Travel Diary – Tallinn: Days 5 to 8

16th June 2017 –

In spite of the Nutcracker’s absence, I was nervous about going to sleep. I endeavoured to stay awake until I was sure all my roommates were asleep. Somehow this worked a little too well, and I was awake until about 2am. At 1:35, a foreboding figure entered the room. She looked out the window, aggressively asked me a question in what I can only assume was Estonian, and left. She returned a few minutes later, and climbed into one of the bunk beds.

Since the Nutcracker’s departure, it seemed as though my luck had finally turned around. As I lay in bed, wide awake, in the early hours of the morning, I received a message from an Estonian friend who I knew from my uni accommodation. She said she was going to be in Tallinn the next day, and asked if I’d like to meet up for coffee.

I was overjoyed at the prospect of finally having company, especially someone from Glasgow, because it felt as though my normal and familiar life was not so far away.

Spending time in Tallinn with an actual Estonian made me see the one thing I was missing out on in my travels. (Well, the two things, because I had obviously been missing out on human interaction, up until this point, too). For the first time I was being introduced to Tallinn through the eyes of someone who was born and raised in this country. And there’s something very grounding about that, because it tethers the experience to reality. When travelling – particularly alone – it’s easy to feel very separate from the world. Even though you’re experiencing more of the world than you would in ordinary life, so much time is spent in your head, that you don’t so much see a place as see your own take on it.

But now it was different. Suddenly the city gained a new dimension. It wasn’t just the city where my book was set, or the city I’d visited last year, the first city I’d travelled to alone. It wasn’t a city which belonged only to me and my experiences. It was a city where people lived. My friend told me so many things I didn’t know about the city, and she showed me her old school, and a spot where someone was beheaded a few centuries ago, and a statue of a famous Estonian writer.

I didn’t think it was possible for me to love Tallinn any more than I already did. But somehow my heart swelled with even more love as I learnt little anecdotes about this city which had once existed to me only in my imagination.

After parting ways with my friend, I went to Viru Keskus to buy a drink. You’ve probably noted by now that I spend a lot of time in that building. Granted, it’s mostly because the supermarket there has a lot of vegan products. But it’s also due to a habit I formed last year.

In the novels I wrote which are set in Tallinn, one of the major settings is Hotel Viru, which is adjacent to Viru Keskus. Whilst this year I haven’t spent nearly enough time thinking about my book, last year my characters were very much alive in my head, and they wanted to be as close to their “home” as possible. So I, the person who normally hates shopping centres, spent a great deal of time there.
Also, as shopping centres go, it’s very peaceful there. Tallinn has a much smaller population than the cities I am used to, and even public places which I would expect to be crowded are generally quite quiet, which is a blessing for introverts like me.

I video-called my dad, who asked if I’d eaten any vegetables lately. Oops. My diet since coming here has been 90% rye bread and pasta.

I then went to buy lunch. I made sure to purchase two very large apples (see, I can totally be healthy when I want to!). I then discovered a vegan section amongst the refrigerated foods, which I hadn’t seen before. I got some kind of vegan potato salad, and falafel, and headed into the old town to find somewhere to sit and eat. A couple of Chinese tourists asked me for directions, and I felt proud that I was familiar enough with the city to be able to help. (Because we all know how poor my sense of direction is…)

So, so healthy!
So, so healthy!

It was about 24 degrees outside, and I had been dumb enough to not pack any shorts. I decided it was high time I bought some, given that the rest of the countries I’ll be travelling to will most likely have similar weather to here.

I had a vague recollection of there being some second hand clothing markets behind the train station, so I ventured to that part of the city. The first market I found was the Balti Jaama Turg (Baltic Station Market), which my friend had told me had been renovated recently, and was now rather hipster. I had a brief look around, decided it was very cool, and that I would come back tomorrow, as I would be in this part of the city again because I planned to go to the Saturday market at Telliskivi.

I eventually located the clothing markets I’d remembered, in what appeared to be some kind of old warehouse. The stallholders seemed to be Russian, judging by the many Putin t-shirts for sale. So many Putin t-shirts… Most were captioned in Russian, but there were a couple which had “Mr President” written in English, with a picture of Putin winking. Creepy. I generally feel like I should avoid cheap clothing markets because I have very little impulse control, and am likely to spend too much money. But luckily I had no desire to buy a Putin t-shirt, and I couldn’t find any shorts that would even possibly fit me, so I moved on.

I crossed the train tracks and ventured to Telliskivi Creative City, which is basically the most hipster place on the entire planet. Shops built into crumbling warehouses, vibrant brightly coloured street art on the walls… I was planning to go there tomorrow for the market, but I had a look around the shops in one of the buildings anyway. Very overpriced, but very cool.

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I then walked down Telliskivi Street, away from the city centre. I figured I’d be sure to a find a charity shop somewhere. It was blissfully tourist free, and the quiet streets were flanked by large, wooden houses, painted in a variety of colours – pinks, and greens, and blues, and yellows. I eventually came to a crossroads. I felt like I vaguely recognised it, but I couldn’t be sure. Eventually I came to a spot which I recognised from when I got lost last year. (Some things change over time, but my ability to get myself lost is everlasting).

I ended up on the edge of the Kristiine district, where I’d stayed last year when I was in Tallinn, and I felt a tad nostalgic at the sight of it. My experience of Tallinn has been very different this time. Perhaps because I am so different. I feel like I know more, and understand more. And most of what I understand is that I know practically nothing.

I drifted back to the city centre, continuing my search for shorts. I glanced in the shops in Viru Keskus, but they were way too pricey. I returned to my hostel, and made pasta for dinner. I wasn’t particularly hungry, and it had grown cold by the time I forced myself to eat it. I miss cooking in my own kitchen, with all my herbs and spices, rather than making the same boring pasta over and over again.

17th June 2017 –

I began my day with what was by now routine: a trip to Caffeine. It’s odd how quickly things become normal. After less than a week in this city which is 1500 miles from home, I already have habits formed. There’s nothing like being a regular at a coffee shop to make a person feel at home.

After I’d fuelled up on coffee, I headed into the Old Town. My plan for the day was to go to Telliskivi. I still needed to find somewhere to buy shorts, and I hoped the Telliskivi markets would be the solution.

I was still in a glorious mood from the Nutcracker’s departure. The sun shone down upon me, and life was beautiful. It seems as though every time I enter the Old Town, I discover at least ten new streets, and ten new ways to get very lost. But I love getting lost there. I love this city, and I fall further in love with it every day.

I wrote the other day that I feel like this city is an old flame that I need to get to know again before loving. And perhaps I’ve done that. But I wonder if maybe it’s not so much a case of rekindling an old love, but of falling in love anew. Last time I was here, I fell in love with the setting from my book, come to life. But this time, all connections to my book are strangely distant in my mind. And I’m falling in love with Tallinn for what this city is: here and now, nothing more and nothing less.

Once I left the Old Town, I headed towards Telliskivi, crossing the old train tracks. I decided to have another browse of Balti Jaama Turg on my way there. I was getting hungry, so I decided to search out something for lunch. I doubted I’d be able to find anything vegan amongst the cooked food on sale, so I had resigned myself to the fact I’d most likely have to buy fruit. But I meandered through the food stalls anyway, more out of curiosity than a belief that I would find anything. That was when I saw it: a food stall named Veg Machine.

It was an all-vegan café! There were only three items on the menu. I ordered a veggie burger, because it was the cheapest. But wow… I have had many veggie burgers in my time, but I can honestly say that that was the best one I have ever had. Eating it was a religious experience. The burger itself was not formed into a solid compact burger, but was rather a loose filling of what I think was possibly shredded carrot, but cooked and flavoured in such a way that it bore little resemblance to carrot. (I am not a fan of cooked carrots, so the fact I am in love with this burger is testament to the fact that it did not taste like carrots). The bread roll was lightly toasted, and beneath the burger lay a sprinkling of crispy fried onions, and some crunchy green lettuce leaves. But the most delicious part was the sauce, which was a type of spicy green mayonnaise, flavoured with chives. It was beautiful.

