We took the Viking Line ferry Viking XPRS from Helsinki to Tallinn, the Capital of Estonia (Eesti in the local language) ; a 2.5 hour trip across a very calm Gulf Of Finland at the top of the Baltic sea.

It was a very easy trip; self check-in machines at Helsinki, and a man to meet us at Tallinn and transfer us to the L'Ermitage Hotel.
Inter-islander NZ should take note..these ferries are amazing..modern & immaculate, no rust, all bookings & check-in on line & self check-in, great food, nice views and cabins, entertainment and all very reasonably priced.

It was warm & fine when we arrived, but then rained from about 3pm till 6pm...after which we ventured out to the old town.

Wow...amazing; this place is very very nice.
The photo below shows the St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral at top left, the Estonian Parliament building bottom left, an unknown but beautifully decorated building top right, and the Poobel Restaurant building bottom right. Our hotel was only about 300 metres from the parliament building and cathedral, so very convenient.

Across the road from our hotel I had spied an old wooden building with a restaurant, so returning from our old town walk, we ventured in to "Poobel", and were not at all sorry.
Hot chicken wings to start with, then a giant Schnitzel for Heather and an Estonian burger with dark brown rye bread bun for me. Plus too much of the Old Munk local lager..all very nice.

Friday morning 29th, our rental car was delivered to the Hotel. It took a while to sort out the document formalities.(it's got Lithuanian number plates, so I guess they needed a car returned to Vilnius which is where we will finish our Baltic travels on 9th August).

It also took about 30mins of Estonian fast internet work to make some ferry bookings for us and the car for Sunday & Tuesday. We are going to Saareemaa Island off the west coast of Estonia for 2 nights; its about a 20 minute ferry from the mainland, and it was suggested we book as its peak season. They seem to have it well sorted; all done by E-tickets to your phone or laptop, check-in by SMS or barcode scanning or car number plate photograph at the terminal. Lets hope it all works on Sunday...

Once that was sorted, we went off to walk the old town some more and look at the architecture and places of interest.. It was really busy this morning; with several organized tour groups off cruise ships, as well as about 30 buses parked in a street nearby the hotel.
We saw a nice memorial to Boris Yeltsin, the ex Russian President who helped Estonia peacefully become independent with the break-up of the USSR. We also found some really nice themed gardens in a park..it seems Estonians are really keen on gardening and garden design.

We then wandered over to the Sokos Viru Hotel; this was previously a Russian Intourist (for foreigners only) Hotel built in the late 1970's. It's a 23 story building, but until the USSR breakup was only ever known to have 22 stories...the 23rd was the 'secret' base for the Russian KGB who monitored everything & everybody in the hotel. The 23rd floor is now the KGB Museum, so we took a 1 hour tour in English; very interesting to see all of the old monitoring equipment, bugged telephones, microphones and hidden cameras etc and to learn how the hotel operated. The KGB don't keep track of anyone's movements into and out of the hotel nowadays..I guess Google and Facebook are doing do it instead?
alt After lunch at a cafe, we walked to a higher point of the city over looking the old town; great views over the city and to the harbour.

Saturday 30 July; today we drove east, towards Russia. The Border between Russia and Estonia is about 200km from Tallinn; you know when you are nearing Russia as there many cars with Russian number plates. Out this way, many of the people are Russian and speak both Russian and Estonian.
alt Our stops for the day were Rakvere to see the castle, Vosu which is a coastal area town, Palmse to see a 17th Century manor house, and then back towards Tallinn we stopped at the Jägala river to take a look at a waterfall.

