biking in the baltics

Cycling for Libraries Day 10-11: Last Days on the Road

Day 10 - 47 miles

Rakvere Library

We began the day by touring the delightful Rakvere Public Library. In the photo above you can see Katarina Jee, Estonia's only bookmobile, parked next to the library.

The Katarina Jee is part of the Tallinn Public Library system, and she followed us throughout our journey from Vilnius to Tallinn. We had many fun events that involved Katarina Jee, including this fantastic performance of a folk song performed by Estonian school librarians.

Later that day we cycled to the Palmse Korts, an amazing restaurant that is on the grounds of one of Estonia's manor house. We had a very tasty meal that included some of the best pork we've ever eaten.

Palms Korts

Day 11 - 49 miles

The last day had finally arrived. It was a long ride in a headwind and took forever. I think we were just getting excited to be in Tallinn and to reach the our final destination. When we had lunch at the half way mark, it felt like we had already been riding for the entire day. We had been on the  highway and then took a detour through the forest. When we stopped for lunch we understood why we had taken this route, we walked past the lunch tent to discover this amazing waterfall! What a wonderful surprise and beautiful backdrop to our last lunch on the road.

Estonian Waterfall

To pass the time on the long, hard last day. We belted out the hits of the 70s, 80s, and today. We definitely entertained ourselves and our captive audience seemed to enjoy the musical styling of the Texas Girls (the name of our new coverband!). When we hit the city limits of Tallinn we were so excited. Our trip into the center of town was along the coast and we had this incredible view of Old Town. Cycling by the ocean is pretty, but the wind was blowing so hard we had to concentrate on not blowing over.

View of Old Town from Tallinn Coast

We cycled through the cobble stoned streets and were greeted for the last time by the smiles, waves, and cheers of the Estonian people. When we got to Freedom Square, we jumped off our bikes and hugged and congratulated everyone. We had done it! We cycled a total of 366 miles over 11 days. We met the most incredible librarians from around the world and we were changed by the international experience off a lifetime. Where are we going next year?

Celebration in Freedom Square

By April Kessler and Karen Holt of Librarian Lifestyle. April & Karen are librarians at the University of Texas at Austin.

Cycling for Libraries Day 7-9: From Mountain Retreats to the City

Day 7 - 30 miles We left the mountain trails for actual mountains during the next stretch of the trip. This part of Estonia is called the Switzerland of the Baltics and now we know why. We cycled in the same spot the Russians send their Olympic skiers to train in the summer! The ride to Otepää was actually pretty short but the climbs were incredibly difficult. If you could get some momentum from the down hill, you could make up the next hill a little easier. That meant we were doing some serious flying downhill. Very fun, but kinda scary too. We visited just one local library, and then stopped early for the day at the mountain ski resort for some much needed R&R. We had a dip in the lake, a sweat in the sauna, and a soak in the hot tub. Just what our worn out bodies needed.

The sauna in Otepää

Day 8 - 55 miles

We call this part of the ride the highway to hell. We were actually on the way to the lovely Tartu and the scenery around us was gorgeous, but it was difficult and scary to ride single file along a busy highway. Because we could not talk to our peers, we realized how much we appreciated the library discussions that keep our minds busy and buzzing.

We stopped in the little town of Elva to tour their beautiful library.

This is also where Karen's bike got arrested.

We also visited a little public library in Ülenurme, which is on the outskirts of Tartu. They had charming little nooks in their library where you could visit with friends.

Once we arrived at some very nice dorms in Tartu, we cleaned ourselves up and met as a group for a discussion on library issues like marketing and publishing. It was very interesting to learn more about how libraries in other countries tackle issues like eBooks. We have so much in common, but when the topic turned to copyright we learned so much about we differ as well. We take the concept of Interlibrary Loan for granted in the States, but it is not the norm in Europe.

That evening we were free to explore the city of Tartu on our own and we went to the seriously amazing Italian restaurant, La Dolce Vita, which we would highly recommend to anyone traveling to Tartu. Thanks to our new Cycling for Libraries friend, Eve, for the recommendation!

Eve & April in the Ülenurme Public Library

Day 9 - 10 miles

This day involved very little biking. We spent the morning and afternoon in Tartu. We rode by Tartu University Library, the oldest and largest research library in Estonia. Then, after meeting the mayor and riding with him to the Tartu Public Library, we had a discussion about book publishing by libraries in Finland and Estonia. The Tallinn Public Library works with a local author to publish a book each year and then every 2nd grade student in Tallinn gets their own copy. The catch is that this book isn't for sale. It is only available from the library. Of course this limited printing makes it quite special for the country. All the kids and teachers are trying to get their hands on this hot commodity!

The discussion was followed by a special session on erBooks. Because libraries in Estonia can't buy eBooks, the Tartu Public Library has partnered with the Estonian Literary Museum to convert print books in eBooks, and one of the leaders of this project gave a very interesting demonstration for us on how they convert the books into a digital format.


Mural in the Tartu Central Library.

Next, we took a bus ride to Rakvere. That evening we went to the historic castle ruins, which featured a reenactment of castle life.