😍😍😍
😍😍😍

I wandered around the markets at Telliskivi, searching in vain for shorts. I found nothing, and the stalls were beginning to close down, so I decided to return to the city centre. I recalled that there was a second hand clothes store nearby to Viru Keskus, so I made my way there. I was glad to see that they had a huge selection of shorts, but when I started to look for ones in my size, I could see that my options were rather limited. I didn’t want to buy that type favoured by the 60-something-year-old American tourists that frequent the old town.

Of course, the only pair of shorts which fit me were ghastly, beige, and baggy in all the wrong places. I took this as a sign to give up, and postpone my search for shorts until Tartu.

Ew
Ew

I spent most of the evening reading in bed. I’d thought two novels would be enough reading material for the entire journey, but with the rate at which I was ploughing through the second novel, I was beginning to think I’d completely underestimated myself.

Tonight was the first night where I actually had proper conversations with my roommates. I talked a wee bit with a Spanish woman, who was leaving in the morning, and with an older Irish lady who was in the bed opposite mine. It was nice to have people to talk to, even if it was only small talk.

I’d planned to go to Metsakalmistu tomorrow – the cemetery from the epilogue of my book, and the one book setting which I hadn’t made it to last year. But alas, it was closed on weekends. I guess this is just another sign that I should return to Estonia someday. (Knowing me, I’ll end up back here next summer!)

18th June 2017 –

I’m becoming increasingly aware of just how fleeting my time here is. I leave in two days, and I don’t want to go. It seems that it takes me only a week to feel at home.

I headed to Caffeine, and imagined a life beyond university… a life where I could learn a new language, live in a foreign country, at least for a little while. I want to be enchanted, to be immersed in somewhere unfamiliar until I know it like the back of my hand.

I always thought travel would make the world feel bigger. But it doesn’t. It makes it feel so much smaller. In a matter of hours, you can be in a completely different country from where you started out… And perhaps the language is different, and perhaps 90% of the people are blonde, and they don’t smile back at you on the street…but in a way it’s just the same as anywhere else. Wherever I am in the world, I’m just a girl sitting in a coffee shop, drinking a soy cappuccino and writing in her diary.

Perhaps it’s the similarities, not the differences, which make travel change us. The world is narrow, but it is also wide, and when you see the freedom in how similar people are across the world, you find the space to grow. And suddenly you discover that the girl sitting here in a coffee shop, writing in her diary, is far different from the one who arrived here almost a week ago.

Change always seems to creep up on me. When I expect change, I expect the instant and drastic kind, yet it rarely works that way. Change comes quietly, building a home inside the tiniest moments until somehow you know you’re not the same anymore.

After Caffeine, I decided to go to Balti Jaama Turg and buy one of those glorious veggie burgers for lunch. Once more I was overcome by how good it tasted. If it was legal to marry food, I would marry that burger. The burger is my soulmate.

It's love 😍
It’s love 😍

Once I’d finished devouring the beautiful, beautiful burger, I discovered that it was raining outside. I decided to explore the market until the rain passed. I went upstairs to the 2nd floor of the Balti Jaama Turg, which was mostly occupied by clothing stalls and antique stores. The antique stores were laden with remnants of the soviet era – coins, clothing, military uniforms, pictures of Lenin, instruments without strings, faded children’s toys.

After leaving the Balti Jaama Turg, I headed toward the Kalamaja district, the old fishing district of the city. (If my limited understanding of the Estonian language is correct, the literal translation of Kalamaja is “fishhouse”). Even a few minutes walk from the city centre, Tallinn feels like a different world. There are no tourists, no people at all really; just a lone traveller, in a pink shirt and black skinny jeans, walking beneath the cloudy sky, and taking photographs of every other building.

I ended up in a park in the Kalamaja district. I sat for a while, watching the trees, and thinking about how different it felt to the parks in Glasgow: they have fewer trees and more flowers.

The park turned out to be just across the road from Seaplane Harbour. The sun was hidden behind a thick blanket of clouds, and the Baltic Sea was a dark melancholy shade of bluish grey. I wandered around Seaplane Harbour for a little while, before sitting down on a wooden bench and watching the sea. The boats reminded me of the Tall Ship at the Riverside Museum in Glasgow, and made me feel nostalgic. I missed Glasgow, and my friends, and Improv. I missed my place in the world, and all the opportunities that accompany the safety of knowing exactly where you belong.
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I made my way back towards the City Centre, following the coastline along, past Paterei Prison. Abandoned buildings creep me out, so I was glad once I had passed it. Admittedly, my dislike of abandoned buildings has little to do with how creepy a place may or may not be, and more to do with the fact that abandoned buildings seem like the kind of places where rats would hang out.

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Once I’d passed Paterei, I realised I was only a few minutes away from my hostel, and far closer to the City Centre than I’d thought. I needed to buy some food for dinner, so I (as per my usual routine) headed for the supermarket in Viru Keskus. I didn’t feel like cooking. I just wanted to find some vegan cheese, so I could make cheese on toast. The only place I knew of in Tallinn that sold vegan cheese was the supermarket Selver, but, as far as I was aware, the nearest one was next to Balti Jaama Turg, and I had absolutely zero desire to walk all the way there.

I checked my HappyCow app, to see if there were any health food stores or suchlike nearby, but it led me on a wild goose chase, and I soon gave up. I was outside the Solaris shopping centre by this point, so I decided to look in the supermarket there, and forget about my dreams of finding vegan cheese.

But boy oh boy, were the vegan gods smiling down upon me today! The Solaris supermarket made me think I’d died and gone to vegan heaven! Not only did they have vegan cheese, they had several varieties of it!

I went back to my hostel, made my cheese on toast, and went to bed to read, like the creature of habit that I am.

19th June 2017 –

This was it: my last full day in Tallinn. How has the time gone by so swiftly? I woke and showered, and then sat in the common room for a while, finishing off my packet of cornflakes, thinking about life and existence and what was the best way to get to Tartu tomorrow.

I headed out to meet my friend at Raekoja Plats. We went to Balti Jaama Turg, and then had a nice lunch at a café in Telliskivi, where we were served by a very grumpy waiter. I told my friend about the market with the Putin t-shirts, and how I wasn’t sure whether they were meant to be serious or a joke. After we’d eaten, I took her to the Russian marketplace, and she confirmed that the Putin t-shirts did seem to be being sold seriously. Oh wow.
She said it always seems to be tourists who come across these things.

Falafel at Telliskivi
Falafel at Telliskivi

After the market, we went to a vet to buy medicine for her dog, and I saw the most beautiful cat there. It had short, fluffy, grey-blue fur, and gorgeous blue eyes. It was so precious! Cats are the most wonderful creatures and I love them so much. (I really miss my cat, so I get very excited every time I see one).

Later in the afternoon I went to a bookstore. I was getting through the books I’d brought with me too quickly, and I felt it was high time I stocked up on some more reading material. I found a store with a small section of English books. After much deliberation, I settled on a novel “Everything Everything”, and a small book of Walt Whitman poetry. I’m not a particular fan of Whitman. I’ve read a few of his poems because a friend recommended him to me, but they didn’t particularly grab me. I figure that there are two reasons people write poetry: they write it and use poetry as a medium for ideas and feelings, or they write it for the sake of poetry as an art form. Whitman seems to write poetry for the sake of poetry itself, whereas I prefer the other kind of poetry (perhaps because that’s the kind I write). But I’m nothing if not an impulsive buyer, so it seems I’ll buy anything if it’s only 3 Euros.

I then headed to Solaris to buy food for dinner. I still had pasta to use up, so I bought vegetables and soy cream to make pasta sauce. I figured if I made the sauce myself it would taste at least a little bit more appetising than the store-bought pasta sauce I’d been suffering through all week. By the time I’d finished cooking, I had a dreadful headache. I sat with my head against the table in the common room, trying to muster up the energy to go and wash my plate.