Rakvere castle dates from 1346; it's a cool place to take kids as there are a lot of medieval activities; archery, blacksmithing, horse riding, donkey rides etc. Plenty of families visiting today. A short walk from the castle is an enormous statue of an auroch, the extinct breed of cattle. Rakvere was a pleasant enough town; nice gardens and a mix of very old, communist era and new architecture.
alt We then drove to the Coast and the Laheemaa National Park. Vosu is a small town..nice holiday houses and a few shops; a very relaxing place where we stopped for lunch at a local pub. A very nice bar plate to share on the deck outside with chicken wings, dark rye garlic bread, cheese and ham. No beer though, as its an almost zero alcohol limit when driving.


Then to Palmse Mois (Manor); initially a convent dating from the 1300’s the manor house was built by some rich folks in the 1700’s. It has been totally refurbished and is now a museum and hotel restaurant complex with nice gardens,

I’d read about the largest waterfall in the Baltics area; these are called Jägala Juga. Its quite interesting as they are on rift in the earth’s plate running between Sweden and Russia. The falls are only 8 metres high, but as the plate shifts, they move upstream by 20cm each year. An interesting enough place to stop by for 30 minutes.

Sunday 31st; we left our hotel at 0830 to drive to Virtsu (about 140km), then take a 20 minute ferry ride across to Kuivasta on Muhu island, and then over a 2km causeway and an 80km drive to Kuressaare on Saaremaa island.
My efforts with the Ferry E ticketing last Friday were all good..scan the barcode, barrier lifts, green light tells you which queue to join. The ferry seems to take about 60 cars + 6 or buses and trucks. You drive on, and drive off; it has drop down ramps at each end, and the ferry can operate backwards or forwards, so no need to turn it around at the terminals. It takes less than 10 minutes to load all the cars and buses on, and even quicker to get everyone off. The ferry has a bar, a cafe and a restaurant..and all for a 20 minute trip...and for a car and the 2 of us Euro 14..or about NZ$22.

Saaremaa is the largest island of Estonia off the west coast in the Baltic Sea. In the villages there are still stone fences and houses with thatched roofs. Junipers, windmills,local home-brewed beer, Elk, Wild Boar and Bears..its all here. We had booked a couple of nights at Jurna Farm stay near the main town Kuressaare rather than in a standard hotel.

alt alt

After managing to find Jurna easily enough, we drove the 5km into Kuresaare, wandered the town, lunched on Estonian pancakes, and then walked it off by doing a loop of the large castle in the town..about 2km.
alt For dinner, we went to an Estonian Restaurant in a Windmill built in 1899. Its the oldest working restaurant on the island, and very nice it was to. Cheese Balls, Rye Garlic bread, Hunters Pie of Wild Boar and Vegetables...better than excellent.

The drink-drive limit in Estonia is zero..yes 0, zippo, zilch, so no beer with dinner for me if we have the car. Never mind though...Heather is drinking my share of beer instead & I stick with water!

Monday is a semi rest day, but we did visit the Kuressaare Castle and the Museum. Wonderful place for only €5 entry. There is an art gallery, a nature exhibit showing the geography, geology, plant bird and animal life on Saaremaa. And an even more interesting exhibition on Estonian and Saaremaa Island history over the last 125 years. Initially independent until annexed by Russia in 1918, then occupied by Nazi Germany 1941-45 and then as part of the USSR until 1991 and then independent since.
Many interesting photographs and exhibits of people who were transported to USSR prison camps, of the German Occupation period, and of the Soviet times after 1945. There was a full scale fully furnished Soviet apartment block display, thousands of which were built in the USSR. And a monument to 100 local people who were killed by Russian troops as the Island fell into German hands in 1941.
The park outside the castle also has some beautiful wooden buildings that house restaurants, cafe's and a hotel.
alt alt Tomorrow Tuesday is quite a long day; 80km to the ferry at Kuivatsu across to Virtsu on mainland Estonia, then a 250km drive down the coast of the Gulf of Riga, across the border into Latvia and to the Capital city of Riga.

Goodbye Estonia....what a great country! Amazingly clean, more great food and friendly people. For only 1.3 million people, and 25 years since Soviet times, you are doing extraordinarily well.

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