Glasgow Travel Diary 1/3 — 22nd July 2016

I don’t go on holidays, I go on pilgrimages. Today’s journey of worship/quest for higher knowledge takes me to Glasgow, which will be my university town, come September (assuming all goes well with exam results).

The trip got off to a classic Eliza-style start. (No, I didn’t get on the wrong train!) I was standing on Penrith station’s platform 2, the sun beating down against the synthetic wool of my black cardigan, like a threat of overheating and yucky sweatiness to come, when I felt the tips of my hair (swept up in a power ponytail) tickling the back of my neck.

A vision flashed in my head: an image of myself, brushing the tangles from my hair. That’s when it hit me: I had no recollection of packing my hairbrush. I ran through it, step-by-step, in my mind. Where had I last seen it? On my chest of drawers, in front of my mirror, next to my…toiletry bag. Oh no! I hadn’t! It was zipped up and everything, just WAITING to go in my bag. Waiting, yes. But did it make the journey? No.

I have no hairbrush, no toothbrush, toothpaste, moisturizer, foundation, shampoo, etc. I responded as I always do to my travel blunders. I laughed at my stupidity, and at the ridiculousness of the situation. It’s funny. The tenner-or-so I’m now going to have to spend in Superdrug isn’t funny, but my evidenced ineptitude is. At least I’m on the right train. And Glasgow Central is the end of the line, so I can’t get off at the wrong stop (I hope!)

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I think I’m in Scotland now. I’m not a hundred percent sure, because I was reading the “Thelma & Louise” script, so I didn’t notice any signs. All I know is that we’re somewhere between Carlisle and Lockerbie, and that it’s beautiful here. Pine trees garnish the crests of rolling hills, which give way to fields thick with heather. We MUST be in Scotland.
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Yes, the train is pulling into Lockerbie now. Lilac bushes teeter over wire fences.

As the train leaves Lockerbie, I see stacks of logs in a timberyard out my window, and patchwork hills in the distance.

I live in a beautiful part of England — I live near the places which inspired the Romantic poets — but there is something about Scotland which grabs my heart and clutches it in a way that England never can. There is a ruggedness here, a wilderness, that is perhaps energetic, a remnant of this country’s turbulent history. I don’t know. But the writer in me will always find a home of sorts amongst these pine forests and skies filled with grey clouds, a colour between coal dust and cobwebs.

*****

You know you’re in Scotland when you look out the window and it’s raining, raining, raining. It all adds to the atmosphere, I suppose. Though I hope its dry when I get to Glasgow, even if that means I won’t get the authentic Glaswegian experience. I’m wearing sandals — rain is the last thing I need!

It strikes me suddenly how easy, how natural it is for me to write like this. Two weeks ago, I was sitting at a bus stop in Võsu, scribbling away about my final day in “Little House on the Prairie” hell. I’ve hardly written a word of nonfiction since then (unless tweets count). I’ve been too busy working on editing my rewrite of CONSEQUENCE. I’ve missed journalling though. Perhaps when I’m in university, I will write a blog, chronicling my time there. I’m sure that would be…entertaining.

It’s 11 minutes past 10. I listen to Saving Jane’s “Autumn and Me”, whilst messaging my friend and future coursemate, instructing her on how to set up a British bank account (she’s from Italy).

In spite of the grey skies out my window — so emblematic of the North — I see a bright future ahead of me. A future with friendships.
The ultimate friendship goal for me is Phoenix and Persephone from my book CONSEQUENCE (or certainly the new version of it). So when I look for an ultimate, once-in-a-lifetime best friend, I look for someone to be my Persephone (or my Phoenix, depending on which character I relate to most).

I don’t mean “I’m looking for a real-life equivalent of my character, because that would be weird (and awesome!). What I mean is that bond, that “I will love you no matter how much you annoy me”, that “I will stick by you even when you start a revolution” type thing (which is a requirement).

Having a friend always feels like such a new thing to me, and there are times when I feel so giddy, because I have someone to make plans with, someone to talk to, someone who actually messages me first! I will never take that for granted, because to me, it is precious.

******

I’m sitting in the front room of the Blue Sky Hostel, waiting to be shown to my room. A group of blonde Americans and Russians (?) sit in front of me, eating dry granola straight from the bag, and slapping rhythmically on a drum. They strike me as the kind of people who would smoke weed — it’s just a vibe I’m getting.

Well, you get what you pay for. I feel like these next two days are going to be hilarious. Oh my god, I heard someone mentioning drug deals! I *think* she was joking, but you can never be sure.
There’s a random toothbrush on the floor. This place is weird.

But I’m taking it all in my stride. Hey, at least they have running water! Unlike SOME places I’ve stayed recently…

On the bright side, Google maps is being the kind, supportive app I always believed it had the potential to be.
Right now, I want lunch, but I have to wait till 12 for someone to show me to my room. 10 minutes. Can my stomach survive such a wait?

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It’s 24 minutes past six, and I now sit in a vegan café called Mono, drinking mango green tea lemonade. I’ve spent the past six hours walking around, and I have a killer headache to show for it. In spite of the headache, I feel great joy to be in a place where I can order anything from the menu.

When I left the hostel, I decided to walk to the university. I stopped at a Belgian chip shop called Pomme Frittes, for a ridiculously large cone of chips, then headed for the university (I could see signs for Kelvingrove park, so I knew I couldn’t be going in completely the wrong direction).
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I wandered around the university buildings for a while. The place looks like Hogwarts! I meandered through cloisters and courtyards, taking photos to spam my friend with. I then walked down to Byres Road, and went to Juice Garden. It was raining by this point, so I sat inside, and drank an apple/strawberry/pineapple smoothie.
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I’d planned to take the subway to the city centre, but the whole subway system is closed for repairs, so I walked. I walked for two freaking miles. In sandals. I wandered around streets and shops for a while, bought a hairbrush, etc, to replace the things I left at home, and somehow it was 5 o’clock already.

After even more walking around, I came here, to Mono, which was a marvelous decision. I ordered a vegan “ham”, pineapple, and jalapeño pizza, with Cajun spiced chips. I ate way too much, and I’ll probably be bloated for all eternity from the gluten, but I have zero regrets.

******

It took me ages to get back to the hostel, because my phone battery was nearly dead, so I didn’t want to risk Google maps. I still had a dreadful headache, so I had a (cold, ggrrrr) shower, and went straight to (uncomfortable) bed. I was woken at exactly 23:41 by the sound of two Scottish men, and one Australian one having a loud, jolly conversation, peppered with swearwords.
That’s hostels for you. Or, should I say, that’s Glasgow for you.

Travel Diary — Days 12, 13, and 14 — 7th, 8th, and 9th July 2016

7th July 2016 –

I woke to the pattering of rain on the rooftop, and the roar of the ocean in the near distance. I woke in a contemplative mood, pondering one of my favourite philosophical questions: who am I?

I reflected on last night, with Anton and Melinda, and the thing I came back to was just how much I laughed. Even when such an instance is slotted into the bigger picture of the whole Estonia trip, I still see laughter as the most prominent change in my disposition.

I’ve always been a person who sought humour and happiness, but in recent years, laughter has hardly been a constant. Certainly, there were people I laughed with, people who could elicit a smile from me no matter my state of misery, but the majority of those people aren’t in my life anymore – some I haven’t seen in a whole year. And such laughter was always situated amidst a bigger picture of angst.

Since being in Estonia, I find myself laughing at everything. I laugh when I get ridiculously lost, I laugh at my own stupidity, and, most of all, I laugh when something makes me happy. And I want to be the kind of person who laughs, the kind of person who spreads joy more than anything else.

There are many personality traits I possess that feel like they have a negative flipside. I’m confident, and I know what I want, and I put myself first, and don’t take crap from anyone. But I can be brutal. If you upset me, I will remove you from my life, because I am the priority. Somehow, the virtue of self-love becomes the vice of cruelty.

