Posted: Mon, 18 June 2007
Day 5 Palmse to Tallinn, Estonia
Overnight our gear
had dried out from yesterday’s rain. The
bikes were clean and ready to go. At
8:30 this morning we left the beautiful grounds of the Palmse Manor House and
headed west on the backroads along the Baltic shoreline.
Our destination was Tallinn, a port city and
the Capital of Estonia. The ride was 98
km/60 miles. The day began with gray
overcast skies, cool temperatures and a happy biking crew headed for a rest day
in the city we were all anxious to visit.
The small village of Palmse
has a population of only about 200 people, but it is home to the Lakemaa National Park. Lakemaa means “land of bays” and there are a
number of scenic bays along the coastline here.
At the 40 km mark
we stopped in the village of Kiiu, where the Kiiu Tower
is located. It is the smallest fortress
in Estonia. It was a small vassal castle built in the
beginning of the 16th century. There was a coffee shop in the
basement of the tower. We had been
alerted to it, so we stopped, sipped and explored this unique and interesting
The second half of
our trip today was in the rain….AGAIN.
It was only light rain initially as we cycled the rural and quiet
roads. The church steeples can be
spotted at some distance from the towns.
We look for stores that have a sign for “POOD” or Food.
I spotted an old
farmer leaning on a rake outside his ancient barn and I had to have a
photo. He obliged.
intensified and the cold wind picked up as the day progressed. The last 30 km into Tallinn was not too pleasant! We were in pouring rain riding with the big
trucks and their gritty spray for a
short distance into the city. Fortunately,
the route for the last 10 km was on a wide pedestrian path, but with many road
crossings and driveways. We were really
soaked by the time we entered the path along the Sea in the downtown area. In the foggy distance we saw a huge cruise
ship anchored off shore. We rode through
wooded areas and past a lake with swans.
I would love to have been able to
photograph this entry into Tallinn,
but my camera was in a protective baggie in the bike bag where it had to
stay. Soon we were on the cobblestones
and narrow streets and sidewalks in Old
Town, and finally at the
Tomorrow is a Rest
Day! We have a laundry run at 8:30, a
walking tour of Old town at 9:30 and all day to take and share with you some
great photos of this pleasant and bustling city on the Sea
PS My (small) hotel
room has my clothesline stretched from corner to corner with 4 hand-washed
biking outfits and socks hanging out to dry. Ah, home on the road!
Posted: Sun, 17 June 2007
Day 4 Toila to Palmse, Estonia
RAINY DAY ALONG THE BALTIC
Some of Estonia’s
newest fans departed Toila this morning for a 115 km/71 mile bicycle ride to
Palmse. It is Father’s Day, so some paid
verbal tribute to the dad’s riding today, especially to John (CO) and his sons
Reed and Brad who are with our group. I
took a photo of the three in St
They are great fun!
The quiet road
directly behind the hotel took us along the Baltic Sea Coast. In this area in the North there is no
development along the coast—it is in its natural state with fields of wild
flowers and a few sea front homes. The
day began with sunshine and blue skies.
We soon reached Valeste Falls,
the highest falls in; (A northern Estonia, (B all of Europe
or (C none of the above……I don’t know, but it is certainly worth the viewing.
The rain began
about 30 km into today’s ride and continued all day. We were all wet, but on this Sunday in June
we had a lot to see and experience in Estonia and with its people along
We rode through the
beautiful forest parkland along the coast and through the small towns of
Purtse, Rrannu, Viru-Nigula, Vasta and Kunda.
We stopped in Viru-Nigula for
something to eat at a general store.
While snacking and talking under cover from the rain, several local kids
were nearby. I asked them the name of
their village. They responded
unhaltingly in English. They told me
they study English in middle school. I
took their picture and told them I would put it on my website. They agreed, but returned in a few minutes to
have me put the site address on a cell phone so that they could see it. Nice kids.
