Into the Baltic States
27.09.2011 - 27.09.2011 14 °C
St Petersburg to Tallinn - Sep 27 Tuesday
Respectable starting time this morning - 7 am bags out. Raining. New coach and driver (Alexander). Again a modern, spotlessly clean coach. Traveling out of the city on the Moscow Prospeckt towards the Summer Palace before turning onto one of the ring roads heading towards the Baltic Sea to the west.
Final impressions of St Petersburg - beautiful city, virtually untouched by the ravages of the war. Younger, happier, trendier/less pretentious demographic (universities and military). Successful mix of history and modern living. Some of the obvious problems of alcoholism and drugs amongst the young but no more so than elsewhere. Some graffiti and vandalism but not so obvious. While smiling at strangers is still obviously a cultural no-no, we found it much more user friendly. Younger people with better English and more signs in English.
Most obvious difference to Australian cities is the apartment living. The city does not have suburbs. You move directly from high rise apartments to farmland. Typical apartment living space 50 square meters for two to four people. Less shared facilities now but young married couples will often share with parents. Cant imagine how they get any privacy. Streets are full at night as apartments are too small to entertain. Village houses also quite small. Not as small as summer houses (dachas) but nothing like the size of the Australian suburban house.
Road network shifted from the superb ring road infrastructure to a typical two lane highway - quite well surfaced but busy. Average speed 100 clicks but often down to snails pace. No overtaking lanes so some hairy manouvres.
Countryside very flat and swampy. Natural vegetation still spruce, birch, elm and pine trees. Expansive cleared paddocks remain from the days of the state collectives. These are now company farms Private plots much smaller Forestry is major industry. Potatoes, Cabbages, turnips and wheat Forest berries and mushrooms. Animal production tends to be indoors so animals are not obvious in the paddocks. Pigs, beef and diary with some sheep and poultry. Interestingly much farming land throughout Europe is returning to the wild as the European Union is paying more and more farmers to not produce. This is a counter point to the argument that production of biofuels will lead to an increase in food costs due to competition for land.
Narva (Estonias border town
Our border crossing went very smoothly and in record time by all reports. About an hour on the Russian side and another 30 mins in Estonia Had to take all our luggage off the coach which was then thoroughly searched. First ten of our group had to run our gear through the scanner but everyone else was waved through. That was on the Russian side. The river marks the border with an old fort on both sides (13th Century) On the Estonian (European Union) side they simply checked our passports to make sure that we were tourists and not locals looking for work. The only way to be an Estonian is to demonstrate that you speak Estonian.
Estonia dates from the early 13 th Century when the Teutonic knights arrived - they dominated for several centuries then there was brief Swedish rule in the 17th century followed by Russian and German oppression. Became a Republic in 1991.
The countryside now clearly more closely farmed and maintained, at least along the highway. Paddocks more substantial with miniature pine hedgerows along the road More substantial stand-alone farm houses, cultivated gardens and modern outbuildings and machinery. Much less forest. Extensive hectarage of canola yet to be harvested. It is already apparent that despite it's very difficult history of conquests and occupations, that Estonians know how to make way in the modern world. Several large wind farms dominate the horizon.
Rain and chill has given way to beautiful afternoon. Even the trees less inclined to adopt their autumn foliage.