a leafy suburb donated by a 19th Century German nobleman on the condition that trees were continually replanted.  All only slightly better than the former sock factory that he had pointed out the day before.  Discussed mushrooms at some length – Yok Leng had visited a mushroom exhibition yesterday – which prompted the discussion on which types of mushrooms you can eat – Tauno settled the argument – you can eat all types, but some only once!

Two hours of ultra flat country later, we reach the ferry port of Virtsu and had a chance to use the facilities, just before a bunch of day tripping Latvian teenagers arrived on a very large bus.  They found a corner of the port to smoke behind the bins, and were generally very loud.  Wait, am I getting old?

Debated eating on the ferry and regretted the decision not to later.  There was a refreshing breeze – the southerners were all wrapped up in their woollen hats and gloves.  I was happy in t-shirt. Thirty minutes on the ferry took us to the island of Muhu.

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We were met with symbolic colourful gates and drove through the pine forests on good roads to the town in the centre (Liiva) – and the first of the medieval churches.  This one was St. Catherine’s Church of Muhu.  As the tourist season was over, it was closed, but we walked around the rather neglected gravestones and Soviet war memorial.  Worth mentioning at this point that the Second World War split Estonians – some backed the Soviets, others the Germans.  Both powers were invading and they really wanted neither in control, but people generally had to pick a side.  Only because the Germans lost are there Soviet commemorations.  Those that fought for the Germans are sadly forgotten.

We drove on to the small farming and fishing village of Koguva, home to only about 20 people, but a major tourist attraction because of its setting and preservation of the old ways of doing things.  Dry stone dykes seperated the properties.  They had their own harbour, where some of the families were fishing.  The same families have lived there since 1532.  They respect their boats, and when they need to dispose of them, they turn them upside down on their stone walls and wait for nature to take its course.  Anything else would disrespect the boat.  We wandered around, tasting juniper berries, getting lost and thinking that out of season tourism is not a great idea (even the museum here was closed!)  We were also introduced to Juhan Smuul – you know, the famous Estonian writer.

Moving on, we crossed a man-made causeway to the next and larger island of Saaremaa.  This island is almost 10% of Estonia, but with only 31,000 inhabitants.

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Crossing the causeway to Saaremaa

Our first stop here was to Karja Church – very similar in appearance from the outside to the one we had visited earlier.  Additionally, this one had a keyhole that we could look through.  (Remember, it’s not tourist season, so the church was locked!)

Five more minutes and we made it to Angla, the home of 5 traditional windmills.  They were sited on a “bump”.  There are no hills, and barely any bumps in Estonia, so this was not a direction you could navigate by.  First things, first though – it was now 2:30pm and I hadn’t eaten for at least 5 minutes.  The menu was short.  I went for the one I couldn’t pronounce – Seljanka, which turned out to be a tomato and meat based soup, served with rye bread.  The local lemonade was made with unspecified fruits from the forest.  Tasted lovely though.  The beer (that others had) was potent stuff at 7.6%!  For the price of €3.50, we got closer to the windmills and were able to walk inside.  The differences in styles were apparent – the newer Dutch style were sturdier and only the cone and sails on top turned, whereas with the older Estonian style, the whole windmill pivoted on a pole.

Our last stop of the day was to the Kaali Meteorite field.  Sometime in the distant past (3000 – 7000 years ago, depending on who you listen to), a huge meteor created a hill in Estonia.  Only 22 meters in height, it’s still the highest thing I’ve seen so far!  Underwhelming was one word.  Puddle would be another.  In context however, the impact this would have had on the local community is equivalent to the nuclear bomb dropped on Hiroshima.  Grudgingly, slightly impressive.  Didn’t go looking for the smaller impact craters though.  Did find a strawberry white chocolate magnum in the shop!

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We arrived at our hotel in Kuressaare, the island capital – home to 12,000 of the 31,000 people on the island.  The hotel co-owner, Jaan, will be our guide tomorrow and was very welcoming.  It’s more of a guest house than a hotel.  My room, with two single beds, overlooked the local stadium where a game of football was taking place.  Across the road was a “tennis hall”.  Not taking the hint.

After a quick freshen up, Steve, Becky and Lynsey walked into town passing the very impressive Bishop’s Castle with a huge moat.  We met up with Clive on the way.

Steve, Clive and myself found an outdoor seating area to eat, and the limping waitress showed her disapproval at the fact we made her walk a) into the cold and b) farthest from her warm spot behind the bar.  Food was good though – natural schnitzel for me.

Due to Clive’s limited walking ability, we took a taxi back to the hotel for a well deserved rest.  More walking tomorrow.  My phone’s health app thinks I’ve been abducted.

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