Road trip !

Trip Start Jul 05, 2007
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Estonia  ,
Sunday, September 16, 2007

After deciding in the morning to try and rent a car, we were on the road (remarkably, the right road despite some navigational difficulties....) by 4pm and on our way out of town. Fantastic feeling to have our independence back and to feel the flexibility of chosing our own direction. The car we got was an Opal Astra, very similar to a holden astra hatch. Getting used to the whole driving on the right took a little getting used to and required a fair bit of concentration but if there is anywhere that is a good place to get into the swing of european driving, its Estonia. Once out of tallin the roads were great and the traffic light. We were still unsure of our destination but after driving for a couple of hours looking for the perfect small village with a charismatic pub that we had envisaged finding, we ended up stopping at a tiny village outpost on the border of the Soomaa National Park. We managed to find the pub, and although it wasnt quite the type of place we were imagining, it did serve some very cheap Russian styled soup which made do for dinner. By this stage Cath and I had decided that this leg of the journey would be done on the cheap and were determined to see just how tight we could get. We knew of a hostel here that we thought we would check out (the only one in town). We went in to ask about the cost of staying the night and upon finding out that it would be 170EEK each we decided we would be just fine sleeping in the car. Luckily, the guy asked why we were not going to stay and when we told hiim it was the price he said it would be fine to stay there for free ;) the place was completely empty and we think the guy was resigned to the fact that his hostel was a long way from anywhere and unlikely to get customers at this time of the year. The hostel was pretty amazing in its own way. Formerly it was a soviet era pre school and it was now in a rather delapidated condition with stark rooms and eerie corridors. After our dinner in the pub, we sat with the owner of the hostel and chatted, he was a really nice guy and heavily involved in conservation work in the national park. We still froze despite our sleepingbags during the night, thankfully we wer'nt in the car! the next morning we gave the guy a little money to cover our accomadation as we really appreciated the hot shower and use of the kitchen.

Life on the road when living cheap always started with a breakfast of bread, banannas and apples (which we picked from the side of the road). Lunch would be some cheese, crackers or bread and gerkins , wich we were going through at the rate of a large jar a day. Dinner was generally spent at a pub \ reteraunt where we could sit , eat a little soup, stash the bread that we got with the soup in cath's beanie (for the next days breakfast), use the bathroom to do our teeth and hopefully watch a bit of tele before retiring to sleep in our car parked in the parking lot outside. We became remarkibly accostomed to this routine and took pride in our thriftiness :) We had our own mugs and tea bags and would take it in turns going into cafes to ask for hot water when we felt like stopping for a cuppa. this was the routine for the next 4 days.....

On our second day we got back in touch with nature by driving into the Sooma National Park and doing some walking trainls. The environment was nothing like we have seen in aus, more swampy bogs..dark pools with the surrounds lined by autum coloured moss and sparse fir trees. we will definately get some pics up for you as it really was beautiful. Despite the wooden plank walk way that started and finnished in the same place (a 5km loop) we still managed to get lost at one point and  only thanks to Cath studying our map and despit my 'gut feeling' did we make it back to the car! Spent the rest of the day drinving through the national park (stopping to pick apples) to our next stop which turned out to be Tartu. Tartu is another city in Estonia, renowned for its student culture. We ended up having dinner in town before having to leave due to the shortage of what we believed to be good 'camping spots'. Ended up driving out of town at about 11pm on a dirt road, an area that can only be described as a likely spot to be abducted by really seemed remote but eventually we once again hit the bitumen and pulled up at a truck stop which was just perfect... had a cup of tea, used their bathroom, watched some tele and then retired to the car park to see out the night. Had such a great sleep that we woke up to a very busy truck stop at 9am!

Next day was uneventful after having to change a tyre early on (cath was on the jack ! ) and we spent a liesurely day driving around the countryside and eventually ending up at Otepaa, a great little ski resort/town. Really liked the place and ended up at a great pub on the outskirts of town by the lake. What made this pub great was a) its location on the lake, b) a nice relatively inexpensive menue, c) had a big screen tele and d) used to be a famous irish pub, and finally (and most importantly) e) had a great car park. We called it a night about 10pm and only qwoke when we discovered we had left the hatch open at about 3am! a bit chilly......

Last day in the car.... took a leisurely drive out of Estonia into Latvia, one more stamp in the passport. Latvie was very similar to estonia which was fine by us. Stopped for the usual pickles, cheese and bread lunch by the lake before putting Cath behind the wheel for the first time. Caths turn lasted about 45mins before I got bored and suggested that we should return to our traditional roles... cath managing our glove box larder and navigating and me driving.  The highlight of the drive through Latvia was Sigulda where we stayed the night. Sigulder is a town about an hour from riga, famous for its national parks, casles and caves. Spent some time just wandering around before hitting the supermarket to top up on pickles and then finding an appropriately l÷ocated carpark. Had dinner and a few drinks at a local restaurant before retiring for our last night in hostel opel astra (a bit on the nose by this stage...). Our last day in the car consised of wandering a little more around Sigulda and then driving into Riga. Overall, a fantastic roadtrip and in its own way, a real highlight.
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