Exploring Russia and The Baltics
When you travel the nerd way, you discover little gems filled with history and gorgeous views and experiences you’ll remember forever, even though you didn’t check off any boxes.
I had read about Narva, Estonia in one of my all-time favorite books, Peter the Great, by Robert K. Massie. While researching different routes from St. Petersburg or Moscow to Tallin, Estonia, I noticed this little town right on the border with Russia. So you dig into the history and different options for travel. And you find there’s a bus that runs from St. Petersburg.
And so you take a chance, a day from your itinerary, and go there. And it leads to fantastic memories. I have included Narva on a couple itineraries for people, and they always love it. If you cannot go, at least enjoy the journey with me below!
Day 1: Adventure in Rural Rostov, Russia
Look at the picture above. The reflection of the clouds and fortresses mesmerized me. But here’s what’s important. On the left is an Estonian castle. On the right a Russian fortress. Separated only by a narrow span of the Narva River. It’s east versus west.
As you can imagine, this was the site of fierce battles. The Russians and Germans fought a devastating yearlong battle here in WWII. The Russians eventually chased the Nazis off.
But not before the little town was pulverized by aerial assaults from both sides.
Today, it represents one thing. Freedom. This is where you cross that bridge from east to west. Where for forty years communist Soviet Union dominated Estonia. It’s still 90% Russian, but so innocent in many ways despite its history.
Kids swim, play, laugh and climb the bridge.
Old creepy men that look like Putin work out in speedos, Brett’s dream!
I found the river and castles utterly magnificent.
So much so that I fell asleep on this bench. When I awoke, two Estonian policeman were approaching me. When you nap on the grass, it’s okay. When you nap on the bench, you’re a drunk! I showed them I was reading a book and they kindly moved on.
We got up at 5am to take the bus (no direct railroad, still) here. Technology is cool. With free WIFI and WhatsApp, I could call home 7,000 miles away from a bus in the Russian countryside.
We went through five checkpoints. I got in trouble with a Russian guard for taking pictures at the border control office so he waved me over in front of everyone. I felt like an idiot. But I thought I’d trick him. Didn’t work. He made me delete the pictures, then made me go to the Recently Deleted Folder and delete from there. Darnit! I had gotten away with that in Brussels once! Curiosity killed the cat. And makes me an idiot.
We enjoyed the riverfront promenade, peaceful gardens, and trail overlooking the river.
We climbed up into the castle. Where you can look over and down into the Russian fortress.
We ate fried chicken in sour cream (Russian style) with potatoes and dark, rye bread. Not bad and really cheap. Plus we met a nice German guy who, as is their custom, apologized for the sins of their grandfathers from 70 years ago.
Our hotel is only $32 and pretty nice. No one comes here. I’m glad we did. It’s a picturesque, forgotten town.
We walked along the river and watched people fish for awhile to walk off the heavy Russian food.
Then we each found peaceful places to read and watch the locals.
Well, it’s 11:31pm and still not dark. Messes with your sleep! We are at a German-looking restaurant watching the German soccer team beat Mexico. We found another German, of course.
It’s good to be out of Russia in some ways, though this town remains pretty Russian. It’s a place of great history and if Putin acts up over here (which he shouldn’t because Estonia is a NATO member), this is where he’d begin. I’m glad we stopped in this little town everyone overlooks.
Goodnight from Narva, Estonia! Love and miss you.