Europe just keeps getting better and better. Despite the fact that there was a slight language barrier when I went to go pick up my bus ticket to get to Tori so I could get to Jõesuu so I could get to my accommodation just outside Soomaa National Park, I did arrive to Tori in time to both pee and catch my bus to Jõesuu. And then walk about 3-4 km from Jõesuu to my accommodation with 13-14 kg on my back and another 7 on my front. Too much information? Perhaps. However, one thing you learn when you travel alone is that you have to strategically plan your restroom breaks as there is no one to watch larger bags or stall buses for you. You are on your own. Therefore, my scheduled break was in Tori and I didn’t think that was going to happen with the scheduling mishap.

So before I go into my wonderful experience at Soomaa I have a few words of advice for anyone traveling there. As you may have noticed, I like lists, so I’m going to put it in list form. What can I say, I’m a Capricorn.

1. There is not a lot of information out there on places to stay in English. I highly recommend staying as close to the park as possible (if not in the park) if you aren’t driving. The top place to stay, despite the cost would be Riisa Rantso. It’s directly in the park, you are able to get a bus there from Pärnu in the early afternoon, giving you time to get to Pärnu if you aren’t already there and once you are there pretty much everything is within walking distance. Alternatively, you can probably borrow a bike from the lovely staff there.

2. If you can’t stay directly in the park, there is a great place I stayed at about 5 km from the park entrance called Põnka Puhketalu (try saying that 5 times fast). It’s very simple accommodation, you have use of a full kitchen (bring your own food) and if you are traveling alone they have a bike you can borrow to get into and out of the park. I chose to walk, which was fine, but I ended up doing about 30 km that day and it was an hour to and from the park entrance walking. They also have a Finnish sauna and lake that you can use (complete with stork and fish) and are set on a large plot of land so you pretty much never see anyone. I saw the other guy who was staying there twice in 3 days.

3. Go food shopping before you go. Other than Tori and Joesuu, which are a ways away if you don’t have a car, there is nowhere to get food and the accommodation places all charge an arm and a leg to provide meals for you.

4. If you are taking a bus, message them and ask which bus stop you should go to that will get you closest to your accommodation so you don’t end up carrying a massive pack or suitcase 4kms. Alternatively, if you can afford it or there are a few of you splitting the bill, rent a car.

5. If you are going between May and September, take DEET or some other excellent form of mosquito spray. Soomaa is made up of a number of bogs. The mozzies will attempt to eat you alive. I promise you.
Soooooo, Soomaa. This is what I was REALLY looking forward to when I decided to go to Soomaa. I was not disappointed. Wow. I would definitely put this national park in my top 10 landscapes I have ever seen. I don’t even have 10 landscapes on that list yet, but it is going on there for sure. Over the course of 30ish km I walked through meadows, forests, forest bogs, bogs and swamps/marshlands. Oh yes, and the farmlands I had to walk past to get to the park itself. I decided to spend the first day hiking and would decide what I would do from there the next day. I didn’t venture very far into the park, but that being said, the park isn’t very big. With a car, you could probably easily do most of the hiking trails in one day due to the fact that they aren’t arduous (Estonia is notoriously flat. Their highest point is only about 350 metres above sea level and it’s not in Soomaa).
I hiked to a walking trail about halfway into the park and was able to go through the swamps, the bogs, the forest bog and the forest (I wasn’t really sure where the 2 differed to be honest, but the sign says they do). I also spent a lovely, relaxing lunch sitting on a platform floating on one of the rivers that run through the park and watching the fish jump out of the water to catch the water skippers. If you enjoy fishing it is legal to fish with one rod within the park and it seems to me to be pretty good fishing as I was seeing fish jump left, right and centre.

I was actually a little disappointed because there are many tours you can do (guided or self-guided) where you can go “bogging” which is where you put on bog shoes and you actually get to walk on the bogs and you can go canoeing on the rivers, which is the best way to see the park, however, I was unable to do these tours as I am traveling alone and no one will do the tours unless there is a minimum of 2 people. I actually offered one company to pay for 2 people and the guide just for me to go (probably wouldn’t have been able to do the canoeing but tried for the bogging) and no one would do it. So if you want to do these activities, plan on taking a friend.

Anyway, back to bogging. These special shoes keep you from sinking into the bogs, thus allowing you to stay dry (assuming you have enough balance not to fall over) and are quite a popular family activity I’ve read. During certain seasons (autumn I think) it is very popular to go bogging to pick cranberries and a delicious berry native to Estonian bogs that they call cloudberries. Note to self- google cloudberry. I was lucky enough to be able to try some jam made out of cloudberry when staying with my couchsurfing host in Tartu. Apparently it is not only difficult to get this jam, but it is also expensive. Most jars of jam here cost between 2 and 4 euro for a decent sized jar. A jar of cloudberry jam usually costs around 8.50 euro. That’s a $10 jar of jam. Totally worth it.

If you are going to Soomaa, I recommend taking a couple of days for a bit of hiking and taking a friend so you can do the canoeing and bogging. Next time I go (and mark my words, I will definitely be back), I don’t plan on just taking a friend, I plan on going during what they call the fifth season. This is a time of the year when the snow melts and the flooding is so bad that about the only way to get around is via canoe. Traditionally this is how the Estonian farmers would get around to check on their cattle and crops (if they had them) within the park area. It was also the only way to get to/from their houses. The last highest flooding was in 2010 I believe when it flooded about 4 ½ feet above ground level. That would make for some spectacular canoeing and sightseeing.

What I’m reading now: Secularism and State Policies toward Religion: The United States, France, and Turkey by Ahmet T Kuru (or for the kindle version, click here).

What I’m listening to now: Triple J! (Staying at an Aussie/Latvian hostel in Riga, Latvia and they are playing Triple J). Digging it.