Beautiful Camargue and San Sebastian Before Lisbon

The rest of the way to Lisbon went quickly. Audiobooks can really help driving long distances. I spent only two more nights before getting to Lisbon, but both of them in really beautiful places.

Saintes Maries de la Mer (Camargue)

From Genoa I drove straight to a small town of Saintes Maries de la Mer on the French Mediterranean coast. My brother-in-law recommended the place to me over a year ago already. He visited the place about fifteen years ago and it left an impression on him. As soon as I was closing in on the place, I realized why. It is located in the biggest river delta in Europe (Rhône) and the landscape is really impressive. The name of the area is Camargue and it’s been a protected natural reserve for almost a hundred years.

Camargue sunset in Saintes Maries de la Mer

The town itself is really pretty too. It reminded me a lot of Portuguese coastal towns. Even the food I had ended up being something I know very well from Portugal: a Dourada.

I did a long bike tour around the nature reserve in the morning and enjoyed the sea breeze and the views. I didn’t know that flamingos lived in Europe at all. But there were plenty of them in the park. Unfortunately I was unable to get close enough of them for good photos. But seeing them was still very impressive. There were also white horses around that roam the park freely. They are used by the local “cowboys” to herd the cattle, but most of the time they have free rein.

The white dots are flamingos.
San Sebastian once again

From Saintes Maries I drove straight to one of my favorite cities: San Sebastian. I got there pretty late, but I still went out and had pintxos and a glass of wine. There is something about that place that always feels very comfortable and homelike. Who knows, maybe I will drive all the way back up there for a while before Christmas. I also walked to see the beach in the dark and took a picture of it that turned up quite nice.

Evening in San Sebastian.
A night in rainy Lisbon and picking up my board

I did my personal record of driving in a day after leaving San Sebastian. I managed to do the whole 900 kilometers to Lisbon in a day. The previous day was long too. I’m convinced that an audio book made both of those long days behind the wheel possible. In this case it has been a book called Seveneves by Neal Stephenson. It’s a long one and the kind that you can miss some things without it being a problem.

In Lisbon I stayed at a park right next to the Dois Corvos taproom that I visited last fall too. I went there quickly for a small beer, but I had no energy to do much more than that. The long drive had taken its toll. I noticed that the place I visited twice last fall, the Fábrica Braço de Prata no longer has parking possibilities for campers, but the its culture offering is still going on normally. That’s really a shame even though honestly the facilities there were pretty horrible.

I spent another night in Lisbon and did my first workday from there. After I was done I went to pick up my board from Ana and then drove to Costa. I’ve been here since then. I surfed yesterday and today, so I’m back to my Portugal routine.

In Costa da Caparica again!

Italy Part Two: The Tuscan Capital (and Pisa)

This post is 95 percent Florence. That city is something else… As I told you at the end of the previous post, I also needed to have some repairs done. I did a quick stop by the leaning tower, but only because it was on my way forward.

The old renaissance capital Florence

Let’s start with a mind boggling fact that gives you some idea about the cultural and artistic magnificence of the city: According to UNESCO, about 60 percent of the world’s art treasures are located in Italy and about half of those are in Florence. I did my best at viewing a lot of those in my four days there. I bought the Firenze card that gave me access to most of the museums in the city and I used it to gain entry to sixteen places.

The history of the capital of Tuscany is really impressive. It is considered as the birth place of renaissance and home of one of the most famous noble families in the history, the Medicis. There’s a lot to see of the long history even without entering a single museum. The Arno river is also a sight in itself and the bridges crossing it are beautiful too.

The Ponte Vecchio over the Arno river.
The Florence Cathedral

On Sunday I concentrated on the Duomo, the Florence Cathedral. The entrance to the cathedral itself was free, but the baptistery, the bell tower, the cupola and two museums were something that needed a ticket. Unfortunately this was not something that was included in the bundle ticket that I had bought. I bought a ticket anyway, but decided to skip the cupola.

