Life in the Liminal Spaces

Lately I’ve felt as though I’m living life in liminal spaces, existing beyond the boundaries of my past, whilst I am yet to cross the threshold of my future. I spent the summer travelling from country to country, shedding parts of my identity like a snake sheds its skin. I was constantly moving forwards, with each new location merely becoming bricks in the pavement I walked on, rather than a final destination.

Even when I finally returned to Glasgow, I spent two months living temporarily in my friends’ spare room, whilst I struggled to find a flat. And this only continued the feeling of being stuck in the in-between. I felt like I’d never find somewhere to live, that I would constantly be waiting for something that was never going to happen. I fell into a spell of situational depression, trapped in the mindset that nothing was ever going to change.

I moved into my new flat last Sunday. It felt like a victory against the slow-motion state I have existed in for the past two months. I felt like I had finally scored a goal in the game of Me vs. The Universe. And things feel better, to some extent. I live 15 minutes away from uni. My flatmate is a final-year PhD student, so she’s hardly ever around, which gives me the solitude I like. It’s a step up, I’m closer to where I want to be. Yet I still feel stuck in the liminal space.

Perhaps it’s like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, and once you have satisfied the lowest level of the pyramid, you begin to seek what lies on the next level up. Perhaps I’m the kind of person who will never be satisfied with what she has. Or maybe it’s my traveller’s heart, with that insatiable desire to constantly be moving forward.

All I know is that I feel like there’s something missing in my life. There have been so many times lately where I’ve felt perfectly happy. Whether it was swaying to music in the cold air of Glasgow Green as I watched the fireworks display with my friends, or passing the autumn days in cosy coffee shops with good friends and new friends, there have been moments where I knew exactly where I belonged in the world, moments where I felt perfectly at home in other people’s company.

And then I would walk home alone, and a slow melancholy would creep through my bloodstream, making me shiver on the inside, because I could see that everything is temporary.

Perhaps November, too, is a liminal space. There are fewer than two months left of the year, and we stand in the doorway of 2018, waiting for next year to begin. It’s the time of year where it feels like nothing will change, that life will just be routine, at least until January. And I need change, just as much as I need routine.

I entered into my second year of university with high hopes and expectations. Because I had learnt from the mistakes of first year, and I had learnt from the time I spent alone during the summer. I came back to Glasgow and invested in fake leather jackets and black jeans, dark purple lipstick… Gone was the pink-and-purple-clad girl of last year. They say “dress for the job you want, not the job you have”, so I created a costume through which I could convince myself I had the potential to be cool.

Nowadays I wear more purple. I’m not the human Ribena bottle I was last year, but I’m a balance between Old Eliza and New Eliza. I’m a little bit closer to who I want to be, but I’m still hiding backstage, still lurking in the liminal spaces, because I don’t know how to cross the threshold onto the stage to claim the spotlight.

I am a tall girl, and I speak with a loud voice even when I whisper. I take up space in this world whether I want to or not. And I shouldn’t be afraid to claim the space that belongs to me.

When I came back from my travels, I felt as though I had undone all the progress I had made within the past year, that my social anxiety was worse than ever. I found it harder to trust people, harder to believe I was worthy of other people’s time and attention. It’s only within the past few weeks that I’ve realised just how far I’ve come.

People like me. For me. People like me and love me for who I am as a person, not in spite of my quirks, but because of them. I couldn’t comprehend that for so long, because it went against everything I ever believed. For as long as I can remember, I’ve had this deep-rooted belief that people secretly hate me. But now I can recognise my negative thought patterns, and begin to unravel the threads that hold them in place. I can see that the only person telling me I’m not good enough is myself, the only person making me believe I don’t deserve the space I take up is myself.

I’ve been described as “intimidating” and “full-on”, and (my personal favourite) “you’re 99 percent sure she’s not going to kill you, but there’s that 1 percent…”, and it’s easy to take those descriptions as insults, as directions to retreat into my shell and hide from the space I occupy. But what if I were to claim that space instead? What if I were to stand up straighter, and own the five-feet-and-eleven-inch flesh cage that I reside in? What if I were to decide that yes, I can be intimidating and full-on, but that that is not a bad thing? After all, doesn’t it mean that I’m powerful?

I often feel reluctant to own my opinions, even on things which are really important to me. Every time I tell someone I’m vegan I worry that they’ll view me as a stereotype. Every time I say I like Taylor Swift or YA novels I expect people to judge me for still having the pop-culture taste of a teenager (I mean, I am still a teenager until January 28th…). And I forget that all these things make me who I am.

Yesterday I met up for coffee with a vegan friend of mine, and she said that if someone is vegan it says so much about who they are as a person. And it made me think a lot, because of course it does. When I tell people I’m vegan, perhaps they’re going to associate me with kale and quinoa and high-horses, but that is not what I am defining myself as. By living a vegan lifestyle I am sticking to my ethical beliefs, I am saving lives, I am making the world a better place, I am living with my heart, I am being the change I want to see in the world.

It is time for me to step out of the liminal spaces, to shake off the old Eliza and step into the new one. It is time for me to own my identity, to claim my space in the world, and say “this is me, take me or leave me.”

So I am Eliza. I am a tall, loud-voiced, overly-affectionate, Jeremy-Corbyn-supporting, vegan Taylor Swift fan, with a posh English accent (who isn’t posh at all), who loves her friends more than anything in the world, and gets excited every time she sees a puppy or cat. I talk fast, and I wear my heart tattooed on my forehead in purple ink. I am full-on, I am possibly intimidating, either by my speech or by my silence. I am a big believer in hugs, and kissing my friends on their cheeks, and telling people how much they mean to me. Above all, I am honest, and I live as honest a life as I can. I’m anxious and awkward in social situations, I’m terrible at small talk. I say exactly what comes into my head (which is great in improv, and not so great in real life). I shout my feelings into the void of the internet, and use real people as characters in my poetry (but don’t worry, I never mention them by name). This is me, and I don’t want to spend my life lurking in the doorway, waiting for the right time to step into the space that has always been mine. So I am taking the jump, I am leaving the liminal spaces behind, and crossing the threshold into my future.

Bad Luck and Gratitude

A couple of days ago I was planning to write a blog about gratitude, and yesterday I was going to write a blog about how I think I’m cursed. That pretty much summarises how I’ve felt since I returned from travelling. On the one hand, I see life through a different lens than I did before, and I have a renewed gratitude for my life and the people in it. But I have also had a seemingly-endless stream of bad luck these past couple of months, and no matter what I do I have been unable to change my situation.

As I sat in my Film & Television Studies lecture this morning – half-asleep because the nearest café was out of soy milk, so I hadn’t been able to get my morning coffee (I told you I’m cursed!) – I tried to reconcile my feelings of gratitude from two days ago, with my consistent experience of bad luck. Perhaps it’s a cliché to say that you can’t see the light without the dark, but that’s the only perspective I can choose that doesn’t make me want to cry.

A large chunk of my bad luck has been related to my search for a flat. I’ve been looking since March, and I still haven’t found somewhere. I have tried looking with other people, I’m now trying to find somewhere on my own, and no matter what the situation, it always seems to fall through. Whether it’s losing £100 in agency fees only to have your application rejected, or being told you can have a flat and getting a rejection email the next day, or turning up to a viewing only to find out the flat’s already been taken, the bad luck stays consistent. Thankfully I have friends who are letting me live with them temporarily, and I am so grateful for that. Which I guess proves my point that the bad shows you the good.

It’s shown me just how far I’ve come, that I have friends who look out for me, who trust me enough to let me live with them. A little over a year ago, I didn’t have friends at all. So this is proof that things get better.

Some situations are harder to see the good in. For example, Bad Luck Situation No.2. This is a simple tale of Girl Meets Boy:
Girl meets Boy, Girl gets crush on Boy (Girl is pretty sure Boy isn’t into her, but men are complicated creatures, so Girl can’t be sure, and she’s probably *slightly* in denial about her inevitable heartbreak). Girl plans to ask out Boy. Girl finds out she’s never going to see Boy again, because Boy isn’t returning to Glasgow. Girl has the super smart idea of sending Boy a message telling him how she feels. Boy reads Girl’s message, and never responds to it. Two weeks pass, and Boy has still not responded. Girl realises that she really needs to get a life.

It may not seem like that (toootally fictional) story has a happy ending. How could it? All it does is continue Girl’s constant narrative of rejection, and make her feel very miserable. Certainly for the first week afterward, Girl was very sad. She knew Boy probably didn’t feel the same way, and she knew he had a history of taking several days to reply to messages, so she hadn’t expected him to respond any time soon. But she didn’t expect him to ignore her message entirely. Girl is used to dealing with rejection, and she is used to coming to terms with it. But it’s different when stories are left open-ended, when there are so many unanswered questions.

Today, two weeks since Girl sent that message, I realised that maybe the story had a happy ending after all.

I had a lot of crushes last year. Okay, four. Which if you divide it evenly between the nine months I was at uni, isn’t actually all that many. But three of them were in a very short space of time, and hence Eliza the Serial Crusher is a running joke amongst my friends. From January through to two weeks ago, I have not had any time where I didn’t have a crush on someone. Which isn’t exactly healthy.

Especially when, in retrospect, 3 out of 4 times, I liked my idea of the person rather than the person themselves. Crush no.4 was the only one where I felt like it wasn’t just the idea of the person I liked. But hey, retrospect is a funny thing. Now I can say I probably did only like the idea of him. I still really like them as a person (I’d like them a whole lot more if they hadn’t ignored my message), and I still think they’re very attractive. But one of the important lessons I’ve learned lately is that I can have attractive male friends WITHOUT getting a crush on them. Yes, it took me over a year to learn this.

I began to wonder what it says about me that I always have this need to focus my hopes on someone else. If you ask Drunk Eliza, she would say “I just have so much love to give, and no one wants it”, which is both true and untrue. I’m a very loving person, and when I’m comfortable with people I’m extremely affectionate. I do have a lot of love to give. But as for the “no one wants it”? Lots of people want to be loved. I’m so lucky to have so many friends. So I have to admit, Drunk Eliza is wrong on this one.

The other day, I had this realisation that I’m basically a thirteen-year-old. I’ve never been on a date, yet I get lots of stupid crushes, and I can get drunk on half a cider. If that doesn’t make me a thirteen-year-old, I don’t know what does. But I don’t want to be a thirteen-year-old. I’m three months away from twenty, I need to grow up. But I don’t know how. Whenever I try to change, life gets in the way.

I have been trying to be a better version of myself since I returned from Europe. I’ve tried to be more mindful, I’ve listened to guided meditations, read books on spirituality, ate healthily, stopped drinking coffee for a few days… I even meditated once. You can’t say I didn’t try.

But I don’t want to be a trier, I want to be a doer. I don’t know who I am when I don’t have a goal to focus on, something in the future to look forward to. Perhaps that’s why I get so many crushes, because it gives me a goal of sorts, something I can hope for. But it’s false hope, every time. Goals which are dependent on other people are never going to end well. Because free will, ya know? People can’t help who they’re attracted to. I can’t help being attracted to pretty European boys, and pretty European boys can’t help the fact they’re not attracted to me. It’s life, and even when it hurts, I can accept it. But acceptance isn’t enough: I also have to learn from it.

So it’s time to learn. For the first time in more months than I’d like to count, I don’t have a crush on anyone. I’m out of my comfort zone. And even if I hug my male friends a few times too many when I’m drunk, there’s no one I know who I am likely to develop a crush on any time soon. Maybe this means I’m maturing! (Or that I haven’t met any pretty European guys recently…) All I know is that now is the time to grow. I can break free of the pattern I’ve lived in for the past year, and I can find goals which I can control. I can focus on tangible things, such as editing my novel. I can invest my hopes and energy into something worthwhile. I can learn to be the best version of myself, and who knows, maybe I’ll meet someone when I’m not looking. And if not, then that’s okay too.

I need to stop hoping for another person to fill the emptiness I feel within myself. That emptiness has been there since I went travelling, and maybe a part of it will always be there. Spending two months alone felt a little too much like staring into the abyss, and that’s something I have to come to terms with. Perhaps I, the person who spends most of the time craving their own company, is afraid of being alone. I need to work through that fear. I need to find a strong and stable (Theresa May has ruined that phrase for me!) sense of self, and that’s way more important than finding someone else.

That is why I believe the story has a happy ending, because Boy’s rejection means that Girl can focus on finding herself. And that’s the ultimate happy ending.

However, it’s not the ending of this blog, because I got massively distracted from my original point. So, back to gratitude and the fact that I’m possibly cursed, and how the long detour down the road of my briefly broken heart relates to that… In a way, I’m grateful for how things turned out. Admittedly, I would have been a lot happier if things had ended differently, but it was a situation where I had no control. By the time I sent that message, I knew I was never going to see him again anyway. And I had this extremely strong intuition telling me I had to tell him how I felt, because I would regret it if I didn’t.

I don’t know what I expected, but I think my intuition was looking out for me. I wasn’t supposed to tell him in order for him to respond, I was supposed to tell him so that I could move on. When I saw him in July, I knew he didn’t like me in the way I liked him. Yet I didn’t give up, because I’m stubborn and naïve and really bad at situations like this. I don’t have strong enough self-worth to know when to walk away from hopeless situations. But now I do… After a week of feeling sorry for myself, I thought “Fuck this!”, and from then on I have been actively trying to move on from the whole thing, and forget about it. I love and respect myself enough not to waste my life dwelling on a past I can’t change.

I am the first to admit I’ve had a ridiculous amount of bad luck lately, but I am also a firm believer that everything happens for a reason. Until the reasons reveal themselves, all I can do is be grateful for the good in my life, for my loving friends who keep me sane, and be as happy as I can. I can’t move forward if I don’t surrender to the growing pains. I pray my luck will soon turn around. But until then, I surrender, with gratitude.

Travel Diary: Berlin and Paris

19th July 2017 –

I awoke from a nightmare of being stalked. Waking only made me feel worse. I dressed quickly, and packed up the remainder of my belongings, and left the hostel as quickly as possible. I wanted to put as much distance between myself and this place as I could. I felt a little relief as I rode the Metro to the bus station, but I knew I wouldn’t feel better until I had left the Czech Republic entirely, or perhaps until my journey was over and I could return to the safety of home.

