Day 11 and we were on our way to Haapsalu. After more than a week in the countryside, the thought of arriving in a bigger town had created big expectations: Nice cafés, good restaurants, supermarkets, some entertainment, some relaxation. We were in such a hurry to arrive there, we even took the train line.
No, not the way you think! We were hiking on a trail built on the old train tracks, which had been out of use for more than 10 years. In the golden times of Haapsalu as a spa resort for the Russian upper class and nobility, those tracks lead all the way to Saint Petersburg and onwards into Russia! We had to use some creative hiking to reach the trail, but once we were on it, it was 10 km straight line, passing three platforms of the old railway stations.
In the early afternoon, we reached our lodging place for the next two (!) nights, located in a nice wooden house. A friendly gentleman showed us to our spacious room and, in German, gave us many good tips about what to see and do in Haapsalu. When he learnt that we came by foot, he even prepared two bicycles for us to use during our stay.
Backpacks in the room, showered and with reasonably fresh clothes we went off to explore Haapsalu. It was a beautiful sunny day and with the bicycles, it felt as if we were flying from one place to the next. First, we visited the nearby beach, where one of the city’s spa hotels is located, then we went to see the old railway station. Had we followed the train line converted into hiking trail until the end, we would have arrived here.
The station is a train lover’s dream come true – beautifully restored and with historical locomotives from different eras permanently exposed. The passenger platform is 214m long and fully covered; back in the days, one didn’t want to upset any of the high society guests by getting wet when alighting from the train.
Our tour continued through a neighborhood where one wooden house was cuter than the other, and finished at Promenaadi with its impressive wooden Kuursaal (Spa Hall). After all the hiking and biking, we needed a break and found the perfect place to recover in the charming Müüriääre Kohvik. A huge choice of cakes, good coffee and a variety of tea, plus delicious savory dishes – we could have stayed there all day.
The next day was the official rest day, so we stayed in bed until late, had a long breakfast and left the house only at noon for our appointment. What appointment? Well, what is good for Russian nobility can’t be bad for us. After 11 days of carrying our backpacks over 200 km, we treated ourselves to a mud bath.
Funny thing, this mud bath – in a kind of bed lined with plastic foil, the spa attendant puts a generous layer of dark hot mud from the Baltic Sea, then we lie in it. First, only our back feels the squishy warmth (and the nose notices the somewhat sulfuric smell), then the remaining mud is spilled on us, until we are all covered with it (except for the head). In order for the mud to remain warm for the next 15 minutes, the plastic foil is wrapped around us, followed by towels and a thick duvet. Now, wrapped up like a baby, we close our eyes and relax. The minerals of the mud combined with the warmth are said to relieve muscle pain and are good for treating all kind of diseases. Did it work? Depends who you ask. Moiken loved the experience and felt relaxed afterwards, José found it too hot and smelly and couldn’t tell any difference after the treatment.
We continued our lazy day in Haapsalu by skipping any additional sightseeing and going right to the next point on our agenda – having coffee and cake at Müüriääre Kohvik. This time, we would be joined by Katrin, a member of the Estonian hiking organization, who lives in Haapsalu. We discovered that we were lucky to be in Haapsalu at the same time as her – she is mostly away somewhere in Europe, guiding tours. We had a great time talking about Estonia, issues of the world, and life in general, and she patiently answered all our questions. Our last question was: “Where do people in Haapsalu go for dinner?” And we were very happy with her recommendation: A cozy pub nearby serving home cooked meals and draft local beer. A glass of Vana Tallinn to finish the meal and a perfect day!
On day 13, we had a relatively short walk, 9 km, to the port of Rohuküla, where we would take the ferry to the island Hiiumaa. As we wanted to make sure that we wouldn’t miss it, we started quite early and ended up having some spare time. We used it to fulfill a curiosity: Our landlord had told us about an inactive military airport close to the road. We went to the place he had indicated, and really found about a dozen hangars and three huge concrete lanes – two for taxi and the old runway.
When the time to take the ferry was approaching, the wind was getting stronger and stronger. Our clothes kept us warm and now we even had gloves (we found them on the day before at the post office store for € 0.75 a pair!). Only the thought of taking a ferry in this kind of storm was not a pleasant one.
We reached the ferry terminal in time, bought our tickets and walked towards the ferry. That is, we tried to walk in a straight line, as the wind had grown so strong that we had to lean against it and use our poles for some stability. The waves were hitting hard against the pier, splashing all the way to the road. We somehow managed to get on board, and all of a sudden everything was calm again. The ferry was so solid and heavy, it didn’t even react to the storm outside. We eased ourselves into the comfortable seats and had a snack from the board shop. Like this, we had a very enjoyable 75 minute voyage to Hiiumaa, the first destination of our island hopping tour.
This paragraph should be in the next post, as by now we have reached the islands. However, our first day on Hiiumaa was not a hiking day. Due to the bad weather, we did not feel any inclination to sleep in the tent and the closest lodging place had not opened yet. So we decided to take a room in the hotel in Heltermaa harbour, spent the day reading and writing and waiting for the storm to pass. If we had better luck with the weather the next day? Wait for the post “Island Hopping” to find out!