The baptistery and the cathedral.

I was very impressed with the Cathedral museum that had the previous facade of the cathedral rebuilt inside. There were also Donatello’s sculptures to admire.

Look at the facial details on this statue! It’s no wonder Donatello became one of the Ninja Turtles!

The Baptistery ceiling is unfortunately covered up because of restoration at the moment. The building was still interesting to visit, but the highlight of it was out of sight. The bell tower had a pretty view, but it took some sweating to climb up in the hot weather. The final thing that I visited was the museum below the cathedral that showed the excavated remains of the previous church (Santa Reparata) and told the history of the history of the beginning of the city.

Classical masterpieces

I visited the Accademia and the Uffizi galleries. The first one I lined up for more than two hours to, because I didn’t read the fine print saying that you should reserve the entrance time. I did not do the same mistake for the latter and booked one in advance. In general, I enjoyed the latter much more too. The Accademia had of course the David, but besides that not so much that I found interesting. In Uffizi there were so many things to see that ita was hard not to lose the concentration and miss things.

The David statue by Michelangelo (Galleria dell’Accademia).
Michelangelo’s painting clearly shows his fondness for sculptures. Some of the poses are very statue like. (Galleria degli Uffizi)
Caravaggio’s Medusa was one of my favorites in the Uffizi gallery. The eyes really look alive and horrified. (Galleria degli Uffizi)
Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, one of the highlights. (Galleria degli Uffizi)
Beautiful views and gardens

The most famous spot for sunset photos in Florence is the Piazzale Michelangelo. I took a bus up there and enjoyed the views (not so much the crowds) for more than two hours. It really was worth the hype and it makes sense that so many people come there.

A sunset view of Florence from the Michelangelo square.

The Boboli gardens are a part of the Palazzo Pitti complex that houses several museums and the gardens that basically works as an open air museum. I visited the museums too, but after Uffizi and dell’Accademia they were not really that impressive. Of course the old palace rooms were absolutely stunning, but the offering of those had already exceeded the point of being interesting. The gardens I really liked though.

The cypress lane in the Boboli gardens.
The Buontalenti grotto in the Boboli gardens.
The Belvedere (just above the Boboli gardens) had a modern art exhibition. After seeing classical masterpieces, it was a welcomed change. (Artist: Nico Vascellari)
The repairs

On Monday morning I walked over to a car mechanic close by that I was recommended by the guy working at the park in Scandicci where I spent the first two nights. They told me that I need a body shop and recommended two places that were not too far. I drove to the first one later and they told me that they didn’t have time the next couple of days. He called another shop not too far away and told me to go there instead. The guy working at that place told me (via Google translate) to come back after three and he would fix my bumper and put back the bottom plate that I had to take off.

After about an hour of work he was done and my bumper was most likely better than it was before the accident. Not like new and of course the crack in the front is not completely hidden, but he added screws to other spots too that had lost some earlier. I was a hundred Euros poorer for that, but I did not mind at all. Good and fast service and the language barrier was not a big obstacle either.

The leaning tower on the way west

After a full morning in running around museums and looking at the Boboli gardens, I decided that it was time to give up and leave Florence behind. The Firenze card had also expired and to be bluntly honest, I could not imagine going to another museum any time soon.

I had noticed that the city of Pisa was on my way west from Florence so I decided to take a late lunch break there and go see the leaning tower. It would have been possible to buy a ticket to go up the tower too, but I did not have the energy nor the patience to line up for that. So I just marveled the tower from the outside for some time. I had not imagined being so massive. It’s not that tall, but it was bulkier than I had expected.

The leaning tower of Pisa.

After leaving Pisa I drove a couple of more hours west to a parking spot in Genoa. That was my last night in Italy before going to France. But more about the rest of the journey to Portugal in the next post coming soon.