Yet I am also compassionate, I feel everyone’s pain – everyone’s everything – and I can’t be as decisive in my removal as I’d like to be. I’m both too brutal, and too soft. And I wonder how these traits will alter as I grow and change. I wonder who I will become, and who I will consciously choose to be.

***
Today has been a day of simple pleasures, of feeling gratitude for the little things. I made myself instant coffee with soy cream, and perched on my favourite spot on the wooden staircase to drink it, watching through the window as the rain fell on the stones and flowers in the garden. I ate a simple breakfast of cereal, and contemplated life.

I boiled about four kettles of water, and finally got to washing the dishes. I felt like a regular little housewife – minus the wife part, obviously, which would make me just a house, and that’s kinda weird. I chopped potatoes, and asparagus, and vegan hotdogs, and tossed them in a pan to boil. Then I returned to the staircase, and wrote postcards to family and friends.

I looked out the window, and observed Anton brushing his teeth in the pouring rain. I will always love to watch people, no matter how mundane their activities.

Once the food was cooked, I drained out the water, and added oil, margarine, vegan creamcheese, and salt (when there’s practically nothing to flavour stuff with, you have to work with what you’ve got). I stirred it till the potatoes were all smashed up. I’m actually enjoying it a lot more than I’ve enjoyed most food recently.

The electricity went off when I was cooking (3 lights + kettle + stove, well done Eliza!) and I had to find Anton to switch it back on for me. Melinda smiled up at me adoringly.

Now I sit on the sofa-bed in the loft, listening to music and raindrops, and almost wishing I didn’t have to leave tomorrow. I know I’ll be happy when I return to London, that I’ll run in to the nearest Pret with open arms, and swim in a sea of soy coffee. I know I will practically weep with joy to hear my language spoken all around me. I know I will be so glad to see Penrith, my parents, my cat, my house, my bedroom, my sweet, sweet laptop… But I don’t want this journey to end.
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I don’t want Eliza The Traveller to lie dormant within me for months – or even years – on end. I couldn’t live like that. And I’m already wondering where my next trip will take me. I want to go to New Zealand, where I was born, and I want to go to Scandinavia, and the rest of North and Eastern Europe. I want to go to Germany too, because it’s where my mother’s family is from.

There’s one place I will almost certainly be going in only two months time, and that is Scotland. Maybe university will be the biggest adventure of all…

***

I had a strange thought earlier… I realised that here, without internet, it’s the first time in ages that I’ve felt like I own myself, like I own my own body, my own identity, my own story, my own life. When you’re around people who know you – or, at least, think they know you – there’s this constant take, take, take, as though you’re their property, rather than your own. But here, I’m Eliza, without being “Eliza”, if that makes any sense. I’m an identity without being a name. I don’t have to be a someone to anyone. I can enjoy being a no one, and I can enjoy being my own whole world.

Anton came up to bring sheets for the guests who will arrive after I leave tomorrow. He’s leaving tonight, and isn’t back till Monday. He checks the cupboards, and comments that the rat poison hasn’t been touched, to which I burst out “Rats? There are RATS?”

He tells me “No, no, there are only mice”. (To get the full effect of this interaction, you have to read it with the right accents. Estonian accents are slow, thoughtful, and vaguely Russian sounding but kinda sing-song-y. Whereas I was speaking in my posh-with-a-hint-of-Cumbrian accent, in full freak-out mode). I responded with “Mice? There are mice? Oh my god, there are mice!”

He points out that there aren’t, because the poison hasn’t been touched in the six months it’s been there. I’m still petrified. He points out there’ll be field mice all throughout the surrounding area, that there’ll be rabbits and foxes and deer. He then asks if I’m scared of spiders and flies, too. He’s totally taking the piss. I tell him I’m not scared of spiders, but I’m not keen on flies, given all the mosquito bites. He laughs at me. We say a casual goodbye.

Every noise scares me now. I can’t wait to leave tomorrow. I think I’ll walk the five miles to Võsu, rather than hang around till the 1:35 Eru bus. I want to return to civilisation (I can’t believe I’m calling Võsu civilisation!)

I need to wash my hair, but I almost can’t be bothered. I know I have to, though, because it’s two more nights till I’m home. So I’ll have dinner, boil three million kettles, wash my hair – and the dishes – then I’ll pack up my stuff, and first thing tomorrow, I’ll be gone.

8th July 2016 –

And yet again, I find myself sitting at Võsu bus stop, waiting for the 1:20 bus. I had what was possibly the worst night’s sleep of all my time in Estonia, and I’m 100 percent sure it was a direct consequence of mine and Anton’s little chat about mice and rat poison. It took me hours to get to sleep, and when I finally did drop off, I woke, consistently, every half hour, terrified of the things that go bump in the night.
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I finally got up, at 8 o’clock, packed the last of my things, and set off to walk the 5 kilometres (I actually thought it was 5 miles at this point) to Võsu, to use the WiFi for a few hours before the bus (okay, I wanted to escape the nonexistent mice).

It was weird being part of the civilised world again (yes, Võsu is civilised. Why? WiFi, and toilets!) I had about five million instagram notifications, not to mention a similar number of messages from my mother. They almost made me cry, because she’d convinced herself I was dead (mate, I nearly had MYSELF convinced I was dead! No toilet? *cries*).

I let myself see the charm of Võsu, of Lahemaa, now that I was so close to leaving.

The whole Walking to Võsu thing didn’t initially seem like the best idea. I’d walked approximately five metres when I began ranting to myself in my head “Eliza, you f*****g idiot! You cannot possibly walk this far, carrying a bag this heavy! What’s WRONG with you?” But after last night, with the rodent revelation, I was determined to avoid that outhouse at all costs (it just seemed like the kinda place rodents would hang out…)

I have three mantras that I repeat to myself in moments of doubt. By now, you’ll be familiar with the “strong, independent woman” one, and the “what have I learnt?” The third one is “don’t look back”. That seems entirely counterintuitive to the idea of a travel diary, given that (spoiler alert!) most entries are written a good few hours after the events occur.

But I don’t mean the figurative “looking back”, I’m not talking about inner sight. I mean “do not look behind you, you whiny-ass bitch. You got yourself into this miss, so focus on the road in front of you!” Other times, it’s just a preservation of sanity. Leaving Tallinn nearly broke my heart. The only way forward was to refuse to look back.

So I applied this technique to my walk back to Võsu. Yes, I was a victim of fate, crippling fear of rodents, and lack of a normal freaking toilet, but the one thing I COULD control was my motivation. So I plugged in my earphones, turned my motivational travel playlist up loud, and I didn’t walk to Võsu, I freaking danced. (It was 9 in the morning, there weren’t many cars).
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I forced myself to be enchanted by the journey, to breathe in the scent of petrichor and pine trees, mime to music in the rain. You see, I am a very stubborn person, and a proud one, too. I refuse to admit defeat, even if that means walking five kilometres in the rain.
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***

As my faithful readers, you know by now that my skills with public transport are absolutely dire. So let me tell you the story of how I nearly missed my flight, and almost ended up stranded in Estonia.

There is one daily bus from Võsu to Tallinn, and it departs at 1:20. This bus takes approximately one hour and twenty-five minutes to reach Tallinn bus station, meaning I would arrive in Tallinn at 2:45. The bus was three minutes late.

I was pretty sleepy on the bus ride, but I passed the journey by daydreaming of the double-shot soy lattes I would purchase once I landed at Gatwick (priorities, dudes, priorities). The bus supposedly had WiFi, but it was crap, so I spent most of the journey with my face squished against the window, watching the country go by.

I had a text from Anton, asking if I’d managed to get on the right bus, without getting lost (oh ha HA!), and something about had he left a key in the cottage? I sent a long reply, saying how I hadn’t noticed a key because I’d been too scared of potential rodents, and then thanked him for being a good host, and said how cute Melinda is.

