Tallinn (See previous blog post) – Haapsalu Town– Lahemaa National Park – Matsula National Park – Parnu City – Island of Kinhu – Island of Muhu – Island of Saaremaa – Soomaa National Park – Viljandi Town – Tartu City
Our first experience of nature was a day trip from Tallinn to Turisalu and Pakri cliffs and Keila-Joa Waterfall. Here we learnt to adjust our expectations. “Cliffs”, used to mean any form of elevation with a drop (not quite the huge dramatic shear drops of Norway), and “waterfall”, running water with any elation of greater than 50cm (not quite the gallons of falling water we saw in Sweden). Once you make these adjustments, and no longer expect Scandinavia standards, then the nature in Estonia is rather pleasant and much more varied. Yes, like Scandy there is a lot of pine trees, but also lots of bogs, grasslands, meadows, mixed woodland, wetlands and farmland. Our main nature adventures were to Laheema National Park (lots of pine trees, lovely walk around Altjar village on the coast), Matsalu NP (not worth it – farms and observation towers) and Sooma NP (our favourite – forest, bogs and rivers. We had a lovely kayak on the river Raudna.). We also walked and cycled around the islands of Muhu and Saremma which have lots of lovely coastline, windmills, lighthouses and a great castle.
We were amazed by the amount of insects. Positives = all the beautiful butterflies and insect eaters like frogs, lizards and birds. Negatives = all the nasty mosquitoes and horse flies. There is a lot less farmland in Estonia compared to the UK and it really highlighted how many insects we kill in the UK through pesticides. Our wildlife highlight was probably seeing three Adders throughout our two weeks.
We had to adjust our expectation of the coastal landscape as well. Our first experience of the sea was a rather smelly one. On the beaches across the northern coast of Estonia there were piles and piles of mushy algae washed up creating a lovely sulphur smell, I didn’t swim. However, on the west coast there wasn’t as much algae and we manged to get in the sea a few times. I say sea, but it’s much more like swimming in a large pond – shallow and warm and without the salty smell.
Turns out Estonia (along with the rest of Baltic countries in fact) love a good swing. Everywhere we went there were swings. Kiiking (swinging) is a recognised ‘sport’ in Estonia. In the sport you are tied to the swing by your feet and have to squat up and down to create momentum. The aim is to get yourselves to spin 360 degrees over the top bar. We were quite pathetic at it. They also have big communal swings for more gentle swinging fun.
Our favourite Estonian food delicacies were the fried garlic rye bread sticks and the mass amount of gherkins in all shapes sizes and spices. I also recommend Vanna Tallin a very tasty dark rum spirit.
Apart from Tallinn we visited Happsalu (old spa town on the coast with nice wooden buildings), Parnu (coastal town with a huge flat beach and good bar atmosphere), Viljandi (old town by the river with great castle ruins) and Tartu (small university town on the river with a lively town hall square and nice botanical gardens). All the towns had nice cobbled streets and colourful wooden houses a recurring theme of our trip so far.
Overall Estonia was an enjoyable, welcoming and relaxing introduction to the Baltics.