Italy Part One – Trieste, Palmanova and Venice

It’s time to cover the next country on my way. There’s no way to fit all in one post, so this will just be the first part. If Slovenia was mainly about nature, Italy was arts and history – and lots of it…

Quick stop in Trieste

I drove to Trieste and really had problems finding my way to the camper park. I drove by the place twice before getting there. But then I had the next frustration… The parking meter only took coins and I could not get in since I was missing a euro. There was nothing around that looked like it could give me the change so I decided to go for a plan B. I parked at a free spot a bit further from the downtown area that was free, but a bit dodgy looking. I didn’t get into any trouble though.

Trieste also was a part of the Habsburg empire, just like most of Slovenia. It used to be the empire’s Mediterranean port city. You could definitely see it in the architecture. The city did not really impress me that much so I only stayed for a night and continued ahead after having breakfast.

The Mediterranean sea from Trieste.
An old acquaintance: Palmanova

Since the old fortress town of Palmanova was on my way to Venice, I decided to stop there for a bit. I visited the town in the spring of 2007 when I was living in Salzburg. It was a trip organized by the pedagogical institute that I was doing my assistant teacher posting at. Nothing much had changed, but nothing much can in a town protected by UNESCO.

Palmanova, strange relic of a town.
Look Palmanova up in Google maps to see the form. This is part of the fortress walls.
And now for something completely different: Venice

Somehow it felt difficult to appreciate the things I saw in Ljubljana and also in Trieste. After leaving Trieste I was sure that I just couldn’t handle cities anymore that I had reached a saturation point of a kind. I was wrong.

In so many ways, Venice is just crazy! The amount of tourists for one. The rising sea levels and the weird labyrinthian and almost claustrophobic feeling of the old town to name a couple of more reasons. Apparently if the city is different enough from the rest I have no issues. I stayed there just for two days and spent most of the time just wandering around the old city. I could have stayed longer too, but after the two days, I had had enough of the masses of people.

San Marco square in Venice.
Plenty of narrow streets in Venice. Two people can not fit side by side without turning a bit sideways.
The grand canal at sunset.
Gondoliers at work.

I stayed at a campsite that was really quite nice. It had a pool that I used a lot for swimming laps and a bus connection to the old city was very good. It was more expensive than normal campsites, but it was also close to something quite special so I didn’t mind. But there was something I gave them negative feedback for…

Why should you do things the way they’re meant to be done

When I checked out and was ready to leave I made a dumb mistake. There was no one parked at the slot in front of me so I decided to take the “easy” way out and drive straight to the road leading out of the campsite. It seemed like a good idea until I heard a cracking sound. That’s when I remembered that there was a thick wooden pillar with the slot numbers just in front of my bumper. The pillar was still stubbornly there, the bumper had not bothered it much, but unfortunately the same could not be said vice versa. A bottom plate was hanging on the ground and there was a deep crack in the bumper itself.

The broken bumper and the culprit.

I walked back to the reception and told them that I drove to one of their place marks and they said that this was ok. Apparently everyone does it. I told them that it is not ok with me and that I might need some extra time. I also gave them an idea that they might want to consider putting something higher than just the 20 cm pillar to mark the slots.

Since it was Saturday, there was no place open that could do some fixing work so I took off the part that was hanging loose (luckily just four screws) and decided to continue as planned to Florence. That ended up being a good choice, but more about that in the next post.

Slovenia – Natural Wonders and Pretty Cities

The past few days I have been in Slovenia. I stopped in two cities briefly before heading to the heights and depths.

City hopping

I stopped for a few hours in Maribor right after entering Slovenia. The city itself was nice, but unfortunately the riverbank is being renovated at the moment and it was just a big construction site. So I decided to continue my journey.

Ljubljana was up next. It’s Slovenia’s capital and much bigger than Maribor. I parked in a mobile home park outside of the city. It wasn’t much really, but there was a 20 minute bus connection to the city and it worked really well for me.