Next time I prised my eyes away from my phone, I saw a sign for Tallinn, and my brain lit up like “TALLINN! TALLINN! TALLINN! TALLINN!” because that city is my absolute fave. I got off at the right stop, bought some banana chips (literally the only vegan food I could find, gggrrrrrr). And suddenly it was three o’clock. The bus I needed to take to get to the airport left from a bus stop called autobussijam. The problem was, there were multiple stops with this name (wtf?), and I didn’t see the bus. Finally, I saw it: whizzing past me.

I had forty minutes till the gates closed. I wandered around, searching for another bus, to no avail. Finally, I thought “f**k it!” (my internal monologue swears a lot), “I’m going to walk!” So, with a teensy weensy bit of help from my frenemy Google maps, I walked (okay, dude, I freaking ran!) along the footpath of the Tartu Maantee, ran (brisk-walked by this point) a few red lights, and made it through security with literally two minutes to spare! I was terrified of missing my flight! I had 90 euros in my purse; my debit card didn’t work in Estonia. If I had missed that flight, I would have been utterly screwed.

The conclusion I came to is that I am both ridiculously unlucky, and ridiculously lucky at the same time. If it is possible to get lost, I will, but I will always end up where I need to be, even if only at the last minute.

***

The flight was pretty dull – the guy to my right was asleep, and the guy to my left was reading The Daily Mail, so I knew I wasn’t going to get an intelligent conversation out of either of them. I read “Pride and Prejudice” for a while, then tried (and failed) to sleep. I watched my fellow passengers, observed the beard of the sleeping guy next to me (ew), judged the guy on my left for his dreadful taste in newspapers, the scent of the two cans of beer he was drinking (ew), not the mention the loud crunch of him eating crisps (*dies slowly*).

Then I thought about the episode of “Castle” where there’s a murder on a plane, and how a significant character in “Medium” died in a plane crash. Then I thought about how there’s a movie called “Snakes on a Plane” and what would actually happen if there WERE snakes on a plane? Then I imagined if there were rats, and made myself very miserable. Then I started thinking about terrorists attacks, or if the plane fell into the ocean. Not in a scared, or worried way, but just because it was something interesting to ponder. I have a weird mind.

I now sit in Costa Coffee in Gatwick, waiting for my phone to charge. I’m highly caffeinated, and highly impatient, and really hungry. I feel like unhealthy, deep-fried-potato-y junk food. The problem with being vegan is that finding an actual meal is nearly impossible, and I’m sick to death of snack food. The only proper meal I’ve had today is breakfast. I feel like chips.

I’m also on high alert in case anyone steals my bags. I never worried like that in Tallinn – I felt safer there. But here, I’m just planning how I’d wack someone over the head with “Pride and Prejudice” if they touched my bag.
Phone battery at 63%? That will do. Time to find foooooooooooood!

***

I got so excited when I reached London Victoria Station and found a Pret. I love Pret so much (we don’t get that kind of gloriousness in Penrith). I got even more excited when I found a vegan artichoke/olive/basil/pesto baguette. I also bought a hazelnut soy latte because HEAVEN!!!! I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed food so much (oh yeah, the last time I went to Pret, almost two weeks ago).

I then walked to London Victoria Coach Station, and bought two bags of fries. I now feel very ill. My heart is racing from the caffeine, I’m bloated from the baguette, and the fries were just overkill. My poor stomach has forgotten how to deal with so much food.

It’s one hour and seven minutes till my bus leaves, but – given my track record with public transport – I’m not taking any risks. So I sit on a hard, metal bench, post too many Facebook updates, listen to music, and write write write.

I’m absolutely exhausted – all I want to do is sleep! Thanks to that lovely little thing called a Two Hour Time Difference, I’ve been awake for 15 hours (and that’s before we consider how disturbed last night was!) and I have another hour till I can get on my bus. I can’t spend too much time mindlessly gawking at my phone (or spamming my sister with messages about all the attractive people I can see), because battery life is precious. So I have two options: read a little more of “Pride and Prejudice”, or spill the contents of my caffeine-consumed mind onto these pages.

I’m too tired to read, so…let’s talk about the plethora of attractive people. We don’t get these in Penrith! And I’m not saying this as in “Ooh, I’m attracted to everyone here”, because I’m not, and that would be weird. But as a writer? Man, this is wonderful. I like looking at attractive people, writing about attractive people. Now I know that all these attractive people actually exist. Dude! So much inspiration.

On a related note, multicultural Britain is beautiful. After spending two weeks in the Land of All Blondeness, it was a joy to arrive at Gatwick and see people from all over the world. If anything makes Britain “great”, it’s multiculturalism (and Pret, but that goes without saying).

9th July 2015 –

So this is it – the final chapter. I suppose it’s more of an epilogue, really, as this final entry is written as a reflection. I’m home now, sitting comfortably in my own bed. The journey’s over, all that’s left to do is summarise.

It’s weird to be back home. In many ways, I’ve been gone for a lifetime, yet it also feels as though I never left at all.

I didn’t sleep at all during the seven-hour-long bus ride home (FYI, I actually got off at the right stop. I know, shocking!) I was completely wired on caffeine, and I couldn’t put my mind to any kind of rest. So I listened to my music, and watched out my window as the streetlamp-lit monopoly board of London spread out before me.

I love London – that city was where I had my first taste of independence, at seventeen, when I spent a week on my own there for a work experience placement at Working Title Films. London is this labyrinthine tangle of tall buildings, and it exists as though in another dimension of reality. I love and hate London with equal fervour, but – staring out that bus window into the darkened streets – it was a time to love, a time to soak up the energy, feel the many centuries of history.

I felt more and more restless with each passing hour. I couldn’t sleep, the guy sitting next to me was an e-cigarette smoker, and stank of the stuff. Oh, and I had terrible stomach pain from the baguette I got from Pret, because I’d conveniently chosen to forget that gluten makes me ill.

Sometime after four o’clock, I came up with a wonderful (okay, tragic) plot twist for the sixth book in what was once my trilogy. I entertained myself for the next couple of hours, planning the details of the murders of two beloved characters, as the bus crept slowly northward.

I reached Penrith – and my very excited mother – sometime before six. I could barely walk, my legs were so tired, and my stomach was killing me (the baguette was delicious, I have no regrets, Pret is still the great love of my life), but it was good to be home.

Afterword – 10th July 2016 –

If ever in my journey there was a time to say something wise, it would be now, as a final reflection. But wisdom evades me. I sit in my bed, my legs under the blankets, listening to Biffy Clyro’s “God and Satan”, typing on my laptop rather than writing this last entry by hand. I’m home, and life’s normal, and it goes on, and I have food and TV and I’m satisfied. But I miss train stations; I miss those doorways between one place and another. I miss the world, no matter how glad I am to be back in peaceful Penrith, with all those glorious things like hashbrowns.

Estonia is a distant memory, yet I see it so clearly in my mind (and feel it in my exhausted legs). I’m already planning my next trip abroad. I’m thinking of going to New Zealand and Australia next summer. It would mean working my butt off to pay for it, because it is obviously far more expensive than flying to Europe. But I need to travel again, I need that freedom to lose and find myself, that freedom to push past those boundaries, explore worlds that aren’t my own (and realise that really, they are as much a part of me as the places I’ve lived my life, that places I’ve grown up). So what feels like the end of the journey of a lifetime is really just the beginning of what will be many journeys. As much as I love my home comforts, I was not made to stay in one place for too long, to live my life in a routine. I was made to fly free, to soar across skies both literal and metaphorical. So, for now, I will rest my wings, I will slip back into my quiet life. I will write my books, and go to work, and catch up on the past two seasons of “Game of Thrones”, and I will let myself be as normal as I’m capable of, because I have no need to be otherwise. But, sometime soon, these wings will need to stretch out again, to exercise their natural need for flight. And then, I will be gone.