The next stop was
in Kunda, where a bocce tournament was underway in the rain. We watched briefly, but were soon
invited to “go around back for some coffee or vodka. We had the coffee in a tent among the
locals—most of whom took the other beverage option.
The route continued
along the Baltic shore and into the Lakemaa
National Park; dense
forest land inhabited by elk, deer, and boar.
Our hotel, the Park Hotel Palma is situated in the park in an old vodka distillery of
The hotel has been
converted into an interesting lodge with pine furniture and a wine cellar/bar
that was our locale for the “Welcoming Palmse Beer Ceremony” this afternoon.
We discussed with some of the staff their experiences in
the past –living under communism—and their progress today as a free
nation. It was heart warming to hear
Posted: Sat, 16 June 2007
Day 3 Ivangorod, Russia to Toila, Estonia
DIFFERENCE A DAY MAKES
What a difference a
day makes….especially when the border OUT of Russia is involved. We departed Ivangorod at 9:00am for the
rather short 58 km/36 mile ride to Toila,
Estonia. We would cross the Narva River
just blocks from our hotel and pass through Russian and Estonian border
control. With passports and visas in
hand all went rather smoothly.
Reed and Brad (CO),
the 2 brothers cycling with their dad, John, were assigned to “sweep”, making
sure the group was ahead of them. Brad
is in the photo above with a citizen of Ivangorod. As they left our hotel parking lot on their
bikes, they had stones thrown at them from a small group of Russian teenagers
along with some profanity in English.
Our reception in Estonia has
been quite different. The attitudes
changed, the road surfaces improved, the Estonian villages of Narva, Sillamai,
Voka, and Toila were clean, prosperous and inviting, and the commercial
establishments were active. We loved the
peaceful backroads in the beautiful park and forest lands along the Baltic Coast. We are pleased to be out of Russia and looking forward to several more days
of cycling in Estonia.
morning ride in calm sunshine was a dramatic change to yesterday’s long, windy
ride into Ivangorod.
The Narva River
separating Russia and Estonia
is a wide, fast flowing river with opposing forts facing each other on opposite
We saw several
military monuments in memory of the Russian presence in WW II, as well as a
cemetery for the German soldiers killed in Estonia.
We detoured off the
main road to visit Sillamae, a Baltic coast town that was built in the Soviet
model. The old block apartments near the
factories have been greatly improved since the change that took place in
1991. We also stopped at a church built
from in a forest park
along the route.
One can see the improvement in hotel accommodations from
Ivangorod to Toila
We are currently staying in a spa-resort hotel in Toila (with
wi-fi internet access—finally!) It is
located on the beach of the Baltic Sea’s Bay of Finland. Most of the guests are here for the spa, but
an RV park in the rear accommodates many Danish and German guests, some of whom
I photographed from my window as they sunbathed on the lawn.
Our discussion of
tomorrow’s ride took place in the hotel lobby with local beer from nearby
Sillamae being enjoyed.
I can’t agree more
with my friend Hans in Naples who said to me;
“You will enjoy Estonia”
I was able to post several new journal entries.
Many photos have been added to previous day’s journals. Have a look.
Posted: Fri, 15 June 2007
Day 2 Gotchina to Ivangorod, Russia
For day one—this
was one day for the books! On these
bicycle tours we always say the most fun is not knowing what lies ahead. Every day brings some new adventure. Today’s 135 km/83 mile ride is a good
First, let me state
clearly that the conditions today made for a very difficult ride. It began in the night, well actually the sun
was up by 4:00 am, but I wasn’t. Noise from the sky lights in my room woke me
up as heavy rain smashed down against them.
I thought we would be in rain gear all day long. Fortunately we were not, as the rain cleared
by start time, but the weather for cycling was awful! “Brisk Baltic Winds” was how I labeled them,
and the wind factor was a major challenge to today’s riders. We faced 20 to 25 mph head winds, with gusts
to 30 mph the whole way. We were headed
directly west from Gatchina to Ivangorod,
“the Baltic Blast” out of the west.
