Wednesday, July 07, 1999

TR Estonia & Finland

Trip Report – Estonia and Finland
(6/24 –7/7/99)

As I said at the end of my last newsletter I had planned/hoped to get a week’s rest before embarking on the next journey. But it was not to be.
Upon my return from Sweden I got one day to visit with Jason and his friends before they returned to the US and I had to leave the same day because of bad but not unexpected news from Canada. Fortunately Nicole was still in Ottawa so she extended her business trip and we traveled on to Carleton Place to attend my mother’s funeral and help with family affairs.
I returned to London on Thursday of that week just in time to repack and head to Helsinki. From there I caught a ferry across the Baltic Sea to Tallinn, Estonia arriving at 11 PM only to find out that the hotel had given my room away. By then my body had no idea what time zone or planet it was on and just wanted a bed to sleep in.
Had to move to another hotel way out in the boonies for one night and then move back the next day. The hotel was originally built as quarters for the athletes for the 1980 Moscow Olympics as the sailing and boating events were held there.
Tallinn has an old part of town – called “Old Town”, that is very interesting and reminds me a lot of Prague. But they do not have the money to restore or fix it up so it is in various states of disrepair. Basically the whole city and area is in the same shape. There are lots of remnants and reminders of the ex-Soviet rule such as huge ugly apartment complexes, and an abandoned naval base that looks like and is a toxic waste dump.
The marathon is small, about 200 runners and not very well organized. My first clue came when I arrived at the start in the Old Town Square to find no toilets or water. Fortunately McDonalds came to the rescue since there was one about a block from the start and I used their facilities. I have visited and ate at McDonalds more in the past two months than the previous 10 years and I expect this trend to continue.
The race ran through and around Old Town and the city for about 5 miles before heading out to the resort area of Pirita (where my hotel and the beaches are) and then continued out into the country through some nice forests. The race started at 10 am and it was already warm (low 70’s) so I decided to run this one easy. It was a smart move since they only had water every 5K. I was concerned but not surprised to discover them filling the cups from buckets of local water. I had seen the local water coming from the hotel tap and resolved not to drink it but my choice was to die for sure of dehydration or take my chances with the bacteria. So I opted for Tallinn’s Revenge which fortunately was a mild case a few days later. The race continued back towards Pirita along the beaches to finish close to my hotel. There was no traffic control while we were running along narrow country roads but the local drivers were very courteous and respectful so it wasn’t a big problem. I finished in 3:47:38.
As soon as I finished I showered and headed into Old Town for a good meal. Estonia does represent a great tourist bargain unlike the 1st world countries in Europe. Dinner with soup, wild boar, a good bottle of French wine and dessert was less than $20 US!
The bus system, which I used frequently, was efficient for 50 cents a ride. But I would not be in a hurry to go back.
The next day I headed back to Helsinki via ferry again. I stayed three days in Helsinki. The downtown and harbor areas are small and compact so that one can walk everywhere if you have a hotel close by. Or you can buy a daily transport pass for 25 marks ($4 US) that allows unlimited travel on the local transportation. The prices in Finland are close to those of the US –maybe 10 to 20% higher in Helsinki.
After three days I figured it was time to get out of the city so I used my Scan Rail pass to travel to the Lake District 200 miles northeast. This area reminds me of northern Ontario or Minnesota; lots of forest and lakes. I stayed for three days in Savonlinna; a small town built on 5 islands chained together in Lake Saimaa. The islands are connected via bridges –three of them are only footbridges and they are small islands since I had to run around all five to get a 7-mile run in. But the area is so lovely and quiet. You can take cruises on the lakes on steamships to just view the scenery or visit other areas. One of the islands is occupied totally by the Olavinlinna Castle, a 500-year-old castle that the Swedes built to protect Sweden from Russia. The town converts the castle into an opera hall every year for the Savonlinna Opera Festival held during the month of July. Unfortunately I missed the opening performance by one day although they told me that the tickets are sold out a year in advance.
I enjoyed three wonderful days of peace and quiet and would love to go back to explore more of the area. By the time I left I was acting like the locals; sleeping in, walking around the lake, have a nap and go to dinner about 11pm on a patio beside the lake and watch the sunset. There is only about 3 hours of darkness before the sun rises again.
Then it was back to Helsinki on Friday evening to meet Nicole at the airport. We overnighted in Helsinki so I could guide her around in the morning before we caught a train to Turku, the oldest city in Finland.
Our first chore as usual was to find the registration/pick up office at the Paavo Nurmi Stadium to pick up my race number for the Paavo Nurmi Marathon. Paavo Nurmi was a famous long distance runner who lived and trained in Turku while winning 7 gold medals in the Olympics. The marathon is supposedly run over his training course.
I was concerned again about the heat wave than Eastern Europe was having but fortunately a storm front and rain came through on Sat night to cool it down. The marathon started at noon, which I don’t like because it makes it difficult to prepare for and then blows the whole day of the race. I met one of my 50+DC colleagues at the start line. He had just run a race in Norway.
It was very windy during the race so I had to tuck behind some runners and when I found myself with just another female runner around 12 miles I had to teach her to trade places and share the lead role running into the wind. We did this for about 5 miles until a group of men passed and I tucked in behind them. I had to let them go at mile 21 because they were running a sub 8-minute pace. But it was too late as my legs felt as if someone had attached 10-pound weights. So I started to slow down and sure enough my female companion passed me about mile 25. So I hung on to her for the last mile and had to sprint the final lap in the Paavo Nurmi stadium to beat her! I finished in 3:39!
Then it was a quick shower and Nicole and I walked along the Aura River stopping for a wine/beer or two on the many ship restaurants/bars.
We found a unique and interesting restaurant on the river that served only wild game and food found in the forests and streams of Finland. Nicole had wild boar, I had wild bear since I figured you can’t get BEAR in many restaurants. The sauces were made of wild berries like cloudberry and lingonberry. It was a very interesting meal and I did not complain about the cost even though it was more than we paid for the hotel for two nights.
Unfortunately we were unable to take any tours in Turku because we had to leave too early the next day to return to Helsinki to catch our flight home. But I did get to enjoy(?) part of the Ruiserock music festival (Metallica and others) that was playing on Ruissalo Island as the marathon course did two loops around the island while the bans were playing.
Now hopefully I can get some much-needed rest before we take off on our next adventure in two weeks. Stay tuned.

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