West Estonian Archipelago
A ferry hop to Muha, a causeway to Saaremaa... The main island is bigger than I had realised - four times the area of Menorca and one-third the population of my reference isle. Long empty forest roads give time to think. A road sign alerts to the possibility of elk. The islanders are welcoming of visitors: cycle routes are marked, points of interest indicated These are flat islands. 20m constitutes a mighty cliff. The sea is shallow and warm at this time of year, but come winter may freeze and link the islands - roughly 900 of them - by ice. Driving between islands is considered safe when the solid layer is 25cm thick.
Waiting for the ferry from Saaremaa to Hiiumaa I see a fellow cyclist and initiate a conversation with Eric. He seems a bit wary at first, but relaxes and soon after shares his egg-fried courgette slices (delicious, and recipe gratefully noted), and we chat throughout the crossing. Estonia became independent from Russia in 1991. It is remarkable how soon we forget how things were. The bad blood of history lingers. We shift back a generation and Eric explains the three options - all bad - available then: Russian army, German army, or hide in the forest.
I read a little more about Estonia after the encounter, amazed at the transition that the country has undergone, for its feel now is distinctly Nordic. Good wifi and free internet is widespread, and was apparently a deliberate strategy to safeguard against Russian interference; online banking and voting has near full participation; Skype was born here.
Hiiumaa is smaller (just 1.5 Menorcas) and far more sparsely populated. It is a delightful island with lovely beaches. The towns are green and widely spaced to the extent that they are barely urban at all. Boris, windsurf instructor and harbourmaster gets in touch and offers use of the facilities at Kardla - the capital village; and a berth on his newly acquired classic America's Cup design yacht. A sauna sweats out several days of grime. I sleep like a baby under varnished wood, aware and a little bit proud that our maritime histories have had opportunity to overlap. Thank you Boris for reaching out with a message, just a few words, but enough to start a conversation.
Next day is a gentle roll to the ferry at Heltermaa and a mirror-flat crossing to the mainland, and the nice town of Haapsalu, where I can occupy the comfortable cafes to do some work and post this update.