The wind was not
our only problem. We missed a turn a
short distance from the hotel, so we all rode miles in the wrong direction. It
was cleared up by some Russian pedestrians walking along the road and a cell
phone call to the van. We had to return
and correct, adding over 10 miles to the trip.
But the incessant wind was the prime cause of our struggle today.
The rural Russian
roads need a lot of repair work! Pot
holes and poor shoulders were the norm.
We may see worse road conditions in Romania
or Bulgaria, but Russia’s roads
kept us constantly alert for holes and cracks.
The new bikes of ExpeditionPLUS are good and tough on these road
surfaces, but they are not yet “our bikes”; comfortable, fitted and
familiar. So several riders experienced
some difficulty today and required further adjustments.
We were only 1 km
from our destination in Ivangorod and VERY tired at 5:30 pm. It had been a long day’s struggle in the
wind. We were so close to being home
when a Russian security Border Stop appeared in the road. The official border with Estonia is in Ivangorod at the Narva River
crossing, but the Russians had set up an additional border check point
here. We were stopped and pulled
over. There were only 6 of us at this
point as many had been brought to the hotel by van due to the weather and the
wrong turn. The armed Russian soldier
seemed delighted to have some American cyclists to harass. We did not have our passports—only zerox
copies as recommended. After all this
was not a “border crossing”. We were
told to wait for our “commander”. Toomas
the Estonian/Russian guide rode out from our hotel on his bike and cleared
things up. We had some laughs about
spending some time in a gulag before we were released.
The hotel tonight
is “minimal”—see photo of the bed. The
shower photo would provide more amusement.
Our experience has
found Russian adults to be “joyless”—that is our word. They appear expressionless, void of emotion,
unfriendly and detached. The countryside
looked barren of economic activity as we passed farm after farm that was
uncultivated. The general populace is
poor, the roads are poor, the old Soviet apartment buildings are stark and from
the same engineering drawings. We are
anxious to move on. St
Petersburg was a delight, but we welcome tomorrow as it brings us
Posted: Thu, 14 June 2007
Day 1 St Petersburg to Gatchina, Russia
Our bus departed St Petersburg after a farewell lunch at a restaurant near
the Winter Palace
of the Hermitage Museum. We were off for the city of Gatchina, about an hour drive south of St Petersburg. It is there that our bikes await us, and it
is the starting point of our actual ride.
The bikes and tour
supplies (energy drinks, maps, tires, tubes, tools, etc.) had been driven to
Gatchina in the van from the ExpeditionPLUS farm in Italy just a few days ago. After experiencing the traffic and crazy
Russian drivers on the road out of St
Petersburg, we were all pleased to be on a bus. We needed to fit our bike properly and test
ride it around this neat suburban town this afternoon. I installed my pedals and saddle and it
seemed to test out well. We have
Cannondale aluminum road bikes with drop handlebars and 27 gears. The heavier weight and slightly wider tires
are better suited to the road conditions ahead we are told.
Our ExpeditionPLUS staff
is currently composed of Monica, Michaele, and Toomas. Monica is the daughter of Rick Price the
founder/owner of the touring company.
She is fluent in Italian, an experienced biker and world traveler in her
twenties, who has lived the bicycle touring lifestyle all her life. She will be a great resource along with
Michaele, an Italian young man with experience and mechanical skills along with
a calm and pleasant personality. Toomis
is a young guy from Tallinn,
Estonia who has
a bike shop and bike rental business at home.
He will be our local guide through Russia,
Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. We are fortunate to have such an experienced,
young and enthusiastic staff.
Our group of 20 is
now at full strength having been joined by the last 2 members: Paolo from Mexico
and Wally from Colorado.
I hope to introduce many of the interesting members of our group to you on this
website as we travel through Europe. Once again—it is a great group.
