Updated: Aug 27, 2018
Saturday, 14th April 2018
Sillamäe to Kunda, 54 miles
Taken at the Tallinn City Museum
Sillamäe was and still is a harbour town. It’s allocated production during the occupation was the manufacture of nuclear fuel rods for submarines and power stations. The previous afternoon for me had been an assimilation back to Western culture. I did feel a sense of relief leaving Russia as well as one of sadness. Although rough and hard there was a strong cultural identity to Russia and traces of it remained in Narva but the homogenised west appeared as I travelled peaceful coastal roads through villages with well maintained houses, clipped lawns and pothole free roads.
I woke up by the sea, on cliffs forty metres above the Gulf of Finland. If I could see across the water I would have seen Essi on her way to work as I stood on the same line of longitude as the end of the Salpa Line. The view was spectacular. Sheets of flat and broken ice silver and white in the morning light rested on a mirror flat sea. The blues of which matched the sky.
If there was any radiation left over from the late twentieth century in the air, I didn’t feel any side effects, I felt great.
It was a traffic free coastal road that stayed with me into the late afternoon. As the sun spent its last hour of the day changing to a warm pinkish yellow I followed straight stretches of road that led to the town of came of Kunda.
Kunda makes cement and was a key manufacturer for the Soviets. It was well known for it’s thick layers of cement dust covering all surfaces and my thoughts turned to Bedford where I went to school and how the brickworks contaminated the town with its sulphurous smell. The town where the kilns and chimneys dominated the landscape, Stewartby, was a ghost town where its residents never ventured out and housewives were always washing their yellow nets. Kunda has that similar eerie feel and the two teenagers who I asked to take my picture were the only town residents I saw as I cycled through. That evening, on the edge of the town I camped in the forest that bordered the national park of Lahemaa.
Sunday, 15th April 2018
Kunda to Tallinn 77 miles
Over a million geese have flown over my tent since four thirty this morning. Luckily there were no deposits on my tent and I set off into the Lahemaa national park shortly after nine.
The park is 725 square kms which is about the size of of three tennis courts, (the Lake District is 2,362 square kms.)
Apart from the locals at the small villages I had the park to myself. Housewives, their hair tied up in knotted scarfs, raked away the leaves and moss from their lawns after the thaw. There had been similar activity in Russia but they simply scorched their lawns, in a social ritual that marked the end of winter.
I followed a coastal route moving from village to village with the aim of visiting six bays that were used by the Soviets to exploit the shale oil that lay beneath them. Time was against me and I had booked a room in Tallinn and found myself behind time, bays four, five and six were cut from my itinerary as I followed the E20 into Estonia’s capital, Tallinn.
The E20 is the same main road that led from St Petersburg. The disciplines were the same as madly I cycled the hard shoulder down a three lane motorway. The same style bus stops were also at the side of the road, the difference between countries, no buses and no people waiting in Estonia. The sun was setting on the city as I entered and at the feet of the old Soviet tenements were Casinos, lit up, replacing the dying pink clouds with neons of red and electric blue. It felt sad to see because with casinos come deprevation and I couldn’t help but wonder if those in the tenements had had their Soviet mistress replaced with debt and despair. I cycled along the E20. I counted over 10 casinos lining the main road and more when I got close to the city centre hotels.
Thursday, 19th April 2018
Tallin to Padise, 50 miles
With winter tyres changed, ortlieb bags repaired and a brand new tent pole I was ready to hit the road again. In fact I had been up since five itching to go but that last package from the ortlieb man in Finland didn’t arrive until after eleven. It had been strange to be in the same town for so long. I hadn’t seen any adverse effects of the casinos on the local people. They appeared to live well although many didn’t smile, maybe just those who bet on red the night before. (Which doesn’t happen often as there is a tendency to dislike the colour).
Tallinn is a beautiful city and was where the 1980 Moscow Olympics held their sailing events.
I visited the Tallinn museum in the old town. City walls and towers hide narrow cobble stoned streets and beamed buildings. In one of them, not too far from the town’s square, a medieval trader’s house is home to the City’s museum. On the top floor, displays showed exhibits from the Soviet occupation.
The Molotov - Ribbentrop Pact was an agreement between the Germans and Soviets on how to divi up the Baltic States. They called it a Sphere of Influence and Estonia fell to the USSR who in September 1939 strarted occupying airspace and showing up in ports.