Travel Diary — Days 10 & 11 — 5th and 6th July 2016

5th July 2016 —

I woke early this morning — sometime after 4. Because this is Estonia, full-on daylight streamed in through the large windows. I was freezing cold, so I crept across the room to grab another blanket, then snuggled back into bed. I’d had weird dreams, so I didn’t fall back to sleep.

I got up at 7, and went for a walk through the forest, to the beach. It was chilly outside, but I still took off my shoes and rolled up my jeans, and padded across the sand, into the water. The sea here isn’t blue like it is at Stroomi beach. As a whole, it’s a dark grey colour, like thick storm clouds, but close up, it’s almost amber.
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There are times when I feel that writing can limit the beauty of the object it describes. I can tell you the colour of the water, and perhaps describe how the cold wind felt against my face, but I will never have the words to describe the beauty, the tranquility, the immense peace.

6th July 2016 —

I spent a good chunk of yesterday asleep. After I came back from the beach, I lay in bed for a while, and somehow ended up sleeping for several hours. When I ventured outside again, sometime later, Anton’s mother (I really need to learn her name) offered to show me the best part of the beach to watch the sunset from. Little Melinda ran along behind us on her tiny legs, grinning at me, and chattering away in Estonian.

Afterwards, I went for a walk in the forest. I left the “road”, and followed a path deeper into the woods. Pine trees towered over me, swaying in the strong wind, and the green moss was springy beneath my feet. I thought of the line from Angela Carter’s ‘The Erl-King’ “The woods enclose…swallow you up”, and I suddenly understood why so many fairytales are set in forests. Places like these have a consuming nature hidden in their green depths. But I felt safe, even when I ventured off the path, and I knew that there was no big, bad wolf coming to eat me.
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At 9 o’clock, I went to the beach to watch the sunset. It was freezing cold, and the wind pushed the rushes near-flat against the ground. I sat, cross-legged on a large, stone boulder, sitting steadfast against the wind, watching the setting sun peek out from behind the clouds, and glisten upon the waves. It was beautiful — immensely so — but I felt desperately lonely as I sat, shivering on that rock.
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I wanted someone to share it with. Not someone to talk to — certainly not! — but someone to sit in silence and watch with. I pulled my cardigan around me like a cocoon, and watched determinedly. After nearly an hour, the sun came out from behind the clouds, and glowed a fiery orange. I crowed with joy, and, for a few moments, my solitude didn’t cause my heart to ache.

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I woke in the middle of the night, in horrible discomfort from the five million mosquito bites which decorate my skin. I wanted to cry. I lathered myself in coconut oil, hoping its magical powers would make me itch less. After that interruption to my slumber, I slept till ten o’clock.

I didn’t really want to get up at all, but I saw that the sun was shining for the first time in four days, so I decided to go go the beach.

Sun or no sun, the water was freezing, but I walked in until the waves crashed up to my waist. I noticed my shadow in the amber water, a landscape of browny red, in the shape of a girl with her hair swept away by the sea breeze.

Seeing that image, reflected before me, I thought — as I had thought yesterday in the forest — about the idea of archetypes, fairytales, timeless grand narratives, and I asked myself where I could fit into such a concept.

I sat on a rock in the sea, and pictured myself as a siren, singing sailors to their deaths. The idea was laughable — perhaps that’s why I entertained such a notion. The thing about being a writer, is that you don’t just think of characters, or see them. You have to let them take over, let yourself be them, even if for only a moment.

It was when I stood up, and saw my reflection again, that I truly saw myself, saw the archetype I was, the role I wanted to have. And that was the hero, ready to set out on her quest. Although I’ve already set out on mine, and it’s nearly over. (Or maybe it’s only just begun).

I watched the red woman in the amber sea, and pictured the image of a person waiting for a ship to come in — how, historically, that image would be a woman, waiting for a man to return home. And I knew that such an image would never be what I saw in the reflection before me.

I was the hero — that traditionally male role — like those from Greek myths, and that metaphorical ship was the vessel of my quest. I will always be the hero — to play any other role has never been an option.

It sounds arrogant to say I’ve always been destined for greatness, but what if I said I’d MADE it my destiny to be great — that I always will do? I can’t settle for ordinariness, for mediocrity. It’s right up there with smalltalk on the list of things I despise.

I sit in a chair on the stone patio now, with the sun and breeze touching my shoulders with equal fervour.

I watched Anton blowing bubbles for Melinda to chase, her little hands poking them with glee. I watched the pair, and laughed to myself, enjoying their sweetness. Anton greeted me when he saw me, and Melinda ran to me with the bottle of bubble liquid, blowing bubbles into the air around me.

Although she and I do not share a language, we can communicate in smiles and giggles, and she’s such a sweet little thing.

They’re both back inside their cottage now — I can see them through the window — and I must content myself with watching the bees and butterflies dancing amongst the purple lavender flowers in the garden.

I feel infinitely lonelier here than I did in Tallinn — if such a thing is possible. Perhaps it is having this family living in such close proximity, people that I see every day, communicate with every day. I see the company they have in each other, and my solitude becomes magnified. This is a place for families, I can see that. And I think to myself how much nicer it would be if my family were here.

But what would I learn? (The question I always ask myself during moments of doubt). Every moment I spend alone, every sunset I see in solitude…those experiences shape me, show me who I am when I’m on my own. I’m surely a different person now to the girl who left Penrith train station nine days ago. I must be…

I do wonder what it will be like to return home after all this time, to interact with family/friends/coworkers. How will my relationship with them have changed? It’s one thing for me to sit here, half a continent away from my everyday life, and say that I’ve changed, that I’m a different person to who I was… But I can’t honestly say that it’s true until I’ve seen how such changes translate into my ordinary life.

Then, because I’m a philosopher at heart, I ask myself what IS my ordinary life? Estonia feels ordinary to me now. Tallinn became routine, Eru is becoming routine. England is a distant memory.

My home life has been dominated by school for the past three years, and now that that’s over, it’s not “ordinary” that I return to anyway. And, on the day I return home, it will be two months till I leave for university, and then THAT will become my ordinary.

Ordinary is not a place, it is a series of days, interactions, acquaintances, that become routine. Ordinary is a construct based on the expression of our lives. Can we really leave ordinary, or return to ordinary, or even take ordinary with us? Or is ordinary something that we make up as we go along?

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I sat outside for a while, and entertained myself by reading “Pride and Prejudice”. It’s been so long since I’ve read a book that wasn’t for school, and I forgot just how much I adore reading. There were many times when I found myself smiling, or laughing out loud, at this book that was written over 200 years ago, and it made me marvel at the power of literature.

If my books continue to touch people, to elicit emotions from them in 200 years from now, then I will be a very happy dead person.

Anton and Melinda came outside again, to get water from then hose. Anton asked if I would like to play boardgames with him later (no, mum, that’s not an innuendo!), and I said that that would be nice (yay, no more solitude!)

Melinda grinned at me as she filled buckets with water, and talked at me in Estonian. I obviously couldn’t understand a word she said, so I just smiled back at her. Then she started to imitate the way I scrunch my nose up when I smile at cute things, which just made me do it even more.

There’s something this place reminds me of (other than ‘Little House on the Prairie’), and I can’t figure out what it is. But as I sat outside, reading a Jane Austen novel, and smiling at that cute little girl, I realised that I’m happy here. I couldn’t live like this for more than a few days — I’m far too tribe wired (media audience theory reference) for that — but for now, I’m happy. It’s nice to get away from the world for a while, nice to not have to force myself to reply to messages when I don’t want to talk to people (which, honestly, is a lot of the time). It’s nice to just be Eliza, rather than Eliza In Relation To Everybody Else.

