05 November 2009
Paging Opel Astra. Open Astra, Come In.
As is always the case, situations change and you must change with them. Our plan was to buy a car relatively cheap and then sell it back in Greece at the end of the journey. That was foiled because it takes ten days to get registration and finding insurance was near impossible. Our plan was to camp our way through Eastern Europe. I was unaware of the fact that winter arrives in the summer here. It snowed today and the weather forecast calls for “heavy rain” the next few days. Oops? Fortunately, couchsurfing has gone really well and we’v not only had luck in nearly every city, but the people we’ve met have been wonderful!
The new plan then is to rent cars in each region for four to five days at a time and drive leisurely through big cities, small towns and the like with no fear of having to fix a blown gasket along the A1 in Lithuania (can you blow a gasket?) or ending up thousands of dollars in the red after getting in a fender bender sans proper registration or insurance. So far so good.
Martin of the “Tallinn Trio” booked us a car over the phone and arranged everything to a tee. All we had to do is pick it up and drive it away. Easier said than done. We arrived at the “office” to discover it was in a room on the fourth floor of the Hotel Metropol amidst guests and housekeepers. Knock knock. Nobody there. Knock knock. Nothing. Twenty minutes later the gentleman in charge arrives and we begin to fill out the mountains of paperwork while this same gentleman asks us every possible question about traveling in Russia. We’re politely answering but the only thoughts in my mind are “I really want to go now.”
He escorts us down to our Opel Astra (upgraded from the Renault Clio because they were out of them - AWESOME) and we find ourselves in monsoon rains and gail winds. This is the perfect day to be IN a car. All is clear, we drive him to the hotel door and we’re off. Well, we’re almost off. I haven’t driven stick in years and Matt found a page online called “so you want to drive stickshift...” so we’re both fiddling with levers, pushing buttons, testing the clutch, etc. before Matt inches (read jolts forward and backward) through the parking lot and onto the main road. “How is this legal?” I ask myself.
Fortunately, Matt found his clutch legs and we were off on freeway that had NO LINES on it. It looked more like an airport runway than a major highway. Opting for a slower place and winding roads, we turned off to a “second class road” (according to our map book) and found ourselves bobbing and weaving through the dense forests and manicured farms of Estonia’s countryside complete with falling snow and deer. It was somewhat surreal.
After a failed attempt at visiting the national park (the dirt road we were on literally ended without warning in an enormous pool of thick mud that took a good five minutes to crawl out of) we stopped in Tartu - the nation’s University town. In fact, every University is in this town, meaning every University student in the entire nation lives there. Luckily, there are some lovely museums and a monument dedicated to “the one hundred thousandth person to be born in the city” to keep them busy.
Then it was west along the country’s biggest lake and into Viljandi, where we booked a night at a lakeside B&B with a divine elderly woman who does not speak English. After signing our way through registration we ate some dinner and decided to retire. It was 8pm. In a matter of nine hours we criss-crossed through three quarters of Estonia, and it’s adorable.