Looking up to the castle of Ljubljana

I enjoyed the hustle and bustle of the Saturday night, but then quickly noticed that I was too tired. On Sunday I visited the castle on top of the city and did plenty of walking in the downtown area. The museum inside the castle had plenty of information about Slovenian history. I really needed that, because I must admit that I was not very well informed before.

Dragon is the symbol of Ljubljana and it is a very common sight in the city.
The Ljubljana castle courtyard.
The view from the castle was really nice, but the weather could have been better.
The Triglav national park – finally some real mountains

I drove up north to the only Slovenian national park next. And it was a treat! I had thought about climbing the highest peak in Slovenia (Triglav 2864 m), but unfortunately that would have needed at least one night sleeping somewhere. Going up in a day is doable, but back down on the same day is too much. I neither have the equipment for sleeping and I wasn’t sure about my physical condition either. But luckily there were plenty of other options.

Lake Bohinj in the Triglav national park.
The rest of the morning mist hanging before the mountains.

The first morning I packed a day bag and put on my hiking shoes. I drove to the end of the Lake Bohinj with my bike and then hiked to the Savica falls. The hike itself was simple and about six kilometers one way. The final steps to the waterfall were the toughest part, but the view was pretty and the climb was well worth the effort.

Sava Bohinjka river.
The Savica falls.

The first day also served as a scouting trip to the other trails in the park. I passed a tempting sign about a trail climbing a very steep hill. There was a QR code pointing to this video. That dissuaded me. My will to live is too strong. But I found an option for the next day that was demanding enough, but not too crazy.

The next morning I woke up early, bought some fresh bread rolls from the bakery and drove Naranja below the Vogel ski center where I had a quick breakfast. I took the first cable car up the rock wall to 1500 meters. From there I started my hike to the Vogel summit in perfect weather and stunning views.

The view from the top of the cable car ride to the still cloudy morning of Bohinj valley.
A bunch of cairns (please don’t build them) and the view to the mountains on the other side of the valley. Triglav is the highest peak.
A long morning shadow downhill.
Most of the trek was just breathtakingly beautiful.
On top of the windy Vogel summit (1922 m).
A view to the west from the summit.

The climb was absolutely stunning! The weather was completely clear, but there was a strong wind that made my stop on the summit shorter that I had planned. Everything went without problems, but about a kilometer before the end the sole of my left shoe started flapping and by the time I got back to the cable car, it was more than half off. I hope that I can still get it fixed at a shoe repair guy somewhere. That was a clear sign that it was time to do other things.

The Skocjan caves

The UNESCO world heritage site close to the Italian border was my last stop in Slovenia. I read about the place in the karst museum in Talpoca and I decided that it might be worth a stop. It was! Cameras weren’t allowed in the first part of the three hour tour that went through the broader caverns full of impressive stalactites and stalagmites.

The exit of the first part of the tour.
Waterfalls in the sinkhole.

The scale of the caves is really mind boggling. The underground canyon is up to 140 meters deep and some chambers could easily fit a big cathedral inside. The big collapsed doline (sinkhole) where the river goes underground and the caves begin is also very impressive.

The overview of the sinkhole where the caves begin.
Summing up Slovenia

I wanted mountains and I got them! The country definitely left a positive impression on me. It’s really hard to see it ever being behind the iron curtain. Everything reminded me so much of Austria. Of course historically it makes sense, because most of the country was under the Habsburg rule for over 500 years. But still it was surprising how “western” it felt. Hungary for me was much more exotic and strange for me.

Beautiful Lake Balaton on the Way to Slovenia

After staying a couple of extra days in Budapest after the games, it was time for me to move on. My plan ahead is to continue to Slovenia next. The lake Balaton region just happened to be on my route so I decided to give it a couple of days too. No regrets! It has been pretty!

Lake Balaton – the biggest lake in Central Europe

As the heading above states, Balaton is a big one here in Central Europe. But to give it some perspective for my Finnish readers, it would only be the eight largest lake in Finland. Of course the Finnish lakes mainly look very different than the open and basically islandless Balaton.

