Day 4 – Around Stork Island (Kuressaare)

27 Sep

Another early 9am start with a reduced, but perfectly adequate, selection for breakfast.  Jaan, the hotel owner, had donned a different badge and was now our local guide around Kuressaare (pronounced Koor-es-sahr).  The name means Stork Island.  It used to be called Arensburg until 1917, meaning Eagle Castle.  I digress …

To our initial delight we started off driving around town.  We took in such sights as the new golf course (only 100 people play golf on the island, but they have 4000 golf playing visitors, so it seems like a good deal).  The bumps on the course are among the highest points on the island.  Other highlights included some old houses, apple trees, a car park and the local swimming pool.  The excess apples are left outside for anyone to help themselves to – we noticed this is restaurants who mostly had a table to help yourself from.  Or so I hope.

We drove on to Roomassaare, a local harbour, which was also home to one of the three remaining boat building businesses (mostly luxury yachts).  Jaan explained that all schools on the island include sailing lessons as part of the curriculum, which means that everyone can sail.  We also witnessed some swans doing aqua aerobics.  Farming and fishing are in decline on the island and a lot of young people work in foreign lands for long periods, mostly as labourers, only returning when the work runs out.

Our next stop was to the out of town cemetery.  German war graves first, then the Soviet memorial right beside them, and the townspeople had the biggest section, with a lot of ornate iron crosses and slabs of stone.  A pleasant walk through mostly neatly tended woodland, with water available to be pumped directly from the ground below.  As for the war graves, the Russians were buried on top of the Germans – apparently an Eastern tradition that the victors are above those they have defeated.  Due to the nature of the fighting in the 1940s, the German remains are still being found and only recently 16 more bodies were found and reinterred here.  Also of note is that the Soviet names are written in the latin (our) alphabet, rather than cyrillic.  This is highly unusual, but in keeping with the local tradition.

Back into town and St Laurentius Church was next on the tour.  As it wasn’t tourist season, Jaan had bribed a nice woman to turn up with the keys and the alarm code to let us in to the Lutheran church.  Very plain inside, with the odd Swedish tombstone in the aisle and an ancient font that had been nicked from a different church.  This is actually the 4th church to bear this name in the town, the three before had all burnt down.  You’d think they would’ve taken that as some kind of sign …

Stepping outside, we were greeted with the local strip club and casino.  Not sure how happy the Lutherans are about either of those!

Jaan walked us into the town hall, dating from 1653-1670, as though he owned the place.  The downstair tourist infomation office used to be a prison, but upstairs, he showed us into the meeting room, complete with a donated (ancient) decorated wall panel attached to the roof.  Well, where else would you put it?  The clue is in the name? Otherwise modern AV equipment and 20 seats for the councillors.  They had a gavel – obviously some rowdy meetings expected.

We then visited the Bishop’s Castle – built in the 13th Century, and expanded and fortified over time. 100% of what we saw was original, including the recent renovations to reinstate the walls, the new radiators, and some rather modern drainage systems.  But apart from that, it was 100% original.  As before, it wasn’t open, but Jaan knew a man with the keys.  We bribed him with €5 each and we were in!   We toured all the rooms we could, and the lion shaft – where prisoners were literally thrown to lions.  It’s a proper castle – it had a portcullis, a proper moat and 4 islands for cannons!

Thanking Jaan, some of us moved off for lunch, and we sat in the Retro cafe terrace (out the back) in hot sunshine, drinking Kvass – a non alcoholic drink, made from the same stuff as rye bread, with 0.5% alchohol in it.  Looked like Guinness, tasted like fizzy bread.  Also had some spotted dog, a traybake like biscuit and cocoa concoction.  (I had soup as well!)

I joined the overseas ladies of the group to tour a few of the shops, including a home textiles shop offering 30% off.  I drew the line at visiting the tights shop.  We did find an antiques shop where they were selling a rotting old wooden ship’s wheel for €360.  Yip, that’s not a typo.  Jim Taylor, get making!  Eventually we parted our ways, as they went off to hire bikes to get lost on.

I opted for a gentle stroll around the harbour area, taking in the statue of the friendly giants Sur Toll and his wife Piret.  Managed to stick my fingers in the Baltic Sea – surprisingly warm!  The beach volleyball was unfortunately not in season. The local scary folk were though, but I managed my friendliest “Hi!” as I walked past.  They put down their beer cans and wiped their village people moustaches as they shouted “HI!” back.  Quite off putting.  Sorry no photo.  I was too busy running.  OK I lie, I’d never be able to run (photo above).  Also witnessed the freedom that the young people get when learning to sail.  Amazing skills for such a young age.

After a well earned rest and the application of more sun cream, the now usual foursome met for food at the Asian themed Chameleon restaurant.  Affy modern.  Good food although a bit short on supplying cutlery.  Fingers also useful.  Horse riding, snakes and emus were on the discussion list tonight.  Unfortunately, wild boar was not on the menu.  3 courses for €24, including drinks.  Cheaper than Tallinn!

Walked back to the hotel, rather than take a taxi tonight – in the hope that it might help to slim the waist a little.

Another early start tomorrow, as we’re  leaving the island and heading off to Tartu, the University city.

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