Sue and Martin above Zermatt - 2018

Sue and Martin above Zermatt - 2018
On the Archduke's Path in Mallorca
Showing posts with label Estonia. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Estonia. Show all posts

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Tartu Ski Marathon Trip 2017 – Index and Summary


This was an Exodus Travels trip – cross country skiing in Estonia culminating in a ski marathon race.

Sue and I booked on the trip after Susan and Roy (Connecticut) found it. Ken and Helen (Ottawa) also enrolled. There were 14 others on the trip, together with Andy, the Exodus leader. They surprised us by virtue of all knowing each other from previous trips!

Can you spot everyone in the picture above, which was taken by Jűri, the local ‘fixer’ for Exodus? From L to R: Elly, Martin, Karen, Jenny, Steve, Sam, Stephen, Maureen, Roy, Ken, Phil, Mat, Helen, Sue, Tania, Trevor, Jim, Shane, Andy, Gareth and Susan. (You can click on the pictures for a larger version, which you’ll find anyway in the slideshow.

Sue and I travelled via an impromptu birthday party in Solihull.

The Cambridge Hotel near Gatwick proved a good place to stay and leave the car for a week, before we headed via EasyJet to the Tallink Spa Hotel in Tallinn and attempted a brief ski at Pirita (see ‘On the Piste Again’) before adjourning to a restaurant that in my blog entry I may have incorrectly named ‘The Golden Pig’. Anyway, the food was good and I was glad I chose the chicken in favour of the gigantic pig shanks. This was near the central square, where the Town Hall dates from the 14th Century and is the oldest in the Baltic region. (Tallinn is the capital of Estonia, situated on the Baltic Sea, a short ferry ride from Finland.)


So that was Monday.

We spent Tuesday based in Tallinn, which proved an interesting place to visit. My blog entry for the day is here.

The morning saw us on our skis again – most of us had now managed to get equipment that matched and fitted (yesterday I’d had skis and poles that fitted, and boots that fitted, but the ski bindings weren’t compatible with the boots!). We went to a rather icy area of artificial snow tracks – Nomme, where Sue is pictured with Andy.


Tuesday afternoon’s walking tour of the old city was enjoyable; it would have been more so had we bothered to don our down jackets.


Wednesday (blog entry here) saw us on a bus to Otepää, with a 16 km ski around artificial but enjoyable trails a stone’s throw from our hotel.


On Thursday (blog entry here) we were joined for the morning by a leading Estonian skier, Martti Himma, who demonstrated some warm up exercises and techniques.


The afternoon found four of us who were either crocked or had done enough laps of the 6 km ski circuit, strolling around the perimeter of the ski area, past a lake, a cemetery and a large church, and enjoying a long, lazy break for drinks and cake at Elsa’s tearoom.


Susan and Roy decided to pose on part of the National Geographic Yellow Windows Culture Route.


Friday was Sue’s 50th birthday. We had about an hour’s coach journey to Haanja, where the skiing was limited but good. My blog entry is here.

We spent an enjoyable time on a lake, where Andy captured the ambience in this image.


Saturday was a day off skiing for most of us. It was ‘A Trip to Tartu and a Race’ day.

Several of us bought these Salomon trail shoes for €65, which I’m told was a good price.


In the afternoon, three of our number, Andy, Shane and Sam, had entered a race in which they were to complete two and a half laps of the 6 km loops – 16 km.


Here they are after the race. Their times appear later.


Sunday was ‘Race Day’ for all of us. The elite race started at 9 am, and was the only one in which proper timing splits and age category positions were recorded in the official results.


The Exodus Travels group embraced a lone Canadian elite skier – Karen, who dressed as Superwoman and completed the 34 km race in 2 hours and 4 minutes.


The faster members of our group set off at 11 am. This chicken was faster than any of them.


Roy had to strain every sinew to keep ahead of the injured Susan.


Some of the rest of us took advantage of the free meal offered by the organisers prior to our 2 pm start. The food wasn’t very appetizing.


Whilst Helen and Jim did the short ‘Half Marathon’ two and a half lap route, the rest of us went for the 34 km, five and a half laps option. During the race it started to rain and the tracks got icy, so after four hours the race was stopped for reasons of safety. That meant that Jenny, Karen and Maureen didn’t manage all of the final half lap, but they did over 30 km in the slightly challenging conditions.

Our times are shown below. As the race took place in seven waves over two days, all with different track conditions, the organisers haven’t bothered to provide the normal age category positions and other data for non elite participants, which I think is fair enough – it would be pretty meaningless.