I arrived at the bus station over an hour early. I had been so desperate to leave my hostel that I hadn’t thought much about time. I sat on a bench and tried to refrain from crying. It didn’t work. Tears streamed uncontrollably down my face. Up until I’d left the hostel there was a part of me that had expected a miracle, expected my laptop to be found, and for everything to be alright. But here I was, about to leave the country, and that meant I had to accept defeat.

I am used to being lucky, and now that I was no longer lucky, I felt cheated by life. There was this immense sense of loss, because the Universe was no longer on my side. There used to be a part of me that believed everything happened for a reason, but I was struggling to see the reason right now. I could feel myself growing increasingly cynical.

On the bus to Berlin I watched sad movies – Brooklyn and The Book Thief – as a way to let out the pain I felt. I spent a great deal of time sobbing, and to some extent it helped. I remember a couple of years ago when my usb stick had broken and I’d lost the majority of a novel I was writing, and the loss I felt at that. Or the more recent loss when a close friendship ended earlier this year. I thought I wouldn’t recover, that the loss was insurmountable. But the more things I lose, the more I learn that you do move on. Sometimes the loss changes you, and it becomes a part of you. But your life will not stand still just because you lost something that matters to you. You have to keep moving forward, always. Theft feels different to other kinds of loss, because you can’t chalk it down to error, to people’s good intentions falling short. When someone steals from you, they make the decision to take what isn’t theirs, they deliberately choose to hurt you. They disrespect your existence entirely, because they place their own desires above your rights.

From the windows of the bus I could see mountains, and they made me ache for home. Where I grew up, in the Eden Valley in Cumbria, there were mountains all around. And even in Glasgow, if you go to the pedestrian bridge across the M8 at Charing Cross, you can see mountains in the distance. Most of the countries I’ve travelled to have been flat, with barely any hills, let alone mountains. Here I feel a little bit closer to home.

If there’s one thing that travel has taught me, it’s how to be patient. After the nine hours that it took me to get to Prague last week, the five hour journey to Berlin seemed like nothing. I watched two movies, and after that I listened to some of the music selection on the bus’s entertainment screens. There wasn’t anything I normally listen to, so I ended up listening to Abba, which made me feel like dancing, in spite of the tears which were still fresh on my face.

As I walked through the bus station, trying to find my way to the underground, I accidentally made eye-contact with a man sitting on one of the chairs in the waiting room. A couple of minutes later I saw that he had taken this as a cue to follow me outside. He tried to approach me, but I walked away hurriedly. Perhaps his intentions were harmless, maybe he had merely wanted to ask me for directions or something. But since having my laptop stolen, my trust of strangers had gone down to zero, and every time someone so much as looked at me I freaked out.

After checking into my hostel, I went to a supermarket to buy food. When they say that Berlin is the vegan capital or Europe, they’re not joking. I went into Lidl, which in the UK barely stocks soy milk, and was delighted to see that they had a wide range of vegan products. It was like I had entered a utopian parallel universe.

I made dinner, and then headed into my room, with plans to get an early night. However, this did not happen, because I had friendly roomates. There were two Australian girls, and a Malaysian woman, and the four of us ended up chatting and laughing for ages. It didn’t miraculously clear up my newfound distrust of strangers, but it was nice to have roommates who weren’t hostile or weird like some of the people I’ve shared rooms with on this journey (I’m looking at you, Nutcracker!)

I awoke in the middle of the night to the sound of crashing thunder, and bright flashes of lightning. It was the heaviest thunderstorm I’d ever seen in my life. There’s something about thunder that feels like a change of energy, new cleaner air, and I wondered if that was what this symbolised. Perhaps this thunderstorm was here as a sign that my luck had changed, and that my journey would be different from here on out.

20th July 2017 –

The magic has returned to travel! For the first time in weeks, my wanderlust has returned, and I feel joy to be travelling. This morning I went to the East Side Gallery, and got very lost on the way there, which meant I spent a great deal of time wandering around Berlin in the sunshine. The East Side Gallery itself was so cool, all the art and graffiti, all the history… And how someone had written “fuck the Tories”, because my country’s government is so crap that there is graffiti about it hundreds of miles away.

IMG_20170720_131710

IMG_20170720_131756

IMG_20170720_132003

IMG_20170720_132400

IMG_20170720_133112

IMG_20170720_134340

IMG_20170720_134715
As I was walking back to my hostel, the strangest thing happened. I’d just come out of Gesundbrunnen station, and this guy walks past me and winks. I don’t know the protocol for dealing with such an occurrence, so I awkwardly try to wink back (if you’ve ever seen me try to wink, you will know that I am terrible at it at the best of times), and then I go on my way, laughing at the incident.

For some reason I glance behind me, and I see that the Wink Guy has turned around, and is following me. I start walking faster, and turn my music down so I can hear if he’s behind me. He soon catches me up. I’m rather freaked out at being followed, but there are other people around, so I figure I’m relatively safe.

Wink Guy asks if I speak English. I tell him yes. He tells me he’s from Malta, and that he followed me because he likes how I look. I have no idea how to respond to this, so I laugh nervously. Wink Guy (or Winker, as I shall now refer to him) asks if I have a boyfriend. I tell him no, I do not. (One day I will learn that I should just lie when people ask me that, but today was not that day). He asked how old I was, and I said 19. He told me he was 22, and had moved to Berlin for work. He then told me that he thought I was very pretty, and that he wanted to ask me out on a date. My social awkwardness, and the fact that we did not share the same first language, meant that the conversation stuttered quite a lot. Once I finally switched my brain on, I explained that I was only in Berlin for a short period of time. The Winker complimented my appearance yet again, and I finally came up with the excuse that I had to go and meet a friend. We shook hands, and parted ways.

I felt weird. On the one hand, I wanted to laugh hysterically about the fact that a man who 1) wasn’t totally ugly, and 2) was within my age range actually found me attractive. Because that never happens, and therefore I found it completely hilarious. But on the other hand, I felt very uncomfortable that he followed me. I’m sure his heart was in the right place, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t creepy.

21st July 2017 –

Today’s wanderings take me to the Kreutzberg district, famed for being a paradise for artists, hipsters, and all kinds of counterculture. I sit currently in a cafe called d’espresso, on a hard, wooden bench, drinking a very small and overpriced cappuccino. The place is part cafe and part bar. The cafe section is painted white, with wooden chairs. The bar room, where I sit, is various shades of brown, lit mostly by natural light, which comes through the large windows, though two lamps glow dimly in the far corners of the room. Both the waitresses have brightly dyed hair, one a faded green, the other a vibrant orange.

A cute-ish guy with an earring sits two tables away, typing on an Apple Macbook. He wears a simple grey t-shirt, and he doesn’t have a beard, but other than that, his existence basically screams hipster.

If I had to define myself into some kind of category or label, I would say artist. And whilst a lot of artists overlap with hipsters, there’s a subtle difference. I don’t know quite what it is. Perhaps that I could never afford (no would I want) a Macbook. It seems the hipster lifestyle is very expensive.

I just want to live a life surrounded by artists and eccentrics, a life of second-hand clothes and brightly coloured hair. And whilst I like my coffees large and cheap, I can’t help but fall in love with cafes like this one.

I only crossed to this side of the street because I saw some cool street art. Then I saw the word vegan and was won over. In Prague, I only ever went to Starbucks for coffee, because I knew they did soy milk. But here in Berlin, so many places have vegan options, which means I can go to cute independent cafes, and that excites me very much.
IMG_20170721_111658

IMG_20170721_111722

IMG_20170721_112036

IMG_20170721_124444

IMG_20170721_134744

IMG_20170721_142536

IMG_20170721_143145

IMG_20170721_143310

My initial reaction to Kreutzberg was that it seemed like a slum. Parts of it do give off slum vibes. But I quickly reminded myself to check my privilege. Just because an area is poor, it doesn’t mean it’s unsafe. I started thinking about art and counterculture, and how there is such a link between those concepts and poverty. So many artists have been on the edge of society, throughout history, and so of course there is going to be an overlap between places with artistic identity, and places with a lot of poverty. Artists are often society’s rejects. And what does it say about me, that I want the art but not everything that comes with it? So much art does not come from a place of beauty, it comes from places of struggle and hardship, and to think that art can exist without the circumstances that made it is just ignorant and naïve.

As I was wandering around aimlessly (because what else do I ever do whilst travelling), I saw two dogs playing in a fountain, and it was so cute that I stopped to take a picture (because dogs are so precious and they melt my heart every time I look at them), and a creepy-looking guy rode up to me on a bicycle, and reached out for my phone, as if he expected me to give it to him. My heart raced in panic – I couldn’t lose my phone, especially not after losing my laptop! I snatched my hand away quickly, glared at the man, and walked away as fast as I could. I glanced behind me every couple of minutes to see if he was following me, but thankfully he wasn’t.

I had quite a few instances of men staring at me today. I counted 7 in total who were definitely staring at me, and 4 who either followed me or outright approached me. I am so unused to this. Whilst there were a couple of instances of strangers approaching me when I was in Riga, for the majority of my trip people have left me alone. It makes me feel unsafe to get so much attention from strangers, especially when I cannot speak their language.

22nd July 2017 –

If life was a competition of who loved their friends the most, I would win. Why? Because I woke up at 5:30am to travel half way across a country to visit my best friend. If that’s not dedication, I don’t know what is. (I would also win because of my superior snuggling skills, but that’s irrelevant. Though seriously, the thing I receive the most compliments from people about is how good I am at hugs #humblebrag).

I had to take a bus and then a tram to get to the train station, which I was worried about, as I am not always skilled at navigating public transport. But it all went fine. The sun was beginning to rise in the sky as I arrived at the station. I located the right train platform, and then set off in search of coffee. I was super proud of myself because I managed to order a coffee in German. My language goal for this trip was to be able to order coffee in the languages of every country I travelled to. I failed at this once I left the Baltic States, but I was happy to be back on track.

I had to take two trains – one from Berlin to Hamburg, and another from Hamburg to Kiel. After six weeks of travel, long journeys don’t faze me. I spent most of the journey to Hamburg looking out the window, or observing the other passengers. The guy in the row in front of me was very tall and reasonably attractive, so I watched him for a bit (not in a creepy way – he was in my line of vision!!), and I spent a great deal of time playing out stories in my head, my preferred method of entertainment.

My second train arrived twenty-five minutes early. In Britain it’s rare to find trains that run on time, whereas in the utopia that is Germany, trains arrive early!?!

I stepped off the train at Kiel station, through a crowd of people, and ran screaming into the arms of my best friend, who proceeded to tell me that I was shorter than she remembered me, and that she’d forgotten what my voice sounded like, but that she remembered it was high-pitched. I responded by protesting that I didn’t have a high-pitched voice (in a very high-pitched voice, naturally).

I was in a tired daze for the first half hour or so (the effects of the coffee I’d had in Berlin had long worn off by now), so I followed her around the city, nodding along as she talked. We then went to a cute hipster-looking cafe and got coffee and cake. The combined caffeine of chocolate cake and coffee soon revived me to my normal talkative self.
IMG_20170722_134047

One of the greatest and most simple forms of therapy for me is to have coffee with a friend. As an introvert I often don’t feel comfortable in groups of people, but one-on-one time alone with someone I love is hugely important to me, and one of the things I need to have lots of in my life to function well. Contrary to what I sometimes say, I do hugely enjoy interacting with other humans. I just prefer it when it’s one at a time. Once I break through the initial anxiety barriers and find people I’m comfortable with, I crave their company as much as I crave time alone. Because the people I’m close with become a part of me, and they become part of the fabric of my world, part of the equilibrium I need to be happy. And that’s one of the things I’ve missed the most since leaving Glasgow, all the people who tether me back to reality when I’m lost in the clouds.

After we left the cafe, we went and hung out at my friend’s place, and chatted and gossiped and read each other our poetry. I’d hardly written any poetry in months, but I read her the two poems I’d written back when I was in Lithuania, one of which was about the many crushes I’d had within the past year, and the other called “The Cider Side of Me” about all the stupid stuff I say when I get drunk.

Later on we went to the botanic gardens, and then went to a burger place for dinner. Before I knew it, our time was up and I had to get my bus back to Hamburg, to get yet another bus to Berlin.
There was wifi on the first bus, and I skyped with some of my friends. The line was bad, and I felt uncomfortable talking loudly on the bus, but just listening to their voices was enough.
IMG_20170722_154828

IMG_20170722_155826

IMG_20170722_165757

IMG_20170722_180208

It was cold as I waited at the Hamburg bus station, and I could feel people staring at me. I wasn’t sure if it was paranoia or not. I went into a store and bought a bottle of water, and then rejoined the skype call with my friends for a while, because it made me feel safer and less alone. My wifi kept cutting out, so I eventually gave up.

As I waited for the bus to arrive, a number of people approached me. Some spoke to me in broken English, asking for directions. A little while before my bus arrived, a man came up to me. He was Arab, with shoulder-length black hair, and jeans that were ripped at the knee, I could see a little dried blood on the skin that the tear revealed. We made eye-contact, and I knew he was going to come and talk to me. He explained that he was a refugee, and that he needed money to get to another city to get a job.

I had about two euros left in my purse, and I needed that for a train once I got back to Berlin. I told him I was sorry, and that I didn’t have any money. “Why are you sorry?” he asked frustratedly. “I don’t need your sorry, I need money.” I felt terrible.

Even once I was on my bus, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. It’s one thing to call myself open-minded, to share “refugees welcome” pictures on Facebook, yet when it came to it, at the moment that it actually mattered, I proved myself to be as useless as anyone else. I didn’t help that man, and I was so angry at myself for that. I tried to reason with myself, to explain to myself that I had to be careful with my money because I needed to 1) make it back to the UK, and 2) have money for rent when I return to Glasgow. But a little voice in my head reminded me that I had enough money to go travelling, and that that was a luxury, and I should therefore feel terrible about it.

My bus arrived in Berlin an hour later than it was meant to. It was almost 3am. The bus station was deserted, which I found somewhat freaky. I had to cross a darkened car park to get to the train station. I spent the whole time glancing over my shoulder, petrified. Even once I was on the train, my nerves remained. The 3am crowd weren’t the most harmless looking creatures. Half of them were drunk, and there was a guy who looked like Voldemort but with bigger eyebrows.