As I sat, devoid of energy and feeling rather sorry for myself, a man approached me. He was short, with bristly hair, and looked rather like the lovechild of a warthog and an ogre. He spoke to me in English, then Estonian, before asking if I spoke English. I said yes, silently trying to send out “don’t talk to me” vibes. My head was too sore for me to deal with this. I really ought to learn to pretend I can’t speak English.

He was drinking from a can of gin, and was probably rather drunk. My head was pounding, I was in full-on introvert mode and I could not deal with conversation; especially as he kept switching languages mid way through a sentence. He asked me to tell him something interesting about myself. I thought begrudgingly “Why am I obligated to entertain you?” but I told him I wrote novels. He replied with something unrelated, and then went on to ask how old I was. He guessed I was twenty. I said 19.

He muttered something which I’m pretty sure was just a drunken middle-aged man reflecting philosophically about getting old. He then asked if I had children. I said no. He told me he had a twenty-year-old daughter, and a one-year-old son. He then asked if I wanted to come to his room and listen to music. I said no, because we all know what THAT means. Perhaps it wasn’t an innuendo; perhaps I’m just cynical and untrusting of drunken older men, but given that soon after this he asked if I had a boyfriend, I’m pretty sure I correctly guessed his intentions. (*Screams into the void* Why am I such a creep magnet?) Thankfully, he then went outside for a cigarette, and I made my escape and went to my room.

Not only was my head throbbing, but I also felt really queasy. It was only about 6:30pm, but I climbed straight into bed. I lay half awake for a while, with my arm rested on across my eyes to block out the light, listening to Lorde’s “liability” on repeat.

Some time later, I heard the hustle and bustle of a new roommate arriving. I opened my eyes briefly. They looked familiar, but I was pretty out of it at this point, barely awake, so I thought my eyes were just playing tricks on me.

It was later when the realisation hit. A woman was climbing up to the top bunk of the bed opposite mine, wearing a pair of Nike sports leggings with some motivational slogan on the sides, and a hole in one leg. I knew those leggings… Just as I knew that face!

Oh no… It couldn’t be!

But it was.

The Nutcracker had returned!

Travel Diary — Tallinn: days 1 to 4

12th June 2017 –

It seemed to take forever for the time to pass. I looked out the airport windows at 4am, and it was getting light outside, but it was still a long time till my flight. Once I was through security, I still had well over an hour to wait before I could board the plane. I didn’t want to use my phone, because I had a mobile boarding pass, so I couldn’t risk letting my battery die. I had to find other means of entertainment.

I got out my phrasebook, trying to brush up on my Estonian, but nothing would sink in. I sat for an hour, making up imaginary scenarios in my head, my last resort at entertaining myself.

The air was surprisingly cold, as I stepped outside to board the plane, and something about the chill woke me up just enough to feel a little excitement. My seat was an aisle seat, and as the passengers behind me boarded the plane, I prayed that the other seats in my row wouldn’t be taken. I had no such luck.

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Two Russian ladies stood in the aisle, glaring at me until I realised they wanted to get past. One was a middle aged woman, with dyed blonde hair, and the other, I presumed, was her daughter. She was in her early 20s, with long, brown hair, and crimson, talon-like fake nails, and a pouty expression upon her face. They slept for most of the journey, positioning themselves in such a way that they blocked the view from both the windows next to our seats. This annoyed me, but tiredness soon caught up with me, and I slept sporadically throughout the flight, grateful to finally get some rest.

When I arrived in Estonia, it was lightly raining. Me, my Evil Backpack, and the Laptop Case from Hell, made our way through Arrivals, and then found a spot on the floor beside a plug socket, to rest while my phone charged.

I sat for a while, watching the rain outside the window, and thinking “holy shit, I am actually in Estonia now. How did this happen?”
I video-called my parents, to let them know I’d made it there alive, and to ask after my furry baby (my cat, William; I don’t have some secret hairy child that you’re unaware of). After that, I had to figure out how to get to my hostel.

The airport is about an hour’s walk from the city centre. I know this because last year I couldn’t find the right bus, so I had to run to the airport, and got there 1 minute before the gates were due to close. Given my past bad luck with Estonian public transport, I considered walking. After all, it wasn’t raining too heavily.

I walked towards the city, still not quite believing that I was actually here, in Estonia. I’d walked for about twenty minutes, when I saw a sign for Prisma, one of Estonia’s supermarket chains. I hadn’t eaten since about 3am, and was absolutely starving, so I decided to take a quick detour and buy lunch. It was a long time since I’d been in an Estonian supermarket, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. But the language barrier wasn’t as problematic as I’d anticipated.

Trying to decipher ingredient lists in a language you can’t understand is somewhat of a challenge, but I’ve noticed that in Estonia vegan foods are very clearly labelled as such, a lot more than they are in Britain. And the Estonian language does not have its own word for vegan, so it is the same word as in English. A giant “vegan” sticker jumped out at me, from the packet of a chilli tortilla wrap. I bought this, along with a loaf of my one true love (also known as: rye bread).
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When I left Prisma, the light rain had turned to a downpour. I decided to take the tram (which I don’t mind, unlike busses). I took the tram to the Viru stop, and ventured into the Old Town on foot. I knew I would have to consult Google Maps at some point, and for that I needed wifi. The rain was getting worse, dripping down my face, soaking through my bag, running in rivulets through the cobbled streets.

I went to Raekoja Platts, and sheltered under the arches of the town hall, connecting my phone to the Tallinn City Wifi. I consulted Google Maps, and, certain of my direction, headed off.

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If I were a sensible person, I would have looked more closely at the map. Instead, I spent two hours wandering around the Old Town, soaked to the skin, carrying heavy bags, on the verge of tears. Eventually, after walking around in circles for a ridiculous length of time, I ended up at Vana Viru, on the edge of the Old Town. My wifi finally connected again, and I checked Google Maps for the third time, only to discover that my hostel was not actually in the Old Town, but just outside it. No wonder I hadn’t found it before!

I got a little lost still, but soon located my hostel. The woman on reception was friendly, and the hostel had a nice atmosphere. When I arrived in my room, it was deserted. I was impressed with the bunks, in that I could sit up in the bottom bunk without banging my head on the top (very different from my cage in London!). The room was spacious, with a high, wooden ceiling, and a big window beside my bed.
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Another woman arrived a little while later. We talked briefly, then I went for a shower. I love the showers here – large, metal showerheads, with water like hot rain. Perhaps I’m just used to the crappy water-flow of the shower at home, or the weird angle of the showerheads at uni, or perhaps I was just glad to be clean after all my walking, but these showers seemed far more wonderful than any shower I was used to.

Once I was clean and dressed, I ventured out to buy some food. I remembered that there was a supermarket in the basement of Viru Keskus (Viru shopping centre), and it was only 15 minutes walk from my hostel, so I decided to head there. I find it so interesting shopping in foreign supermarkets, because you can learn so much about a country, through everything from prices to what kind of products they stock. It immerses you in everyday life in a way that would never happen if you just ate at cafes and restaurants.

I was too hungry to look around for too long, so I bought some food, and headed back to my hostel. I made a simple dinner of toasted rye bread, tofu sausages, and some Estonian version of baked beans.

When I returned to my room, I had gained a second roommate. A grumpy-looking blonde lady sat on the bed opposite mine, crunching loudly on pistachio nuts, cracking the shells open with her teeth. I have a passionate hatred of people who chew loudly and eat with their mouths open. It’s right up there with slow walkers. And whilst such a person would get on my nerves at the best of times, the fact that I had hardly slept in the past 36 hours made it infinitely worse. She chewed those damn pistachios for at least half an hour. I mentally christened her the Nutcracker.