The lake was formed just 15-17 thousand years ago, which is rather recently geologically speaking. There is a chance that the whole lake may disappear in the next 40 years if the climate change has its way. The heat waves and droughts in the last years have already made the lake lose a lot of it’s water.

Balaton from the eastern end.
The Balaton region: Balatonfüred, Tapolca and Hevíz

The northern side of Balaton is a big wine area that mainly produces white wine. I stayed in Balatonfüred on the north side for the first night and went exploring with my Brompton. The road up the hill to one small winery was a tough climb, but well worth it. I had a glass of their Sauvignon Blanc and enjoyed the scenery. It would have been nice to try another one of their wines too, but since five kilometers of biking downhill was waiting for me I didn’t feel comfortable having more.

The view from down to Balaton from the Homola winery (seriously, that is the real name).

I stopped in Tapolca a little north of the lake for another night. The main attraction there is the partly water filled cave under the town. Only a part of it can be visited and you can take a boat and paddle around a narrow path. The cave itself continues in many directions and there are more than five kilometers of caves underneath the town, some of which still unexplored. Above the cave there was a karst museum that had some interesting geological facts to tell.

Tapolca cave boat trip.

The town of Tapolca was pretty above the ground as well. I enjoyed a nice double espresso (or Eszpresszó as the Hungarians like to spell it) this morning on the terrace on the left in the picture below.

Pretty Tapolca.

I had one more stop left before saying my goodbyes to the lake region. Since I forgot to visit the baths in Budapest, Elina suggested that I should go for a swim in a thermal lake in the town Hevíz. It was pretty much on my way so I decided to give it a go.

I paid an entrance fee of4500 HUF (about 12€) for three hours and then I had to walk a bit until the lake appeared. It was bigger than I imagined and there was plenty of room even in the showers and dressing rooms. The water had a little bit of sulfuric smell, but you got used to it quite soon. The water was 35 degrees warm which somehow felt a bit wrong in the beginning. I took two long swim sessions and then walked around the place. I noticed that the lake area has several entrances and also a separate wellness and sauna area. It wasn’t included in the price so I skipped that.

The Hevíz thermal lake park area.
The blue mineral water of the thermal lake.
Heading to Slovenia tomorrow

I’m now in Nagykanizsa just a few kilometers from the border to Croatia and Slovenia. I’m parked next to a narrow lake and this is where I’ll sleep tonight. I might go for a run around the lake tomorrow morning, because there seems to be a nice path for running all the way around.

I have already looked up a couple of spots in Slovenia that seem interesting and I’m really looking forward to some mountains! It has been a long time since I saw some real mountains up close.

The Athletics World Championships and the Sweltering Budapest

Unforgettable nine days of excitement and and fun but also of extreme heat are now over. The games had several competitions that were very exciting right in to the last attempt/meter. Some incredible last attempt gold turnovers in a couple of disciplines and even a medal for Finland. But the temperatures were above 30 degrees (centigrade) every day except for the first day. There were some days that it was more than 35 degrees.

Nemzeti Atlétikai Központ (The National Athletics Center)
Nine busy days of spectator sports

I had a ticket to all the sessions, but I had to skip a a couple of morning sessions because of my work and the Saturday morning session too because of the heat. Otherwise I sat in sector 218, row C and seat 3 of the National Athletics Center for the whole games. I had never been to an event this big and I was a bit afraid how stressed out I would be because of the crowds. I wasn’t really at all. Of course lining up in the heat to get in was not always that much fun, but other than that everything was pretty smooth.

I took public transportation for about half the times I went to the stadium and the other half I used my Brompton. It was a bit faster to use my bike for the 11 kilometers than taking the bus-subway-tram combo. I also managed to get a slight sunburn on the first Sunday while biking back from the morning session. Also no matter how slowly I tried to go, I was quite sweaty when I got to the stadium. But even the public transport was sweaty.