Once I had left the train, I still had a 20-minute walk from Gesundbrunnen station to my hostel. This was the part of my journey I had most been dreading. I can deal with waking up at 5:30am, I can deal with multiple train and bus journeys half way across a country, but if there’s one thing that freaks me out it’s walking alone through a strange city in the middle of the night.

To calm myself down, I pretended to be talking on my phone. I told myself that if anyone wanted to hurt me, they would be put off by the fact I was talking on the phone. I don’t know how realistic that is, but it made me slightly less scared. I was filled with relief when I finally tiptoed into my hostel room at 3:30am and crawled into bed.

23rd July 2017 –

A couple of days ago, I’d made plans with my roommates to go to the Sunday flea market at Mauerpark. I like markets, markets are cool. But it had been raining yesterday, and the ground beneath us was flooded with muddy puddles.

The four of us browsed the market for perhaps an hour-and-a-half, and I found myself filling with this strange feeling that I couldn’t quite place. At first I thought it was maybe hunger. I bought a tofu-filled pitta bread from a kebab truck, and realised that the feeling wasn’t hunger at all: it was impatience. I’d been travelling alone for so long, that I’d forgotten what it’s like to have to go at someone else’s pace. Or, more precisely, the pace of three other people, who are all practically strangers to me. Have you ever lost three people in a huge market, and not even known their names or remembered what they’re wearing? Turns out it’s quite hard to find strangers amidst a field full of strangers. When I finally relocated them, I told the not-quite-lie that I was tired, and was going to go.
IMG_20170723_122950

IMG_20170723_132958

IMG_20170723_134421

IMG_20170723_141646

IMG_20170723_150626

I went to a coffee shop, and bought a huge cappuccino and a vegan lemon-flavoured cookie, and let myself feel the bliss of solitude. I am a very honest person, and I pride myself on my honesty. I am blunt, I am tactless, I wear my heart tattooed on my forehead (I feel like I possibly wrote that exact sentence in my last blog, so I hope you’re not reading these all in one go. I don’t want you to think I plagiarise my own material!), but there are a few occasions where I tell little white lies. If I am in a social situation and my anxiety is too strong, then I have to do what it takes to get myself out of it, even if it involves telling a lie. My go-to lie is that I’m tired or ill (if I say these to you it doesn’t necessarily mean I’m lying – I spend half my life either tired or having a headache). I remember the first time I went to Improv, and when I went to the pub afterwards I felt too anxious to stay, so I made up an excuse, and left after five minutes. Even though I continued going to Improv, it took me almost an entire semester to go to the pub afterwards. And now that’s my safe place. So you can see that it takes me a long time to feel comfortable in social situations. But if I stick it out, it’s worth it in the end. However when you’re travelling and only in one place for a week, there’s not much opportunity to stick it out and get past the anxiety barrier.

24th July 2017 –

There is only one thing that happened today that matters. I remember insignificant snippets of the day, but not in any chronological order. I remember I texted my mum in the morning, and she mentioned she’d taken my cat, my sweet baby William, to the vet because he seemed a bit under the weather. I was worried, but it wasn’t at the forefront of my mind for most of the day.

I remember that I went to Kreutzberg, and wandered around for a while. I remember seeing a rat across the street and being really freaked out, because I have a huge phobia of rodents. I remember going into a second-hand bookstore, which had a piano in it. I remember listening to the conversation of the other two people in the bookstore, and hearing them talking about Scotland.

I remember both my parents messaging me and asking when would be a good time for them to call. I knew it then, before they told me. I knew that something was wrong. I messaged them and asked if something had happened to William, asked if he was still alive. All they would say was that they wanted to call me. My wifi disconnected, and I felt the panic welling up in me. I knew it, but I didn’t want to believe it. I raced across Kreutzberg, trying to find an underground station, to get back to my hostel. I was on the train when my wifi finally connected, and I saw the message, telling me that my poor William, my baby cat, had had cancer in every organ in his body, and had had to be put down.

That cat was the great love of my life. I’d first got him as a seven-month-old kitten, when I was 8 years old. For ten-and-a-half years, he was my baby. He had thick fur, and a face that looked like it had run into a bus, and he was the most beautiful creature on the entire planet. Every time I put a picture of him on Facebook my friends would joke that he was the most depressed cat ever, because he always seemed to look sad (I don’t think he liked me forcing him to take selfies with me). He may have had a grumpy face, and a grumpy personality, but he was the most precious cat, and I loved him more than anything.

I was in shock. I couldn’t believe he was gone, gone when I wasn’t even in the same country! And how could I go home to a house without a cat? I’ve had cats since I was four years old! I don’t know what my house is like without the smell of cat food permeating through all the downstairs rooms. I don’t know what it’s like to go downstairs in the night without the fear that William has left dead mice outside the bathroom door. Or worse, live ones! I couldn’t imagine a world without that furry face. Even though I’d lived away from him at uni, I knew he was always there for me to come home to. And now he wouldn’t be. The thing I was looking forward to most about coming home from this trip, was burying my face into his fur, forcing him to pose for hundreds of photos, picking him up like the great big baby he was and carrying him around the house. But he wouldn’t be there, he didn’t exist any more. My beautiful baby was dead.

Tears streamed down my face. I didn’t want to cry in public, but what choice did I have? Privacy didn’t exist in the world of travel. I silently sobbed until I got off the train, and then I sobbed some more as I walked out from the station. I went into Aldi and bought a tub of vegan chocolate ice cream. Then I went back to my hostel and ate the entire tub of ice cream and sobbed some more. Then I ate a tin of stuffed vine leaves and sobbed even more. I ignored my parents’ messages. My grief was my own and I didn’t want to share it with anyone.

When I went to my room I saw a note on the door saying the room was being deep-cleaned, and a key attached for my new room. I crawled into my new bed and cried. I didn’t have any roommates yet. When my roommate did arrive, it was an elderly man. Normally I wouldn’t have been keen on sleeping alone in a room with a strange man. He wasn’t keen on it either. I heard him discussing it in German with the staff. I only understood a couple of words, but the gist of it was that he didn’t want to be alone in a room with me. I didn’t care in the slightest. All that mattered was that my precious furry baby was dead and that my world would never be the same again.

25th July 2017 –

When I awoke I glanced over at the bed next to me, and saw that my other roommate was also a man. The Eliza who would be less than thrilled to share a room with two strange men was gone. Instead there was just Eliza the Nihilist who didn’t care about anything because she knew that everyone she loved was going to die eventually and that the world was cruel. I wanted to spend the day crying and thinking about how cruel life is, but alas, I had plans.

I had a second (?) cousin who lived in Berlin, and we had arranged to meet. We went to one of Berlin’s extremely-hipster cafes, and I tried my hardest to pretend to be a fully functioning human for an hour. We talked about our extended family. I told him about my sister’s cute baby. He ordered a turmeric latte, without knowing what turmeric was, and choked on it every time he took a sip.

My social anxiety was in a strange place. On the one hand, I was more mellow than normal, because my reaction to my cat’s death was for my brain to go straight to full-on nihilist mode. Who cares about anxiety when life is so ridiculously brief? But on the other hand, it takes a lot of effort to go an entire hour without crying when the great furry love of your life has been put down.

After parting ways with my cousin, I went into the city centre, to see some touristy sights, because it was my last full day in Berlin. I didn’t feel particularly enthusiastic though. Because why does travel matter when my cat is dead?

I went back to my hostel, and read for a while. One of the previous occupants of my previous room had left Paulo Coehlo’s “Adultery” behind, and when my stuff had been moved to this room, the book had made its way here too. I decided I may as well read it. After a few hours of reading, I began to pack up my belongings. It was time to get rid of what I didn’t need.

I am a sentimental person, and I don’t like getting rid of things. To the point that back in Glasgow, my wardrobe was filled with old amazon packaging “in case it came in useful someday”, which it never would have. Can you see why I was so devastated to lose an entire laptop full of photos/music, etc? I have trouble letting things go.

But now it was time to chuck anything I didn’t need, regardless of sentimental value. I threw out old bus tickets, a map of Riga, and…the Laptop Case from Hell. I can’t believe it had taken me this long! Why would I carry around a broken laptop case which didn’t even contain a laptop? It was hard to let it go, but it made me realise that travel is about sacrifice. You should only carry with you what you actually need.

26th July 2017 –

My flight was in the evening, and I had to check out of my hostel by 12pm. I went out to a stall that sold vegan currywurst, which was about five minutes away from my hostel. As I walked back it started to rain, and I got very wet, as did my food. I was in a little less of a nihilistic mood than yesterday, but not enough to care about something as menial as the weather.

After collecting my bags from my hostel, I took the underground to Alexanderplatz, and spent a couple of hours hanging out in Starbucks. I was thrilled to discover that they sold vegan muffins. German Starbucks is so much better than British Starbucks!

When I finally got bored, I decided to head to the airport. I had to take two trains to get there, and then there was a brief walk from the train station to the airport itself. I found a cafe and bought some overpriced coffee and overpriced vegan cheesecake, then I spent a few hours sitting in the airport. After going through security, I found out that my flight was delayed. I found another branch of the cafe from earlier, and bought more overpriced coffee and cheesecake. The woman sitting at the table across from me was reading Jane Eyre, which is my favourite novel, and I wanted to say something to her, such as “hey, you have really good taste in books”, but my social anxiety kicked in, so I contented myself with sending lots of messages to my friends, complaining about my delayed flight.

Even once I was finally onboard the plane, it was delayed even further. All in all it set off close to two hours later than it should have. By this point I was extremely frustrated. I wouldn’t get to Paris until after midnight.

I spent most of the flight trying to see out the windows, which is somewhat of a challenge when you’re in an aisle seat. I could see the lights of Berlin below the sky, and dark grey clouds, and the orange light of the setting sun. About an hour later, I caught my first glimpse of Paris. All I could see were lights, lights, and more lights.

I had to take a shuttle bus from the airport to the Metro station. I have been on many bus journeys within the past two months, but this is the only one that I would call “the bus ride from hell”. There were not enough seats, barely enough standing room. People and bags were all squished together. There was no room to move. Every person was pressed against every other person, a mess of hands and armpits and too many limbs. It was a twenty-minute journey, but it felt as though it lasted for hours. There are few times in my life where I have felt that uncomfortable.

I had to take two Metro trains to get to Montmartre. The Metro station was a warren of tunnels, and took seemingly forever to navigate. On the first train, there was a short man sitting on the seat opposite me, with a handbag on his lap. He wore very short shorts, and when he moved his handbag, I could see his entire testicles sticking out from beneath his shorts. It took all my self-control to not visibly cringe or laugh out loud. I’d barely been in Paris half an hour, and I’d already seen the sights!

The second train ride was longer. I finally came out from the Metro station and saw darkened Parisian streets. I knew my hostel was only a couple of minutes away from the Metro station, but I got a little lost. It was a relief to eventually arrive.

When I reached my room, I saw three sleeping men, and one empty bunk. The top bunk. The only time I had a top bunk bed during this trip was in Prague, so the climb up the ladder triggered memories of stolen laptops and misery.

As tired as I was, it took me a while to get to sleep. I lay awake in the dark, a pillow over my head to block out the sound of the loud snores of the man in the bunk below me.

PARIS –

I must admit, I was not the best at keeping a diary whilst in Paris. By that, I mean that I wrote absolutely nothing, and jotted down a few bullet points about it once I was at home. So rather than writing a day-by-day account of my journey as I did with every other city, I will instead write it all in one block.

I was excited to be in Paris. In spite of my sadness about my cat’s death, I allowed myself to feel joy at being here. I had wanted to go to Paris since I was about ten years old, so being here was huge. Especially being in Montmartre, as it’s the setting of Joanne Harris’s novel The Lollipop Shoes, which I absolutely adore.

I dressed in a red-and-white flower-patterned dress, and red lipstick, and practically danced down the streets that I walked, taking in the beauty of this city that looked exactly as I imagined it. For the first little while, everything was great. Then I began to realise that something weird was going on…

A lot of men were staring at me. Whilst this had happened a little in Berlin, it is not something I am normally used to. Men do not pay attention to me. Yet in Paris, they seemed to. Men stared at me, some looked me up and down and said “Bonjour madame” in suggestive voices, men made kissing gestures at me when they drove past in cars. There was one man, sitting on a parked motorcycle, who didn’t just turn his head to watch me walk past, he turned his entire body around to look at me for longer. At first I found this all completely hilarious, until one man started to follow me. He followed me down at least four different streets, I walked faster and faster, freaked out. When I still couldn’t shake him off, I ducked into the nearest Metro station, and ventured to a different part of the city.

I could see the Eiffel tower in the distance, which made me fangirl over the fact that I was actually in PARIS. I then went into Starbucks, and was brought right back down to earth by the fact that my coffee cost almost six euros. That’s horrific!

The lesson of the day was that Paris is the most expensive city I have ever been to. It makes London look cheap! I found a vegan pizza shop, and didn’t see the price until it was too late. I spent 12 euros on two slices of pizza. I was beginning to worry about money, because I still didn’t know how much I would have to save for rent once I got back to Glasgow. I decided it was time to enforce a strict budget upon myself. No more coffee, no more cafes.

IMG_20170727_005620

IMG_20170727_114830

IMG_20170727_114841

IMG_20170727_115432

IMG_20170727_153035
The reason I had been wanting to go to Paris since I was 10 years old is because, once upon a time, I was obsessed with the French Revolution and Marie Antoinette. This meant that a trip to Paris would not be complete without going to Versailles Palace, where Marie Antoinette lived. It took me many Metro trains and a bus to get from Paris to Versailles. But by the afternoon of my second full day in Paris, I had finally arrived at a place I had waited almost half my life to go to.

I didn’t go inside the palace, because that was way out of my budget – I only went to the free areas, which was a small part of the gardens. But it was enough to be there, to say that I had made my ten-year-old self proud.

I bought a postcard from the gift shop, of a painting of Marie Antoinette, and wrote myself a letter to remind myself that no matter how long it takes, I have the power to make my own dreams come true.

IMG_20170728_143630

IMG_20170728_144151

IMG_20170728_144541

IMG_20170728_144633

IMG_20170728_145437
By the end of my time in Paris, I began to wonder if I had actually experienced this city, or just seen it? I’d seen Versailles, I’d seen Montmartre, I’d seen the Eiffel tower, but all I’d done was walk through this city, I hadn’t actually done anything here. Paris is expensive, and I had already gone way over my budget, which meant I was fairly limited in what I could do. The fact that I was still mourning my cat and my laptop didn’t help my attitude. But I couldn’t get over the fact I’d waited half my life to come here, and hadn’t made the most of it.
IMG_20170728_170251

If I did a trip like this again, which honestly I’m not sure if I ever will, I would do it the other way around. I would start in the most expensive countries, and finish in the Baltic States (because if there’s one country I know I’ll visit again, it’s Estonia).

