And that’s why I refuse to spend any more time indoors than is absolutely necessary on so a trip somewhere near a water element was necessary! Whether it be the beach couple hundred meters from my apartment or a lakeside adventure to the inland, no matter.
There are some super interesting places here in Estonia due to its violent, Soviet history. One such place is called Rummu and it very much resembles Atlantis, the drowned city, except its history is much more gruesome.
I love a good ghost-story so when I came across this place on the internet about a year ago I had to get there. Rummu is the name of the big lake and its surrounding area about 50 km South from the capital, Tallinn. It’s not really a city, just a big area in the middle of nowhere built for the sole purpose of incarcerating Soviet-era wrong-doers (aka the ones who didn’t speak Russian).
The Soviets had a very valid point for (literally) setting up camp right there: next to the prison they built a quarry for mining limestone, which was used as building material. The Rotermanni area in Tallinn is a good example of this material’s beautiful use in infrastructure.
The inhabitants of this abandoned prison were forced to work in the mine so the prison quickly evolved into a basic labor camp, as was customary. Oh the stories that those ruins hold, how I would like to know every single one of them!
But Estonians are not story-tellers. I have Googled and Googled and asked around and nobody knows (or is willing to divulge) anything about the poor souls that perished in that area.
What we do know, though, is that the mine was dug so deep that the water table was reached. So, they had to pump water off the mine ceaselessly. After the Soviet Union fell in early 1990’s the prison and its surrounding areas were abandoned almost overnight.
And when there was nobody pumping water off the premises, it rose at an amazing speed covering the whole mine, trees and all, forming this spooky Atlantis of the North. The water rose just enough to leave half of some of the buildings sticking out of the water with their bare windows looking over the lake like empty eyes.
Nowadays the mine serves as a beach and the lake water is probably clearest you can find anywhere in Northern Europe. We felt like arriving somewhere in Croatia, that’s how clear blue the water really is. But because it’s water that comes from underneath the ground it’s bloody cold!
It is the most beautiful, the most intriguing and at the same time the spookiest beach I have ever seen. The history of the place is so visible and present especially when you swim to the ruins and climb on its empty windows. Looming over everything is the prison, which is private property and out of access. But the rusty guard towers serve as reminders of what went on there only 30 years ago.
There’s much more to this beach than just swimming: you can rent diving equipment and go research the buildings that are completely under water. Or you could rent a canoe or a sub board and paddle around. But be careful of the ghostly trees just underneath the water’s surface.
This place is not easy to find, though. Maybe that was why the prison was built there in the first place. It’s surrounded by dense forests all around and the rocky roads leading there will destroy any car with low suspension.
Finding the beach was not the biggest logistic problem for us, though;
We should have been able to grasp the hint when all websites about Rummu instruct you to drive there. There was no mention of a train, bus or any sort of other vehicle option for getting there and that was for a reason that we learned the hard way.
We opted to go there by train. Somebody had told my boyfriend that Rummu is about 10 km from the train station in Keila village and we thought that we could rent bikes or get a taxi from the station. But the village was exactly that: a village. There were no bike rentals and only 2 taxis operating in the entire area. And Rummu was not 10 km from Keila, but 30 km.
That time we managed to find a taxi, thankfully.
Now, when visiting Estonia, you should be aware that their marketing is often very much misleading. The digital hub that this country markets itself as only applies to the capital. The rest of the country does not necessarily accept card payments or have digital taxi services or much of any other services to talk of.
And when a camping area advertises itself as Rummu’s camping area, very often these claims are untrue. I’ve lived here long enough to see through their white lies and I had a nasty feeling that this camping area was in fact nowhere near the actual prison. And I was right; it was located at the opposite end of the very big lake.
Unfortunately that was not the only hiccough concerning our accommodation on this trip. The camping area itself is beautiful and it consists of different kinds of accommodation options: cottages of different sizes (the small ones had 10 beds), barrel accommodation (just for sleeping, no space for kitchen or bathroom) and gypsy-kinds of trailers that resemble a portable sauna.