Probably the most interesting events for me were the heptathlon, decathlon, women’s pole vault and men’s javelin just to name a couple. The expectations for the first Finnish medal after a long dry spell were high in the women’s pole vault. Wilma Murto managed to get a bronze medal which was almost a disappointment. She had done so well in the previous important finals of her career.

Heptathlon 200 meter start
Holidays and being a tourist in Budapest

As I said in the beginning, I still had to work for the first week in Budapest. But now I’m on my three week holiday. I stayed at the campsite for a couple of more days and visited the city and it’s sights. Elina gave me a lot of helpful tips and ideas, because she used to live in Hungary for some time.

Szimpla kert, a bar in a ruined building.
Szimpla kert interior design. (Yes, it’s an old pommel horse in the back.)
Országház (Hungarian Parliament Building) from the castle hill.

The Memento Park was one place that I regretted not visiting on my first trip to Budapest in 2005. It is a collection of the Soviet era statues and memorials from the city and it’s also documenting the history in other ways. The most creepy thing there was the video installation that was edited out of the secret police training videos. Now I know how to do a house search carefully without the inhabitant finding out…

Very much a Soviet statue!
Stalin’s boots. This is a replica of the boots that were left of Stalin’s statue after the Hungarian Revolution in 1956.

Trip to Budapest – Six Workdays – Each from a Different Country

I had a crazy five days of working and driving coming down from Pärnu Estonia to Budapest. The following I would not recommend to anyone. I also had a chance to make a stopover in Riga and continue a tradition from last year.

Leaving Pärnu and meeting Ville

On Monday after I had said goodbyes to Elina and finished off my work, I drove straight to Riga. I parked in the same parking lot that I used the last time. The reason for my stop was that Ville had just gotten there from Vilnius where he spent a week with her mom and sister. Last August we drove to Riga together and spent a couple of days there. This time it would only be one night and a quick early dinner after work on Tuesday. Riga was as pretty as I remembered! We took a nice photo of us sipping cocktails in the same bar where we took a similar picture in the post linked above.

Ville and me sipping cocktails again.
The crazy part begins

On Monday I had worked from Pärnu (EST) and Tuesday from Riga (LAT). So far I had not done a lot of driving and working, but that needed to change now. I realized a bit late that the distance from Riga to Budapest was about 1500 kilometers (or about 18 hrs) and I needed to be in Budapest on Friday and also work full eight hour days.

From Riga I drove to Marijampolé (LIT) for the night and for Wednesday to work (a gas station). On Wednesday I continued to Kamieńsk (POL) and worked from a city office parking lot on Thursday. After work I continued across the border to the Czech Republic, but since I still had ways to go I continued to Slovakia and stopped in Beckov for the night.

That was already close enough to Budapest so that I dared to look around a bit too. I had worked just below the Beckov castle and I took a stroll during lunch break to take a couple of snapshots of it.It is impressively built on top of a small the cliffs. I did not go up to the castle though.

The Beckov castle

On Friday I still had about 300 kilometers left but the drive went quickly and even the city of Budapest wasn’t too difficult to navigate. I got to the campsite on time and settled in. I was really tired and pretty much just went to bed because I had stuff to do the next morning. That’s the topic for my next post. But since this was just five workdays and five countries, I’ll skip for a bit. Since on Monday I worked from Budapest that makes it the sixth consecutive workday each from a different country. This is an accomplishment of sorts, but not recommended…

Estonia Holiday – History, Baths and Nature

After I got rid of my apartment I still took a couple of days to say goodbyes and to get ready. The first leg of the tour was to Estonia. Except for some trips to Tallinn and the drive through to Riga last August, I had no other experiences of the country. This was about to change.

There’s something else that I haven’t told you yet. I met someone special, Elina and we ended up spending a lot of time together during the summer. She also came with me for the first eleven days of the trip in Estonia. Below is the approximate route we took.

