Friday, April 29: Biking south on the Läänemaa Health Path
Weather: sunny, calm and warm all day/55F
- a gourmet breakfast at the Guesthouse's Café
- bicycling 25kms on the Laanemaa Tervisetee (Health Path) from Haapsalu to Pullapää in the sun
- seeing a snake, butterflies, colourful wildflowers, goldfinches, and maybe a towhee
- taking detours to the Paralepa Beach, Fra Mare Spa, Ungru Manor ruins, the Soviet army bunkers at Kiltsi and the Pullapää geologic sight
- eating a picnic lunch with a view of Haapsalu Bay
- strolling along the Promenade to the bird observation tower for views of seabirds
- eating too much dinner at Müüriääre Cafe
- having time to pack for an early bus ride tomorrow
- The Beguta Vegetarian Café didn't open until 9:00 and the Rattad Vaba Aeg Bike Rental until 10:00 but we couldn't sleep past 6:30, which gave us several hours to read, flesh out yesterday's journal and study maps. The cafe offered several vegetarian or vegan choices. I finally settled on Jerusalem Artichoke soup, which I had never tasted before, and a cheese and mushroom crepe (the menu called it a pancake but it was much lighter and thinner than an American pancake) with green tea. Hubby ordered an omelette with black tea. Both teas came as leaves steeping in a strainer in hot water -- as any good tea should. All the dishes were generously portioned. The soup was naturally sweet and creamy, but quite filling. By the time I was halfway through the two crepes I had to ask Hubby to help finish them, which he did willingly. His omelette came with a side of diced cucumbers and tomatoes.
- Having lots of calories to burn, we walked to the bike rental shop around the corner from the guesthouse. Rattad Vaba Aeg doesn't show up on Google maps but was mentioned on the Visit Estonia website (https://www.visitestonia.com/en/bike-rental-at-the-shop-rattad-vaba-aeg) which we referenced often during this trip. We were happy that the air was already warm with very little breeze. Hubby was given a man's recreational bike with wide tires and a straight handlebar. They gave me a lady's bike with very high handlebars and a wide, padded seat. The €10.00/day rate also included the bike helmets and some suggestions of places to see along the trail. The Läänemaa Health Path, or Läänemaa Tervisetee, is a 60km trail through Lääne County. Today we wanted to ride the southern portion, perhaps all the way to Rohuküla Marina if we were up to it. After a short test to be sure the seats were adjusted to the proper height we were on our own, riding 5 blocks on town streets before reaching an access to the trail near the beautifully restored Haapsalu Railway Station. Trains have not run to Haapsalu since 1995 so the station is being turned into a museum.
- There are several historic Russian train cars sitting on the tracks beside the 216-meter-long covered station platform, unique for its time. Russian Tzars and their families could not be expected to get wet walking from the station to their train! The station was one of the first built as Russia developed their extensive railroad network. The first train arrived in Haapsalu in 1904. The northern 50km section of the Läänemaa Tervisetee follows the Haapsalu rail line to the border of Lääne County. Today we planned to follow the shorter 10km southern section.
- The trail itself was mostly level with a good surface. The first section stayed close to a small inlet of Haapsalu Bay through a quiet, forested area.
- Hubby, with the map of the area already stored in his amazing brain, detoured us off the trail to Paralepa Beach, passing a small skateboard park, a primitive campground and a hotel. This sandy beach on the shore of Haapsalu Bay was somewhat protected from the Baltic Sea. The water was too dark to see the bottom. Nothing was open yet. The throngs of beachgoers had not yet arrived. Leaving the beach were many dirt trails through the trees. One of them passed the historic Fra Mare Thalasso Spa where Dr. Hunnius first studied the healing properties of the Baltic mud used here. This trail took us back to the Laanemaa Tervistee trail.
- We cycled south through sections of tall pines and birches interspersed with sunny, open, grassy sections. There were maps and signposts installed along the way but no kilometer markers. At the first intersection with a road we turned east, expecting to reach the ruins of Ungru Manor. Along the way a marker pointed out the old stone bridge marking a portion of the old road from Ungru Manor where it crossed Ungru Creek. After about 1.5km we reached a busy highway with no bike path to be seen. Rather than risk riding along the highway we backtracked to the trail and took the next road east, which brought us to the same highway but with the Manor on the other side. There, too, was the Old Oak which Peter I either ate his lunch under or planted. The Soviet Army's air strip was nearby but we weren't interested in risking a flat tire to ride around in the broken glass and metal shards there.
