Exploring cultures and communities – the slow way

Letter from Europe

  • — Issue 2005/23 posted by hidden europe on

A full week of cold weather over much of northern Europe has brightened the winter prospects for Scotland's ski resorts and for inhabitants of some of Estonia's offshore islands. Where winters are cold enough - by no means every year – some of Estonia's islands secure a temporary road link to the mainland through use of an ice road.

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Dear fellow travellers

A full week of cold weather over much of northern Europe has brightened the winter prospects for Scotland's ski resorts and for inhabitants of some of Estonia's offshore islands. Where winters are cold enough - by no means every year - some of Estonia's islands secure a temporary road link to the mainland through use of an ice road. As thick winter ice covers the Baltic, the island of Hiiumaa acquires a 25 km link with the mainland and a 9 km route to the neighbouring island of Saaremaa. Both routes can be used, ice conditions permitting, by ordinary cars. It is too early in the season for ice roads to be operating yet, but the recent cold spell has raised hopes that this may be an ice road year, perhaps with some Estonian routes even open before Christmas.

Ice road driving comes with attendant hazards. It is one of the few instances where the wearing of a seat belt is not allowed. Just in case a crack in the ice leads to your car plummeting into the frozen depths, quick escape is recommended. In fairness, this is a very rare event. When a car en route across the ice to Saaremaa plunged through a crack in February 2003, happily its occupants escaped chilled but otherwise unharmed.

Our instinct would be to drive cautiously at about 30 kilometres per hour (km/h) on an ice road. Strangely, that's exactly what motorists should not do. Drivers are encouraged to drive at about 45km/h or faster, and speeds between 25km/h and 40km/h must be avoided. Evidently, those speeds create vibrations that may crack the ice.

Estonian ice roads are not limited to its Baltic coast. The island of Piirissaar in Lake Peipsi also benefits from an ice road link in cold winters, allowing easier access to one of Europe's most remote outposts. Piirissaar lies right on the Russian border, which cuts through the middle of Lake Peipsi, and the island's three villages are among the least developed in all the Baltic States. One of the three settlements, Piiri, has a magnificent old white Russian Orthodox church with silver domes, which serves as a focus for the island's Old Believers - a very conservative Orthodox sect that has survived only in very remote corners of the region.

Icarus Reincarnate

In classical mythology, the enthusiasm of youthful Icarus for flying led to one too many crash landings. Youthful enthusiasm for aviation seems to have inspired two new start-up airlines in England, with two teenagers both struggling to get new airlines off the ground this month. Neither seems to have succeeded. Liverpool based Nexus Airways started advertising flights from the city's magnificently named John Lennon Airport to the Canary Islands, with the debut service scheduled for take off on 1 November. Sadly, it never got off the ground.

Meanwhile, Alpha One Airways secured huge publicity for its proposed Oxford to Cambridge air link last spring. That never started, nor did Alpha One's second take off attempt last Monday. That was the date set for the launch of its Southampton to Isle of Man service. But both Daniel Reilly, founder of Nexus Air, and Martin Halstead, kingpin and pilot at Alpha One, still say that their fledgling airlines will eventually make it into the air. Only time will tell, but creating a new airline from scratch may just be an instance where youth is no substitute for experience.

This article was published in Letter from Europe.

About The Authors

hidden europe

and Susanne Kries manage hidden europe, a Berlin-based editorial bureau that supplies text and images to media across Europe. Together they edit hidden europe magazine. Nicky and Susanne are dedicated slow travellers. They delight in discovering the exotic in the everyday.