Estimate on the Estonia tour
The approximate route in Estonia (Google maps image)
Rummu and the trip to Pärnu

The first stop down from Tallinn was the Rummu quarry. It has been abandoned since the early 90’s and the groundwater that used to be pumped out has now completely filled it. It was operated by the inmates of the nearby prisons but when the Soviet times ended, the quarrying of limestone stopped. I didn’t take my phone with me so I have no pictures of my own, but there’s plenty of cool underwater pictures here for example. The place was eerie in many ways… We took a paddle boat and saw old buildings and trees left underwater.

My trusted Park4Night app showed a recommended spot in the forest about half an hour south of Rummu. It was one of the free RMK (Estonian state forest management) sites that are plentiful around Estonia.

In the morning when we we’re ready to continue toward Pärnu, we noticed the likely reason for this RMK spot’s location: the Varbola stronghold. It is the remains of about 800 years old fortress. It was still easy to imagine how the ring fort had been a safe place to defend.

Beautiful snake head carved out of a tree.
A kind of trebuchet. This and other objects have been constructed during symposiums held at the fortress.

Tori was our last stop before Pärnu. It’s famous for the oldest horse breeding stables in Estonia (since 1856) and also known for local cider. We had lunch next to the stables and tasted the excellent cider too. We stopped by at the church and also climbed down to “Tori Hell” along the shore of Pärnu river. Unfortunately there’s not much more to see there, but it was easy to imagine how the stories about the devil living in a deep cave under the cemetery got started.

Tori church
Pärnu and a quick tour south

We hadn’t planned much for the trip except for a stop in Pärnu. Elina knows the city fairly well since her parents used to live there for some time and she was eager to show it to me. The first stop we made was the Viking Spa. It was a small but really pretty place that I would definitely recommend. Plenty of different saunas to try out and also relaxing hot tubs.

The next couple of days we just enjoyed the beach, good food and the city itself. Pärnu has really pretty parks and a lovely beach right in the city.

Pärnu has lovely parks and curious trees in them.
The city is really green and pretty even outside the parks.
The Pärnu beach on a windy day.
Setting sun and rain near Valgeranna (just a little west of Pärnu).

The first two nights we slept on the side of a quiet street near the Yacht club, but then we escaped the city and drove south. For a night we drove down along the coast to Kabli and spent a night at a tiny campsite there. The road was marketed as “romantic coast road”, but to be bluntly honest, it was not really that special. The highlights were the pretty coastal meadows in Kabli and Häädemeeste.

Then we returned Pärnu for some quick laundry and continued a bit northwest to Audru. We stayed a couple of nights at the nicest campsite I’ve ever been to, the Solar caravan park. Everything was exceptionally clean and well thought of there and I had good internet for working too. The location itself was nothing special, since it was buil on an old flat field, but everything else was really astounding. The owners clean the place meticulously and I’m convinced that this is why the guests also want to help keep it that way.

Road tripping

Our next goal was to head east toward Tartu but we didn’t plan it much at all. We made random stops along the way and saw some really nice things. Among the most memorable were the caves in Helme. It was too scary to go too deep inside the pitch black caves, but it still was tempting. There’s also a ruined castle on top of the caves that has been made look really pretty. I don’t know if it’s a good thing to make something old look pretty and new, but without the white new plaster between the stones we would probably not have stopped.

Helme castle walls.

We spent the first night on this tour in Vooremägi just next to the southern tip of the lake Võrtsjärv. Apparently there has been some sort of fortress on top of the hill at some point, but there weren’t many signs of it left. It was a quiet spot and I was able to work from there nicely.

From there we continued to Otepää (famous for winterports). It was a really small town but with a lot of history. It’s one of the oldest settlements in Estonia dating back at least to 1116 (first written evidence). There are castle ruins on top of a hill there too that are the oldest parts of the settlement as well. The town itself has grown around the hill. I really liked the hilly scenery there and it was also interesting to see the place where cross country skiing and biathlon events take place every winter.