On my final day in Paris, I went through the usual routine of preparing to leave. I packed up my stuff, left my bags in the hostel’s storage room. I made myself porridge for breakfast, because at least oats don’t cost a fortune here (though they are more expensive than in the UK), and then headed out into the city. I spent a few hours exploring the Jardin de Tuileries, and I went to Place de la Concorde (the square where ma gurl Marie Antoinette was beheaded a couple hundred years ago). Then I walked around the city for a while, bought some falafel (a friend to poor vegans everywhere) for lunch, and eventually gave up on my resolution to stick to a budget, and went to Starbucks and spent the extortionate six euros on a coffee. The fact they charge extra for soy milk when their coffees are that expensive makes me resent them even more.

Also, fun fact: Paris was the hardest city to find vegan food in, out of all the cities I’ve been to. Even Riga was easier than Paris, and that is really saying something.

I had a lot of time to kill, and I wanted to save money, so I decided to walk across the city to my hostel, rather than taking the metro. I’m glad I did, because I finally got to see a huge chunk of the city. I stopped at a supermarket to buy dinner. My options were limited, so I bought some cereal bars, nectarines, and a large packet of crisps. There were some green metal chairs outside the supermarket, and I sat there to eat.

I realised that I was no longer just seeing, I was experiencing, too. Paris isn’t just Eiffel towers and royal palaces, it’s moments like this, sitting outside a supermarket on rue corvetto, with nectarine juice dripping down my fingertips in the early evening. I didn’t feel like a tourist or a traveller, I was just a person, and it felt good.

I made it to the bus station with plenty of time. I sat inside for a while, letting my phone charge, and then located my bus. The driver was friendly, he spoke English. He checked my passport, and then scanned my ticket. It didn’t scan. He looked at it again, then he said “this is five”. I looked at him confusedly, unsure what he meant. Then he pointed “30/05/2017”, rather than “30/07/2017”. I had booked my ticket for May rather than July! He told me to go to the information office and speak to them. I rushed inside. The information office was closed. I ran back outside, explained my plight. He told me there was one seat left on the bus, and I had ten minutes to get a new ticket. I begged him, on the verge of tears. I HAD a ticket, it was just the wrong month, and he’d said there was a spare seat. Couldn’t he just let me on? He repeated that I had ten minutes to get a ticket.

I looked online. The ticket cost 99 euros, when my original ticket had cost 25. I didn’t have time to weigh up the pros and cons, I had to make a snap decision. I had to be in London by tomorrow afternoon to get my train home. What choice did I have? I bought the ticket, and showed it to the driver, with a scowl upon my face. He nodded and let me on.

The guy who sat next to me looked very shifty. I was not in a particularly trusting mood, and I didn’t want to deal with other people. I shoved my headphones in and looked out the window. After maybe twenty minutes the guy beside me touched my arm. I flinched. I then realised he was trying to talk to me. I pulled out an earphone. I couldn’t quite understand what he was saying, but he seemed to be asking to switch seats, which was the last thing I wanted to do. I was not in the mood to accommodate other peoples needs. I told him I didn’t understand, thrust my earphone back in, and faked sleep for the next hour or so. I was still fuming with anger about the ticket. I just wanted this stupid trip to be over. Why had I ever thought it was a good idea to go travelling? I could have stayed at home and spent time with my cat and saved myself a whole load of money. But no, I was dumb enough to think I wanted to see the world. And what had I got out of it? A dead cat, a stolen laptop, a lot of wasted money, and a whole load of existential crises?

It was nearly three o’clock when we reached Calais. We had to get out of the bus to go through border control. As we began to file out, I noticed my seat-mate sliding under one of the chairs in front of us, and suddenly it clicked: he was a refugee. That was why he was acting so shifty, why he wanted to have the window seat rather than the aisle one. I walked on out as though I hadn’t seen anything.

When the rest of us returned from getting our passports checked, I saw the driver getting the refugee out from the bus, and handing him over to the border guards. It was only once I was on the bus, without the man sitting next to me any more, that I began to dissect my response to it. As a Philosophy student, I am often opinionated on moral issues. I found it interesting that my instinct was to live and let live. Which is more moral, to pretend I hadn’t seen someone breaking the law, or to report them? I would have never considered reporting him. It’s not in my nature. But what does that say about me? I am someone who prides myself on being honest. I am also someone who (before this trip) considered themselves to be a good person. But in situations like this I don’t know what is right or wrong. In the end it didn’t matter, because it was beyond my control. But I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

A little while later we had to get out the bus again, to go through the British border control. I almost wept when the lady who checked my passport greeted me with a bright “Morning!” in a British accent. I finally felt like I was almost home.

31st July 2017 –

I cried when the bus emerged from the Channel Tunnel. I cried all the way from Dover to London.
I’m not a patriotic person. To me a country is just a bit of land that people may or may not have had the luck to be born on. Perhaps my lack of affection for my country is related to the fact that I wasn’t actually born in Britain. I don’t know. All I know is that, in the grey light of early morning, I felt more love for this island than I’d ever felt for it before. All I could think was I love my country, I love my language, I love my home.

When I arrived in London, it was almost 6am. I walked around for nearly an hour before I found what I was looking for: Pret a Manger, my favourite coffee chain. I bought a coffee and some coconut porridge, and read a book while my phone charged. I stayed in Pret for about two hours, because there was an all-important event at 9am that I needed internet access for: Lana Del Rey tickets were going on sale.

I waited patiently, reading to pass the time. Finally it was 9 o’clock, and the tickets went on sale. The website crashed every time I tried to buy a ticket, so I assumed they’d sold out. I swallowed my disappointment, and began my walk across London. I couldn’t do much carrying a huge bag, so I decided I’d just hang out in Euston station until my train arrived.

I’d been in the station for a couple of hours, and was getting super bored, when I decided to try the tickets again, just in case. And it worked! I got a ticket, to see Lana Del Rey perform in Glasgow on August 23rd. I was going to see my favourite singer, in my favourite city! There was good in the world again!

It was so strange to be back in my home country. I went into a supermarket to buy some water and falafel, and I kept forgetting people could speak English. I was so used to having to communicate non-verbally, that it felt almost unnatural to speak. My brain was still in French mode. Every time someone was in my way and I wanted to say excuse me, my brain automatically went to say “pardon” with a French accent.

The train from London to Penrith is the train that goes to Glasgow Central. And even though Penrith is two stops before Glasgow, it felt symbolic to get on that train. Because I was heading towards both my homes.

The train was just past Lancaster when I saw the mountains that told me I was nearly home. I felt like crying again. Within the next hour, the train arrived in Penrith, and I ran into the arms of my parents. It was over, I was back to reality. Everything was the same, but everything was different. I was going home to a house without a cat. And I was not the same girl who had left two months before. I wasn’t sure who I was any more. I wasn’t as nice, as optimistic, as happy. I had to get to know myself again, and that would take time. But I was home to my mum’s cooking and my dad’s coffee-making skills, so I knew I would be alright.

EPILOGUE

August 31st 2017 –

Today it’s exactly a month since I arrived back home. It took me almost all of that month to feel like myself again. Going travelling was like taking a knife to my ego and slashing away at it until almost nothing remained. It was tough, it was heartbreaking, it was humbling. Now that it’s over I can see it in a positive light, I can remember the good parts. It’s easy to focus on the sadness, the pain, the dead cat and stolen laptop. For a long time that was all I focused on. But I can feel a change taking place.

I’ve reached the point where I find myself saying things like “This time when I was in Latvia…” or “I haven’t seen * insert thing * since I was in Prague”, and I can remember my experiences fondly. I got so much out of that trip, and I couldn’t see it until I had returned to my native environment. I have yet to move back to Glasgow, but I’ve been up there twice since I returned from my travels – once to hand in paperwork for my flat, and another time to go to the Lana Del Rey concert (which was practically a religious experience, and one of the best nights of my life!).

It took going back to Glasgow for me to see the full extent of how I’d changed. Whilst I still hadn’t got to a point where I liked myself, I could see the road ahead more clearly, and I knew that I had a whole new journey ahead of me. I needed my travels to strip away everything I relied on, because it means that now I am free to rebuild and become the best possible version of myself.

I arrived home as an anxiety-riddled mess, and after a full month of soul-searching, I no longer feel that way. I feel comfortable in myself, comfortable in who I am and where I’m going. And I can see now that the brutal loneliness of travelling was what I needed to give me a new sense of perspective. It gave me the time and freedom to work through the issues I’d been harbouring, and I’m finally at a place where I can forgive myself, and forgive people who have hurt me in the past.

If there’s one thing I will take away from my experience is this: the world is both bigger and smaller than I ever could have imagined. The world is big enough for all my dreams to come true, and small enough that I can one day actually make that happen. I feel closer to the world than I did before, but I also know that there is a reason that I call certain places home. Because it’s more than about where you go, it’s about where you are loved.

In memory of my precious baby William: May 3rd 2006 – July 24th 2017
IMG_20170103_135953

Travel Diary: Prague

12th July 2017 –

Last night I got chatting with two Californian guys in my hostel room. As an introvert, I sometimes love to be around extroverts, because what feels like hard work to me comes naturally to them. We talked for ages, and it was nice to have the company. I found it somewhat ironic that the only time I’ve been in a friendly hostel is when I’m only there for one night.

My American pals told me that they’ve been to Prague, and that it’s wonderful there. They advised me to make sure I’m staying in the old town. I checked the location of my hostel: 1 hour and 30 minutes walk from the old town. It occurred to me that this also means it’s probably very far from the train station. I’m considering changing hostels. I’ll double check how much I paid for the deposit, and if it was fewer than £5, I’ll cancel and book somewhere else. Of course, my main priority today is to actually get to Prague.

I had originally planned to get a bus from Vilnius to Prague, but it would have been a 22-hour-long journey, hence why I stopped in Warsaw. By now, I’m sick to death of buses. And whilst in the Baltic States they have high-quality Estonian buses, with TVs and wifi, I don’t know what to expect of Polish ones. So I decided to opt for a train instead. There were no direct trains to Prague until the afternoon, and I wanted to arrive whilst it’s still light outside.

I looked up connecting trains, and google told me to a get a train from Warsaw to Bohumin, and change there for Prague. However, the ticket machines at the station didn’t have Bohumin as a destination option, so I had to get creative. I looked up a map of Europe, and searched for cities close to the Polish/Czech border. I am now on a train to Katowice, and I’ll figure it out from there.

It’s occurred to me that if I’m changing hostels in Prague, I may as well stay an extra night in Poland. I have no idea what Katowice is like, given that it’s just a random place I picked off a map. And there’s nothing I can do right now because I have no wifi, but perhaps once I’m there I’ll look up the possibility of a getting a hostel for the night.

I find it strange how laid back I feel about this. Normally I’m a control freak, and triple-check everything to make sure it goes exactly as I intend. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt from travelling, it’s that no matter how careful you are, not everything will go to plan. So maybe sometimes it’s good to ditch that plan altogether.

Once you realise you don’t have to be so rigid, there’s a great sense of freedom. I’m currently on a train to a destination I know nothing about, and I might even stay the night. That’s pretty cool. And I love that travel forces me to think on my feet and forget my control freak nature for a little while.

I’ve been feeling a lot lately like this trip hasn’t changed me nearly as much as my trip to Estonia last year, and I’ve felt sad about that. Because this time one of my main reasons to travel was because I wanted to change. Yet I’m four countries deep into my trip already, and I’m still preoccupied by the same things that preoccupy me in my normal life, I still have the same character flaws I’ve always had. Shock, horror, I haven’t found myself.

Not that there’d be much to find. I already know myself too well. I’m very self-aware, and I’m as intimately familiar with every flaw as I am with every aspect of my good nature. But surely there’s some untapped potential in me somewhere, surely there’s something left for me to find.

I always thought of myself as a strong person, and generally a good one. I ascribe to the life philosophy of “do no harm, but take no shit”, and that is very much what I live by in my relationships with other people. But is that how I act when it comes to myself?

There’s this line in Lorde’s song “Liability” where she describes her love for herself as “the only love I haven’t screwed up”. It’s possibly the only line in the song that I can’t relate to, and therefore it’s the one line that always catches me, always makes me think. Because I have screwed up my love for myself, over and over again. The strength I have in other areas of my life seems to fall short when it comes to taking care of myself.

I keep thinking of all the times I’ve let myself feel worthless because I failed to get attention from people I wanted it from. There were so many times when I let myself be broken by people who had no idea of the effect they had on me. Or worse, by people who did know, and I fell right into their trap. I should know by now that my worth does not lie in the minds or hearts of other people.

The other thing I’ve realised is just how easily I give up. I’m the first to admit that I can be a very lazy person, but this isn’t even laziness. I’ve been trying to lose weight for most of my life, and I always get to a certain point and just…stop. I thought it was different this time – I got into running, it was going well. But I haven’t run since Tartu, and I ate so much unhealthy food in Vilnius. I can claim that eating donuts is self-care all I like, but that doesn’t change the fact it goes against everything I’m trying to do. I’m too easily swayed by short-term desires – where’s my inner strength now, huh?

Or why haven’t I finished editing my book that I’ve been rewriting for TWO YEARS? Sometimes I’m not the person I expect myself to be, and I let myself down way too often.

***

I decided not to stay in Katowice. I just wanted to get to Prague. When I arrived at the station, my first order of business was to find coffee and wifi. I soon located a Starbucks. I asked the barista if he spoke English, and he said no. I didn’t realise straight away that he was being sarcastic, and I felt like a bit of an idiot when the penny finally dropped.

I spent about two hours in Katowice train station. I attempted to get a ticket from the self-service machines, but they did not have a single destination in the Czech Republic. I was beginning to freak out, when I saw that the ticket office had a section for international destinations. I finally found someone who spoke English, and explained that I was trying to get to Prague.

