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Trip 32 -- Hiiumaa Walk

Day 7: Reigi to Kärdla
Saturday, July 2, 2022

Yesterday: 42075 steps/31.85 km/19.79 mi/6h 12m
Total: 262283 steps/201.88 km/125.44 mi/38h 6m

Yesterday was just what I hope for in the world of abecedaria: a moderately long walk that's largely away from cars, broken into segments by a variety of interesting things to see every hour and a half or so, none of which takes very long. The only thing missing was a good place for lunch, but I had food with me and would be able to enjoy a proper dinner -- barely.

Ratturi talu was one of several farmsteads lining the side road that led to the miniature Eiffel Tower. Some of them still operate, and my first kilometer of the day was marked by bales of hay and sheep.

I took the main road east for about 20 minutes and then turned left onto a side road through the forest. An hour later I arrived at the Mihkli Farm Museum, eight buildings depicting life before the farm ceased to operate in the late 1980s. In addition to a barn and stables, it had a cool cellar for food storage (and sometimes used for sleeping during hot months) and a smoke sauna. I could only imagine the stifling heat as water was carried in giant iron pots from the fire over which they had been hanging to the sauna room itself, where it would be ladled onto the furnace to create an almost intolerable steam.

There were also a couple of especially long buildings. These were originally smaller buildings to which extensions were added on, as was the method preferred over creating new buildings entirely. In one case a sleeping room was tacked onto the end of a shed and carriage house. The long buildings reminded me of the giant communal kitchen and living area at Ratturi talu, and it struck me how many ex-farmsteads I had seen that had clearly had the same setup and evolution.

Another hour north and I came to the remains of a 1941 Soviet military installation. Nearby was a 130-millimeter cannon and an observation post that was raised as the forest grew, obscuring the view of the sea. The area is overgrown but much of the installation remains intact, including some temptingly eerie underground passageways.

A few minutes later I reached the cast-iron Tahkuna lighthouse. Like Ristna's, it was commissioned by the Russians and installed in the 1870s. As the story goes, the two lighthouses were mixed up, with the one intended for Ristna going to Tahkuna and vice versa. I prepared to take out my discounted three-lighthouse combination ticket, only to find out from the caretaker that it was Navigation Day and all the lighthouses were free to enter.

This was the tallest of Hiiumaa's main lighthouses; as such, it probably should have gone to Ristna, to be the first signal seen by ships approaching from western Europe. I reached the top via a climb of 208 steps, in flights of 28 with a few extra at the end. Whereas most lighthouse climbs consist of narrow spiral staircases that twist so intimately you're almost hitting your head on the step above you, the interior of Tahkuna's was almost cavernous, with wide stairs and firm handrails. From the top, I could see how shallow the Baltic sea was here, with sea grass visible through the clear water.

Tahkuna is also the closest landmass to where the MS Estonia sank in 1994 on the way from Tallinn to Stockholm (the route I traveled last week in reverse). A memorial stands at Tahkuna to the children of that voyage, with a resounding bell that brings them to mind whenever people or nature's wind cause it to be struck.

Tahkuna had a cafe, but it was packaged snacks and drinks only, so I lunched on the rest of the cheese and some smoked hake from the Kõrgessaare supermarket. Among the drinks on offer were bottles of flavored lemonade, and at the caretaker's recommendation I tried the juniper-mint variety.

From the lighthouse I retraced my steps to the military installation and then took a lonely two-hour walk along a trail, past abandoned concrete buildings and then through forest of the same pine, spruce, alder, and juniper that I'd seen all over Hiiumaa. My main companions were white butterflies, although I still did the occasional mosquito dance.

I finally reached the main road and then came to the Hill of Crosses, a tribute to the memory of Swedes deported to Ukraine in 1781. They hastily erected crosses here as they prepared to leave, and the tradition ever since has been for visitors to add their own crosses, leaving them standing up or on the ground, as long as they are made from natural materials. Someone had made a cross design out of pinecones in the road, and someone had used part of Douglas Wells's marker for the site -- just the word "Crosses" and the bottom of the lighthouse logo, along with another post! I created mine from a couple of sticks, one with a protrusion that acted as a shelf for the other, carefully balanced.

The crosses fizzled out, and I followed the grassy path until it merged with the Kärdla road. For the last hour, a bike and pedestrian path ran parallel to the road.

A woman passed me on a bike and asked in English, "You have water?"

Satisfied that she didn't need it herself, I answered, "Yes, thank you."

I didn't have much left, but Hiiumaa's main town was in reach, and there would be supermarkets and eateries in abundance.


I checked in at the Tiigi Accommodation, an L-shaped brown building next to another house on the site. This was probably also a farm at some point. They had left a note stuck on the window directing me to room 2, upstairs.

The room had three twin beds; the shared toilet and shower were down the short hall. There was no air conditioning, but a fan had been placed at the top of the stairs. I lay down for a few minutes and there was a knock: the owner was coming to welcome me, collect payment, and tell me that the fan belonged to my room and I was welcome to take it. There was also a kitchen for guests.