Otepää sign with the old fortress hill in the background.
A view from the fortress hill.
Heading back to Pärnu – Viljandi and Soomaa

From Otepää we headed north back to the shore of Võrtsjärv to another nice campsite. We spent a couple of days there and then decided that we would skip Tartu and head back toward Pärnu. We only had a couple of days left and Pärnu was a good spot for me to continue south and for Elina to take the bus to Tallinn. But there were still things to see on the way too.

We stopped in Viljandi first without really looking into it at all. It was smaller than Pärnu, but it didn’t disappoint us! It also is one of the oldest settlements in Estonia and it also has a fortress. The view from the fortress down to lake Viljandi was really nice as were the fortress ruins themselves.

Looking down from the Viljandi fortress.
A suspension bridge crossing a moat.

From Viljandi we headed west to the Soomaa national park where we spent a night at another RMK site. The next morning we took a little hike near by and it looked a lot like Lapland: flat bogs as far as eye could see. The Ingatsi trail that we hiked also had small platforms built next to the small ponds and a lot of people were swimming there. We didn’t take our swimming gear with us so we skipped that part.

Ingatsi trail scenery from the viewing platform.
Small ponds in the swamp.

For the last night in Pärnu we decided to take a hotel room from the spa hotel Tervis. We had good dinner and then headed to the spa. It was ok too, but I think I preferred the first one we visited the first day in Pärnu. On Monday it was time for me and Elina to go our separate ways. That wasn’t easy since it will be December until we see each other again.

A Quick Update: Freedom

Now I’m officially homeless. I just dropped off the apartment keys and now I’m free. Off to Helsinki tomorrow and then to Tallinn on Wednesday.

Moving is not fun. I didn’t remember it was that bad. And the final cleaning really sucked… But it’s all done now and I feel free now!

I have a couple of things left to do here today before I’m off. I have an appointment to wash Naranja at two PM and I’m planning to do some inside cleaning myself too.

Homelessness Is Around the Corner – In a Manner of Speaking at Least

I still have a couple of weeks of normal living to go before my apartment goes. Also I’ve been doing some upgrades and maintenance to Naranja and the plan for the departure date is also getting clearer.

Emptying and sorting out

There’s still a lot to do with packing and getting rid of stuff, but I’m getting there. I have already packed my winter clothes and sorted out all the papers that had stacked on two cupboard shelves. I’ve also already joined a recycling Facebook group that helped me get some of my furniture for free when I moved in. I’m planning to give some of them back for free and also some I bought from flea markets.

I also found a place that is looking for donations so at least some of my plants and probably my sofa as well will get a new home there. I might also leave my guitar there at least until I feel like getting my next apartment. The place is a house for girls that just started here in Jyväskylä this spring and they are still building up their premises.

Naranja upgrades

I did some stuff on my own and even if it’s not a whole lot, I’m proud of myself. I replaced the car radio that had issues with setting the volume and had no way of connecting my phone to it. Since I discovered audio books this spring and they have made long drives much easier. So I ordered a cheap Chinese Bluetooth radio and installed it and so far I’ve been happy with it.

I also ordered and installed a blind to my Maxxfan. It was a bit more challenging to install, but I got that done too. Here in Finland where the nights are very light, it has been very helpful. It also has a LED light that gives a lot more light to the bed area and especially the cupboards.

Blind on
Light on

The third update was mainly a cosmetic one. I got a new floor mat to the driver floor. The one I had was a little ripped and very dirty. I also got two little mats for the steps for getting in.

Setting the departure date and plan for the first week

I’m most likely hitting the road on the first of August. I need to give up the apartment the day before and I’m also planning to go on a boat trip with my friends then. So there’s still some maybes there and I’m not leaving in the morning at least.

Then the idea is to spend the next week driving around in Estonia and maybe Latvia. I only have one week off work there, but Budapest is not that far away and I only need to be there on the 19th.