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Published: September 3rd 2019
or Trans-Siberian Adventure – Prelude 2: Estonia (and a bit of Finland)
If you were to plan a trip to the Baltic Countries, I would suggest Estonia. It has jumped to the top of our favourite Baltic countries list and from it you could always visit the others anyway.
We arrived in Tallinn on an overnight bus from Lithuania and were consequently knackered on arrival at an ungodly 06:55 – even the bus station café was not yet open. Bags went into lockers and we commenced zombie-like wandering. Even through bleary eyes, under grey skies and with transit vans everywhere supplying the shops and restaurants before most tourists wake up, we could see that Tallinn was lovely.
Strolling through pretty cobbled streets and squares, past numerous churches, alongside the medieval city walls, can easily fill a day. However, the loveliness of the place is not unknown and consequently there are large numbers of tour groups. Overhearing their guides, we learnt that most of these groups come from cruise ships and are rushed around the city before they have to get back onboard and continue their whistle-stop tour of the Baltic. It can
be quite frustrating when up on one of the Old Town’s viewpoints looking down over the rooftops and church spires when a fifty-strong throng arrive and take over the place.
We had only three days in Estonia but managed to pack in quite a bit. Tallinn explorations filled the first day as well as each evening and a rushed second morning when we revisited all the good viewpoints we’d visited on the first day just to get new photographs of the city now in sunshine. Consequently, we ended up sprinting for the bus to Rummu.
I don’t remember how I first heard about Rummu Lake. If you are in this part of the world and you are a scuba diver but assumed you wouldn’t be going under the water on this trip then think again. Rummu was home to a prison in Soviet times whose inmates worked in a neighbouring quarry. When Estonia got independence, the prison was closed and the quarry was left to flood. Several of the prison buildings ended up submerged and now form a quite unique dive site.
We rented equipment right beside the lake and decided on not
getting a guide (to save quite a bit of money). The dive plan seemed straight forward though I did once have to surface to orientate ourselves after missing a guideline to take us to one of the ruins. However, the lake is maximum 8 m deep and you are usually shallower than that due to plants growing on the bottom so surfacing wasn’t risky.
The dive was great – and very long due to the shallow depth. We started in a submerged forest weaving through eerie tree trunks and branches. We then followed the old prison wall that crosses the lake. The wall still has barbed wire either side and lamps along the top. Then we explored a ruined quarry building that could be entered through various doors and windows. This part was like a wreck dive with a roof over our heads and odd remnants inside like a desk and bottles. There were some fish to see, shoals of thousands of tiny silvery ones and a few big perch. The highlight of the dive after an hour or so under the water was the exit. After following the prison wall again, we found what they call “the bunker”.
The ruins we dived can be seen in the middle of the lake.
I’m not sure what the cylindrical building used to be, but it is swam through to the far end where you find a ladder up a shaft and through a hatch, emerging at the surface close to the jetty where the dive began. I thoroughly recommend it.
The third day of our Estonia trip was to Lahemaa National Park. Here I was asked if I was ok with a 30 km hike. Fine with me. However, it ended up being 45 km. We wanted to hike two separate parts of the national park, the coast around Käsmu and the bogs near Kolga. Unfortunately, public transport is infrequent to the national park from Tallinn and especially within the national park so you can choose one or the other of these locations. Or, do as we did and hike the 20 km between the two.
Käsmu is a nice village of white wooden houses and is the last stop on the bus from Tallinn. North from Käsmu there is a 15 km walking trail around the coast of the peninsular. It was lovely; apart from the occasional swarms of mosquitos that attacked like squadrons of Messerschmitts. The path
hugs the shore passing along stony beaches on one side of the peninsular where the waves hit and sandy beaches on the calm sheltered side. The bays are full of large boulders dropped from retreating ice sheets and inland is all pine forest. Rather than looping back to Käsmu village, we took a series of minor roads, footpaths and forest tracks a long long way southwest. Admittedly, most of the walk was lovely, it was just so long. We passed through forests, little villages, meadows and farmland, eventually, and with aching feet, arriving at the Kolga bogs. These may not sound interesting but wooden walkways take you over and around ponds, wetlands and swamps giving you better appreciation of these really important ecosystems. They were very pretty too in the low light at the end of the day.
We departed Estonia on a morning ferry across to Finland. It was a nice view as we left and a very nice view a few hours later as we approached Helsinki. The ferry weaved between islands that would be the highlight of our couple of days in the Finnish capital. Helsinki seemed a great place to live but as
a tourist there isn’t that much but I would really recommend strolling around Suomenlinna islands. Though thanks very much to travel buddy Antti for letting us stay at his place - even while he was out of the country.
I’m not including a separate Finland blog as I wrote one earlier in the year when I paid a winter visit to Lapland for my birthday. After a couple of days we took a very nice very new train to St Petersburg and our Trans-Siberian trip began proper.
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