By June of 1940 there was a full occupation. Therefore, unlike Finland, there was complete capitulation - an agreement to Mutual Assistance. The Estonians began the process of assimilation with floods of Soviets from the Ukraine joining and blending with the population.
If you had influence in the old Estonian society then there would be a selection of options for you. A trip to a Gulag, a filtration camp or Siberia - and Stalin’s special prize a bullet in the back of the head. In this hostile climate many Estonians left the country distorting the race ratios further.
Then the Germans broke the spirit of the Pact by invading East into the Baltic countries under the Soviet sphere of influence. Estonia was not a pleasant place during these times and when the Germans retreated in September 1944 the Soviets were able to fill the power vacuum and finally have full unchallenged occupation of this resource rich state.
Things didn’t get much better with the return Soviet liberators. With your newly formed country in ruins, family either dead or emigrated and the new kids on the block either sending one in fifteen of you to their maker or Siberia, I couldn’t help but think as I stood in this historical building that to be an Estonian you had to be a tough old goat.
And then I met one. Eliise. She was in her sixties and a curator at the museum and what a delight she was with her heavy makeup and grey straight hair curled under her jaw bone she chatted for an hour about her youth, living under the Soviet regime and her thoughts on today.
The Finnish people played a big part in the Nation’s resolve to mentally stand up to the USSR. They were heroes in standing up to the invasion and in those Cold War years Finnish Radio crossed the Gulf and gave hope and cultural influence. Eliise showed me a display behind iron bars to symbolise things that were out of reach. She pointed to a packet of ‘Juicy Fruit’ and said “Look, Finnish chewing gum,” and then at a MTV logo, “Finnish pop music, it gave us such hope.”
She had a deep set loathing for the Soviets. How they stopped cultural music, religion and singing and saturated the population with cultural dilution tactics. She explained that the people I saw crossing at Narva would have had dual passports and would be earning a living buying and selling cigarettes, alcohol and food. She explained that Russian communities existed in Tallinn and that they were stuck in the old ways. I got the impression that there was no love lost here.
On 29th August 1989, over 2 million people from the Baltic States formed a human chain through Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. It coincided with the 50th anniversary of the Molotov - Ribbentrop Pact.
Most of the photos show images of men and women sporting mullets and perms holding hands and waving flags. Like an outdoor ‘Take On Me’ video. But the symbolic action and meaning would have been one of the final acts to secure independence from a crumbling USSR.
I asked Eliise if she was there and she explained how the line began in the town square, a hundred metres from where we stood and how she was working at one of the town’s factories when she and her colleagues made their way to the line. One of the most powerful moments of her life she said.
I asked her thoughts about today’s political situation. She saw no threat and couldn’t give a toss about Britain leaving the EU. I got the impression that she saw the EU as economic security and political solidarity and was proud to be part of it. She saw ‘Mr.Putin’ with his envious eyes on Estonia and her riches but didn’t feel threatened being part of NATO. I didn’t think that they were words of an optimist. I believe that having lived through occupation there was no fear left.
Cycling out of Tallinn was very pleasant and before too long I was back out into the countryside following the coastal road. In the late afternoon sun along the E265, I saw a brown information sign. I had become immune to these because all to often the church that I would investigate would be locked or the small village museum would be closed. This one though directed me to ‘Holocaust Camp’ and I knew that this had to be visisted. I cycled down a sandy pine lined road with sunlight breaking through the spindly canopy. I could hear the birds and the wind and nothing else.
After a mile or so there was a small parking area leading to the monument trail. It was blatantly graphic and truthful as nine granite monoliths depicted the horrors of the Klooga Camp and the murder of 2000 Jews as orders for retreat were given in September 1944. As I read each plaque the veil that I place over the horrors of war was lifted and unlike watching a television documentary I was here in this peaceful wood, alone, with words describing the murderous role the Estonian police played alongside the Nazis.
It took me forty minutes to follow the trail of plaques before I reached the camp. As I did, through the wood, came the haunting toot of a train as it came to a hault. I wanted to vomit. There was no glorification of war or victories won that afternoon.
That evening I camped in a quiet field surrounded by birch and pine. Once I had chosen my spot and pitched I noticed a moss covered pill box in the corner of the field. Grateful that I could camp in a place with a setting sun safe in the knowledge that I would sleep undisturbed.
Friday, 20th April 2018
Padise to Haapsalu, 59 miles
It felt as if all of Estonia had gone on their holidays. The Eurovelo13 took me along unpaved roads with a million humps and bumps through pine woods giving sneaky peaks of the ocean.