The problem was that the area was still under construction. Some of the buildings were not completed, the beach bar and dock only had walls up so far and the restaurant was not operating. We were not informed about any of this when we made the booking. So, we arrived there and tried to pay the rent for the cabin when they told us they didn’t accept debit cards.
We managed to settle the payment somehow and enquired after something to eat. The girl looked at us like we were stupid and said “We don’t serve any food here. Didn’t you bring your own food?” We said ‘hell to the no!’ because you advertise yourself as a camping area, which usually means at least a kiosk being present in the area. She then told us that the nearest shop is 10 km away.
Great. That’s just fucking great. OK, what about Rummu then, how do we get there? She goes: “That’s a private area, you can’t go there. You can rent a canoe but I don’t know who rents them”…
WHY DA FUCK WOULD YOU ADVERTISE YOURSELF AS A CAMPING AREA AT RUMMU IF YOU’RE NOTHING OF THE SORT??
That’s what went through my head at that moment but I managed to keep my calm. Instead we were like “OK, fine, thanks” and immediately called my boyfriend’s sister who was on a cycling trip with her boyfriend somewhere around there. We were completely stuck with no cash.
Thankfully they were able to go to a store on their way to the camping area so we got at least some sandwiches for lunch and breakfast items for the next morning.
I really don’t know why the girl who checked us in said that we couldn’t go to the prison area because it’s private property. Yeah, the prison itself is off limits but the beach and the ruins in the lake are completely at visitors’ disposal free of charge. This Estonian “customer service” never ceases to amaze me…
So, after we had settled in our cottage and had the tiny lunch, we decided to walk to the Rummu beach. Unfortunately we chose the wrong one of the 2 available roads and found ourselves scraping through the woods on flip-flops climbing over the derelict stone walls that were built to keep the prisoners in.
But we made it and the place was so amazing that all that scraping through the bushes and climbing the stone walls turned out completely worth the trouble!
In the evening, after spending the day swimming and sunbathing on the beach, we wanted to take a taxi to Keila in search for some dinner. Of course, our only option for getting there was taxi. We called altogether 3 taxis and they all said “No.” Simple as that, just “No” and hung up. Estonian customer service at its best…
So, we were stuck and hungry. I wasn’t just hungry, I was getting hangry, which is a real and a very serious condition. My boyfriend’s sister had brought with them some pasta and ready-made pasta sauce so thankfully we had at least something to eat.
But the next morning when the other owner of the place came to enquire why there were 4 people sleeping in the cottage instead of the 2 that we had paid for, and asked us to pay an extra 50€, I lost it. I was hungry, I was tired and I was SO FED UP with Estonians at that moment that this was a drop too much.
So, I told her everything that they should have done, which they hadn’t, and what they should NOT have done, which they had (false marketing being point one) and forced her to envision a scene where we would have arrived there with 2 little children and then been told that there was no way of feeding ourselves or the children for an entire day and night.
There would’ve been corpses (not ours but the other quests’) by the time the Sun rose on Sunday morning. Her reaction to all of this was “Meh” shrugging her shoulders. But she did eventually understand enough to not charge the extra 50€ from us.
It’s such a shame, it really is, this complete lack of hospitality in Estonia. There is so much potential here, in the Rummu area alone, but they make these would-be-great experiences become complete nightmares by being so ignorant and unsocial. They are literally peeing on their own ankles (one of my favourite sayings in Finnish!)
This camping area will be absolutely gorgeous when it’s ready. It’s amazing already, the perfect countryside experience, but they MUST inform people of the area not being completely ready when accepting quests.
Despite our very negative experience I still want to return there after the site is completely open because the place is beautiful and the cottages are perfect for a weekend getaway with friends! I really hope that my morning rant went through to them, at least to some extent, and that they would update the basic information about food and payment methods to their website ASAP.
The Rummu prison and beach are a must see if you are in Estonia, though! Just rent a car (around 60€ per day) and make a day-trip there. The place really is unique and while sitting on the sunny beach you can’t help but spare a thought to the place’s history and what might have gone on there only few decades ago when this beautiful place was teeming with misery.
It’s such a weird contrast that I don’t know where else you could experience such a thing. It’s brilliant! And I intend to return there for a diving trip later :)