I’ve uploaded quite a few pictures that can be viewed as a slideshow here. If those on the trip let me know if they want any of the images at their full size, I’ll send them on.

Despite the poor snow conditions, this was an excellent trip in the best of company. I think you may see us again. Special thanks to Andy for managing to handle the large group with ease and keeping us well informed as to ‘what happens next’.

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Back Home

An easy journey back from Estonia saw us up pleasantly early this morning thanks to the two hour time difference.

The snow outside is melting soon after it lands, so we aren't about to rush off to Alpenstock to borrow some of Josie's skis!

It was a lovely trip in the best of company, despite the problems with the lack of snow. Well organised by Exodus and well led by Andy and Gareth. Thank you to all concerned.

The sleety weather outside should be an encouragement to sort out the photos from the past week, to the background hum of the washing machine. ..

Sunday, 26 February 2017

The Tartu Ski Marathon

We did it. I'll post the full results in due course, but I took about 3 hours 14 minutes for the 34 km and Sue was about five minutes behind me.

Superwoman, aka Canadian Karen, who most of our group know, finished 12th in the women's race, in a shade over two hours.

The pictures, apart from Phil's beauty contest with a Lumi model, were taken this morning. I didn't take a camera with me for the race as it was raining.

Saturday, 25 February 2017

A Trip to Tartu and a Race

Today a coach ride to Tartu found us at an Expo building - an impressive place that may have supplanted a former Soviet airstrip - and registering for a ski race that takes place today and tomorrow. 

We also went shopping around the enticing stalls at the Expo, and at least five of us were captivated by some pretty Salomon trail shoes, which we snapped up for about half their price in the UK.

The Tartu Ski Marathon is normally a 63 km cross country ski race that travels through the Estonian countryside in the shape of a walking stick, starting in the stadium a few metres away from our front door, outside which Sue is pictured.

Last year the race was cancelled due to a paucity of snow. This year there is even less snow, but in a bid to avoid bankruptcy the organisers have elected to change the route to five and a half laps of the artificially produced course here at Otepää. 

The race now takes place in six 'waves' of 500 to 600 people in each. There's also an option to do two and a half laps (16 km) rather than the full 34 km race. We are all entered for the 34 km races that start at 11 am (for fast skiers) or 2 pm (for slow skiers like me and Sue). The 'elite' start at 9 am and should all finish by 11, whereas people like me can hope for around 4 hours, depending on the conditions.

This afternoon three of our number, Sam, Shane and Andy, elected to add one of today's 16 km races to their itinerary. Sue and I may have joined them but we only have insurance cover for ski racing for one day - tomorrow!

The dynamic trio are pictured before the race, and I managed to snap the start, and Andy and Shane during the race. I have pictures of all three finishing, but those were taken with my proper camera so they will need to be downloaded at home before they appear here.

A fair number of us stayed out on the cold but sunny afternoon to cheer them on. Given the slow conditions they all did brilliantly. Andy took roughly 1.09, Shane 1.22 and Sam 1.36. Well done, all of you. We hope you haven't worn yourselves out for the longer distance tomorrow.

Lumi, the best restaurant in Otepää, beckons again tonight. We were there yesterday and will be again tomorrow, by which time we should have worked our way through the menu. Luckily, the food is great. Estonia in general is very much a European country with the high standards you'd expect from any honourable member of the EU. They don't disappoint, and many people have taken the trouble to learn English, which is most considerate.

Friday, 24 February 2017


Happy Birthday to Sue - 50 today.
An hour's bus journey through villages with washboard houses with corrugated iron roofs saw us at Haanja ski resort, next to the highest point in Estonia and maybe all the Baltic states. There's a tower to celebrate this achievement - pictured at the bottom, the tower looms above the 318 metre summit of the hill. It was closed today but apparently enjoys views over nearby Russia and Latvia from its upper viewing platform.

The skiing here was excellent, even for me in my one-armed state of incapacity.

The top picture shows our group about to set off after some warming up, leaving Sue and me briefly with cappuccinos in the café. We soon caught up and enjoyed a switchback trail down to a lake.

After a couple of laps of the lake, someone suggested a relay race for about ten of us who were present. Against better judgement I took part. Did I fall or did Ellie push me? Anyway, my bad shoulder took another jolt so I judiciously made way for Stephen in the second run. Sue is pictured, now well ahead of team 2, thanks partly to my replacement.

