Friday, 7 September 2012

chasing the summer

Broken glass, broken pavements, aggressive drivers - back in the old USSR.  Our first impressions are quickly wiped away when we wander around the old town of Tallinn - a very pleasant walled citadel full of restored merchants' houses, churches, cobbles and cafes.  But is it real?  At a glance you'd think all Estonians wear folk costume.  The old town is quite small and everyone who is walking around has a camera in their hand.

On our way to Katrin's we pass great old wooden houses looking sad and neglected, waiting to be restored - missing out on the UNESCO badge that brings restoration funds.  We take a route past Soviet-era appartment blocks and then modern blocks of flats with more glass and chrome.  Along the coast there's a brand new boardwalk and trail that's full of locals walking, running and cycling. Another day Katrin shows us around one of the last Soviet-era residential blocks - built in concentric circles, these were much coveted and sought after.  Car-ownership has led to a new phenomenon - the parking problem.  When these flats were built no-one had cars.

We are fed incredibly well by Katrin and we feel so at home with her that before we leave we're even sharing her sauna.  She is very thoughtful and we hit it off immediately.  Her husband, like many Estonians, is working abroad - building in Tromso, Norway.  He's away long spells and Katrin's daughter is about to start university in Tartu in the south.  She's a homebird, a self-confessed couch potato, so it seems that hosting Couch-Surfers is perfect for her.  Thinking we may be nostalgic for ye merry olde England we are even treated to an edition of Midsommer Murders.  English TV programmes like this often appear.  We try to explain that this isn't the England we know!

Katrin points us in the right direction for a bike repair and we grill her about life in Estonia, before and after independence.  She works in a Danish bank with clients with bad debt problems and the work has inevitably grown over the last three years.  Here in the capital there are fancy big supermarkets the like of which we never see again. 

Gayle refuses to slow down to be photographed
We consider heading straight to Riga in Latvia but decide to explore a little bit more. So we head out along the north coast into a forested national park.  Late afternoon we are looking for a camping spot when a cloudburst pushes us into the trees for shelter.  We've been cycling through the forest on a dirt track for a while, so we're startled to find a man suddenly appear next to us in the woods.  He's collecting mushrooms.  Didn't half give us a fright.

 Our journey down to Tartu is a good one - the farmers are harvesting the crops and the rolling countryside is lovely.  We are lucky to have good weather every day and start doing a few more kilometres each day.  

We camp in the garden of a hostel in Tartu in the 'Soup District', so-called because the streets are named after different soup ingredients.

celery street
potato lane
bean street

  We take a day off from the cycling to wander around Estonia's university town before heading southwards and on into Latvia.  We are concious of not hanging around - is this the problem with cycle-touring? That once we have arrived somewhere we immediately think about the next place we want to get to.  It's probably that in all honesty there's not so much here to engage us.  We like the place but there's nothing to keep us here.  So off we go......

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