Once we had checked
into our very comfortable, small hotel and worked on the bikes, we headed into
town. The Post Office in Gatchina has 3
computers terminals, which are apparently the only source of internet
connection for us. I was able to hook up my laptop there—for 30 rubles for 30
minutes—and publish 3 journal entries covering the pre-ride days in St Petersburg. With very limited time, I was able to submit
only a few photos. I have so many great
shots of St Petersburg
that I urge you to continue checking those journal entries for photos to be
added. It is going to be very difficult
to publish regularly, but I will continue to write and photograph –save it on
Word—and download when I can.
Walking back to the
hotel for our “safety and rules” meeting with the staff, Rick, Dan Sean and I
stopped at an outside patio bar in Gatchina for a beer. The local people were out for the evening on
the pedestrian walkways and in the restaurants and bars obviously enjoying the
period of White Nights.
The boys found a
statue of Lenin to lean on in the park.
Posted: Wed, 13 June 2007
Pre Ride Day 3 The Hermitage and the Canals
These pre-ride days have been fun for our group of 20
cyclists. We have explored the city,
toured the sights, and struggled with the ruble exchange as we watched them fly
from our wallets. But most importantly,
we have gotten to know one another and had some good times together before
starting our 46 day cycling adventure through Central and Eastern
attraction for the group was a guided tour through all 5 buildings that make up
the Hermitage Museum
in St Petersburg. The Hermitage, meaning “a quiet place for
relaxation and seclusion”, was named by Catherine the Great at the time she was
gathering her fine collection of great art here. Today the Hermitage has 3 million pieces of
art, and 30,000 visitors per day—a fact that is undeniable based on the crowds
today. It is one of the finest and most
famous museums in the world.
As you can see, I
particularly liked the 2 beautiful Russian greeters in front of the museum, but
I also appreciated the paintings, sculptures, and frescos inside. Our guide explained the paintings by Botticelli, Raffaelo, Caravaggio, the two
Leonardo Da Vinci pieces and many, many others as we viewed them. The architecture refinements and ornate
furnishings of the Winter Palace of Peter the Great—now one of the 5 museum
buildings—are spectacular. One can only
say “No wonder the revolution by the people took place” in Russia.
museum tour and lunch on Nevskiy Prospekt, Rick, Cathy, Dan, Nancy,
Fritz and I boarded a tour boat and were propelled on an hour long passage on
the canals of St Petersburg. The sunny day and views of the mansions of
the elite along the canal, as well as the quieter neighborhoods we passed by
made for a pleasant tour. The
announcements—all in Russian—were lost on us, but we enjoyed the journey. Passing by in the boat, I was able to get a
photo of “Our Savior on the Spilled
Blood Church”, that
has the most colorful and
spectacular spires imaginable.
Floating through St Petersburg, (but
anxious to BIKE!)
Posted: Tue, 12 June 2007
Pre-Ride Day 2 City Tour and Peterhof
The early morning
light that lasts until midnight (White Nights) is a new phenomenon for most of
us. It provides a long day to explore a
great city like St Petersburg,
and we did just that.
After a good buffet
breakfast in the hotel with fellow tourist guests from literally all corners of
the globe, our biking group loaded a bus for a guided tour of the main
attractions of St Petersburg. Our Russian tour guide explained in excellent
English what we were seeing and its historical significance. This is a beautiful, clean and spruced-up
city of some 500 palace homes of the former aristocracy. It is often called “The Venice of the North”
with its 65 canals and 400 bridges, but it is also known as “the Capital City
of Crime” and we were repeatedly warned to be on the alert for pick pockets in
Our tour first
revisited the Smolney Church, painted in bright blue “to match the blue
eyes of Elizabeth”,
the Empress in whose name the church was built.
Nearby on Tapestry Street
we saw a statue of “Iron Felix”, founder of the KGB. Peter the Great had set up a tapestry factory
in this neighborhood to make the beautiful tapestries he had seen in France.