And, at the same time, I miss modern technology. I miss being able to Google things whenever I feel like it. I miss showers, and toilets, and a proper kitchen. I miss all the things I’m used to. I miss them, but now I know that I don’t need then to survive (I just kinda really want them…)

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I made myself a simple dinner of rye bread, asparagus, and vegan hotdogs, because I was too lazy to make anything else. I never seem to have the energy to eat at the moment — feeding myself feels like a chore. There’s too much food, and I have little will to eat it. I need to use up practically everything tomorrow, as it’s my last full day here. I suppose, if it comes to it, I can take some stuff to eat on the journey back to Tallinn.

I miss the food from home — whether that be my mum’s cooking, or hashbrowns from the hot food counter in Sainsbury’s. I miss what I’m used to. I realised yesterday that perhaps the reason I’ve gone off food lately is that practically everything I’ve been eating recently has come from a packet, and I’ve had hardly any fruits or vegetables. Let alone anything with proper herbs and spices!

The days go by quicker here than they do in Tallinn — perhaps because I spend them doing absolutely nothing. And somehow, I find myself writing more, even though there’s so much less to write about. I write to keep the loneliness away, I write to communicate with the reader, who is so distanced from me here. I write because I think. I write because it’s the only thing I know how to do.

I remember last night, when I sat watching the sunset, and all I could think of was how I would describe it, what imagery I would create.

Writing is an impulse, it’s a disease, an affliction of the mind that you can’t escape. No matter where you are, or what you’re doing, you see the world through the lens of the spectator, because you know your role is to describe it. You don’t sit and watch the sunset, completely in that moment. Oh no, you ask yourself how you would write about it, how your characters would respond to it.

And when I write these blogs, does that mean I am a character too? That I can’t experience things as Eliza The Person, but only as Eliza The Narrator-Protagonist?

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Well Anton’s offer of boardgames proved empty. Perhaps he knocked on the door while I was sleeping, or perhaps he simply forgot, I don’t know. But I have to say, I’m disappointed. I would have enjoyed the company…

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What do you know? I was wrong. Anton and Melinda came by, and we played boardgames together. It was somewhat amusing, because Anton had to act as translator, as Melinda and I don’t speak the same language. Although playing boardgames with a three-year-old can be a somewhat…testing experience, I had fun. Anton and I seemed to get on well, though every time we started talking, Melinda would interrupt with “Isa!” (which I presume means “dad” in Estonian) and when that didn’t get his attention, she would frustratedly demand “Aaaaaanton!”. She’s such a bossy little thing, but very adorable.

It was nice to not feel so alone.

It is interesting… We’re trained from a young age — by school, or suchlike — to only bond with our peers, to connect with people based on mutual age, and little else. And that system has never worked for me. But tonight, with Anton, who must be about thirty, and Melinda, who is three, I had fun. Because we could laugh together, we could share our human experience. And, sometimes, that is enough.

Travel Diary — Days 8 & 9 — 3rd and 4th July 2016

3rd July 2016 —

I never thought it would be possible to love a place the way you can love a person. But Tallinn is personified to me, and the passion I feel for this city is as strong as anything I could feel for a fellow human. I don’t want to leave. It’s my last night here, and already this studio flat feels like home, and the walk here is familiar, routine. I’ve made myself a life here, in only a week, and I can’t bear go give that up.

I spent the day wandering languidly through the city, revisiting places where memories were made. I wanted to go to Kadriorg, to prove a point to myself, or Google maps, or whoever cared. But I decided to go to the Old Town first.

I wandered through the now-familiar cobbled streets, and — by chance — happened upon a place I’d wanted to visit all week, but hadn’t been able to locate: Vegan Restoran V. I bought three gorgeous cupcakes to takeaway, and went and sat on a bench under the Raekoda arch in Raekoja Plats.
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It was bittersweet, watching the square before me. I saw tourists, and pigeons, and cafés, but I didn’t SEE them.

All I saw was Phoenix and Persephone. I didn’t see Persephone’s death, or her speech against the Tsar, or Phoenix sobbing on bloodstained snow. I didn’t see scenes from the actual book. I just saw my characters, laughing, happy, running around. Because I’d brought them home. Perhaps, in a way, I’d brought myself home too.
I was near tears when I left the Old Town — because I don’t know when, or if, I’ll see it again.

I then set off for Kadriorg, but it was raining dreadfully, so I ducked into the Rotermann quarter, and looked around the shops till it dried a little. Then I found a tram headed for Kadriorg, and STILL managed to get off at the wrong stop (is anyone sensing a pattern here?)

I walked the rest of the way, without the aid of Google maps, and got there just fine.
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Kadriorg was pleasant enough, but it was wet and rainy, and all I really wanted to do was get back to my flat, and snuggle up under a blanket. So I wandered around Kadriorg park, trying to find a tram stop, and somehow ended up on the Narva Maantee, across the road from Pirita beach.

Although I felt pretty miserable by this point, I decided to tick another destination off my Tallinn bucket list, and go to Pirita. The sand was damp from rainwater, and the sky was heavy with clouds, but I took off my sandals (mostly just because they were brutalising my feet) and paddled in the sea, letting the waves wash up to my ankles.
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I picked some flowers, and pressed them between the pages of my diary. Then I walked barefoot across the grass to the nearest bus stop and (with sandals back on by this point, obviously) got a bus to Viru Keskus, where I discovered (after six days!!!!) there is a café that does soy coffee!!!!!!!!!!

I sat on one of the curvy, white, plastic benches, drank coffee, and thought about how much I’m going to miss this city. I looked in some of the shops, then took a final walk through the Old Town. I walked the long way back to my flat, taking the road that curves along the base of Toompea Hill.

When I finally reached my flat, I couldn’t unlock the door, no matter how hard I tried. I was frustrated, but I didn’t cry (I gave myself the “You’re a grown-ass woman, etc, etc” speech). Eventually, some neighbours passed — Russian Estonians. I asked if they spoke English. The man spoke a little. I asked for help. He tried the door, couldn’t open it. He went and got his friend, another Russian man, who DID manage to unlock it for me — at which point they cheered loudly, in typical Russian style.

Russian Man No.1 joked that I had to kiss his cheek as payment. I cringed, he laughed. It seems that no matter where I am in the world, middle-aged men will always know just how to wind me up.

4th July 2016 —

Leaving Tallinn was pretty simple — even I managed not to screw it up. That was leaving Tallinn… Arriving in Eru? Now THAT was a colossal screw-up. I missed my stop, and ended up some five km away in Võsu, a “town” in the middle of a forest. There was WiFi near the bus stop (just!), so I sent a message to Anton, my AirBnB host, and explained my predicament. He couldn’t pick me up because he wouldn’t arrive until evening, but he told me there’d be another bus at 1:20.
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So I sat in a bus shelter for two.whole.hours. I was so pleased with myself when I got off at Eru. That was over three hours ago now. The directions Anton gave me were: the cottage is equidistant between the Eru and Tammispea stops, and visible from the road. So I walked from Eru towards Tammispea, with my three heavy bags. I walked all the way to the Tammispea stop. There hadn’t been a single house visible from the road throughout the entire walk.
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I did what I do best: sat and sulked. Then I decided to walk back, just in case I’d missed it. I stopped every few metres because my bags were so heavy. I walked all the way back to the Eru stop. I discovered that if I sang, the journey went much quicker, so I traumatised the wildlife with renditions of Lana Del Rey songs, and tried not to be defeatist.

I sit at Eru bus stop now (which is just a wooden bench). Anton said he’d be coming from Tallinn this evening, so I have this theory that if I sit here long enough, he’ll drive past, and see me. It’s 5:10. 3½ hours since I first arrived at this bus stop. Thank God it doesn’t get dark till midnight!

There were many times today where I wanted to cry. But the only crying I could muster was that horrible kind of whiny crying. And that’s pointless when you’re on your own, because there’s no one to feel sorry for you.

