Haapsalu, Saaremaa and the eclipse
Dramas have been haunting us on this trip so far and we were now on drama #4. Loading up the van in readiness to leave Tallinn we noticed that its side door had been forced, probably with a screwdriver. Luckily, we had taken most things of value into the hotel with us but bizarely, while the binoculars, a laptop, memory stick and the awesome 9-speaker music system had been ignored, a suitcase of socks was stolen!
We left Tallinn minus the socks and we drove south along arrow straight roads, music blasting out and the sun warming us. It felt so good to be on the road again. The landscape in this part of Estonia is flat, flat and more flat, with tilled fields stretching far out over the horizon and swathes of green pine and juniper trees bunching together with their roots swilling around in peaty bogs and pools of water. We caught up with a convoy of military vehicles who were swaying and bouncing along the highway, each with a soldier on top and a very large machine gun. Overtaking and picking off each truck one at a time, we eventually arrived at our destination of Haapsalu.
S had been here in Haapsalu once before for the AuugustiBluus Music Festival. All that I can say is that it must have been a good festival with much beer because he was convinced that it had taken place on an island! It isn’t on an island but water is everywhere in Haapsalu. It sits on a spit of land which juts out into the bay and is next to a saltwater lagoon. There is also a huge castle bang in the old town center which is where the festival happens but for now, the town was deserted.
We pulled up at our planned hotel – the Jahta Hostel – to find that was also deserted; we were just about to leave when Henri the owner found us. He had been down on the jetty fishing, but he broke off from his activity and welcomed us and showed us into our room. S, who had been suffering from the flu promptly fell into bed and dropped off to sleep for two days while I set off to explore the town.
Haapsalu is small and is completely dominated by the massive castle. This morning, half of the current population appeared to be sat along the water’s edge quietly fishing, the other half were in the tiny little cafe. I walked and I found a large graveyard with wrought iron crosses instead of headstones, a lady dressed up in a costume in the little museum and a tall wooden birdwatching structure that swayed alarmingly once I was at the top, but which had great views out over the reed beds and the estuary.
We spent a lovely restful couple of days at the Jahta Hostel (click here to read about the history of the hotel and what Henri plans to do with the fish that he caught) and we never tired of the views across the bay. You can feel the clear air rejuvenating you as you breathe deeply and the play of the sunlight on the water changes by the second. One morning I woke early and the water was streaked with blood red, crimson and black streaks as the sun rose above the horizon. It looked solid like thick paint but by the time I had reached for my camera it had altered again.
Eventually it was time to leave and so we set off again, continuing south and to the ferry to take us to Estonia’s largest island, Saaremaa. The crossing was smooth and we drove across the island to the only town which is called Kuressaare. En route we paused to take a look at the meteorite crater at Kaali, which was interesting because of how it had been formed but was, at the end of the day, just a large pond of water.
We found our hostel in Kuressaare which was nothing special apart from Meida the adorable, lovely, wonderful receptionist. The hostel consisted of three available rooms to book within the town’s university halls of residence, although in the summer the whole building is opened up to tourists.
And then we had another drama (#5 if you don’t count the flu) when S had a massive toothache which spread to his whole jaw and which necesitated a visit to the dentist at the PolyClinic. A very dour lady dentist agreed to x-ray S’s mouth – once we had got past the language barrier and she realised that he had toothache and was not searching for a solution for alcoholism (by now the combined pain and lack of sleep did give S a slightly haunted look). Massively strong antibiotics were recommended which we bought over the counter without a prescription. Worthy of a mention here is that all of the corridors of the PolyClinic had shoes neatly parked outside each door – where it is polite, necessary and etiquette to remove them before entering.
And so S took to his bed again and on a cold, semi-cloudy day I drove the van into town to visit the castle. It was amazing with a magnificent interesting museum inside the very well preserved building. Towers and turrets and interesting exhibitions about the history of Estonia and Saaremaa, the Russian occupation and the very recent re-gaining of independance were all fascinating, but they also coincided with a partial eclipse outside. I took myself out and due to the cloud I was able to watch the eclipse unfold. I may have not had blue skies or a full eclipse but the setting alongside the castle was quite special.
Then the clouds thickened and the blue skies which we had been blessed with so far disappeared and it began to snow.