Two more occupants moved in a little while later: two friends, in their 30s. One took the bunk above me, and the other took the one above the Nutcracker. Neither acknowledged me, so they earned the ironic nicknames of Chatty and Chattier. I soon realised that the reason I felt so irritable was due to my lack of sleep, and I could feel myself coming down with a cold, so I took this as my cue to finally catch up on some much-needed rest.

13th June 2017 –

When I awoke, the Nutcracker et al were thankfully absent, which gave me the space I needed to take in my surroundings. For a moment I didn’t know where I was. My bed faces in the same direction as my bed at home, and my bed at uni, so it took a while for my brain to get through all possible locations, before remembering that I was, in fact, in Estonia.

I wished I was back in Glasgow. I missed my friends, my life, my normal routine. I had a good, hard cry for the first time in my journey.

I felt sad, and I couldn’t quite figure out why. I missed human contact. I missed having people to talk to. Mostly I missed having people to hug. There is this thing called the 5 Love Languages, which is a bit like personality types for how people give and receive love. (It’s very interesting, but I’m rubbish at explaining it). Anyway, my main love language is “loving touch”, and my second one is “words of encouragement”. So travelling alone, i.e. where I have no one to hug, and no one to talk to, means that it’s pretty much impossible for me to have the things I need to make me feel loved/sane.

I do have friends I’m going to meet with along the way, but the first of these isn’t until I’m in Latvia, at the beginning of July. And it’s not someone I know well enough for me to be like “Hi, can you please hug me for half an hour so I can feel human again?” So I must wait until I go to Lithuania, where I will see one of my best friends, before I can catch up on what will by then be an entire month’s worth of hugs that I’ll have missed.

After I finished my emotional breakdown, I headed to the kitchen, to get some breakfast. A middle-aged man started a conversation with me. He told me he was from Latvia, and was in Estonia on a business trip. I told him I was going to Latvia later this month, and that I was from England. He told me he used to live in England, and wanted to go back there one day and see more of the country. He then started talking about how English people are obsessed with football. Good to know that that’s our national stereotype. It was nice to have someone to talk to. Never in my life did I think I’d be this grateful for small talk.

After breakfast, I ventured outside. As I turned the corner from my hostel, I could see the gleaming blue of the Baltic Sea. I headed down towards the water, careful not to slip on the grassy hill which separated the stony beach from the road. I sat down on a rock, and listened to the peaceful lapping of the waves against the shore. I find water so calming, and it gave me the strength I needed to persevere through my homesickness and exhaustion.

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I walked along the road, towards Linnahall, an abandoned Soviet remnant from the 1980 Moscow summer Olympics. The sailing part of the Olympics was held in Tallinn because Moscow is not next to the sea.
After exploring Linnahall, I headed into the city. I found a café called Caffeine, and bought myself a coffee, which improved my mood a lot, because it gave me some semblance of normality.
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Back in Glasgow, I spent a lot of time in coffee shops. Whether it was to catch up with my best friends, or just to clear my head, going to cafes was my main coping mechanism when life felt like too much to handle.

As I drank my coffee, I began to feel much more positive. Coffee makes me feel like I can do anything (it also makes me feel like I have to message my friends and tell them how much I love them. I don’t know if this is normal). As I drank my coffee, I watched the people coming and going in the café. I saw a man who looked like a hybrid of every guy I’ve had a crush on so far at uni. He had aspects of all of them. He was a beautiful, muscular, tattooed giant, with long, blonde hair, and big blue eyes. He was so pretty! (And was sadly accompanied by a girlfriend) If you think about it, someone who is a combination of four other people I’ve liked in the past must technically be the ultimate definition of my “type”. This random Estonian stranger is the holy grail of beautiful men. What a shame that he 1) already has a girlfriend, 2) is a stranger, and 3) speaks a different language. Oh fate, how art thee so cruel? Well, I’m sure there are plenty of other fish in the Baltic Sea.

Once caffeinated, I began to reason with myself. Since arriving in Tallinn, there had been many moments where I’d wondered: what the hell am I doing here? I’ve travelled 1500 miles, spent a lot of money, devoted almost my entire summer to this, and for what? What have I gained?

Truth be told, I bought this trip whilst wearing rose-tinted glasses. It was practically tattooed upon my brain that “travel makes me grow” and “travel makes me the best version of myself”. I’d just come out of a friendship which had ended very badly, and damaged my self-esteem. I was finally getting over it, and I wanted to do something drastic. People had often joked that this friend and I were like an old, married couple. So I guess coming out of that friendship was like going through a divorce.

I’d come out the other side, everything in my life was going great, but I still had a final point to prove.

When I think of the first time I came to Estonia, I think of how much I grew as a person. And I forgot that a lot of that growth came through suffering, through crying myself to sleep every night, through being alone in the forest for 5 days without wifi. I booked this trip to heal myself, to repair my confidence and my lost self-esteem. I forgot that travel strips away everything you’ve come to rely on before it even considers building you back up.

Travel isn’t a quick fix, and the things which need healing are not what I thought they were. Solo travel is just you and your demons, all alone in an unfamiliar land. But I don’t know what my demons are anymore. I’ve hardly thought of the failed friendship which caused me to book this trip. I’ve tried to think of it, I’ve forced myself to think of the safety I used to feel when I rested my head on his chest or told him all my secrets, I tried to feel the pain of betrayal and the pain of realising that the person you hold up on a pedestal is just as damn human and flawed as everyone else. But that pain is gone. I don’t grieve for that friendship, I don’t miss him; I hardly even think about him. I am well and truly over it and those demons were put to rest long ago.

But there is still something haunting me: there must be, or else I would be happy. Perhaps this time around, my demon is simply a fear of being all alone. The first time I came to Estonia was the loneliest experience of my life, but I was used to a certain degree of loneliness. I had never had real, close friendships. But now it’s different. In university, I finally found the friendships I’d been waiting for my whole life. And so now, when I am alone, I know what I’m missing. I know what loneliness is, because I have seen its opposite.

When I left Caffeine, I went to the supermarket in Viru Keskus. Shopping is fascinating. Playing the “is it vegan?” lottery is also fascinating. Whilst products which are specifically made for vegans are clearly labelled as such, products which are “accidentally vegan” are not. Most items tend to have ingredients written in about six languages – generally all Eastern European ones – and in order to decipher the ingredients, it’s generally a case of finding a language with close enough roots to English that I can understand it.

When I returned to my hostel, I made a mountain of pasta for dinner, and then headed to bed to read.
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14th June 2017 –

I slept all morning. When I awoke, Chatty and Chattier had moved out. Sadly, the Nutcracker had not. Whilst she hadn’t done anything to annoy me since the first night, I still didn’t like her sour energy. I didn’t quite dislike her yet. I have a soft spot in my heart for grumpy blonde European women, because my best friend is one, so they will always remind me a little of her, and this made me a little more lenient towards the Nutcracker.

I showered and dressed, then I got myself some cornflakes, and sat down in the common room to write in my diary. Two men were playing table tennis – very badly, because the ball kept falling near to where I sat. One of the men smiled at me, when he came to pick it up. I noticed that he was beautiful. He had thick, wavy, dark brown hair, muscular arms, and a warm smile. He looked like the second actor for Daario in Game of Thrones/Liam from Nashville. He dropped the ball yet again, and I passed it back to him, dropping my pen in the process. He passed my pen back to me, and we exchanged another smile. When they left, Beautiful Man’s companion opened a box of breakfast tea, and offered me a teabag. Clearly he knows the way to an English girl’s heart!