There were no direct trains, but I got a ticket to Ostrava, and one from there to Prague. All in all, I spent nine hours of the day on trains.
IMG_20170712_175318

IMG_20170712_181158_028

IMG_20170712_201744

Whilst I had planned to switch hostels, I couldn’t find anywhere else available at such short notice, so I was stuck with the one ages away from the city centre. I’d finally learnt my lesson, and refused to walk for an hour and a half with the Evil Backpack and the Laptop Case from Hell, so I had no choice but to navigate public transport.

The joy of being further west than my previous destinations was that Prague has a Metro system (I don’t hate all undergrounds, just the London one). I’m used to the Glasgow subway, which is a circle, so any underground system with more than two tracks gives me the fear. But, with a little aid from google, I figured out how to use the metro, and got to my hostel.

I emerged from the Metro station to a darkening sky. On one side there was an expanse of grass, and sketchy-looking blocks of flats. On the other side, there was a road, and more dodgy-looking tower blocks. My hostel was nine minutes walk away: the road was dark, and the footpath shrouded with trees. I spent the entire walk swearing aloud, with phrases like “fucking typical Eliza, of course you booked a hostel in the fucking creepy end, now you’re probably going to fucking die!” But I lived to tell the tale, so all was well.

13th July 2017 –

Prague is beautiful. It was only when I came out from the Metro station that I realised I hadn’t actually seen any of the city last night, apart from the rather sketchy area near my hostel. Here it was a different world to what I’d seen last night. The buildings were ornately decorated; they reminded me a little of some of the art nouveau architecture in Riga, though there was a stronger sense of grandeur, and perhaps more of a western influence than there was in Riga. Also, it was far more touristy.

IMG_20170713_102446

IMG_20170713_102837

IMG_20170713_103008

IMG_20170713_103324

IMG_20170713_103357
I wandered down random streets, choosing my way based on which buildings looked the coolest, or which streets had the fewest tourists. The buildings were gorgeous, and I was enchanted by this city. I walked until my hunger got the better of me, and I stopped by a supermarket to pick up some food for breakfast.

I went to the park across the street from the supermarket to eat. I sat on a park bench, overlooking a fountain, in a garden of red roses, eating grapes in the morning sunshine, and watching the world go by. It was peaceful, and beautiful.
IMG_20170713_112819

IMG_20170713_113032

IMG_20170713_113517

I then went to the astronomical clock, one of Prague’s major tourist attractions. It was the most tourist-infested place I have ever been (with the exception of perhaps London). The past month in Eastern Europe made me forget just how many tourists can fit in one place. It was an introvert’s nightmare. I soon escaped the hoards, and went to Starbucks. The staff spoke English, which was a relief. They spelt my name horrifically wrong (Alaneliza – how???????), which I found rather amusing. I then explored more of the city, crossing one of the stone bridges to the far side of the river, where the city sprawled across a hill, interspersed with trees, gardens, vineyards, and orchards.

It was quieter here, less touristy. I’d avoided the Charles Bridge, where all the tourists flocked, and instead crossed the river by a less popular route. I followed a winding road up the hill, with a high stone wall on my left. The wall soon gave way to a doorway, and I discovered a park, filled with apple and pear trees. Neither the apples or the pears were ripe. I learned this the hard way.

I meandered through the streets on the hill, and came across an English language bookshop. Naturally, it was named after Shakespeare. Because who else would you name an English bookshop after?
IMG_20170713_144153

IMG_20170713_151525

IMG_20170713_152317

IMG_20170713_152901

IMG_20170713_154610

IMG_20170713_154624

IMG_20170713_154753

IMG_20170713_155907

As I wandered through the city streets, I began to realise that, for the first time in this journey, I wished that I wasn’t alone. I walked past so many cafes and bars, and thought of how cool it would be to go to such places. But there would be no fun in going alone. One of the best things about Lithuania was that I’d had a friend to meet with almost everyday. But in Prague I was all alone again, and I couldn’t stand it. I missed human company. I didn’t feel like myself any more.

For someone who frequently describes themself as an introvert, I need social interaction as much as I need time alone. If I’m alone with my thoughts for too long, I begin to drive myself mad, and I need to be around other people to remember that I’m not crazy, to remember where I fit into the world.

The existential crisis began with this realisation, but it soon increased to cover many topics. I couldn’t stop thinking that how I look on the outside doesn’t match who I am on the inside. Whilst a few weeks ago, in Tartu, I had written that I fully loved and accepted myself, and didn’t hate how I looked, the opposite was now true. I looked back on my photos from Lithuania and couldn’t believe how huge I looked.

When I get into this mindset I begin to blame all my problems on the way I look. I start wondering if people would like me more if I were shorter and thinner, if people would view me differently. When a short, thin person has a big personality they’re likeable, they’re cute, they’re considered to be a good thing. But when someone who is tall and overweight has a big personality then they’re considered overbearing. I often feel like I take up too much space in the world. And I mask that feeling as much as I can, by trying to be funny, trying to be liked, trying to at least earn all the space that I can’t help but occupy. But I don’t want to just be the funny fat girl, the loud girl who makes inappropriate jokes. I just want to be viewed as a full person, and it sucks that I live in a world where I feel like people don’t view me as such because I don’t look the “right” way.

14th July 2017 –

My existential crisis continued when I awoke. I stood in front of the mirror, a tube of lipstick in my hand, and I hesitated. What is the point in painting my lips a vibrant pink when I feel like the rest of my body is repulsive? Why should I even bother?

I did choose to put it on in the end, because nothing can stand between me and my favourite lipstick. But it didn’t cure my feelings of inferiority. I went to Starbucks, in the hope that coffee would make me feel a little more confident. It worked to some extent, but not entirely.

I then went to cross the river again, this time crossing at the Charles Bridge, like a touristy cliché. There were some really cool buildings, and cobbled streets, and the blue skies and tram lines that I will always associate with Eastern Europe. As I walked up a rather steep hill, my ears were met with the sound of cello music, from a street performer. When I looked across the street to see the source of the music, I couldn’t help but smile.

The cellist was dressed in 18th century clothing, right down to the white curly wig. There’s nothing that delights me more than a person who can be unabashedly weird for the sake of their art. Our eyes met across the street, and he grinned right back at me. He was so pretty! I crossed over, to give him some money, and his tune came to an end. I told him I loved his outfit, and he asked where I was from. I told him I was from England. He asked what music I like, and I said something lame like “I like lots of music”, because I was too busy melting in his beautiful brown eyes. He asked if I liked Game of Thrones, and I said yes. Then he played the Game of Thrones theme tune, with exuberance, grinning at me the whole time. I was completely enchanted by this beautiful man. He then told me he was going to play a sad tune. I stood around for a while, listening to him play. But my anxiety soon got the better of me, and I waved goodbye, smiled at Hot Cello Guy a final time, and left.

I was in a brilliant mood as I explored more of the city. I climbed to the top of the hill, and was met with a marvellous view. I then found a cute little vegan cafe, and bought a green smoothie. I waited for a little while, and then walked back down the street where I’d seen Hot Cello Guy. I made sure to walk on the other side of the street, because interacting with humans gives me anxiety. Even when they’re really pretty, talented humans with big brown eyes.
IMG_20170714_135557

IMG_20170714_135600

IMG_20170714_151943

I sat on the edge of a fountain, thinking about Hot Cello Guy, and asking myself why I’d deliberately walked on the other side of the street. I realised that it was because I didn’t want to ruin the fantasy. Whilst Eliza the Idealist thought such thoughts as “we totally had a moment”, Eliza the Realist understood that sometimes a cute stranger is just a cute stranger, and nothing more.

But I also understood the significance of strangers as the signs on our path, to point us in the right direction. The thing that I liked most about Hot Cello Guy (apart from his pretty eyes and the dramatic flare of his outfit) was that he made eye contact with me, and that he gave his smiles freely. I forgot how important that was to me. I know people who I think are very attractive, but who never meet my eyes, and rarely smile, and when they do smile, they’re smiling to themselves, rather than smiling at me. And whilst it doesn’t stop me from thinking they’re good-looking, it does always make me feel like they don’t like my company. Because when I’m around people who make me happy, I smile all the time, I make eye contact when I speak to them. And it’s important to find people who do the same, because what is the point in investing in people who always leave you unclear as to where you stand with them?

So I began to think that the reason Hot Cello Guy crossed my path was to put things into perspective. If a stranger can seem more enthusiastic about interacting with me than people who I’ve invested a lot of my time and hopes in, then that is a massive sign that I need to redirect my energy elsewhere. Because I want people who smile, I want people who can look me in the eye. I want a damn optimist, someone who is human sunshine, and when I forget this then I should remind myself of Hot Cello Guy, because he made me feel better about myself within a few minutes than some people have made me feel within months of knowing them.

I wandered around at random for a while, and soon came to a grassy slope of the hill, where plum, and pear. and apple trees grew. I saw some steps in the distance, and a path which I suspected must lead to the peak of the hill. I remembered a time in May when I went hiking with some of my friends, and how it made me realise I’d grown as a person. Because hiking felt like torture for my legs, but I didn’t complain. And normally I would have complained. And afterwards I was like “whoo, I’m a mature adult who can hike up steep hills in the rain and not complain”. Remembering this made me want to hike up the hill which stood before me now. Except I do not hike alone. Because I am lazy, and I am less motivated if there are not other people around to witness my laziness.

I took this as a sign that I should indeed hike up the hill, to prove a point to myself. I needed to push myself, and hiking up a hill in the thirty degree heat seemed like a good way to do that. I couldn’t find the path which went straight up, so instead I followed a diagonal one, which looped around and made the journey a lot longer. Sometimes I left the path behind altogether, scrambling up steep surfaces laden with loose rocks and dry dirt.

I was covered in sweat and sunshine as I reached the summit of the hill, surrounded by gardens of roses. People milled about, taking photographs. A child rode upon a pony in the distance. Sunlight made the world shimmer. And for the second time today, I gained some perspective.
IMG_20170714_154607

IMG_20170714_154731

IMG_20170714_154813

IMG_20170714_154941

When I was drunk in Lithuania, I came out with some analogy of how life is like a hill. And I can’t for the life of me remember what it actually was. But if there’s on thing I’ve learnt, it’s that climbing hills can teach you a lot about life. Once you reach the top, you have a clearer and broader view of your surroundings, but also of yourself.

As I stood, tanned and sweaty and smiling at my own strength, I could see that I had been way too hard on myself, punishing myself for things which didn’t merit punishment. I realised I had to be more lenient, to treat myself before I went into full-on self-destruct mode. I couldn’t spend the rest of my trip in such a toxic mindset.

I hadn’t read a book since I left Tartu, but in bed that night I began reading the book “Everything, Everything”, which I’d bought from a bookshop back when I was in Tallinn. “Everything, Everything” is a YA romance, of the type which I hadn’t read in a couple of years, but it was exactly the book I needed to read at this time, because it taught me the simple lesson of: when someone wants you in their life, they will do everything possible to keep you in their life.

It is literally that simple, yet it is always something I’ve struggled with. Because I am by nature a go getter. When I want something, I pursue it. If I’ve set my hopes on something, I will try my hardest to make it happen. And whilst that works with writing novels, or running 5k, or getting good grades in exams, it doesn’t work when it comes to people. Because people have free will, and they are not objects or achievements that I can gain. They have to want me as much as I want them, and I always seem to forget this. But thanks to my reading material, I realised that I need to change my ways. The people who want a place in my life will try to earn it, I shouldn’t have to make all the effort.

I feel as though every book I’ve read so far on this journey has come into my hands at the right moment, as though the books I read are guidebooks on how I should live my life.

15th July 2017 –

Do you ever have one of those moments where you become so sick of your own bullshit? I have them frequently. As a general rule, they occur for me every few months, coming on a the back of a week-or-so of existential crises.

I woke up this morning and realised that I have been utterly deluding myself for weeks, if not months, and that I need to get out of my negative mindset right this moment.
If only it were that easy. My mind is fully submerged in negative patterns right now, and I can’t shift them, no matter how hard I try.

I’m angry at myself for not being content. I love Prague, I should be happy here, rather than wasting my time being negative. I feel like I’m punishing myself for something, and I feel like I’m punishing myself for punishing myself. Mostly, the punishment seems to be around food. I’d banned myself from anything unhealthy, yet I feel like by doing so I’m being even more unhealthy.

Today I slept till eleven. I had an apple and some rice crackers for breakfast, and then went to the centre centre and got coffee. Following yesterday’s decision, I knew I needed to do something to treat myself, because I hadn’t been very kind to myself lately. I decided I would go to a vegan cafe for lunch, and be a bit more lenient about my food rules. But the two cafes I tried were closed, and I could feel myself growing frustrated.

I bought a vegetable juice, and then walked around for a few hours. I eventually gave up on finding somewhere nice to eat, and went into Tesco. It started raining as I left the supermarket, and my mood grew worse and worse. I was so fed up with everything. As I walked back to my hostel from the Metro station, I began attempting to eat this melon I’d bought. It was a quarter of a yellow watermelon, and not a particularly easy size to eat, so I tried to break it in half. Instead of breaking, it fell to the muddy ground. I responded with a very loud screech of frustration, and a whole lot of cursing. It felt as though each time I tried to find happiness I was thwarted by fate.

***

My roommate is driving my crazy. It’s bad enough that her phone is not on silent, and beeps with every key she presses, and has a loud ringtone. On top of all this, she was shaving her legs IN THE ROOM without soap or water. Would it be so hard to do it in the shower like a normal person? She wiped the hairs from the floor, but I doubt she was thorough. She then proceeded to eat a very crunchy, smelly salad WITH HER MOUTH OPEN and she keeps looking at me with her stupid face and I want to slap her! Sometimes I cannot stand to be around other humans.

16th July 2017 –

I try to live by the philosophy that every day is a new day. Also known as: just because I was a moody bitch yesterday, it doesn’t mean I have to be one today. I had grand plans to wake up early and have a fun day of adventure. I set my alarm for 8am, and at 10:25 I finally slithered down the ladder of my bunk bed.

I fell easily into my morning routine: get dressed, apply copious amounts of lipstick (generally bright pink, but today I pulled out the big guns and wore red), ride the Metro 7 stops, go to Starbucks and drink a very large cup of positivity/joy/will to live (also known as coffee). As I drink this magic drug, I reply to my messages, and then let my phone charge as I write in my diary. Routine keeps me sane, and it’s what I lacked in Riga and Vilnius.