Our bus drove down
the Nevskiy Prospekt (street), the main shopping and commercial . avenue. It is the Champs Elysees of St
Petersburg in many respects. We would spend a lot of time here over the
next couple of days.
ood to us so far, providing 2 of the “only 65 days of sunshine” that St Petersburg is said to
We walked around St
Isaak’s Square observing the large statue of a horse mounted Nicholas I (“Nick
the stick”), who had the reputation of being a very cruel Emperor in his
day. The statue faces the enormous St
Isaak’s Church. It was formerly the main
Russian Orthodox Church in Russia
with a capacity of 14,000 worshippers.
Its magnificent gold fused dome and solid granite columns are its
trademark. Shrapnel marks and bullet
holes in the columns are a reminder of the siege of Leningrad
when the Russians held out against the Nazis, but with a loss of half the
population of St Petersburg.
Later the bus
passed by the Marienesky Theater where all
the famous Russian ballet dancers have performed. It was then on to a tour of St Nicholas
Church, which has an active practicing congregation in this city.
statue to Peter the Great sits in a park along the Neva River
with throngs of passers-by stopping to view it.
We activated the
ATM machine at the very posh Grand Hotel Europe in order to have the rubles for
our speedy hydrofoil boat trip to Peterhof, the summer home of the czars built
west of the city by Peter the Great to compete with Versailles
in France. The NY Times travel editor has written that
tourists must visit Peterhof for a “ glimpse of the glories or depravity of the
czars”. It is the 18th
century complex of palaces and gardens with the most audacious display of
wealth possible. A true sight to behold!
A group of 6 of us
decided to try the subway system, or Metro, to return to our hotel. We had basic directions including signs to
look for once we were underground. The
signs were of course in Cyrillic—with no English translation—and we knew NO ONE
would be able to help the helpless English speakers in case of difficulty. Dan (CA) managed the map, and I the
directions….and surprisingly we caught all the right trains, going in the right
direction, transferring lines, and all without a hitch. We had a proud toast to our accomplishment
once back at the Okhtinskaya Hotel.
Posted: Mon, 11 June 2007
Pre-Ride Day 1 St Petersburg, Russia
travel never seems to be routine. Things
happen!....such as flight delays, a missed connection in London, re-routing through a third city, and
lost luggage, even ALL of the
above. Despite these inconveniences, Dan
and I arrived at the Okhtinskaya-Victoria Hotel in St Petersburg at midnight Sunday—only 6 hours
later than planned. In the meantime we
had spent a few unexpected hours in Helsinki, Finland and then a short hop across the Bay of Finland
and along the coast of Estonia
on the Russian airline, Rossiya, into St
is well that ends well.
Actually, my 30
hour journey from Naples, FL culminated with a Mercedes taxi ride at
80 mph through the streets of St Pete passing cars, buses and trolleys on the
left and right as we raced to the hotel with Ivan at the wheel.
It was still light
at midnight and cool in this city of 4.5 million founded by Peter the Great and
now considered to be Russia’s intellectual and cultural center. We have 3 days here to explore its great
museums, palaces and cathedrals before we get on the bikes on June 14th. I look forward to that!
My hotel room is
small, basic and clean, as attested to by the paper signs in English found in
the sink, on the toilet, and on the shower floor stating—“Disinfected”!
The room looks out
over the Neva River at the magnificent Cathedral of
the Smolny and its parks, which Dan, Nancy and I walked to this morning. It is a national holiday today, so traffic is
light and it seems more like a Sunday.
We have exchanged
US dollars for some “rubles” ( at 27 rubles to 1 dollar), experienced a few
Russian beers, and are totally confused by the Cyrillic alphabet—see the
billboard photo which I took for the purpose of demonstrating the
alphabet. We are adjusting to the 8 hour
time difference…and waiting to meet up with the rest of our group this evening.