I headed out into the Old Town, and went to Raekoja Platts, which is a significant setting within my novels. I find it strange that I have hardly thought of my books since coming here, given that this is the city where they are set. When I first came to Estonia, everything was about my books. Yet this time it seems as though those parts of my brain and my heart have been switched off completely.
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I explored the Old Town, enchanted by the medieval buildings and cobbled streets. Glorious sunlight streamed down, glowing upon my face. I went to Freedom Square, and up towards Toompea Castle, and the Estonian Parliament. I tried to imagine my characters, but they were barely ghosts before my eyes. I made my way to the viewing platforms, which offer the most wonderful view of the city. I even managed to find a spot that was free from tourists!
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I do love this city, so much, and I wonder if that has perhaps been my problem. I remember when I was here last year, I wrote that it was as though I had a crush on this city, and I was disappointed when I saw its reality. But when I learnt to accept it for how it actually was, rather than how I saw it in my head, my crush on the city turned to love. Well now, my love for Tallinn is different. It’s like I returned to an old flame and expected everything to be as it was before, in spite of all the time that’s passed.

I am not the girl I was a year ago. I came to Tallinn full of expectations, as though this city could fill some void inside me. But that’s not how love works, and it’s not what cities do. I felt very small, in a way. I love this city, I idolise it. I travelled 1500 miles to be here. I made my pilgrimage, but I have nothing to offer. I don’t speak the language, and there are so many parts of this country’s history that I will never understand, because I haven’t lived through it.

I am an outsider. I am an outsider, who claims a love for a place they know almost nothing about. What is my devotion worth, to this city? What do I get in return for the love which the soles of my shoes pour into every cobbled stone they tread upon? My love is unrequited, and even yet, I know this city will work its magic and make me who I’m meant to be.

Once I left the Old Town, I went to a café on the top floor of Viru Keskus. I bought a bottle of Fanta, and sat by the window, watching sunlight shine on the skyscraper hotels outside.

I was super tired, so I headed back to my hostel soon after. I made a dinner of veggie burgers, baked beans, and rye bread, and then went to bed. I read some more of The Alchemist for a little while, but my cold had given me a headache, so I decided to get an early night.

15th June 2017 –

I woke to find a passive-aggressive note, which I can only presume was from the Nutcracker, resting beside my bed. It began patronisingly with “Dear Girl”, and proceeded to complain that I snore heavily. She claimed that she hadn’t got any sleep for the past two nights, and suggests that in the future I stay in private rooms. She ended the note with “OMG!”

Firstly, the snoring is because I have a terrible cold, and can hardly breathe out my nose, especially when I’m asleep. It’s not something I can help. Secondly, if she’s such a sensitive sleeper, perhaps she should consider a private room herself. Thirdly, passive-aggressive notes are just plain bitchy and immature. And finally, this is the woman who kept me awake the first night with her dreadful nut crunching. Snoring is not something I can control. Being an obnoxious nut-crunching bitch is something that she can definitely control.

I messaged my best friend for advice. She told me to respond with a note saying “Get earplugs”. I’m seriously considering it.

I had a good cry. I felt self-conscious and embarrassed, and worse, I felt like my room was no longer a sanctuary. I know for a fact that I’m going to have anxiety every time I go in there from now on. I’m ill, I just want to curl up and nap. I’m done dealing with hostile roommates; I’ve had enough of this.

I like my hostel; I like its aesthetic, and its staff. But I have been very disappointed with my roommates. I think I was expecting a youth hostel, with people my own age. Instead, the majority of my roommates have been unfriendly 30-something-year-old business women. I’m craving human connection, and whilst I’m surrounded by humans, I feel utterly alone.

I sat in the common room, sulkily eating my cornflakes, and wondering, yet again, what the hell I’m doing here. I leave for Tartu on Tuesday, and I can’t wait. A new location, a new hostel, a fresh start… Hopefully my cold will be gone by then, so I don’t make any new enemies.

I forced myself to stop sulking. I knew the best way to cheer myself up was to buy coffee (that’s pretty much how I got myself through the first year of uni!), so I headed to Caffeine. I was very proud of myself, because I managed to conduct my order entirely in Estonian. And I learnt a new word: suur. It means large, as in “suur cappuccino sojapiim”, also known as large cappuccino with soya milk. I sank into my armchair, and listened to the conversations around me.

I felt a tad emotional when I heard a man speaking in English. When I came to Estonia last year, the language terrified me; it was like a constant assault to my fearful ears. But now I can find the beauty in being surrounded by a foreign tongue. Since going to university, I have changed my attitude to language. I used to find it so scary to be in a country where I couldn’t speak the language, because communication is everything to me.

But after nine months living with people from all over the world, I feel differently. I’m used to standing in my kitchen, hearing my flatmate talking loudly in Italian on the phone to her family. I’m used to walking down the street and hearing half the languages of Europe in amongst the shouts of native Glaswegians.

One of my best friends is German, and another is Lithuanian; they grew up thinking and speaking in languages that I can’t understand, and yet they are two of the people I’m closest to in this world. So now I can sit in an Estonian café, listening to people chattering away in a language I can’t understand, and I can see that a language is just words; it is the surface, it is the form of expression, but it is not the meaning it expresses. Communication runs deeper than the sounds it is made up of. So I, the outsider, can feel a connection to the strangers around me, because in spite of the different languages we speak in, our hearts beat just the same.

********

After leaving Caffeine, I decided to go to Kadriorg Palace. I stopped at a supermarket to find some lunch. I bought some tofu croquettes, and, because I was still feeling miserable, some candied ginger and a giant bar of cherry flavoured dark chocolate, which mercifully had its ingredients written in English.

I then headed along the Narva Maantee, towards Kadriorg. When I’d come here last year, I’d gotten very lost, but this time I remembered the way, and arrived there without a problem. The first time I’d gone to Kadriorg Palace, it had been raining, and I’d been tired and miserable, and just wanted my bed. But today, almost a year later, I was able to appreciate the setting in a way that I hadn’t before.
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I sat down on a bench, and ate almost a third of my bar of chocolate. I was still sulking about the Nutcracker’s passive-aggressive note. I hate awkwardness, I hate hostility. And I have social anxiety, so I find initiating confrontation a struggle. But I am also very much a “doer”, and I would rather be blunt and address issues head on, rather than letting them fester. I was very tempted to follow my friend’s advice, and respond with a passive aggressive note of my own.

I can be very petty when I want to be, and it’s something I try to keep in check. I’m an adult now, and I don’t want to be immature, when I can help it. Even if the Nutcracker was asking for it… I decided I would make a decision later.

I wandered around Kadrioru Park, through paths surrounded by bright green forest and purple and yellow wildflowers. I wished I could stay there forever, and never go back to my room.

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Once I left Kadrioru Park, I went to Pirita Beach. Again, the last time I was here, it had been raining. I remember last year, walking barefoot on the wet sad, pressing flowers between the pages of my diary; it had been my second-to-last day in Tallinn. Today, the sun shone upon the sand, and gleamed on the waves of the brilliant blue water. There is something about the Baltic Sea which touches my heart whenever I lay my eyes upon it.

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I eventually prized myself away from my beloved Baltic, and walked back into the city centre. I stopped by Viru Keskus to pick up some supplies for dinner, and apprehensively returned to my hostel. I’d finally made a decision: I was going to confront the Nutcracker, explain the situation, and try to discuss it like the adults we both are.

My heart thudded as my keycard slotted in the door. I turned the handle. The door swung open. A figure lay, curled up, in the Nutcracker’s bed: a figure with long, black hair.

Where I had expected to see the Nutcracker, a random Indian woman lay instead. My heart swelled with gratitude and relief. I could have jumped with joy!

I skipped down the stairs to the kitchen, to make dinner. I had been craving stuffed vine leaves for days, and I’d finally purchased some in Viru Keskus. I ate these with rye bread, and a glass of pomegranate juice. I spread myself out on one of the sofas in the common room, truly happy for the first time in days. The Nutcracker was gone! I was free.

Travel Diary – London

10th June 2017

The grand journey began, as many journeys of self-discovery do, with the solitary figure of a girl, boarding a midnight bus in a small town, destined for the big city. She is no seasoned traveller, but not a novice either.