I think one of the reasons I miss Glasgow so much is routine. Whether it was my morning coffee at Cafe Twenty-Two in the Queen Margaret Union, or lectures, or regular exercise, or improv two times a week… I always knew what I had to do, and where I had to be. The world was big enough for me there. Did I actually want to escape it?

I seem to have misplaced my wanderlust. It’s probably lying in the same dustbin as my self-worth.

The hardest part of being in this frame of mind is the knowledge that I only have myself to blame. I always pride myself on being an honest person. I’m blunt, tactless, and obvious, and I always wear my heart on my sleeve (or practically tattooed on my forehead). Yet I have been lying to myself for as long as I can remember. I give myself false hope, I tell myself I need to change to be worthy.

I have been a complete and utter moron for months, and deluded myself into thinking I was fine. But I was never fine, and now I have a hell of a lot of soul-searching to do, because I don’t even know who I am any more. I have the strange urge to cry right now. But I still have just enough dignity left to stop myself from bursting into tears in the middle of Starbucks (I hope). I’m sad and I’m lonely and I just want a hug. I remind myself that I’ll be visiting my best friend in six days from now, and that I’ll get all the hugs I’ll need then.

I’m still so angry at myself for not being happy. Prague is one of the coolest cities I’ve ever visited, and I’m not appreciating it enough. I guess I just have to come back here one day. I hope I can get my mental shit together over the next few days, because I have been wanting to go to Berlin for years, and I refuse to let my dumbass negative mindset ruin that for me.

***

On today’s episode of Eliza’s Dumb Decisions, we have: getting off the Metro at a random stop to “experience more of the city”. I should use the term “city” very loosely here, because when I came out from the Metro station all I could see was a road and a large expanse of grass. I walked a little way and saw some buildings, but they seemed more like a small town than a capital city. Still, I decided to explore.

I explored a bit too far, and had no idea how to get back to the Metro station, so I just kept walking in the direction which I assumed would lead me back into the city centre. I soon realised just how far I’d gone. There was more grass and trees than there were buildings. I continued walking, searching for a Metro station. I walked for about an hour. I didn’t even know which side of the river I was on, so I had no idea where to go. I eventually saw a sign for the city centre, and headed in this direction. I located the river, and walked along the path which ran by its side. I estimated I must be a good few miles away from the city centre, given how remote this place seemed. I was mildly scared of getting murdered. It was a great relief when I finally stumbled upon a Metro station.

I didn’t go straight back to my hostel, because I wanted to get food, so I headed into the city instead. I came across a vegetarian cafe, and to my delight I saw that it was a self-service place, so I didn’t have to deal with the language barrier. The downside was that it was a pay-by-weight place, and I ended up spending more money than I intended, because I didn’t know how much it cost until it was too late. I also bought way too much food.

17th July 2017 –

I’m pretty sure I saw Hot Cello Guy again today. He wasn’t in his costume, and he didn’t have a cello with him, but he was right next to the spot where he’d been busking the other day, and I recognised him by his beautiful face. However, now that he wasn’t sitting down, I realised that he was rather short. Shorter than me. But still so pretty!

I went to the cafe from yesterday again. And somehow ended up spending even more than I’d spent yesterday! But I enjoyed the food a lot more than I had last night. Even though I ate too much, I wasn’t so angry at myself about it. There are worse things to overeat on than vegetable curry and sushi.

When I returned to my hostel, I decided to do something I hadn’t done in a very long time: go for a run. I wasn’t particularly keen on the idea at first. But I’d been looking at motivational weight-loss posts on Pinterest, and I was feeling inspired. I ran for a mile, and returned out-of-breath and exhausted, yet happy.

18th July 2017 –

I awoke in a wonderful mood, which I can only assume was a result of my run last night. As it was my last full day in Prague, I decided I should make an effort to see more of the city. As I rode the Metro towards my destination, the woman who sat across from me smiled at me. She was well-dressed, and fiddling nervously with papers in her handbag. I think perhaps she was on her way to a job interview. I like smiling at strangers with whom I do not share a language. It makes the world seem smaller, and in a good way.

I thought I was going to a cemetery, but the cemetery turned out to be adjacent to a vineyard. And the vineyard was way cooler. The cemetery was very catholic, with tombs and gravestones of Jesus on the cross, and the Virgin Mary. I couldn’t help thinking how weird it is that graveyards are tourist attractions. I was literally walking between rows of long-dead people. Such a strange concept.

The vineyard was located atop a hill, and offered splendid views of the city, with the river sparkling in the sunshine below. I was completely happy, all the negativity which had consumed me only a couple of days previously had now vanished.
IMG_20170718_132811

IMG_20170718_133119

IMG_20170718_133520

IMG_20170718_134102

IMG_20170718_134141

IMG_20170718_140144

IMG_20170718_140542

IMG_20170718_150802

I went to the vegetarian cafe again for dinner, and finally managed to get the right amount of food so that I wouldn’t have to spend too much money. It felt as though everything was finally going right.

When I returned to my hostel, I showered and changed into the shirt and leggings that I wore as pyjamas, and then began to pack up my stuff, as I would be leaving in the morning. The lockers didn’t have locks in them, and I’d shoved my laptop in the back of a locker, behind a mountain of my clothes. I hadn’t used it since arriving in Prague, because I hadn’t had the energy or motivation to type up my blogs.

The Laptop Case from Hell felt strangely light as I pulled it out from the locker. To my horror, I realised that the only reason a laptop case would feel light is if it does not contain a laptop. I searched the remaining contents of my locker, panicking. Surely it must be in here somewhere! It took a while for it to sink in that someone had actually stolen it. I ran down to reception, and explained what had happened. They said there was nothing they could do, because the locker wasn’t locked and I didn’t have travel insurance. I considered reporting it to the police, but I was leaving the country the next morning, and also I was worried about the language barrier.

I have always believed I am lucky, and that no matter what dumb situation I get myself into, I will always get myself out of it. I genuinely believed that a miracle would happen and my laptop would be returned to me. But it didn’t happen, and I was devastated.

It was not the actual laptop that I mourned. It was a shitty laptop, which didn’t connect to wifi most of the time. There were many occasions where I resented carrying it around with me and almost wished I could just throw it in the nearest rubbish bin. The laptop was not important to me, but the contents of it were, because they had a huge sentimental worth.

Thankfully the majority of my books were saved on a memory stick, so I didn’t lose my writing. And most of my music was on my phone. But I lost all my photos. A lot of my photos were also stored on my phone, and I was grateful that I hadn’t lost all my pictures from my first trip to Estonia. But there were photos I’d deleted off my phone.

I hate deleting photos, because it feels like deleting history. But when a toxic friendship came to an end, I forced myself to remove all photos of that friend from my phone, and compromised with myself and kept those photos on my laptop. It’s not like I ever looked at them any more, or that I ever intended to. But I couldn’t bear the thought of permanently deleting the evidence of a friendship which made me who I am today. Yet thanks to the laptop thief, I’ve lost those photos forever. Granted, I haven’t lost all of them. If I was ever overcome with a desire to relive six months worth of heartbreak, I could just scroll back through facebook or instagram to find photos of me and my former friend. But those are the “nice” pictures. I’ve lost the silly pictures, the goofy pictures, the ugly pictures. And it felt like I lost that friend all over again.

Perhaps it’s a good thing, in the long run. Perhaps losing those photos cut the last tie, and I am finally free from any aspect of that person I was still clinging onto. But it hurt like hell. It’s one thing if I decided to delete those photos (which I doubt I would have), if I had consented to letting go. But that decision was stolen from me by the person who stole my laptop, and I was so, so angry.

It took me hours to get to sleep. I didn’t feel safe any more; I didn’t trust my roommates. I slept with my handbag snuggled into my arms, and my phone under my pillow, terrified of losing anything else of value. To combat my insomnia, I googled reviews of my hostel, and was less-than-surprised to see that it had quite a number of bad reviews, some of which even referred to how bad the staff were at dealing with thefts being reported.

All I wanted was to get the hell out of there.

Travel Diary: Vilnius

4th July 2017 –

I woke in a weird mood. There was the usual anxiety of making sure I woke up early, to pack my stuff and get to the bus station on time, and there was a hum of nervousness in my stomach, a caffeinated melody played by the mug of instant coffee I’d drank with breakfast. But there was something more.

I felt a sense of unfinished business here, as though I hadn’t quite achieved something I’d set out to do. But this wasn’t the case. I’d enjoyed my time in Riga. I liked the city, I liked my hostel, I’d had a lovely time meeting with my friend. And it was my time to leave. So why the sudden separation anxiety? I should be used to leaving places behind by now.

I’ve read so many articles about people making friends whilst travelling, particularly in hostels. And it’s not an experience I’ve had. The curse of the introvert strikes again! The friendships I’ve had, whilst travelling, are with people I know from Glasgow, meeting them in their home countries. And it’s strange, because it’s people I’m used to seeing at least relatively frequently, whereas now I see them once and then I up and leave.

And sometimes the brevity of travel sucks, because time works differently, and you can feel closer to a person within a few hours than in all the time you’ve known them. But there’s not the day-to-day interaction, and suddenly you just want to hang out with this person and get to know them even more, but you won’t see them for another two months. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is probably the cause of my feelings of unfinished business. Rant over.

Alas, the rant is not over. You see, travel is pretty much a miracle cure for my social anxiety. So I’m like “wut, I can actually be myself??” and then it’s like nope, time to go to a different country.
And now the rant is actually over. Pinky promise.

I’ve been wondering a lot today why I blog. Why not just write a diary if I need to vent? I generally put it down to the fact that I require a lot of attention to function at my best– the same reason I’m drawn to improv and performance poetry, or anything that’s public and dramatic. But today I realised there’s another factor to it too.

I don’t know who reads my blogs. My general reaction when people tell me they read them is “well shit, now I have to censor myself”. Because I am very open and honest, and I use this blog as somewhat of a shout into the void. Except it’s not a void, there are people on the other end: reading what I write. And I can use that as a tool, the same way I use performing poetry: writing as a substitute for bravery.

By writing a blog, or performing poems on a stage to an audience, there is a degree of separation that allows me to communicate openly, and say what I want to say, even when it’s a little too real or too embarrassing. As I mention in literally every blog, I am an introvert and I have social anxiety (and I also seem to really love to label myself!), and this often means I’m too scared to say things directly. I also have a huge fear of rejection, probably because of my anxiety. It’s not always easy for me to just say to people “hey, you’re important to me, I want you in my life for a long time” (admittedly, once I get to a certain level of comfortableness with people, I say it every other sentence). Just as it’s not easy for me to randomly message people like “hey, I was just thinking about you, how are you doing?” There always has to be a question or a reason, because then there’s more chance of a reply. So instead I shout into the void. Anxiety is fun, kidz.

It started raining as soon as I reached the bus station. I sat under the covering, listening to “another suitcase in another hall” from Evita, watching the sky pour.

The journey was decent, as bus journeys go. There were little TVs to watch movies on, so I watched “confessions of a shopaholic” and “Jane Eyre”, my eyes intermittently flitting out the window to watch the countryside fly by. Lithuania is beautiful.

My hostel was 6 minutes walk from the bus station. You wouldn’t think I would get lost on such a short walk. But I took the wrong turning, ended up somewhere completely random, without wifi so I couldn’t use Google maps. And on top of all this, it started raining. Not just any rain, but possibly the heaviest rain I have ever experienced in my life. I wasn’t wearing my raincoat, and my clothes were soaked within minutes. Rivers of rain ran through the gaps in between the cobblestones of the streets in a constant stream of water.

When I finally arrived at my hostel (soaking wet), I changed quickly into an almost-dry outfit, and bundled myself up into my raincoat, before heading out to meet a friend who lives in Vilnius. She’s one of my bestest friends, and I hadn’t seen her in almost two months, so I was very excited. We met outside the town hall. It took us a few minutes to see each other, but when we finally did there was the inevitable exchange of running into each other’s arms and squealing.

We went for dinner at a falafel restaurant, which was nice. The falafel was good, and there was lots of hummus. I love hummus, and hummus has been pretty hard to find in most of the places I’ve been.

After we’d eaten, my friend took me to a place called the Hill of the Three Crosses. Which (you guessed it!) is a hill with three crosses on top. There was a set of wooden steps for most of the way up the hill. It was steep, and we had to keep stopping every few minutes. We had not reached the top of the hill before the rain began. The further we climbed, the more it rained, and by the time we reached the top the rain was incredibly heavy, and a strong wind blew. We huddled under an umbrella and stood at the crest of the hill, watching the view of the city below. It was beautiful, even through the mist of rain and clouds.

We didn’t stay atop the hill for long, as the rain refused to subside. We didn’t want to risk going down the steps, as they would surely be slippery from the rain, so we walked back down through the forest instead. We then went to a cute little tea shop. They had a type of tea called “philosopher tea”, which is so cool. They also had vegan cakes. I got one which was blueberry, peanut butter, and chocolate chip. It was wonderful! I don’t tend to eat cake in my normal life, because I generally try to be relatively healthy. But the concept of healthiness had completely gone out the window in the past few days, and I didn’t miss it.

5th July 2017

I met with my friend again, and we went to a cafe called Holy Donut which were giving out free donuts in exchange for checking in on facebook. They had a variety of vegan donuts, and a vegan banana milkshake, which was possibly the most beautiful drink I had ever seen. The milkshake had a scoop of vegan icecream in it, topped with vegan whipped cream and a slice of banana, with a crumbly chocolate mixture stuck to the top of the jar. It cost almost 7 euros, but it was so worth it. We sat at an outside table and ate our donuts whilst we waited for the drinks to be made, and a tiny bird flew up to our table and tried to eat my friend’s donut. She held the donut out and the bird came and ate it from her hand; it was so cute!
IMG_20170707_134539

After Holy Donut we walked around the city for a while, and ended up in a peaceful park on the edge of the Old Town. We sat on a bench and watched ducklings swim around a pond.