History of Ungru Manor: Since 1523 there has been a manor at Ungru, when it was officially separated from Kiltsi Manor. Swedish King Gustav II Adolf gifted the manor to Otto von Ungern-Sternberg in 1629. It is said that the park surrounding the baroque manor home built in 1630 was more remarkable than the structure itself. The family history relates that the owner's son, Evald, visited the Merseburg castle in Germany in the 1890s and fell in love with the princess there. She would not leave her father's beautiful castle but promised to marry Evald if he replicated the castle at Ungru Manor. Of course, the smitten son quickly returned to Ungru and immediately began the project. Once the exterior, including the 11 gables, was completed the son sent an invitation to the princess to visit Estonia. Alas, the princess had already died. The son died soon after in 1908. The manor, once worth 5 million gold roubles, now had no owner. It was never completed. Scavengers slowly pillaged the valuables and even the builders of the Soviet airbase used materials to patch its runways. In its day, it was one of Estonia's most beautiful renaissance architectures. Now the current owner protects the ruins, the only remaining token of a sad love story and a peek into a way of life in 19th C. Estonia.
- Returning from that detour we rode the trail to the intersection with the road to Pullapää, this time turning west towards the marshy shore of Haapsalu Bay. In a sunny section we saw a small black snake basking on the path. At a covered picnic table we took a lunch break -- smoked salmon on black bread and an apple. A few swans and ducks were busy out on the water. In this area the Soviet army had built many corrugated metal bunkers and covered them with earth to look like hills in the landscape. We thought it was a pity for them to go unused when they appeared to be so well insulated from the cold by their thick covering of grass and shrubs.
- Deciding to not ride further south we tried to explore the Bird Reserve Area, Pullapää Panga Hoiuala, and a unique geologic remnant -- Klindi Magi. This hill is a small inland terrace outcropping of Panga Cliff -- an escarpment of bedrock running from the islands off the western coast of Estonia all the way to Sweden. Only a geology lover trying to see every form of geologic oddity would find this jumble of ancient igneous stones lying on sedimentary layers as interesting as I did. (Later it was frustrating to not find much geologic info on the Panga Cliff escarpment anywhere on the internet. How did it form and when?) Soon after finding Klindi Magi the increasingly more boggy trail forced us to retrace our ride back to the main bike path and back to Haapsalu.
- After returning the bicycles we strolled through town to walk east on the Baltic Promenade to Africa Beach. The beach gets its exotic name from fancifull wooden carvings of wild animals created by Estonian artist Roman Haavamägi in the 1920s. They were mostly burned during WWII. The bird-watching tower at the far end of the beach seemed like a good place to see Haapsalu and the sea from a different perspective. According to the map in the tower, this was 1 of 6 towers ringing the small, protected bays off of Haapsalu Bay. Seeing the large swaths of marshy water, it was no mystery why migrating birds would want to stop here. From the top of the bird-watching tower we had no hope of identifying the white birds way out in the bay without binoculars -- the ones we left at home.
- On our walk back into town the Mary Magdalena Orthodox Church caught our attention. The construction of this wooden structure, the second on this site, was started in 1845. As was the first structure, it was intended mainly to serve the local aristocrats and military officers. After its consecration in 1852, however, its membership swelled significantly in the summers, thanks to Haapsalu's many holiday visitors. Like most of Estonia's historic architectures, this church suffered abuse and neglect during the anti-religious Soviet occupation. In 1996 it was opened and cleaned up for use as a house of worship once again. On-going restoration has continued since then, including the addition of two stained glass windows in 2012.
- Now we had to search out the Haapsalu Konsum to buy our "to go" breakfast for tomorrow morning -- kefir and a variety of breads (€5,61). The 1.5Km walk didn't take as long as we expected.
- It was really early to eat dinner but too late to return to the Beguta Guesthouse. We decided to stop at the Müüriääre Kohvik (Cafe) on Karja Street. Our small-ish, protein-based lunch left Hubby craving a carb-rich dinner. For a reasonable price (€20,00 with tip) we both found suitable menu items that were very delicious, if somewhat overly large for an evening meal. It was good we came in early -- a queue was forming by the time we were served.
- After dinner we packed our bags and climbed into bed, ready for an early bus ride tomorrow.
What we learned today:
- at breakfast I had my first taste of Jerusalem artichoke (maaprin) soup. These root vegetables can be left in the ground all winter and harvested in the Spring when no other fresh veggies are growing yet.
- Haapsalu is a quaint seaside resort town with plenty of activities at any time of the year