The fact is, I wanted to be a child, and have someone come and fix my problems for me, but I’m not a child. I’m an adult now, and I have to solve my own problems. Maybe that means I need to go in the other direction, and see if maybe the cottage is somewhere down that way. Maybe it means I should just sit here for a while.

The road is surrounded by forest, but there is a clearing before me, and white butterflies flutter amongst the ferns and rose bay willow herb. What a beautiful place to be lost! Birds chirp in the distance, and it suddenly occurs to me that they probably have bears and wolves in Estonia. That’s it! I’m definitely going to try walking in the other direction!

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I’d walked all of ten metres when a thought suddenly struck me: yes, I can’t message Anton, because I have no WiFi, but I could try calling him! So I called, and it worked for about a minute, before my phone realised I was in a foreign country and my credit shouldn’t work. So I’m still ridiculously lost, but at least he now knows that I’m ridiculously lost…

What I DID gather, is that I had gone the right way from Eru — hence, there is no point venturing the other way. I guess I’ll just sit here and hope that Anton finds me before the wolves and bears do.

I’m not particularly sad, or scared, or miserable. I’m not even frustrated anymore. I’m just worn out. And hungry. And I really need to pee. I don’t want to walk anymore, I don’t want to triple-check the location of a building I couldn’t find the first two times. All I really want to do is nap. (And pee — that is the priority).

Anton texted me, asked questions about my location, but my pain-in-the-ass of a phone decided my reply couldn’t send. I’m stranded in the middle of nowhere, covered in mosquito bites, I haven’t had a full meal since breakfast, and there might just be wolves and bears in this forest. I don’t even know if Anton’s left Tallinn yet! This is going to be a looooooooong night. To think, eight hours ago, I was still in Tallinn!

Even though the sun won’t set for another few hours, I feel like it’s already starting to get dark. I need caffeine, and sleep (probably not in that order!)

I miss somewhere right now, but I don’t know whether I miss home, or Tallinn.

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A short time later, my Anton In Shining Armour (if we can call him that…) appeared. It turned out the whole confusion had been an issue of semantics. When he said “visible from the road”, he really meant “visible from the turn-off down a muddle pebbly potholed track”. What I interpreted as a road, he called a highway. Well hellooooo cultural relativism!

When I reached the cottage, my initial thought was “Oh my God, I’m in ‘Little House on the Prairie’ hell!”
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There is no shower, or sink — the only running water is a hose. And there is no toilet, only an outhouse. And, oh my God, there is no WiFi! I knew there’d be no WiFi, but somehow “no WiFi” in theory, is very different from “no WiFi” in reality.

What am I meant to do for four days? Commune with nature? Find religion?

I felt a bit better once I’d eaten. (At least there’s electricity…) But I still feel incredibly disconnected from the modern world. It’s kind of scary that I don’t know who I am without social media…

My generation gets a lot of flak for being the “selfie generation”, for being obsessed with our online presence. But for someone like me, social media goes a lot deeper than that… I’m an introvert, I can’t stand socialising for more than a brief amount of time. But I need my little audience, my Eliza Fanclub. Particularly now that school’s finished, and I don’t have my teachers to be my daily audience.

I love to be noticed, but noticed on a greater scale. I don’t want to be noticed in the sense of people who are fans of the idea they have concocted of me (I.e. crush type admiration), I want to be admired for the me I present to the world, my own representation of me, and social media is the only way I can create that representation.

I need Facebook, I need Instagram, I need twitter, I need this blog, because they’re the only medium I have for sharing myself on my own terms.

Rain patters down against the roof of the loft where I lie, and I can almost see the beauty in this ‘Little House on the Prairie’ nightmare. I miss showers, and comfy beds, and proper running water, and internet access, but it’s beautiful to be so hidden from the world.

I always seem to take on the energy of all the people around me, and this tiny village of wooden houses is the perfect antidote to a week of city life. The people here seem different to those in Tallinn. When I was stranded in Võsu, I was approached by two sweet old ladies who noticed me sitting there for a while, and wanted to see if I was okay. We could each only say a handful of words in the other’s language, yet they seemed like such lovely women.

Anton’s mother also seems lovely. A woman in her fifties (I’m guessing) with yellow-blonde hair, who seems to go about life at a peaceful pace. I watched her gardening, through the window.

The writer in me is curious about the people here, about their stories. Every time I see older people in Estonia, I think about the Soviet era, and wonder what life was like for these people who walk the same streets as me, today, in this world. Did it feel like history was being made when they lived through it?

Maybe I’ve heard too much about “Brexit” recently, but the idea of tumultuous history has been on my mind a lot lately. The things that we view as horrific, or groundbreaking, what were they like for the people who lived through them? Was it just normal life for them? Did things develop at such a pace that the outrageous crept up on them and became normal? I don’t know…

I’m so obsessed with people, with the way they interact, the way they go about their daily lives. But I would so much rather be an onlooker than a participant. I’m a voyeur by nature, and I’m so much better when I watch life from afar. But what happens when I blur the lines between the voyeur and the object of voyeurism?

What happens when I want to participate in life, and watch my own participation as if it were someone else’s? As a writer, I document the lives of others, but there are times when I want to document my own, to have a life WORTH documenting…

I, at times, wish to be both author and protagonist, scriptwriter and star… Can life work that way? Perhaps I can make it work…

For now, I content myself with observation of others. Anton comes into the cottage to get a mattress and blankets for his cottage, which is a few metres away from this one. I find Anton intriguing, perhaps because his English is fluent, so I hope to get a decent conversation out of him at some point. He is a tall man — taller than me, I think — and muscular, with a long face, longish hair, and dreadful fashion sense. (I’m SURE bootcut trousers have been out of fashion since before he was born, but whatever…)

His daughter follows him up the stairs. She’s a cute little thing — about three years old, with dirty-blonde hair. She babbles to her dad in Estonian. He glances at me, then says something to the girl. He must have told her I’m English, because she grins at me and says “hello”, and I completely melt. He introduces her as Melinda. She’s the cutest thing!

Watching the interactions between Anton, Melinda, and Anton’s mother, I begin to think I CAN survive four days without internet and creature comforts. Why? Because I have the good, old-fashioned tools of my trade: pens, paper, and muses for inspiration. Maybe there’s a story here, or inspiration for one — I don’t know.

But I feel like the universe, or whatever’s out there, always puts me in the right place at the right time. And maybe, just maybe, my ‘Little House on the Prairie’ hell is the right place for me right now. Perhaps the next lesson I will learn on my journey is how to get back to the basics.

Earlier, sitting at Eru bus stop and questioning the purpose of life, I began to wonder why I had booked this trip in the first place. Tallinn made sense, because Tallinn is synonymous with my book to me — or, at least, it was. But Lahemaa National Park? Why here? It was nothing more than a whim. I thought: I can come to the middle of nowhere and get lots of writing done.

Then fate played a cruel trick (also known as: I misread the Easyjet guidelines) and I couldn’t take my laptop as well as my other bag. I didn’t even think about the effect such a plot twist would have on this phase of my journey.

All this led me to thinking that coming to Eru was a colossal waste of time. Now, though, I don’t feel like that’s the case. I was sent here by fate, because somewhere here there is the material for a story. Also, my beloved Baltic Sea is only about 50 metres away.

Life is full of possibilities, and full of stories, and perhaps such things are far more important than social media. And as much as I miss the instant gratification of likes and comments, I don’t miss my phone buzzing all the time, I don’t miss being constantly connected to the wide, wide web. (Though I am a little scared about how much crap can happen in British politics in a four-day period).
Anyway, I must sleep.

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Sleep? The first night in a new place, did I really expect easy slumber? I went outside in my pajamas, and watched the sunset through the trees. All I could see were colours, a gorgeous orange shrouded with dark green leaves. Anton’s mother saw me, and told me to put some shoes on so she could show me a better place to watch.