Whilst many such journeys come into being as a quest to find oneself, that is not our heroine’s motivation, for she has found herself many times over. Instead, she seeks to grow, using travel as a medium to lose the parts of herself which no longer serve her. For example, it would do her good to lose the part of herself which thinks a 7-hour-long bus journey is a sensible idea…

I had stayed up past midnight the previous night, watching the election results on the news, which was perhaps not the most sensible way to spend my last night at home. Whilst I spent all of yesterday on the verge of falling asleep, I refused to nap because I convinced myself that if I was tired enough, I would certainly sleep through the entire bus journey.

I settled into my bus seat, positioned my purple neck-pillow around my neck, and set a guided meditation playing on my phone. I would surely be asleep in no time!

I estimate that I got about two hours of sleep within the 7-hour bus ride. Two hours, split into many twenty-minute intervals. I arrived in London exhausted, but thankfully not too grumpy. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt during the ten months since I left home, it’s how to identify my own needs, and make sure they’re met. So I obediently ate the sandwiches I’d brought with me from home, and gulped down the remainder of my water bottle as I wandered down the streets beside the bus station. Hungry/dehydrated Eliza is not fun to deal with, and I’m determined not to make an enemy of myself this early on in the journey. So Sensible Eliza must look after Inner-Child Eliza’s basic needs, in order to create one great big Harmonious Eliza.

My next priority was caffeine and a plug socket, to recharge myself, and recharge my phone. If you’ve read my travel blogs of yesteryear, you will be familiar with the fact that I have absolutely zero sense of direction. On the bus I had seen a Pret and a Starbucks a couple of streets away from the station. Naturally, I ended up heading in the opposite direction. I wandered through Chelsea, lugging around my 10kg backpack, and my laptop case, and handbag, too tired to be annoyed with myself for not packing light enough.

Eventually, I stumbled upon a Pret, where I sit now, with a soy cappuccino making its way to my stomach. I’m still waiting for the caffeine to kick in. Somehow, it seems I have a far greater chance of falling asleep with my head resting on this wooden table than I ever did of falling asleep on that bus. I just want to nap, but I can’t check into my hostel until 2pm. It’s currently 8:51.

******

After leaving Pret, I decided to explore the city (carrying 10kg of luggage on my back. Sometimes my intelligence fails me).

Every street or so, they have these helpful little maps, telling you where you are, and everything nearby. After consulting these, I decided to venture to the south bank, which, due to school trips, is the one (tiny) part of London I’m properly familiar with. I ended up on Buckingham Palace Road, and decided I may as well be a cliché tourist for a little while, given that I had so much time to fill.
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I was plodding slowly along, trying not to get hit by a car every time I crossed a road (seriously, London, y’all need more traffic lights), when I heard a snap and the sound of something falling to the pavement. The “something” was my laptop case, and the snap was the sound of its strap breaking. Oops.

After letting some very bad words run through my head, I began damage control. I never actually checked to see if my laptop was okay, oops. But the fact you’re reading this right now is evidence that it wasn’t broken.

It turned out that it wasn’t the strap itself that had snapped, but one of the loops it was clipped onto. I assessed the laptop case, searching for a solution. I settled for clipping the strap onto the handles of the bag, and went on my merry way. Except, the handles added a couple of extra inches to the strap, which meant it didn’t rest at my hip, as it had before. Now, as well as the ridiculously heavy bag upon my back, I had a laptop slapping against my thigh every time I took a step.

Genius that I am, it then occurred to me that laptop straps are adjustable. Except, it seems that this laptop case hates me, because that strap had a mind of its own, and readjusted itself every few minutes. Still, I persisted. I continued walking, adjusting the troublesome laptop strap every few minutes.

After much walking, I reached Buckingham palace. As one would expect, there were tourists everywhere. I am not a fan of tourists, due to my hatred of crowds and slow-walking people. To my horror, I realised that, for the next two months, I am, for all intents and purposes (*drum roll*)…a tourist.

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There is generally a distinction between what constitutes a traveller, and what constitutes a tourist. A large amount of it is based on stereotypes, based on everything from accommodation, to outfit, to activities. I would always place myself firmly within the “traveller” camp. Because, to me, there is a certain stigma around tourism, in that “tourists” (or the stereotype of them) don’t actually experience the “real” country.

As a British person, I stood in the grounds of Buckingham palace, and thought “this is not the England I know”. We could go into greater depth and discuss how the royal family is not an accurate representation of this country, given that they live in luxury and a large amount of this country lives on a low income (not to mention all the people relying on food banks #fuckyouTheresaMay). But on a most basic level, a few buildings in one city are not the whole country. I live in the far North of England (well, lately, I’ve been living in Scotland), and London is a different world. London, to me, seems suspended from reality.

It then occurred to me that if I feel this way about London, it is surely the same with every country. I can call myself a traveller all I like, but I’m still going to spend two months in the capital cities of countries, experiencing the mere surface and thinking it’s the full picture. Granted, I’m not exactly doing this in Estonia. For one thing, I’m not going there just to go blindly from one tourist attraction to another. I’m going there because it’s the country where my books are set, the first country I travelled to alone, the country where I learnt who I am. Estonia has a special place in my heart, and I want to experience as much of it as I can. Also, I’m going to Tartu as well as Tallinn, so I won’t just be in the capital.

But what happens when I leave Estonia? When I go to Latvia, will I suddenly become just another tourist? I don’t know. I hope I will form an emotional bond with every country I travel to, just as I did with Estonia. But how do I avoid experiencing only the surface of each country’s identity? I suppose it’s something I will learn along the way.

After getting road rage from walking behind snail-paced tourists, I decided to escape. I went to St James’s Park, and sat at a picnic table, overlooking the pond, and ate the remainder of the food I’d brought from home. After spending nine days at home in the Cumbrian wilderness (well, a very tiny village), I was particularly appreciative of this park. Back in Glasgow, I lived near Kelvingrove Park, and spent a lot of time there. It’s so important to have green spaces amidst the concrete confines of cities – places to escape from the noise and humans and traffic.
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As I sat, eating and enjoying the peaceful park, I accidentally dropped a little bit of my food. That was when the pigeons began to swarm. Not only did the pigeons crowd around my feet, they began to attack each other. I finished my food, and got the hell out. Escaping from the park was quite a challenge, as lots of areas were closed off due to some kind of parade. I continued on towards the south bank. I found Parliament Square, and made a mental note of its location, because I was considering going to an anti-Tory/DUP protest there later. Then I went down Parliament Road, where I was highly appreciative of the anti-Theresa May street art.

There was also a faded "strong and stable my arse!" written on the pavement.
There was also a faded “strong and stable my arse!” written on the pavement.

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I finally located the river, and, upon realising I was on the wrong side, crossed a bridge that was absolutely swarming with slow-walking tourists. I had planned to go to the BFI (British Film Institute), which I’d been to a couple of times on school trips. But they were doing bag searches, and I was still carrying my luggage, so I decided to avoid it.

I continued along the riverbank. My main priority now was to find somewhere to buy water. I was wearing four layers of clothing, because I couldn’t fit my coat and hoodie in my bag, and it was at least 20 degrees outside. I finally located a Caffé Nero, where I bought water and raspberry lemonade. I stripped off the torture chamber of my outer layers of clothing, which were soaked through with sweat, and made use of the free wifi, to check the distance to my hostel: 4 miles.

If this was Glasgow, I could get from the west end to the east end in a shorter distance than that. London is enormous; monopoly did not prepare me for this shit.

I decided to skip the protest, and walk to my hostel. I had to go back through The Mall, and deal with the swarm of tourists at Buckingham Palace again, and on top of this, the Laptop Case from Hell was still attacking my thigh. Naturally, I got lost, and ended up walking some way in the opposite direction.

Sometimes smart people do stupid things. For example, they make bets with themselves that they can survive two days in London without using the tube (or any public transport). It would have cost me £4.95 for a single ticket. The Glasgow subway charges £4 for a day ticket. £4.95 is ridiculous.

When I finally realised I was going in the wrong direction, I considered breaking my bet. Then I remembered that I could buy two coffees for the price of one tube ticket, and I walked on.