We then went to this really cool place called the Republic of Uzupis, which my friend translated as “the land beyond the bridge”. In spite of sounding a tiny bit like a euphemism for death, it turned out to be my favourite place in the city. The republic (which is not officially recognised as a republic, apparently), has a constitution with points such as “everyone has the right to love and take care of a cat”, and “everyone has the right to have no rights”. We came across a bookshop, with a cute ginger cat outside. He had a purple cast wrapped around an injured paw, and lay resting in the sunshine. Inside the bookshop they sold postcards of his furry butt. His name was Ponulis.
19665657_1054416361355174_81689368254694953_n
We wandered around Uzupis for a while, and rested by the river for a while, chilling and chatting. It was so good to spend time with a friend after so long travelling alone. Lithuania felt like a completely different experience to Estonia and Latvia, because I had the one thing I’d consistently been lacking: companionship.
19702440_1054417448021732_3583649965771374672_n
We went to a vegan bar for dinner. I got a veggie burger, which was very nice, and beer. I’d never drank beer before, because it generally isn’t vegan (they use fish in it. Ew). But because it was a vegan bar, this meant the beer was vegan, so I decided I should try it. It was not pleasant. Apparently it was decent by beer standards, but it cured me of any desire to try beer ever again. From now on I’ll stick to cider and gin.
19275183_1054418978021579_7996757988721592121_n

6th July 2017

It was one of those days where it felt as though literally everything went wrong. I’d decided to cancel my bus to Prague, because I had zero desire to spend 23 hours onboard a bus. I planned to stop for a night in Poland to break up the journey. However this meant I had to book transport to Poland, plus a hostel, and then transport from Poland to Prague. A bus journey would be very lengthy, so I decided to travel by train instead. I found two websites from which I could book Polish trains. One of them didn’t work, and the other was entirely in German, and wouldn’t translate. I grew extremely frustrated. Eventually I decided to book a bus from Vilnius to Warsaw, and then go to the train station and pray that fate would be kind and allow me to buy a ticket on the day.

The next thing that went wrong was my failed search for an internet cafe. My laptop was refusing to connect to the hostel wifi, and I wanted to upload my blog from when I was in Riga. I decided to look for an internet cafe. However, three times in a row, Google maps sent me to places which didn’t seem to exist. I eventually came to the conclusion that these places must no longer be internet cafes, and that google maps hadn’t updated the location. By this point I was in a foul mood.

I headed back to my hostel, as I needed to do some laundry. I’d asked last night about the hostel’s laundry facilities, and I’d been told that I needed to buy my own laundry powder. So, after spending 4 euros on laundry powder, I went to my hostel. Only to be told that the hostel did not have laundry facilities. Whaaaaaat? Furthermore, it was a public holiday, so I doubted any laundrettes would be open, even if I could be bothered to drag my laundry half way across the city. This left me with only one option: to do my laundry by hand.

I spent the next half hour or so on my hands and knees, washing my clothes in the bath tub. Let me tell you, this did not improve my mood.

I went to the supermarket and buy some chocolate to cheer me up. I found some vegan dark chocolate with orange flavouring, and some tomato flavoured crisps. I then noticed that the store sold kvass (the weird bread drink I’d had in Latvia), though it went under a different name in Lithuania. I decided to buy a bottle of this, too, as it would make me feel nostalgic for Latvia. I forgot to buy a bag, and as I was trying to balance the items I’d purchased in my arms, the bottle of kvass fell to the pavement, and exploded all over my trousers. Could this day get any worse?

When I returned to my hostel (after buying another bottle of kvass, which mercifully didn’t explode), there was a group of young men in the common room. I glanced at them, and one of them said “Hi”. It didn’t properly register until I’d already left the room, because I was still mentally crying over spilt kvass. And by this point it was too late.

I considered going back downstairs, apologising for ignoring them, and starting a conversation. I even walked all the way down the two flights of stairs, but I couldn’t force myself to open the door. I was in a bad mood, I’d had a sucky day, I didn’t want to talk to strangers. But I didn’t want to waste an opportunity. I was so angry at myself for being so pathetic and shy.

I used to think I was brave. In some ways I am. I’m brave enough to travel solo across Europe. I’m brave enough to get up on a stage and perform in front of strangers and friends and everyone inbetween. But when it comes to socialising, I am not brave at all. And I can’t stand it! I can’t stand feeling so weak and worthless in social situations.

Naturally, an existential crisis ensued. I feel like I’m constantly letting myself down, like I’m not brave enough to be the person I want to be. I’m not brave enough to make big changes in my life. I’m not brave enough to go after what I want. And so much of the time I tie my self-worth to outcomes that I can never make happen. I was so frustrated, and so furious at myself for not meeting my own expectations. I felt like my life was a mess.

I sent a series of long, rant-filled messages to my best friend, and then dealt with my feelings in the only way I could: with poetry. If I felt like my life was a joke, the best response to that was to exploit the irony of my situations, and find humour within them. I wrote a poem about how I’m a serial crusher (i.e. I get a lot of crushes. And I mean A LOT). Normally I write sad poems, but this was a humorous one. I could see the funny side of my sitcom-esque life. At least that was a start.

7th July 2017

Sometimes you have to be tough with yourself. This morning (after a long lie-in), I told myself that enough was enough: time to stop moping about things beyond my control. I am in a damn beautiful city, full of awesome vegan cafes, I get to spend loads of time with one of my best friends. The sun is fucking shining and it’s a beautiful day for me to grow the fuck up. (Forgive my language, I inherited it from my mother).

I made myself get dressed, and put my hair up in my “power ponytail” (yay, it’s finally long enough!). The power ponytail is a self-confidence trick I’ve been using on myself since I was in school. Every time I put my hair up in a high ponytail, I picture myself as a super successful 30-something-year-old showrunner on a TV show (my dream job). Because obviously successful women need to wear their hair up so it doesn’t get in the way of them and their busy successful lives. It sounds silly, but it’s worked since I was 17. Power ponytail means I’m ready for business. And today’s business is learning to make myself a priority again.

The next item in the Strong Empowered Woman Starter Pack is a large, soy cappuccino. High Functioning Eliza’s personality is 90 percent coffee. So it was logical to take a trip to Caffeine.
IMG_20170707_112048

With my chin in the air, and my power ponytail bopping along against my neck, I marched through the sun-dappled Old Town. I listened to Lady Antebellum’s song “Heart Break” on repeat, as a power anthem to remind myself that I’m going to go through the rest of the summer without thinking about men – whether it be friends, or my inevitable crush-of-the-month, or my male cat, I am so sick of investing too much energy and effort in people who don’t fight for me. Part of knowing my worth is knowing when to call it quits, or at least take a step back, because I am worth so much more than wanting people I can’t have. I am so done with that pattern. I’m leaving it behind to rot in the dustbin of history, because I DESERVE BETTER.

The other day I changed my phone screen background to an image of the quote “you get what you settle for”, from Thelma & Louise (my all-time favourite film), because sometimes I need reminding. I settle too damn much, and I am DONE settling. I deserve the best, and I should accept nothing less.

I’m making my fucking dreams come true (again, blame the language on my mother’s influence). I have wanted to travel for years. Travelling across Eastern Europe has been a goal of mine for so long. And at the end of this month I’ll be going to Paris, which I’ve wanted to do since I was ten years old. That’s almost half my life! I’m so furious with myself for not appreciating how amazing this journey is. I want to slap myself across the head with something painful, and tell myself to grow the fuck up and stop sulking. If I absolutely HAVE to be miserable about things beyond my control, I can at least have the grace to postpone those feelings until I return to the UK. For now, I’m putting that self-pity on pause, because I have so much life to live.

As I was in a “treat yo self” mindset, I decided to take a trip to Holy Donut. I bought a banana milkshake and a gorgeous chocolate donut. It didn’t occur to me that perhaps the “treat yo self” concept was just another form of self-sabotage. Loading my body with sugar was hardly the most productive method of becoming my best self. But this didn’t occur to me at the time.
IMG_20170707_133624
After I’d finished consuming beautiful sugar-filled unnecessary calories, I headed towards Uzupis. I took a different route to last time, and met a few cats, and discovered some cool grafitti-covered abandoned buildings. I walked across the whole republic, until I came out on the motorway on the far side, where there were views of dark green forest in every direction.

8th July 2017 –

Today me and my friend went to one of the most marvellous of institutions: a cat cafe! As in, a place full of ten furry babies, which also happened to sell some really good spring rolls, and kvass. The cats seemed unrealistically tranquil. But they were beautiful and soft and furry, and it was so nice to play with cats again, even if they didn’t seem remotely interested in the attention they were getting.
IMG_20170708_123125

IMG_20170708_125242

IMG_20170708_125451

IMG_20170708_125633

IMG_20170708_130053
After we left the cat cafe we climbed up a hill to a graffiti-covered building on top. We sat between the columns at the building’s front, taking refuge from the heat of the sun. On the way down, we passed some men, who heard us talking in English, and called out “Hey girls!”, trying to get our attention. We ran the rest of the way down the hill, to get away from them as swiftly as possible.

9th July 2017 –

I met with my friend again today. We walked around the Old Town for a while, before heading to a bar for dinner. There was a really cute bartender, and he said I had a pretty accent 😀 He was very tall and very pretty, with dark hair and a flirty personality.

Me and my friend sat outside in the bar garden to eat. The fries were very good; I am a big fan of fries. I also discovered that I am even more of a lightweight than I previously thought: I was drunk after half a glass of cider. Drunk Eliza is like Sober Eliza without any filters: extremely honest, extremely affectionate, and extremely talkative. If you think I don’t shut up when I’m sober, you really should see me drunk. I just say whatever crap comes into my head. And I say it loudly.

This later inspired me to write a poem called “the cider side of me”, which is one of my favourite of the poems I’ve written, so clearly good things come from the consumption of alcohol.
IMG_20170707_130742

IMG_20170707_141023

IMG_20170707_141335

IMG_20170708_173637

IMG_20170709_145157

IMG_20170709_152613

10th July 2017 –

We went back to the bar from yesterday. Sadly the hot bartender wasn’t there. But the fries were still good, and I was still a lightweight. As usual, Drunk Eliza was very talkative, except this time drunk me had a new aspect. Whilst I can often be a very philosophical drunk, this was the first time I’d been a poetic one. I was spouting all kinds of poetic crap about many different topics, and not all of it even made sense. According to Drunk Eliza, life is like a hill. I’m not quite sure how the analogy went, but it seemed logical to me. Perhaps because by this point we were about to climb a hill. The hill had some kind of little castle atop it, and the path up was made of cobblestones which were uncomfortable beneath my feet. I was out of breath and thirsty for most of the way up, but it was worth the climb. Not just because we saw three cats at the top.

We sat on a bench and watched the city grow dark beneath us. It’s moments like that which remind me what I love about cities. Seeing all the lights, and all the thousands of people that they represent, makes me think of how the energy must be, of all those people combined. Each person has a life, each person has their own story…and a city is thousands or millions of stories all squashed together within houses and apartment blocks.

It was strange to think I’d be leaving in the morning, heading to a different city once more, alone again.
IMG_20170710_224446

IMG_20170710_224509

IMG_20170710_224739

11th July 2017 –

I hardly knew I was leaving Vilnius until I was already gone. The act of getting on a bus has become so routine by now that it’s practically muscle memory, and all of a sudden I’ve left another city behind.

As I waited for my bus, I got talking with a man who was perhaps in his 70s. I heard him talking in English, asking someone if it was the right platform for the bus to Riga. I interjected because the woman he was asking didn’t speak good English. He was a friendly man, with brown skin and white hair and beard. His accent sounded Caribbean, and he said he lived in England. He smiled a lot.

For someone who constantly claims to hate small talk, I find myself appreciating it more and more. I’m grateful just to be able to communicate in my own language. Back in Glasgow I could have conversations with people who served me in shops, etc – I could be charming and polite, and it’s nice. Here I don’t have that. I know that a smile is the same in any language, but I miss using actual words.

The bus from Vilnius to Warsaw lasted 9 hours. It passed by quickly enough, as I watched movies the whole time. But I arrived with a dreadful headache, and I got lost and took ages to find my hostel. When I finally rid myself of the Evil Backpack and the Laptop Case from Hell, I went out to find food. I was surprised to see that there were vegetarian cafes on seemingly every street corner. But I’d promised myself I would make a concerted effort to be healthier once I left Vilnius, so I went to a supermarket instead. It took me absolutely ages to find a supermarket, and my headache was increasingly rapidly.

I find myself feeling more and more weary of travelling. It’s been over a month now. I’m tired of living out of a suitcase, of not spending more than a week in one place. I love travelling, and this is such a cool experience. But the truth is: travel is exhausting. I’m tired of buses, of walking around all day, of the constant pressure to be doing something because I don’t want to miss my chances, when all I really want to do is have a day off so I can REST.

I feel bad for complaining, because I know I should be grateful that I am able to travel for so long… But this isn’t some kind of vacation from reality. This is real life, and I am a real person, and I am goddamn exhausted. I’ll be home in three weeks from now. I know it will fly by, but right now it feels like forever. I miss stability, and certainty, and routine. I miss privacy, and not sharing rooms with slightly-dodgy-looking strangers who speak at me in languages I can’t understand. I miss creature comforts and a feeling of belonging and a feeling of home.

Perhaps I’m just tired. I have a very long day of travel ahead of me tomorrow. Maybe once I’m in Prague I’ll rest properly and feel differently. All I know is that right now I’m desperately homesick.

Travel Diary — Riga: days 1 to 7

27th June 2017 –

The walk to the bus station was eerily silent. If Tartu seemed quiet by day, it was completely empty at night. I love cities at night, walking alone with nothing but the streetlamps and moonlight. I have so many memories from Glasgow, of walking home from the pub late at night after improv, dancing down Kelvin Way to the music in my earphones, enchanted by the stillness of the night, the sense of aloneness that should be impossible within a city setting. Whilst when I walk alone at night in Glasgow my heart always thuds extra fast, wondering “Is this the night I’ll be murdered”, I felt perfectly safe in Tartu.

Safe, and tired. The Evil Backpack and the Laptop Case from Hell were soon working their magic. My shoulders ached, and I was sure the laptop case would form bruises on my thighs.

The bus station was almost empty. I sat in the still quiet, waiting, waiting, waiting…
Because my bus was late. Of course it was late. Why wouldn’t a bus at 3am in a country where I can’t speak the language be late? It was only late by about five minutes, but it was enough for my anxiety to go into overdrive.

When I was finally onboard the bus, I knew I had no hope of sleep. In my experience, nightlong bus rides are not the easiest places to find rest. There was a TV screen on the back of the seat in front of me, but I was too tired to watch anything. Instead, I stared out the window and observed the Estonian countryside as it passed by. I felt an immense sense of peacefulness, sitting on that bus at dawn, seeing the world out the window through a rainy haze, everything dark and grey and beautiful. In spite of being beyond exhausted, I felt incredibly alive. It’s moments like that where travel seems so damn beautiful, and all my tired mind could comprehend was one single thought: “I’m seeing the WORLD!”

