Aug. 30th, 2015

Day 10, Mon 24 Aug

There was no rush to get away this morning, as we had to wait until Shingo got a replacement number plate. It seems, the car in front braked to allow an ambulance to pass. For whatever reason, it passed between that car and Shingo. His bumper is damaged, but still on the car and usable, but he lost his number plate, which he replaced this morning.

So, it was around 11am that we hit the road. Our final destination was the university town of Tartu. Apparently, this university ranked along with Moscow as the best in the Soviet Union and is still highly regarded. We actually drove past Sigurda again, but stopped in Cesis, which is a very attractive town and boasts a rather fine ruin of a medieval castle. However, as time was pressing, our visit was rather short and we were on our way again, this time stopping near Voru to visit another ruined castle and its museum. Again, a fairly brief visit, as they had to come and extract me, as I was contentedly reading all the information panels.

Once we crossed the border into Estonia, our impression of the generally better look and feel of the country became apparent once more. Stina thought that, during the Soviet era, Estonia was actually regarded as the most 'Western' of all the Baltic states. Shingo said Tartu provided many of he engineers who worked on Soviet rockets, so perhaps Estonia was spared the worst excesses of Soviet repression. When I asked about the difference between here and Latvia, tina thought that, while Latvia had been making strides, they had more Stalinist/Soviet baggage to remove than Estonia had.

We finally rolled into Tartu around 7pm. Having dropped Aya off at their hotel we managed to find our way to ours. No credit to myself, however. Though I'd printed out a map, it was hopelessly inadequate, but Shingo's satnav was able to put street names to the bare bones of my map.

Our hotel is really a B&B in a traditional looking wooden house, tucked away on a quiet back road just out of the city centre. The room is basic, but clean and comfortable and has wi-fi and an en-suite shower and toilet. Having checked in we did not linger, but headed straight back to town to meet the others for dinner. Having driven through lunch with only an icecream for sustenance, we were quite ready for it. Stina, who knows the town quite well, took us to one of the best rated restaurants in Estonia and we were not disappointed. I had a pike-perch (whatever that it) that was cooked to perfection and everyone said how delicious their own meal was. My fish was Eu15, so not cheap, but I guess pretty fair for such quality.

The others planned to wander the town a while before turning in, but we headed straight back to our B&B, our car parking ticket having expired.

What we have seen of Tartu, it is a very pleasant looking place. Hopefully, we'll get a better look at it in the morning, before we finally have to return to Tallinn.
Day 11, Mon 25 Aug

After a breakfast cooked by our host, we packed our bags and loaded them into the car. However, I left the car at the B&B and we walked into the town. Our first stop was the ruins of the old cathedral, in which the first university library had been built, but was not the university museum. We climbed the old tower for a fine view over the town, then spent rather more time than we should have in the museum before heading into the town to get a few nibbling things. I returned to collect the car and we met up with the rest of our party at 1pm.

We drove to Alatskivi, where there is a schloss inspired by Balmoral. It is a very fine building and Stina posed for a photo outside the entrance. With its conically topped towers, I thought she should have been wearing one of those tall conical hats with a fine silk flapping in the breeze. The grounds were lovely too. Not as ornate as Rundale, but wooded with undulating grassy areas. We were booked in for our lunch, which was superb (though, again, not cheap).

We also visited a shore-side town on the inland sea the country shares with Russia. I even went for a quick paddle, before having to retrieve my shoes and head off to our net destination.

From there we visited a couple of ruined medieval castles, finally stopping in one of Estonias bog areas; Koitjärv bog. Estonia has about 7% of its entire land area as ancient bog, which is protected as of scientific significance. Shingo had some amazing photos of it in the early morning covered in mist.
Fri, 28 Aug

When we returned to the car park at Koitjarv, Aya went in Shingo's car to their hotel and left us to go to ours. We followed Shinigo towards Tallinn. However, there was some doubt as to whether we should follow him all the way or diverge somewhere. In the end, we lost him and found ourselves in an area unknown to us and unable to discover where we were. However, having questioned some locals (one pair of young men did not have much English, which surprised me) we eventually found out hotel right at the terminal of the Helsinki ferry. When Junko went into the budget hotel to check we were in the correct place, she was told we'd been upgraded to the 'posh' hotel just around the corner. Nice. Sadly, it was rather late by this time, so we were not able to avail ourselves of the free use of their swimming pool or spa.

In the morning, after an excellent feed, we drove out to the open air museum (http://evm.ee/eng/home), which contains a collection of old buildings transported there from all over the country. In the first complex, there was lots and lots of information and,true to form, I wanted to read it all. Consequently, it was almost 1pm when I emerged from that first exhibit and Aya & Kohe had arrived to join us. Having said that I spent an inordinately long time reading the exhibits, none of the other buildings had quite that level of information. Even so, there were still things we missed by the time we had to leave. I drove Aya and Kohe back to the middle of the city, to their hotel, said our farewells and drove out to the airport. We arrived just on the specified time of 7.30pm and the car rental bloke was there to meet us. A cursory check of the vehicle and we went on our way. Mind you, the thing was very dirty and will have to be thoroughly washed. I hope they don't find the scuff under the rear bumper or, if they do, just treat it was acceptable wear and tear.

We had quite a few hours to kill before our flight left at 11pm, but we could sit overlooking the nearby lake and browse the internet and nibble the snacks we'd bought earlier.

And, so back to Manchester, arriving only a few minutes late and took one of the black caps to our hotel. £11. This morning, we were told that, had we gone with this second company (unfortunately a phone call away, so we'd have to have known) it would have been a fixed fare of £6.

We got into bed around 2am and were up again at 6.30 to get a taxi back to Terminal 1 and our flight to Frankfurt and Osaka. All went smoothly. Even the excessive amount of luggage (usually 23kg, double that, this time) was received without a murmur.

Contrast our experience of security control at Manchester with Frankfurt airport; the latter had 15, yes 15! lanes open and staffed. When we were going through it was obviously between flights, as there were many standing idle. Poor planning or actually the reverse; getting ready for an influx? I suspect the latter.

The flight from Frankfurt was delayed by 3 hours, which was a bit of a drag, but nothing serious, and we left around 4.30pm local time instead of 1.30. The flight was fine. Actually, had I moved quicker, I might have got a row of 4 empty seats to myself, but others got there first. I dozed a little, but basically watched 3 films back to back.

We landed at Kansai at around 10am into glorious sunshine and, to be perfectly honest, rather warm and sticky air. Mercifully, it was not quite as hot as it has been of late.

So, bus from the airport then taxi and were met by Junko's Mum, as cheerful as always. I began emptying one suitcase, but wound up sleeping on the floor while Junko's Mum kindly cooked us a meal. She has an aircon running in the main room, but not in our bedroom. If it feels too hot in our room, which it might, as it is quite small, we may well end up sleeping on the floor next to Junko's Mum's bed.

postscript: though hot, we were able to sleep OK. In fact, I slept for about 14 hours, more or less uninterrupted, which is unheard of. We'll have to see if it's got me over any jet-lag.

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