I had to go off track to seek out lunch but soon found myself by the beach having a gluten induced sleep in the shelter of a dune. I must remember that those crinkle cut fries are coated in the stuff. When it happens it’s like being drunk and I first noticed the effects as I felt like Mary Poppins riding in the air and not feeling the potholes.
After my cosy slumber I felt a bit better and the afternoon carried on as the morning until I reached Haapsalu.
The place has a Railway Station that is disused. It’s now a museum and although it was nearly eight o’clock when I arrived I knew it didn’t matter because it was an open all year museum. For a while I took selfies like I was in an eighties Euro band and then cycled the full 217 feet of railway platform a couple of times. It was 217 feet long because that was how long the Tzar’s train was when he and his entourage went to Haapsalu on his holidays. I bet he made it there from St Petersburg quicker than I did on Mrs Fairweather, but I reckon I had more adventure.
Saturday, 21st April, 2018
Happsalu to Kopli, 82 miles
This was pretty much like yesterday, except there was no gluten drama or train station action.
To liven things up a bit I forgot to buy water in the afternoon.
Normally I ask at a cafe to top up my water bottles but there were none today and because I was in a world of my own when buying my afternoon Mentos I had to revert to plan B.
Given the experience I had with the MSR tent pole, the MSR whisperlite petrol burner and the MSR pan handle I was about to put my life in the hands of the MSR water filtration pump.
I stopped at a meltwater stream that ran down a wooded hill and under the road. It was flowing cold and fresh and I went to the other side and saw a layer of brown scum, twigs and a couple of plastic bottles caught up in grill before the road tunnel.
I didn’t care, my MSR water filtration pump could remove 99.9% of bacteria and ‘deposits’. The dark shadow was that it was crap with heavy metals and viruses.
I filled up two water bottles from the stream and headed off to make camp and to get filtering. I dug deep into the pannier and found the contraption. It looks a bit like a blood pressure bulb with a flexible plastic tube about a foot long. I placed the tube into the plastic bottle of ‘dirty’ water and pumped like a doctor ‘clean’ water into my cooking pan. The water in the pan was brown. And I couldn’t help but wave a flag of caution at the Tizer coloured liquid. To be safe I boiled the bugger for a good couple of minutes before letting it cool down for drinking, rice boiling and porridge making in the morning.
Sunday, 22nd April, 2018
Kopli to Kabli, 60 miles
My last day in Estonia and this time I remember to pick up some water for cooking tea! I pick a perfect pitch by the sea, just above the tide mark and watch the sun set as I listen to the waves crash on the beach and learn the Estonian for ‘sparkling’.
Monday, 23rd April 2018
Kabli to Vever, 63 miles
I didn’t try gassy porridge for breakfast and headed along the empty coastal road to the Latvian border crossing and a petrol station where I ordered an omelette.
There were two routes open to me that day. One shown in the guide, suggesting that the A1 is a 'little well travelled' and an alternative longer more interesting route that the guide focuses on.
The Eurovelo13 signs which by now are plentiful follow the A1. So either route is legitamte.
Whilst deciding which way to go a transit bus of British Squadies turned up. They had been on NATO exercises for eight months and had skied in Bulgaria and dug out in Norway and were now in Latvia working alongside their army. To be honest they looked piss bored and one lad who was from Bournemouth promised me a beer when we both got back, in June.
I waved a cheery goodbye to them as they sat on the curb by their bus and with thoughts of gluten intolerance and the German loner from Rusk, I turned in the wrong direction along the A1.
I then took the long road, which was the wrong road and was unpaved and rocky. I realised that Latvia was a little behind the economic curve than Estonia. There were more bus stops in use, more booze bottles in bins and this unpaved road went on for the best part of thirty miles.
I stopped at a supermarket which had a cafe and had a good dinner for about 4 euros. I picked up some still water for supper and breakfast and headed for the A1. Preferring lorry fumes to any more dust in my eyes.
By eight o’clock I was done in. I had had a headache for most of the afternoon and I just felt exhausted. Exhaustion leads to poor choices and I just camped at the best place I could find before I fell off my bike. The spot was favoured by fly tippers and the broken glass, asbestos roofing and other debris added to the despair when I realised that the bottle of water I had bought had fallen off my panniers on that fucking road.
Luckily it started to rain.