As reported on ERR, two of our journalists, Merit Maarits and Anette Parksepp, got the idea of trying out whether it was possible to get round Estonia by bus, and for free. In theory, it should have been, at least in 11 of the 15 Counties in the country where free county lines bus travel has been in place since the beginning of July. In practice, it did end up costing a little bit. We pick up where we left off halfway through day two, in South Estonia...
The stage from Karksi-Nuia, in south Estonia, to Valga, in addition to being quite an unpleasant ride as reported yesterday, did end up costing money - €4.10 each to be precise – even though ideally it should have been free since both Viljandi County and Valga County have opted in to the free county bus lines system. Even more strangely, the very same bus conveyed our travellers from Valga to Võru in the far southeast of the country, but this time for free!
Another more pleasant surprise on this leg of the journey came when the driver refused to take a young man from the village of Koikküla near Valga, for the well-being of the rest of the passengers. It turned out that the youth had spent a previous journey in the same bus vomiting!
Hospitality, Võru Style
This more caring approach continued on the pair's arrival at Võru, where locals, noticing their apparent suffering after the long and hot bus travel, were quick to offer advice including taking cranberry juice, or even calling an ambulance! This was however interspersed with personal anecdotes, including one person's need to share the date of their daughter's birth for whatever reason.
The busdriver of the next stage to Põlva also took note of Anette and Merit's plight and switched on the air conditioning, making the relatively short half-hour journey much more pleasant.
The final journey of the day took the journalists to Tartu, Estonia's second city, which was also free of charge (bus travel tickets within Tartu city itself still cost money) with entertainment coming in the form of last night's World Cup semi final being played at the same time.
So at the end of day two, the duo had reached Tartu, having moved around Estonia in an anti-clockwise direction from Taebla in the northwest of the country, via Haapsalu, Lihula, Pärnu, Viljandi, Karksi-Nuia, Valga, Võru and Põlva.
The third and final day started bright and early at around 08.00 with a bus to the village of Kadrina in Jõgeva County (not the Kadrina near Rakvere – ed.). Whilst the pair were good for the free transport again, a request for air con was bluntly denied, although as it happened there was no repeat of the hot and stuffy conditions of the previous day.
More fresh air was on its way with a long walk of a few kilometres in the Kadrina area, to the correct busstop, followed by a long wait at Kadrina Manor for the next bus. This was going to the village of Mustvee on the shores of Lake Peipus, which effectively makes up Estonia's 'east coast'. In fact as it turned out they missed the bus, having stood on the wrong side of the road, and a friend had to convey them to Mustvee by car.
The two only had a few minutes to grab some bottled water at Mustvee before having to board the next bus to Jõhvi, in Ida Viru County in the northeast of Estonia. Perhaps unsurprisingly, having missed lunch, the first thing Anette and Merit did on arriving in Jõhvi was hit the local Hessburger before boarding a bus even further north and east, to the coastal city of Sillamäe. This proved to be perhaps the longest journey of them all despite the relatively short distance, due to some rather rowdy and drunk characters travelling with them.
The fast pace of day three saw no abatement in Sillamäe either, as they arrived realizing they had just five minutes to get the next, and last, bus home to Tallinn. Finally finding the busstop behind a gas station, they made it on to the final bus of the trip (number 14, no less) and the three hour final stage seemed to be less of a chore than might normally be the case, arriving in Tallinn a bit before 23.00.
A few statistics first: the pair took a total of 14 buses, plus one walk of eight kilometres and one car journey, as noted.
They spent a total of 969 minutes (over 16 hours!) in the three days and passed through all 11 counties that offer free county lines transport.
Although Merit and Anette saw a lot in those three days, including plenty of beautiful Estonian countryside, and had many interesting conversations with fellow travellers, they have to confess there are better, less stressful, and less hurried ways to travel round than using free bus rides...
Which brings us to the final point: was it in fact free, and is it possible, Harju, Rapla, Lääne Viru and Pärnu Counties aside, to get round Estonia for free?
Almost, but not quite. As noted in this series of articles already there were a couple of incidents when the travellers had to pay for tickets, in part due to confusion about how the new system actually works. But for the most part, transport on the buses was free, and with a total cost of €25.82 (less than the cost of two adult single tickets from Tallinn to Tartu on one of the commercial lines – ed.) represented budget travel at about its most effective.
Anette and Merit thank all the readers who followed them on the journey via their blog and these articles!
Editor: Andrew Whyte