She led me over near the door of their cottage, where there was a metre-or-so wide clear view of the setting sun disappearing into the forest, which, in turn, disappeared into the Baltic sea. I watched, transfixed.

I heard Anton and his mother, talking in Estonian somewhere behind me, and, for the first time, I heard the beauty on the Estonian language. That 3-person, 3-generation, compact family unit loved each other so dearly, and I could understand that, even when I couldn’t understand the words they spoke.

Travel Diary — Days 6 & 7 — 1st and 2nd July 2016

July 1st 2016 —
There are times when I wonder how much of the way I act is me, and how much is my characters. I often jokingly refer to them as “the voices in my head”, so such a statement could be viewed as me diagnosing my own insanity, but that is not the case. What I do wonder, though, is: do I sometimes act in their interests, rather than mine? And where is the overlap? Where do I draw the line between their interests and my own?

I came to Hotel Viru today (which I have mentioned numerous times is a significant setting in my novels), to book a ticket for a tour of the KBG museum there (as an excuse to ogle more of the building, although I am relatively interested in Soviet history). Finding myself behind a long line of Finnish tourists, I decided to sit down on one of the comfy-looking chairs near reception, rather than standing in line, or coming back later, the way a NORMAL person would.

It was my character Phoenix who made me do it, made me sit there for at least ten minutes. Her main goal for this journey is to have me lurk in/around this building as much as possible. She’s just like “Mine!” Possessive little thing that she is…

When I finally booked my ticket for the tour, Phoenix actually danced a jig in my head. You may wonder how a non-physical entity can dance a jig, but Phoenix knows no boundaries. She is s law unto herself.

I sit now in a café in a bookshop on the top floor of Viru Keskus (shopping centre), drinking two different types of peach juice, because I can’t get coffee, as they don’t seem to do soy milk #veganproblems

Bookshops give me this immense feeling of peace and calm, even when I can’t understand the language. I have an hour till my KGB tour (when Phoenix will probably start doing summersaults in my head), and I’m kinda tempted to walk across the Old Town to find the coffee kiosk near the train station, where I went yesterday, because I NEED CAFFEINE! Yes, I’m doing it. I’m following my heart, straight to the caffeine.
(Love you caffeine xxxxx <3 <3 <3) ******************************************** Well, my quest for caffeine lasted all of 20 minutes, when I realised that if I continued, I wouldn't be back in time for the tour. I hadn't banked on the way running up cobblestone streets on a hill, wearing a dress and sandals, would slow me down. So I remain free of caffeine, but I'm happy. I enjoyed the tour. I enjoyed learning about life under Soviet rule (and story ideas immediately ensued). But most of all, I enjoyed the place as I, and only I, could see it. My characters ran around like ghosts, invisible to all but me. I saw Kai running down the stairs to find Phoenix, Persephone sitting in a chair, muttering "must kill" repeatedly, and, obviously, I saw Phoenix. IMG_20160701_153535

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Phoenix was there like an invisible presence behind my shoulder, demanding that I photograph EVERYTHING for later use. There was a guestbook, for visitors to leave messages in, and I couldn’t resist writing “Phoenix and Persephone will be here in 2323″. It was little, and it was silly, but it was my way of leaving their mark on the place. Phoenix wanted some minor graffiti, but I wasn’t up for that.
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I feel a different kind of sadness now, now that my homesickness has dissipated. My days in Tallinn are numbered now — I only have two full days left here, before continuing onto the next leg of my journey. I’m going to miss this quirky city, with its gorgeous architecture, beautiful beaches, and ghosts of characters future. Tallinn has had a place in my heart from the moment I decided to set CONSEQUENCE here, but now it’s different. Tallinn is no longer a figment of my imagination, based only on Google image searches. It’s a real place, where I’ve made real memories, and I will miss it like mad.

I sit on a bench in the park beside Hotel Viru, watching the building loom over me — a tangible imprint of the blurred lines between reality and fiction. I people-watch, listen to conversations in languages I can’t understand.
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A beggar woman comes up to me, speaking in broken Estonian/German/English, asking for money to buy food for her baby. She writes the child’s name on her hand: Zoe. I give her most of the coins in my purse — €4 — because I’m feeling kind, or compassionate, or moved by the humanity we all share.

Perhaps humanity is the thing I’ve noticed most in this country, where I can’t speak the language — that synchronicity with which we go about our daily lives. Language and culture, they are perhaps our deepest ties to one another. Yet, in spite of the bonds they provide, they are only the surface of what makes us human, they are nothing more than how we’ve been trained. And maybe, as a writer, that surface training is the most important thing in the world to me. But what I write about? Well that, it goes much deeper.
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July 2nd 2016 —

As I only had two full days left in Tallinn, I decided to make a plan for today. There were two places I wanted to visit, Kadriorg palace, and Metsakalmistu (the forest cemetery from the epilogue of C). Another place in Tallinn I wanted to visit was Telliskivi creative city, and as it was the closest, I decided to go there first.

I knew roughly where Telliskivi was, from getting lost on my first night. So rather than taking my usual route down Endla to the Old Town, I went down Tulika, and onto Telliskivi. After some time of walking down this road, I gave up looking. I was ridiculously thirsty, and the only thing on my mind was finding something to drink. I stopped at the place where the railway track crosses over the road, and noticed some market stalls to the right.

“Juuuuuuuice!!!!!!!!!!”, my heart sang as I saw a stall selling bottles of fizzy pear. That was when I noticed the sign: Telliskivi Creative City. It was such a cool place, all these old warehouse buildings converted into shops and cafés, with clothing markets in the square between.
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I bought some clothes (tally: 2 items fit, 1 item doesn’t), and went to an open-air café. I bought peppermint lemonade, and watched old train tracks through the glassless window of a crumbling wall. It was arty hipster heaven, and though I don’t identify as hipster, I sometimes identify as arty. Either way, I was in love with the place.
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I then explored the markets some more, bought cute little woollen booties for my soon-to-be-born niece, had a look around the shops, and crossed over the dilapidated train tracks to the station behind Toompea Hill (to FINALLY get the coffee I’d awaited since the previous day). I was careful to avoid antique shops, because I have absolutely zero trust in my own impulse control. I had to tell myself “No, Eliza, you don’t need — nor will you EVER need — a genuine KGB uniform”. “But they’re so cool!” Whispered another part of myself.

I then went to the bus station. As Kadriorg and Metsakalmistu were both quite a walk away, I decided to use my (not so) trusty Google maps app to tell me which bus to get on. It even told me how long the journey would take! 19 minutes.

As the bus went on a lovely, scenic drive through the green, pine-filled suburbs, alarm bells began to ring, particularly when we passed a sign for Metsakalmistu. Because Kadriorg is MUCH closer than Metsakalmistu. Even 40 minutes out of Tallinn, I convinced myself that everything was fine, that the bus must be just taking a circular route. Even when I was the last passenger on the bus, I told myself it was fine.

Then the bus came to a final stop at a freaking truck stop near a town called Maardu. The driver started speaking to me in bemused Russian. I tried English, held my hands up in defeat, and walked towards the main road. The only people around were old men, and I was scantily clad (by my standards) in a singlet top and shorts.

Even as the strong, independent, patriarchy-smashing woman that I am, I was just a tad terrified. So what did I do? I laughed. I laughed at my own stupidity, laughed at just how good at getting lost I am. I finally found a bus stop, and sweet, sweet WiFi. I decided to avoid public transport, and just walk back to Tallinn, because I trust my (somewhat dubious) sense of direction FAR more than my dire ineptitude with public transport.

I couldn’t be THAT far out of Tallinn, could I? I checked Google maps. How long would it take me to get back to Tallinn on foot? Three hours and fifty-one minutes. I nearly cried! But I didn’t, because I’m a grown-ass woman who WILL NOT cry until she has fixed the damn mess that she got herself into in the first place.