It should have taken me 1 hour and 27 minutes to walk from the south bank to my hostel in Kensington. It took me 3 hours and 15 minutes, carrying my 10kg backpack and the Laptop Case from Hell, wearing four layers of clothing in the midday heat, with no water. There were stalls selling water along the roadside, but they charged £1.50 for 500ml of water, and the same pride which stopped me from buying a tube ticket made me refuse to spend that much money on such a tiny bottle of water.

When I eventually reached Kensington High Street, I bought a litre of water, and gulped it down during the 15 minute walk to my hostel. My face was dripping with sweat from the gruelling walk.

If there was a God of irony, or a God who likes to laugh at us mere mortals, this God would rule over my travels. (Oh who am I kidding? Such a God probably governs my whole life). I am a very tall person. I am also a mildly claustrophobic person. So I was just a tad horrified when I reached my room and saw that my assigned bed was the middle of a three-person bunk, Bracing myself for the inevitable head-banging (which thankfully didn’t happen), I slithered into my bed. Not very comfortable, but I didn’t care, because it just felt so good to lie down.

Also the entire hostel was decorated in pink and purple, my two favourite colours, which seemed like a good omen.
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I stayed in bed until my hunger caught up with me, and then I went out in search of food. I bought a very large tub of noodle soup, and sat on a bench in Holland Park to eat. I’d been so excited to find something vegan, that I hadn’t checked what I was actually buying. The noodles were full of chilli. With streaming eyes and nose, I persevered in my eating endeavours.
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A Ukrainian woman came and sat on the bench next to me, and we chatted a little. Some time after she left, the most adorable little black pug approached me. He put his little paws up on my knee, and I stoked his silky little head. Then he clambered onto the bench beside me, and watched my noodles enthusiastically.
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As I walked back through the park to my hostel, I realised I was actually happy, for the first time since arriving in London (I’d been a wee bit grumpy up until this point). I realised just how important it is, whilst travelling, to have a base to return to. And something as simple as having a room to leave my bags in, a bed/cage to make a nest in, makes all the difference. Having a “home” to return to, even just for the night, helps to counteract that “lost” feeling which comes from wandering around unfamiliar cities.

When I returned to my room, I showered, crawled into the bed/cage, and proceeded to sleep for 12 hours.

11th June 2017 –

I woke to the sound of snoring strangers. I am not a fan of sharing bedrooms. I shared a room with my sister for 12.5 years, and I had a roommate for the first six weeks of university, so having a private sleeping space is something I have greatly come to value. However, sleeping in a hostel doesn’t really bother me. Perhaps it’s because literally all I did was sleep for my entire time there, and hence I didn’t have to deal with the full hostel experience.

I checked out of the hostel just before 10am, and deposited my bags in the luggage storage room. Then I headed to Pret. The only vaguely cheap vegan food I could find was popcorn (very overpriced, nonetheless). So I had a breakfast of soy cappuccino and sweet n salty popcorn. I spent about three hours in Pret, finishing off yesterday’s diary entry, until my hunger finally outweighed my laziness.

I wandered around Kensington, in search of food. It was a relatively pleasant walk, because all the tourists must have still been asleep, and therefore were not crowding the footpaths. I ventured to Notting Hill (where I, shockingly, did not see Hugh Grant or Julia Roberts), and bought some very average chips and overpriced ketchup. I remember the days when ketchup sachets were free. Charging 30p for them is an outrage!

The chips tasted less and less appetizing the more I ate, and I started contemplating the fact that chips are literally just deep fried potatoes. In some countries, the local cuisine is made up of so many different flavours and ingredients. In Britain, we chop up potatoes and throw them in a vat of boiling oil. Fascinating.

Once I was done philosophising over my crappy chips, I set off walking again, in search of water. One day I will actually invest in a reusable water bottle. Today was not that day.
After buying a bottle of overpriced water, and a litre of unnecessary mango juice, I went to Kensington Palace Gardens. I still had several hours to kill, and the thing I yearned for most in the world was to take a nap. But I worried that if I closed my eyes, someone would steal my bag.

I sat on a bench by the pond, and watched the pigeons dancing on the pavement, and the ducks bobbing along in the water. I sat for some time, watching the weak waves of the water, with the wind blowing my hair across my face. I was bored of sitting; I just wanted to sleep. I opened my handbag to search, in vain, for a hair band, and discovered a forgotten copy of Paulo Coelho’s “The Alchemist” hidden behind my diary. I read for a while, which improved my mood somewhat. Even at 40 pages in I could tell that this is a good book to read whilst travelling.
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When I felt a little less tired, I got up from my bench and explored the park. I discovered a couple of swans, and started talking to them, as I would to my cat. (When you’re travelling alone, you have to make do with any company you can find). I also saw a goose, with the most adorable fluffy little goslings, which were super cute. I decided they were all called Ryan.
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At five o’clock I started to head back to Kensington High Street. I went to Waitrose and bought (overpriced) carrot sticks, corn chips, and hummus to have for dinner, and sat and ate in Holland Park. My train to the airport was due to leave at 11:25, and my hostel was (according to Google maps) approximately two hours walk from the station. Factoring in my slow walking from the weight of my bags, and my complete ineptitude at navigation, I decided it was best to allow four hours to reach the station.

I collected my bags at 6:15, which left plenty of time for walking, as well as having a coffee break along the way. Collecting my bags was the last thing I wanted to do. I was pretty sure that my legs would buckle beneath me the moment I put my backpack on. Miraculously, this didn’t happen.

As I departed from the hostel, I began philosophising about the disparity between the different ways I think about my body. I don’t always have a very good relationship with my body. There have been many times where I’ve just looked in the mirror and gone “Ugh! Seriously?” Too tall, too fat – you name it, I’ve thought it. But this very same body has carried me across the world. These legs with the fat thighs that no amount of exercise can shift, are the same legs which have carried me through all my adventures, carried me from the moment I took my first steps, in Dubai airport when I was one year old.

And it doesn’t make sense to me that I can resent these legs for something as insignificant as their appearance, when they have never failed me in their strength.

The walk was long. Me, the Evil Backpack, the Laptop Case from Hell, and my pretty purple handbag made our way from Kensington towards the south bank. I spent the entire journey wishing for it to end, fantasising about the long sleep I will have when I reach my hostel in Tallinn. I stopped at the Caffé Nero at the south bank, 3.7 miles into my walk. I was so tired that I doubt I would have made it to the station if I hadn’t stopped to rest. I fuelled up on coffee and water, and luxuriated in a comfy armchair.
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I was exhausted and completely fed up. I wanted to sleep or cry. I did neither, though there were tears in my eyes when I checked my messages. I had a message from my mum, talking about my cat, and what she was cooking, and how quiet the house was without me. For a little while I desperately wished I was back at home.

Eventually I forced myself to get up. I went to the bathroom and brushed my hair, which made me feel a little saner, then I headed along the south bank to Blackfriars bridge. There was a violinist busking in the tube station below the bridge, and the beautiful melody followed me as I climbed the stairs from the river bank to the bridge. Violins always make me think of my sister.

The tourists had vanished by this time of night, and I had the twilit bridge almost entirely to myself, with beautiful views of the river. I had 1.7 miles left to walk, and I was very sore and tired. I started talking to myself as a parent would to a small child. I explained to myself what I was doing, where I was going, and the steps it would take to get there. I bribed myself with the promise of a very long sleep when I get to Tallinn.
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Then I remembered the fail proof way to motivate myself and make tedious journeys faster: singing. It was late at night, and the darkened streets were deserted. So I sang, treating the empty footpath to slightly-off-key renditions of Taylor Swift and Lana Del Rey classics. And it worked! I found myself walking more briskly, and before I knew it, I’d arrived at Liverpool Street Station, with plenty of time to spare.

