Riga to Tallinn (almost) – five days and 466km

After three weeks on the road with Daisy our tandem, from Warsaw through Kaliningrad (didn’t see any Iskanders, but BIG Russian manoeuvres about to happen) and Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia (saw three British NATO trucks, seriously intimidating if you’re a Russian), we’re almost there.

Mileage to be confirmed, and a selection of Riga-Tallinn photos below, plus links to our route, but we’ve clocked well over 1000 miles (or 1600km in new money), with three main conclusions – about all of which so much more could be said.

First observation. I do seriously love the crazy Russians, but Soviet rule throughout this region was an unmitigated disaster.

We both knew that, of course, from our time in Moscow and elsewhere in the old Soviet bloc through the Cold War.

But quite honestly, reflecting on our decades of following Soviet and post-Soviet affairs and now cycling through countries doing their best to expunge that past and find their place in a new Europe (viewed from the Baltics, Brexit is of course even more utterly bonkers than it looks from Paris or Berlin), Moscow’s 20th century time running these Baltic regions has nothing positive to show for it – and on the contrary, a constantly-surprising quota of negatives.

Architecture and building standards. (How the Soviets could get even the fastidious and proud Estonians to put up such rubbish beats me – see pix below). Collusion with the Nazis in dividing the region up in 1939-41. Memories of brutal 1940s and early 50s deportations. Isolation from the rest of the world.

Equally brutal neglect of heritage and utter disregard for the environment, and post-Communist Russia’s refusal under Putin to take responsibility for what was done…

It’s a dreadful legacy that is being slowly, determinedly undone, at varying speed across this region and with varying visible success. But the list of Soviet-imposed misery is a very, very long one, and it’s taking time.

Second, less politically, Daisy our tandem continues a star. Serious bout of punctures at the back early on in the trip, till I clocked that the tyre itself had a hole. And a burst of further punctures up front as we clattered joltingly over corrugated unpaved roadways in Lithuania and Latvia (Estonia is so much more advanced and sophisticated, with a well-signposted and smoothly-surfaced network of bike paths.)

But once sorted, thankfully with 26″ wheels easily serviced even in the depths of Kaliningrad Region, our Thorn Raven Discovery, from St John St Cycles in Bridgwater, confirmed her reputation as a solid, reliable long-distance tourer of distinction.

(Thanks again by the way to Owen Hughes who so perfectly rebuilt the back wheel in Wellington, NZ, 18 months ago on our Tour Aotearoa – one spoke broken last year and replaced, but otherwise, indestructible…)

Jutta didn’t do too bad either as stoker on the back, to put it mildly, as we averaged around 100 km a day, bringing this post to the third observation, which is the confirmation that long-distance cycling, and especially on a tandem, is seriously good for you.

After three weeks, we both feel healthwise like a million dollars, with early-tour Norovirus misery and all the muscular aches and pains of being ever closer to 70 warmingly soothed. Highly recommended, and for all the soreness of posterior that never quite goes away, there’s little to beat this for having fun in later life.

Tomorrow, Tuesday, it’s Tallinn and Transferwise (a fascinating and clever financial startup who’ve invited me round to talk to their young team about what this part of the world and the Soviet empire were like during the Cold War) and, then, all too soon….

But first, links to the routing of recent days, and then a small selection of photos.

https://www.strava.com/activities/1150023346/embed/638b24cdc485fd247ae338ceaeb471a6bdb70ebd“>Riga to Sigulda, Latvia (77km in 5 hours)

https://www.strava.com/activities/1151789625/embed/871ddd355ef5d8fcfa97d1113ceb279c1a0d9b2d“>Sigulda to Smiltene, Latvia (100km in 7.25 hrs moving)

Smiltene to border town of Varga (49km in 3 hours moving)

Tartu to the Baltic coast just short of Tallinn (238 km in 16 hours+ moving)

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The Open Baltic Road and a typically VERY Busy Baltic Sky

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Riga cathedral, with tandem couple

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There’s a lot of landscape in the Baltics. This in Latvia between Riga and the Estonian border.

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Open gravel Latvian Road

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Beware the Grader. Kat and Mela take note. But better than trying to ride on a corrugated surface.

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Aftermath of grader’s passage.

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Daisy and Cesis Castle

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Cranes, a whole flock of them.

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We saw a LOT of this kind of landscape in Latvia. Endless, rich, dense forest.

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The heavily-fortified Latvian-Estonian border. What a contrast to Kaliningrad.

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National Geographic have been in town – hoovering up the photo opps around Estonia’s second city Tartu.

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Nat Geo in Tartu, with Jutta.

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Brilliant cycling signs in Estonia.

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The sweetest campsite, in Estonian Nadalama

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The most obvious and consistent legacy of Soviet rule. The worst possible bricklaying.

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A typically-derelict memory of Soviet rule in Estonia. Brickwork tells it all.

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Beautiful Baltic coastline East of Tallinn

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Bunkers recall the vicious fighting that took place here in WWII. First Soviet-Estonian. Then Soviet-German. Then Soviet-Estonian, with sadly too much of Estonian-Estonian included.

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Father and son, bronze in Tartu.

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Tartu’s famous kissing couple fountain. Our hotel Draakon in the background. Not the best.

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