I checked Google maps again. There would be a bus in two minutes. Two minutes passed. No bus. The driver from the other bus drove past in a car. He pulled over. With the help of another man — somehow, through the language barrier — he offered me a lift. I shook my head, defeated, on the verge of tears. The golden rule of solo female travel is (probably) “don’t get into cars with strange men.”

I figured, if someone was going to murder me, I’d rather be murdered on a main road, where I’d have a chance of being found, than in someone’s car, where they could destroy the evidence. So I sat at the bus stop and sulked. I messaged my sister a few times, refreshed Google maps, felt immensely sorry for myself. Then, in the distance, I saw a red-and-white vehicle. A tram! Headed for Tallinn! I nearly wept with joy.

I still felt pretty mixed up after I returned to Tallinn. Especially when I realised Kadriorg was only a freaking 25 minute walk from Viru Väljak anyway, grrrrrr. All that stress for nothing!

I went to the Rotermann quarter, bought some fat, juicy strawberries from an old lady at a stall, found a bench to sit on, and continued sulking. The conclusion I came to, after thinking about the events of the day, is that THIS is what travelling is about — this getting lost, experiencing life. What would have happened if I’d gotten on the right bus? I’d have gone to Kadriorg, taken lots of photos, had a pleasant day, and then what? What would I have learnt? What lasting memories would I have made?

Yeah, getting lost is absolutely petrifying, but today has been memorable, and it’s taught me an important lesson about making sure I actually know where I’m going, and trusting my intuition when I think I’m headed in the wrong direction.

When I was hanging out in the Rotermann quarter, a friendly Finnish/Nigerian man came up and spoke to me in some language I didn’t understand. He thought I was Russian (I’ll take that as a compliment). When he discovered I was, in fact, English, he wanted to chat for a while, to practise his English. So we sat on a bench on a hill near the Old Town and chatted for a bit. It was the longest conversation in English (or at all) that I’ve had on this city (which isn’t hard), and it wouldn’t have happened if I’d gotten on the right bus. Maybe I was meant to get lost, I don’t know. What I do know, is that things always work out in the end. The one thing I’ve missed since being here is talking to people, hearing their stories. And maybe making a friend for an hour was more important than going to tourist attractions. (Maybe).

Note: this may be my last update for a few days. I’m uploading blogs bi-daily, and tonight is my last night in Tallinn, and I probably won’t have WiFi when I’m in Lahemaa.

Travel Diary — Days 4 & 5 — 29th and 30th June 2016

29th June 2016 —

There is a strange paradox here, that the happier I am during the day, the more I cry at night.

Today has been my best day in Tallinn so far. I spent hours exploring the Old Town — I walked up the hill behind Toompea Castle (yet another setting from my book), and went up the stairs to the viewing platforms, which are one of my favourite places in the city so far.
From the viewing platforms, you can see the fairytale turrets of the city’s rooftops, and the blue sea beyond. It was impossible not to imagine myself as a medieval princess as I walked up those stairs.
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Then I explored the area around Toompea, Alexander Nevsky cathedral, the houses of Parliament (which will become a significant setting in book 4 in my series, which I’m currently writing). I went further into the Old Town, near the Danish King’s Garden, and Kiek in de Kök. I bought a scarf from a young woman at a street stall, and we had a conversation in English. I told her about my books, and she said she’d never met a writer before.
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Later, I went back to Raekoja Plats. It was market day, and the exact selection of cobblestones where Persephone will be shot in 309 ½ years from now was covered by a market stall, so I had to fangirl from a distance.
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I was back at my flat by 4:30. I’d had such a lovely day, but I felt miserable and lonely. I told myself I would nap for a bit, then go out and buy something for dinner, but when I woke, three hours later, I couldn’t be bothered.

I ate rye bread and stared out the window at the residents of the building opposite (a side effect of being a writer is being a voyeuristic little creep). I felt sad.

Some guys were talking loudly outside, and I wanted to yell at them, to scream “shut up! Shut up! Shut up!”, because I hated this strange language, where everyone sounds like they’re drunk. I wanted to be home, in my own bed, with my cat, and my own language, and my parents to be in the same house rather than half way across the continent. I wanted my laptop, so I could write my damn book, rather than explore the place where it’s set. Most of all, I didn’t want to be alone.

I cried. I sobbed, and sobbed, and sobbed. Then I wept, and my tears slowly ebbed to sniffles. I stared out the window with ferocious intensity, and vowed that this was the last time I will ever be alone. I sobbed again, counted the days on my fingers, cried that I wanted to go home. My head hurt. I put on Lana Del Rey music, and cried myself to sleep.

30th June 2016 —

I’m currently sitting on a bench at Stroomi beach, eating banana chips and drinking strawberry juice, with a gorgeous view of the Baltic sea. There are two Russian boys behind me, practising their English. They clearly don’t realise there is an English girl sitting a few metres away from them, because their conversation is comprised almost entirely of swear words, and it’s hilarious. My favourite line so far is “Just to be clear, I don’t fuck food!” What the hell?
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I feel like each day in Tallinn is better than the last. Whilst I played the tourist for the past few days here, today I’m playing the writer. I decided to avoid the relative familiarity of the Old Town, and scout out some new settings for book number 4. I planned to go to the Kalamaja district, but I (you’ll never guess what!) got lost, and ended up at the base of Toompea Hill. I found a coffee kiosk which did soya milk, so I bought a latte, and (because it was raining by this point) sought shelter in the train station.

I then saw a sign for vana-Kalamaja, and followed that road into this gorgeous landscape of wooden houses and green, green gardens. I wandered further, till the houses which surrounded me were falling into disrepair. It was still raining, and I wore a singlet top, and shorts, and sandals, but the rain was almost warm, so I danced in it, and I skipped and laughed, and spun around like a mad thing.
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Then I ended up outside the Patarei abandoned prison, and Seaplane harbour.
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I wandered around for some time, watching the water, then decided to find an actual sandy beach. I walked for well over two hours to get to Stroomi beach. I made a detour to Selver to pick up some lunch, and finally found my way to this Baltic paradise. It’s heaven here, where the sea and sky and clouds and far-distant trees are all shades of blue.
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I thought of an analogy earlier, to describe my feelings for Tallinn; before I came here, I had a crush on this city. Then I came, and saw it was real and flawed, and the crush disappeared. But now I’m falling in love, I’m falling in love with the REAL Tallinn, not the idea of it that I had in my head, and that takes time. I came here as a writer, used go having control over her setting. Travelers don’t have that luxury. I am kneeling down before this city, completely at its mercy, whereas when I write about it, it’s completely at mine.

The sea is shining like sapphires before me, as though calling for me to cleanse my feet in its water, and I must go to it.

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I braved public transport to get back into the city. I took a tram, and then a bus, because my feet were so sore from walking all day.

I went to the Viru shopping centre, and wandered aimlessly for a while, then I walked through the connecting passage to Hotel Viru (the second time I’ve done this) and stood in the foyer, checking out the layout. It’s possibly THE most important (certainly the most recurring) setting in my books, so it felt weird standing there, picturing how my characters would go about their lives. I want to go to one of the KBG museum tours they have there, to see more of the place.
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I then went to the Rotermann quarter, the final place on my list of book settings, and got really excIMG_20160630_185432

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IMG_20160630_184724ited because I found an all-vegan shop which sold brands that I actually recognised.

It was the first night that I didn’t cry before bed. I still felt a little deflated when I returned to my flat, but that could be more to do with insomnia than anything else. It’s stuffy in here, and I can’t find the switch to turn off the heating. And if I open the window, I can’t sleep because it’s too loud. And it’s only dark for about an hour.

I tried to sleep, gave up, watched four episodes of Jessica Jones, and got to sleep at about 2:30 in the morning.
But it was my happiest day in Tallinn