And then we had a lovely dinner and danced to a local rock band. Like we always say, there's no party like a librarian party.

Cycling for Libraries Day 5 & 6: On to Estonia

Day 5  - 34 miles After waking up at the mountain day spa in Ligatne, Latvia, we were treated to a delicious breakfast buffet and we got the see for Cycling for Libraries videos of the trip on the big screen. Hopefully, you have been following along with the videos. It was truly amazing for have an entire film crew following our every move. This just wasn't any film crew. These guys are from the Finnish Library television station, Kirjastokaista. Their job is to film library events and promote libraries full-time. How cool is that?!

Mountain Biking

One of the many forest trails we rode (or maybe walked :) in Latvia

We set off for Cesis on a cool overcast morning. We had no idea what a treat we were in for. We cycled down the mountain and then did some real mountain biking over the river and through the woods. We biked to a castle in Cesis where we were greeted by the local librarians and the mayor. To top it all off our fearless leader Mace Ojala was knighted during the reenactment ceremony. Although it rained on us, that didn't stop the party atmosphere. While waiting  for lunch, we danced in the drizzle to disco and the Beach Boys.

Cesis Librarian

Cesis Castle

The knighting ceremony

That afternoon we arrived in Valmeira and were treated to a feast of traditional Latvian food and local beer at a museum. After dinner there was a ceremony of folk traditions and peals of laughter rang out as we attempted to dance some traditional Latvian dances. One of the highlights of our trip was the focus on the singing culture of the Baltics. All three countries, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, have strong folk song traditions, and many of our Cycling for Libraries cultural events involved singing. We loved it!


Our delicious meal in Valmeira

Day 6 - 50 miles

This was another long day of riding that took us to the half way point of the trip. We saw two very different types of libraries as finally made our way to Estonia. Our first stop was the Valmeira Library. It is a combined academic and public library with the Vidzeme University College in one half of the building and the public library in the other. The library just opened in 2007 and it was  a beautiful space. Questions raised during the presentation and tour were about shared spaces and resources and how it was possible. Valmeira is making it work and it brings to light a different approach to allocating limited resources.

Valmiera Library

Valmiera Library

Our next stop was what we called the prairie library. The Jaunklida Public Library is located in a rural community of 250 inhabitants. Because it is so remote, the library also serves as a community center. Once a month the library hosts the local doctor, social worker, and even the hairdresser, making the library the epicenter of the town. It is such a cool space that patrons also have their weddings there.

Jaunklida Community Library

The Jaunklida Public Library

The sister cities of Valka, Latvia and Volga, Estonia share a border where you cross seamlessly between countries, but they don't share the same language or currency. We were greeted with music and fruit in Valka.

Valka Town Hall

Valka Town Hall and Mayor (in the distance)

Latvian Berries

The delicious berries and water that were presented to us at nearly every Latvian library we visited

Then, we rode our bikes across the border to Estonia. We were hours late by the time we got to the town of Volga, but our greeting party was still there waiting. We toured the local library. Then, we met the mayor and saw an entire show put on by the dance/singing troupe in Volga. We were blown away by the talent and generosity of the people there.

Dinner that night was a traditional Estonian meal and it was worth staying up late and cycling in the dark to get there.

Stay turned for more Cycling for Libraries adventures!

By April Kessler and Karen Holt of Librarian Lifestyle. April & Karen are librarians at the University of Texas at Austin.

Cycling For Libraries


I will represent the University of Texas at Austin and bizologie on the 2012 Cycling For Library tour. Karen Holt from the UT Libraries and editor of the Librarian Lifestyle blog will be accompanying me on this adventure. The un-conference  offers a week and a half of library workshops, debates, and tours with a diverse group of international librarians. This unique format combines library discussions with 373 miles of bicycling from Vilnius, Lithuania to Tallinn, Estonia. Yep, that is right, we'll be biking through the Baltics and solving global library issues! The 107 librarians participating come from 26 countries and work for national, public, academic, and special libraries. In addition to participating in discussions, all librarians are required to present on topics in their areas of expertise. Karen and I will promote the UT Libraries  Human Rights Documentation Initiative and present on topics like using social media for business research and creating public programming events with artists and musicians.

Here's the route -- we cover 3 countries in just 10 days:

  • Vilnius
  • Vilnius to Trakai, bus-transport to Riga
  • Riga
  • Riga to Sigulda
  • Sigulda to Valmiera
  • Valmiera to Valka/Valga
  • Valka/Valga to Otepää
  • Otepää to Tartu
  • Tartu, bus-transport to Rakvere
  • Rakvere to Lahemaa National Park
  • Lahemaa National Park to Tallinn

I'm excited about this trip and the amazing opportunity. I do have to admit that I am not much of a biker and I've committed to biking around 30 miles per day. I started my own couch-to-tour training last month and now I'm up to 15 miles. Still have a ways to go, but the trip has been great inspiration to get moving!

Stay tuned for more info about Cycling For Libraries. Over at Librarian Lifestyle, Karen and I will be writing posts about the tour and of course we will cover our new obsession with bicycle fashion.