I walked down to the harbor for dinner, about 15 minutes away. Kärdla was a breadcloth factory from 1830, another Ungern-Sternberg creation. Many of the factory buildings and shipping warehouses survive, along with the former vodka distillery. The harbor now has no regular traffic but welcomes yachts.

This weekend a literature festival took place, and an interview was happening between the two restaurants, with around 50 spectators. I walked quietly behind to arrive at the Kork champagne bar and restaurant, which seemed to represent the upper end of the dining scene of Kärdla and the entirety of Hiiumaa.

The place was busy, and I waited for someone to greet me.

"My I have dinner?"

"Inside or outside?"

"Outside, please." Most of the tables were occupied; I gestured toward one that had recently been vacated.

"I'll clear it for you," she said.

She went away to do that, and she never came back, so after a few minutes I seated myself. I took in the murmur of the interview, unintelligible to me, and the setting sun's glow on the sailboats in the harbor. No one brought me a menu, so I went back to the entrance and took one. I sat down again.

A few minutes later another server finally came by. I asked for an Aperol spritz and then started to indicate what food I wanted.

"Actually, the kitchen is closed," she said.

"Where else is there to eat?"

"You can try the place over there," she said, indicating across the interview area. It looked pleasant but more like a cafe. I doubted the breadth of their offerings.

The Kork, meanwhile, was full of people mid-meal. This wasn't a place where everyone was about to leave. "What time did the kitchen close?"

"Half ten." The Germans and the Russians use this construction differently from the British and the Irish. "Half ten" means half of the tenth hour, or 9:30.

I looked at my watch. It was 9:39.

"I've been here for fifteen minutes," I said. "She offered to clear the table, and she never came back. No one brought me a menu. I would have ordered immediately if someone had told me."

"I'm sorry for that."

"Can you see if they'll make me a beef tartare and duck breast?"

"I'll ask."

She came back shortly. "They can make you a snack plate or--"

"Not interested," I said. I started to walk away, but I decided I should address the person who had greeted me and find out what had possessed her to commit such an egregious act of nutritional negligence.

I found her inside. "You cleared the table and never came back. No one brought me a menu. And now I find out the kitchen is closed. Why didn't you tell me the kitchen was closing?"

"I didn't know," she said. "I had to attend to tables on the other side of the restaurant."

"I hope this place shuts down,". I said in the elegant, genteel manner of someone who'd been looking for a dinner restaurant for a week and turned away on the brink of success.

I recounted the story at the place across the way, Kärdla Kuursaal.

"That's terrible!" the server said, with a wide-eyed expression showing her agreement that this was the worst thing to happen in the entire history of the restaurant industry.

"It is!" I said. "Whereas you are wonderful if you will still serve me dinner.'

She checked and answered affirmatively. The menu here was similar to the Kork's, without some of the fancier dishes. I asked for an Aperol spritz, a starter of Hiiumaa beef tartare, and fish cakes. At least I wasn't being limited to burgers. The beef was smooth and excellent, with the proper runny raw egg, capers, and onions. The fish cakes had too much salt. The interview finished, and the spectators dispersed.

Kärdla has a pub, the Pritsumaja, in a yellow building with a tower that used to be the fire station -- the tower was to keep the hoses straight and dry, the bartender explained. It was then a tourist information center. The pub opened this year.

I had a negroni and took it outside, but the gnats -- there's always some insect -- were too much to bear, so I came in. Colorful disco lights flashed around the room. There were few patrons when I arrived, but the town's youth arrived around midnight.

Today I explored Kärdla, starting with the Kala ja Võrk fish market. They sometimes have full prepared meals (Tuesday is the magic day, they told me), but I made a lunch out of a long, thin smoked garfish; fried pike in tomato sauce; and chopped salmon with onion and dill, like poke.

The long, blue home of the breadcloth factory's director is now a branch of the Hiiumaa Museum. The main exhibit evoked old-time Hiiumaa through tales of childhood: farm work; fears of snakes, dogs, ice, and such; toys made from natural materials; and punishment (primarily beatings).

The museum smelled like fresh paint and was unsettlingly quiet. Most of the exhibit was captioned stories to be read; apart from a playroom and some old baby carriages, there was little to look at. The captions were all in Estonian but an English translation was available as a thick book of spiral-bound laminated pages that also served as a fan in the absence of air conditioning.

The exhibit had so much potential but the place was so bland and quiet. A photo showed children singing around a piano; why not accompany it with audio? Why not have recordings of the people telling their stories?

The only hands-on part of the exhibit was the invitation to add a quote representing something my parents had told me -- a rule or a saying. Other visitors had written the Estonian equivalents of "Turn off the bass," "The room must be in order," "Be polite!" and so on. The only English quote said, "Never gonna give you up never gonna let you down never gonna run around and desert you," which is a good parental sentiment but perhaps not what they had in mind.

I added something my mother said once when I overreacted in a moment of extreme stress: "We all have our moments." I'll have to learn how to say that in Estonian.

Go on to day 8