A very tired Eliza, on board a train
A very tired Eliza, on board a train

I easily located my train, and made it to the airport without a problem. I found a Costa Coffee, and bought a very large soy cappuccino, which has sadly failed to combat my exhaustion. It’s 2:46am. I have 4 hours left before my flight leaves.
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In seven hours from now, I will be in Estonia, and I don’t know if I’m scared or excited. The only thing I feel right now is tiredness. But I’ve survived the first leg of my journey. And not only did I last two days in London, I did it without using the tube! I won the bet I’d made with myself. My prize was aching shoulders and sore feet. Do I regret it? No. I don’t like to use the word regret. I would say I’ve learnt from my mistakes, but I don’t know if I’ve necessarily learnt not to do it again. I’ve learnt how strong I am, I’ve learnt that London is bloody massive, and I’ve learnt what it means to do everything at my own pace. And by doing it all on foot, I’ve seen far more of the city than I would have otherwise. I’ve also learnt that letting myself suffer makes for a far better story.

Brief Encounters and their Effect on Retrospect

I should be packing right now. Instead I am procrastinating in every way possible (this mostly involves taking selfies with my cat). I’ve been at home for a week now, and tomorrow night I will board a bus bound for London, and leave it all behind for two months of venturing into the Great Unknown (also known as Europe).

I didn’t know what to expect when I left Glasgow. I hadn’t been home since the Christmas holidays, and the concept of home was one I couldn’t quite figure out. Because in many ways, Glasgow is my home now: it’s where my life is. But there is a house in a little village in the middle of Cumbria, where two parents and a beautiful, grumpy cat reside, and this place is also my home. But outside of the house-parents-cat equation, I don’t have a life here.

It’s no secret that I had a very difficult time in school, and that I didn’t really have any close or lasting friendships, and I think when I went to university I put all my memories of school into a sealed box in my head and mentally labelled it “do not open”. Even during my loneliest times at university, I found myself surrounded by friends. I had a support network all around me; there were people who had my back. And of course I knew this was the first time in my life I’ve had that, but I’d pushed my memories of school so far down into a suppressed vault that even when I made my generic statements of “I didn’t have friends in school” and suchlike, they were just words and I didn’t feel the feelings which should accompany them.

But being back home is another matter. I was hanging around town for about an hour yesterday, waiting for my mum to finish at an appointment, and I spent perhaps twenty minutes sitting on one of the benches outside Sainsbury’s. (There’s not much to do in Penrith, so I sufficed myself with people-watching for a while). I hoped I’d perhaps run into some of my old teachers, because they are some of the people in this town that I actually do miss and wish to see. But as I was sitting, I saw some of my old classmates. People I would have (back when I was in school) classified as “sort-of friends”, and who I would now classify as “vague acquaintances who I made too much effort with and were probably, at best, completely indifferent to me”. I hadn’t seen them since prom night, almost a year ago. And if I hadn’t have said hi to them, I don’t even think they would have acknowledged me at all.

Even though they were people I haven’t spoken to in a year, and no longer have any need to be validated by, I still felt that familiar sting of rejection, and it took me back to all the times I felt such rejection during my three years in school.

I have a tendency, when I tell people about my experience of school, to make blanket statements, such as “everyone hated me”. It occurred to me yesterday, that this was not actually the case. With the wisdom of retrospect, I can see that it would be far more accurate to say that most people were indifferent to me, some probably felt threatened by me, and many others didn’t know actual-me at all, and had a hatred for what they thought was me. During my time at school (especially in my first two years there) I was almost constantly the subject of rumours, of speculation, of scandal. And I was the victim of a large amount of bullying (much of which was from people who were strangers to me, not just my classmates).

When a person is subject to being the centre of attention in such a way as I was, it’s easy to forget that the world does not actually revolve around them. I can see now that my entire school did not hate me, and that most of them were just indifferent to me, which pretty much amounted to the same. School, for me, was a battleground, and it felt like there was no one on my side. So the people who were indifferent were, for all intents and purposes, on the enemy side of the battle lines, because they were not on my side. A lot of the time it felt as if there was no one on my side at all.

I could very easily turn this into yet another blog about how my experiences at school caused all my anxiety, but I’ve written enough blogs on anxiety lately, so I will try not to go down that track. Instead of focusing on how school broke me, I choose to focus on how university repaired me.

This time a year ago was when I began to see the first rays of hope on the far-distant horizon. In May last year, I joined a bunch of Facebook groups for Glasgow uni freshers, and met other people from my courses and accommodation. And this meant that when I arrived in Glasgow last September, I had ready-made friends, complete with in-jokes and all the other wonders of friendship I had never before experienced. Granted, most of the friendships I made online did not last for the duration of first year, but they provided me with the foundations I needed to build myself a life. And they gave me the confidence I needed to make other friends, and to take wild leaps of faith and do scary things like join societies.

The majority of my friends at uni are people I met at Improv society (the best society in the entire universe, in case you were wondering), and they are my world and I love them very much. And it took me a very, very long time to get over my anxiety around them. (*tries very hard not to write a blog about anxiety* *tries to prove to self that it is humanly possible for me to write blogs which aren’t about anxiety*) But from the beginning of April onwards, my life has been damn great. I’ve had an active social life, I’ve gotten closer with my friends, and made new friends, and I’ve become a lot more confident.

And that is why coming home, and running into people from the previous chapter of my life, feels somewhat alien to me. Because I am not the person I was in school. I now have a life where I have the freedom to be myself without being constantly ridiculed, and that is the most precious thing in the world to me.

As well as running into former classmates yesterday, I also ran into my former philosophy teacher, and that was an entirely different interaction. She ran up behind me, excitedly screaming my name (which is how I wish to be greeted by everyone from now on). Talking to her reminded me of the one thing I loved about school: my teachers. I was a total teacher’s pet, to the majority of my teachers. I was a classic nerdy know-it-all (think: Hermione). I idolised a lot of my teachers, and held them up on pedestals as my saviours, my lifeboats in the shipwreck that was school. And looking back now I think my teachers were the only people in that school that actually saw the real me. They saw my potential, they saw my bravery, they saw the person I would one day become, rather than the person I was forced to be. And most of all, they saw that there was hope for me, even when I couldn’t see it myself. And they put up with more of my emotional breakdowns than even my best friends have seen, so they are truly my superheroes.

I’m still growing. And University Eliza is no more permanent than School Eliza was, because there are so many experiences ahead of me which will change who I am and how I see the world. I can feel myself growing, and I can feel myself getting better at existing. I still don’t always know how to act around people, which social etiquette to follow. A lot of the time I just try to be myself as much as I can. And somewhere amongst that I feel myself crossing past the lines of awkwardness, and getting to the point where I feel comfortable around people. Generally the way to tell if I’m comfortable around you is how much I talk. If I don’t shut up, or if I message you all the time, or try hard to communicate with you a lot, it means I am comfortable around you. It means you’re probably never getting rid of me because I’ve gotten past the point of you making me anxious. And it means I hold you in very high regard, because I still find a lot of social interaction terrifying.

And it’s little moments like that, moments where I realise that there are people who I can fully be myself around, which remind me that I’m very close to the light at the end of the tunnel. I’ve broken through the darkness that I was buried in during my time at school. I’ve managed to go from being someone who was barely coping, to someone who has cultivated the life she has always wanted. I know what I want, and I have fought to be where I am now, I have fought every step of the way. Now I’m at a point where it seems I don’t have to fight for much longer, because I’m almost where I want to be.

Late tomorrow night my two months of travelling will begin, and yet another part of my self will emerge: Travel Eliza, the part of my personality which has lain dormant for almost a year, and I wish that part of myself the best of luck, because she’s on her own. Whilst University Eliza has her friends to look out for her, and School Eliza had her teachers and parents, Travel Eliza must be entirely self-sufficient (I say, as though I’m not visiting friends in four out of the six countries I’m going to). I have two months of solo travel ahead of me, and that will lead me (as it did last time) to the truth that everything I need to survive is inside myself. And I am strong. So bring it on!