Then we had lunch in the café, visited the tower, and returned to Otepää after about 12 km of skiing according to my Garmin. 

Roy and I enjoyed a cuppa whilst Sue went back to the Otepää ski loop and Susan, who today just skied locally to test her calf injury, was out walking somewhere. 

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Otepää (2)

Today was spent in the village of Otepää. 

We are staying in the Tehvandi Hotel, known to the locals as the Pentagon, which forms part of Tehvandi Sports Centre. The hotel is horseshoe shaped, with a grass roof.

The centre (pictures to follow in due course) was built in 1978 as a complex for preparing the winter sports team of the former Soviet Union. It continues to serve that function for the Estonian team and is a venue for World Cup skiing events, some of which have taken place here in recent days.

Currently it has a 6 km classic cross country ski trail on artificial snow, enhanced by a few centimetres of the real stuff that fell overnight. This morning we had a group tutorial from a chap called Marti, before skiing slowly around the easy 6 km trail. My GPS recorded about 10 km of skiing. The second picture shows some of our group milling about whilst waiting for Godot.

Returning to the hotel (a 100 metre walk) I slipped on some ice. Very careless - it hurt my already damaged shoulder. So this afternoon Sue and I skipped skiing - there are only so many times you can enjoy skiing the same 6 km of track - and went for a walk with Susan (who is crocked by virtue of a calf muscle strain) and Roy around the periphery of the ski trails. About 8.5 km for me, more for the others who after coffee and cake at a nice café headed off to explore a local fort.

The bottom two pictures were taken on this pleasant stroll, the bottom one being at the entrance to a large cemetery.

Wednesday, 22 February 2017


Last night Sue and I enjoyed a lovely meal with Susan and Roy at the Kaerajaan restaurant in Tallinn's vast Town Hall square.

The tallest spire was nicely lit as we strolled past it on our return to the
Tallink Spa and Conference Hotel at which we were based for a couple of days.

This morning's three and a half hour bus transfer to Otepää took us past forests of silver birch and pine, across flat terrain with empty fields that no doubt will yield grain later in the year. We had a short break for elevenses at a café by a windmill. No sign of any livestock, just a few crows and birds of prey.

We skirted around Tartu to arrive at our nice hotel in Otepää - Tehvandi Hotel - in time for a buffet lunch.

This is a skiing trip. The bad news is that there seems to be no snow of any note in Estonia. The good news is that there appears to be a snow factory from which lorry loads are being unloaded at this venue. Sue is pictured on our short course in front of a freshly dumped pile. The lorry has just driven off. The bottom picture shows a few of us at 'the end of the snow'. It comes to an abrupt end above a pretty valley.

Despite the constraints, most of us skied around in circles for over two hours in bitterly cold conditions. Sue and I covered just over 16 km. 

We must be mad!

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Tallinn (2)

We spent a morning with the 'gang' - 18 or so of us on what is left of a suburban ski trail, ie the artificial snow bit.

It was icy, but with my own ski shoes and some waxless Salomon skis I was able to enjoy about 11 km on the icy 2 km figure of eight track, as best I could under the circumstances, ie a skiing holiday with no snow.

This afternoon we enjoyed a guided tour of Tallinn. We'd have enjoyed it more if we had bothered to deploy the down jackets we'd brought for occasions such as slow moving guided tours in sub zero temperatures with a bitter wind from the north.

Hot chocolate and cake at around 3.30 pm were more than welcome!

We won't forget those down jackets when we go out later...

Monday, 20 February 2017

Tallinn (1)

The village square, on our way to a restaurant that I'm told was called 'The Golden Pig'. Sue and I enjoyed the chicken, others wrestled with their pig shanks (imagine lamb shank in giant dimensions); the beer was excellent - how could they fail, the brewery was next door - and the overall experience was most pleasurable. 


On the Piste Again

It's a dull day in Tallinn and what snow there is is mainly artificial, although we did land in a snow shower.

There are 21 of us on this trip, including guides and hangers on. After assembling at a comfortable hotel we wrestled with ski hire and headed out to a 3.5 km ski circuit along the lines of the Mooney's Bay circuit we practice on in Ottawa. 

But there's more snow there, and I have my own skis. 

Today most people got sorted out but a couple of us finished up with waxing skis but no wax. That's not really much fun, so a 5 km ski was enough for me. Others, equipped with the sort of waxless skis I've ordered for tomorrow, managed better.

You may be able to spot Sue, Ken (Helen went shopping) and Susan and Roy in the top photo. We'll get to know the others as the week progresses.