We leave Tallinn driving east along the Gulf of Finland. Our next stop is the Lahemaa national park, a wooded area with a low lobed coastline. Along the coast there are a number of former fishing villages, some with now abandoned factories for fish processing. We chose one of these, Viinistu, to be our base camp when exploring Lahemaa.
Even in this little village you can see the same phenomenon as in Tallinn’s Kalamaja, young people are giving new life to old factory halls. In Viinistu there’s a theater and a famous private art museum, some say it’s the best of its kind in all of Estonia. The lady in the ticket office is listening to the Cure, which is a good sign.
On our first day in Lahemaa national park we do two hikes, the first one along a meandering creek where there’s a beaver dam. We stand and watch it for a while, but see no beavers. So we continue to another trail that takes us to an environment with remarkable variety. It starts in a typical Baltic pine forest where the sandy ground is flat as a pancake and the tree trunks stand straight as soldier’s backs. Many tree trunks have spots where the bark is missing, this is caused by animals such as bear, lynx and moose marking their territory. Further on there’s a steep slope that was once the shoreline of the Littorina sea, an ice age lake.
We see neither bear nor lynx, but a moose cow is startled and runs away as we pass it. And we see a buzzard way off in the forest.
We now we enter a veritable jungle. The high green vegetation is driven by water streams coming from the old ice-age lake shore. That water, having been filtered through vast areas of sand is supposedly cleaner than tap water. But the moist air here also means lots of mosquitoes. Otherwise, the forest is extremely silent. It’s a silence we never experience at home, where there’s always some traffic noise coming from some direction.
There are not a lot of restaurants in Lahemaa, but there are some. A few kilometers away there’s a village called Altja, also an old fishing village, and there we find a rustic ”Körts”, or inn, in a traditional style. Sturdy benches by long tables, quite dark inside. But we sit outside and order a traditional meal, smoked pork with sauerkraut.
For the people in Altja and in other fishing villages in Estonia the second world war did not end well. The soviet occupants seized all boats and forced the fishermen into kolkhozes, to stop them from escaping, but also for internal control. It was forbidden to visit the beaches at certain times in the day.
Today most of the houses here are just summer cottages. But luckily the old fishing huts are still standing.
Viinistu, our base camp lies on a headland sticking out into the Gulf of Finland. On the other side of the headland we find a deserted city with partly dilapidated factories, workshops, garages and living quarters. It’s Suurpea, an abandoned former Soviet research station.
In its heyday Suurpea was full of life, some 700 Soviets lived here and they had a hospital, a school, an orphanage and restaurants. Some former inhabitants have witnessed that life was happy for them here by the sea. Today some 200 Estonians live here neighbours to the old ruins.
From the coast of the Gulf of Finland we now drive south-west down to another shore and an archipelago known for its beaches, spas and tourists. And we crash a champagne party!