When they say Estonia is 50 percent forest, they’re not joking. The view from my window for most of the journey was forest, more forest, and even more forest. Perhaps it was monotonous in a sense, but in the dim morning light I saw so much beauty in the consistency of the view.

After a couple of hours, the setting began to change. Where there had previously been thick, leafy forests, there were now tall pine trees, bare until half way up, where a covering of pine needles sprouted on their thin branches. The trees were planted in rigid uniformity, and beneath them was a cemetery, with small wooden crucifixes embedded in the ground, and flowers laid in front. My tired mind mentally noted that this was interesting, given that Estonia is not a religious country by any measure.

The cemetery soon gave way to the outskirts of a town, and I observed with interest that it differed from the Estonian cities I had seen. The buildings were more colourful, and the style was different. There was a brightly coloured, domed church, which looked like it was perhaps a Russian orthodox one. The change in architecture made more sense a few minutes later, when I saw the sign which signalled we were about to cross the border into Latvia. No wonder the town didn’t look Estonian!

I couldn’t help smiling to myself as the bus crossed the threshold from one country to another. I wasn’t sure why I was so excited to reach Latvia, but then it hit me: up until now, Estonia was the only country I’d ever travelled to alone. Entering Latvia was a milestone.

IMG_20170627_052930

IMG_20170627_041041
The road was under construction, and thus far was made of mud. The bus had to stop at traffic lights every few minutes. I watched the sunrise through the window, struck by just how beautiful this country was.

It was cold when I arrived in Riga. I stepped off the bus into chilly air, and gathered up my bags, before heading inside the bus station. I bought a crappy black coffee from a vending machine, and stood by the large domed windows which overlooked the canal. The coffee scalded my tongue, but I was too tired to care. It was almost 7am, and through the window I watched the first signs of the city coming to life. I stared into the canal, and sensed that I was going to fall in love with this city.

But I didn’t love it yet. I could feel the anticipation of a love to come, but right now this city was a stranger to me, a stranger which I must soon navigate.

I left the bus station, and, with the guidance of Google maps, headed in the direction of my hostel. I couldn’t check in until 2 o’clock, but I figured it was a good idea to at least be in the vicinity. I had zero desire to spend the next seven hours walking around with the Evil Backback and the Laptop Case from Hell. Within a few minutes, my bags were already driving me nuts, so I decided to sit and rest for a while. After all, I had plenty of time. There were some benches next to the shopping centre outside the train station, so I sat there and took in my surroundings.

I’d been sitting for a little while when a man approached me. He was relatively young, with bright blond hair. His clothing suggested he was perhaps a painter or some kind of construction worker, given the white splatters on his sweater. He spoke at me in Latvian, and I stared back at him wide-eyed, like a rabbit in headlights. He made a gesture which suggested he was asking for a lighter, but I just whispered “I don’t understand” in terrified English, and he laughed at me and walked away. He sat on a bench nearby. I’m sure he’d meant no harm by approaching me, but I’d been awake for almost twenty-four hours and I was in an unfamiliar land. Stranger danger felt all too real, even though it wasn’t something which would normally bother me.

The area around me seemed to be populated by increasingly-dodgy looking people. I wasn’t sure if this was a dodgy spot, or just that the 7am crowd made it appear so, but I decided it was time to move on. The guy who’d approached me earlier said “goodbye” to me in English.

I walked past what seemed to be another bus station, and recognised the name of the street on which my hostel was located. I didn’t see any point walking all the way to my hostel this early, but I was glad I at least knew how to find it now.

Instead, I ventured down another street, into the city centre. The buildings were much taller than those in Estonia, and Riga had a completely different feel than Tallinn and Tartu. Sunlight shone down upon my shoulders, and I found myself grinning up at the buildings which surrounded me. In spite of the weight of my bags, I was filled with an unexpected sense of unadulterated joy. I was falling in love with Riga far quicker than I’d anticipated.

I soon felt the need to rest again. (Those damn bags!!) I didn’t want to sit somewhere random like before, because I didn’t have any particular desire to be approached by random men again. So what to do? I was in an unfamiliar city, carrying heavy bags, and I still had about six hours left before I could go to my hostel.

Then it struck me: I may not be in Estonia anymore, but I was still in the Baltic.

I checked Google maps, and discovered with great joy that there was a branch of Caffeine only twelve minutes walk away.

With the aid of Google translate; I managed to order myself a coffee. (Yes, I know people in customer service jobs can speak English, but I have ~issues~ about speaking English in foreign countries. I don’t want to come across as a British-supremacist colonialist or cliché tourist. I would rather struggle to communicate in languages I can’t understand).

I sat in Caffeine for a couple of hours, relieved to have somewhere to rest. I caught my reflection in a mirror, and was horrified to see my face. There were huge bags under my eyes, and I swear I had developed about 30 new wrinkles overnight. On the rare (increasingly less rare, tbh) occasions when I get drunk, I look in the mirror the next morning (complete with smeared mascara and faded lipstick) and feel like I’m about 30 years old because my skin looks so wrinkled. I didn’t realise that overnight bus journeys have the same ageing effects and gin and cider. Damn.
IMG_20170627_083535

IMG_20170627_083250

When I finally got bored of sitting in Caffeine, I went to the park across the street. It made me miss Kelvingrove Park in Glasgow (literally every park I go to makes me miss Kelvingrove. I didn’t expect to be this homesick). There were pretty pink and purple flowers, and I saw a cat scurrying around beneath them. I sat peacefully for a while, making an attempt to write poetry. Then a random man approached me. (Is anyone sensing a theme here?)

He was older than the one who’d approached me earlier, perhaps in his seventies. He spoke to me in Latvian, I responded in English saying “I don’t understand”, but he kept talking to me in Latvian. Even if he couldn’t speak English, and didn’t know the meaning of my words, you’d think the fact I responded in a different language would have at least given him a hint that I did not understand him. He continued talking at me for a few minutes, before finally giving up his endeavours and leaving me alone to wonder why I am such a magnet for Latvian men.

Not just men, it seems. Some time later a woman approached me. She had a girl of about ten years old with her, so I assumed she was pretty safe. She spoke to me in Latvian, and I responded with my usual “I don’t understand.” The woman then sat beside me and took hold of my hand, stroking my palm. I suddenly remembered that I’d read online about this being a popular tourist scam, where a woman will approach you and offer to read your palm, and then charge you an extortionate amount of money. I snatched my hand away quickly, and said a forceful “No!”

The girl said something to her mother, which sounded like “Angliski”, so I’m guessing she’d figured out I was speaking English. The woman tried speaking to me in broken English, asking for money. I said “No”, repeatedly and forcefully until she finally left me alone. It suddenly occurred to me that my bags were making me too much of an obvious target. Walking around with a large backpack practically screams “fresh meat” to anyone looking for a victim for their scams. I still had two hours left till I could go to my hostel.

I decided to go to the bus stop place I’d seen near my hostel. I figured that I’d be less conspicuous there, and there were benches were I could sit and rest. I’d been there for perhaps half an hour when a woman approached me. She had a young boy with her, who was perhaps ten years old. Alarm bells were already ringing in my head; I could tell she would also try to scam me. The woman started speaking to me in Latvian, and I firmly told her I didn’t understand. She continued talking. Then a woman on the bench behind me addressed her in rapid-fire Latvian, clearly telling her where to go. The woman scowled at my saviour, but finally left. By this point I decided I would just glare at anyone who so much as looked in my direction, and hopefully that would stop every creep in the city from approaching me.

I was so relieved when I finally reached my hostel. I changed out of my travel clothes, and removed all signs of touristiness (yes I know that’s not a word. Shakespeare invented words, so can I) from myself, before heading out to find food. I’d hardly eaten all day, and I was absolutely starving. As expected, I got very lost. I had no idea where I was, but it looked mildly dodgy, and I felt rather scared. Normally I trust my intuition, but I didn’t know if this was intuition or if I was just on high alert because I was so tired. I walked around in circles for what seemed like hours, until I eventually found a supermarket.

Judging by Latvian supermarkets, veganism doesn’t seem to really be a thing here. I thought that Estonia was obsessed with meat and dairy, but in Latvia it’s on a whole other level. Wow. At least they have rye bread.

I’m somewhat ashamed to say that I rather fell out of the habit of diary writing whilst in Riga, and most of the week kind of merged together in my head, so from the 28th through to the 1st I don’t have specific details of each day. I know that I walked around a lot, got lost frequently, and spent a lot of time getting soaked by the rain. There was one day where I went to the Museum of Occupations, and another where I went to the National Library, and got a library membership in order to use a computer to upload my blog. But I can’t say what occurred on what day. Have I learnt my lesson and written regularly in my diary since then? Not entirely, but I’m now forcing myself to at least bullet point each day so that I have prompts of what to write, even if no proper diary entries. At least I took a lot of photos on the days where I didn’t write.

2nd July 2017 –

Well this was it, the day was finally here. For the first time in over a week, I was going to actually see a familiar human. It’s strange, seeing people I know from Glasgow in their home countries. And the friend I was going to meet was someone I’d never spent more than about ten minutes alone with before, so I wasn’t sure what to expect, and was therefore a bit nervous. I arrived 35 minutes early, when normally I arrive to things about 20 minutes early (anxiety is fun, kids).

I sat in the park and wrote poetry as I waited for the time to pass. Then I walked around in circles near the freedom monument for the remaining fifteen minutes until my friend arrived.

How do you describe someone when you’re pretty sure they’re probably going to read what you’ve written? Ah, I could have so much fun with this…

My nervousness subsided when I finally met my friend. Whilst the usual whirring of anxiety buzzed in my head as I walked towards him, it quickly disappeared. I threw my arms around his neck and gave him a big hug (a typical Eliza greeting. Hugs are my favourite thing about life. I have not had enough hugs recently), and soon I was chattering away at a ridiculous speed, making up for the lack of conversation I’d had in the past few weeks.

Sometimes, when around people I don’t know too well, I don’t know what to say, and fall into silences often. But one of the things I like most about this friend is that he is a very good conversationalist, and asks lots and lots of questions, meaning that there is always something to say and to talk about. I often find it hard to think of questions to ask people (because anxiety), but it became easier as the day went on, even if the questions I asked were sometimes weird.

We went to an art museum, and spent more time talking than actually looking at the art (just how I like it), and then we walked around the Old Town in the rain for a while. By the time we left the museum, my friend seemed to have realised just how easy it is to make me rant about things, and he would casually make provocative statements, which would in turn make me go into full-on rant mode, and then he’d whisper “triggered” in a satisfied voice, and I would realise I’d fallen into the trap, just as he wanted me to. This continued all afternoon.

I find it interesting how different people bring out different aspects in me, and after a couple of hours I realised that the side of myself I expressed while in the company of this person was a side I rarely showed. As previously mentioned, I’m very prone to ranting about things (anything from politics to the lack of male nudity in Game of Thrones. You name it, I can rant about it), but I also love a good debate.

And boy did we have a lot of debates! The thing is, I’m used to debating with people who only care about being right, and therefore it’s no fun. But this was different, because he actually seemed to respect my opinion, and listen to what I had to say. It was also a much-needed challenge, because often I state opinions without actually having to defend why I have those opinions. And all of a sudden I was talking with someone who asked WHY I thought those things. And I loved it. There is nothing more enjoyable than talking with someone who actually makes me think!

We went to a café for lunch, and he made me try this drink called kvass, which is basically a bread-flavoured soft drink. It tastes exactly like rye bread, which is so weird. But, much to my surprise, I actually liked it. I guess there’s something appealing about strange things. Plus, rye bread is the great love of my life, so it makes sense that I should like it in all its forms.

The more we talked, the more I felt at ease in my friend’s company. Most of the times I’d met him previously had been at poetry nights, so we’d never had much opportunity to have long conversations. But now I found that not only was I able to fully be myself, without any anxiety, but I was able to express the sides of myself that had lain dormant for a long time. Nothing feels better than finding people with whom you can be yourself. I was so glad that we’d met up, and I wished we’d been able to spend more time together. All I could think was that I wanted this friend to stay in my life for a long, long time.

3rd July 2017 –

I woke in a very philosophical mood. It was my last day in Riga, and I felt strange about that. There was a lot on my mind. I sat in the common room of the hostel, drinking cup after cup of peppermint tea, and writing poetry. For the first time in weeks, my writer’s block had finally disappeared, and I was able to express how I actually felt about things. I wrote three poems all in a row, and then I took all the purple pencils and crayons from a jar on the table and drew random patterns in my notebook. I was feeling strangely frustrated and I wasn’t sure why. Eventually I held all the pencils at once, and scribbled over and over and over in multiple shades of purple until the entire page was covered.

I spent the afternoon walking around the city. I didn’t go anywhere new; I mostly retraced my steps from yesterday, returning to streets and parks and bookshops I’d been to before. There comes a time, whilst travelling, when there’s no space left to make new memories in a place, and all you can do is return to settings of significance and cement the memories you’ve already made until they’re embedded in your mind. Because you never know when, or if, you’ll return here.

Travel Diary — Tartu: days 1-6

20th June 2017 –

I’d set my alarm for 8am, but I woke at 7. My main aim was to avoid the Nutcracker as much as possible. Why was she back here? What had I done to deserve this?
I went down to the kitchen and toasted some rye bread for breakfast. When I returned to my room, the Nutcracker was getting dressed. Of course she had to have a perfect body. It’s a shame that her face ruins the whole picture.

I waked right past and ignored her. It occurred to me that perhaps the reason she was back was because I hadn’t dealt with her the first time. She’d disappeared before I could decide how to handle the situation, and it had provided me with an easy way out. I realised that the Nutcracker was a bully, and this was a strange thought for me, because I hadn’t dealt with bullies since school. There had certainly been a couple of unpleasant people at uni – certainly some people who caused me a lot of upset – but I wouldn’t have classified them as bullies in the sense I was used to. (Thinking of it now, perhaps I should have).

But the Nutcracker was a bully, plain and simple. And I was so done! Perhaps I could have confronted her… But I dealt with bullies for three whole years in school, and at this point I just thought “fuck it, I am a grown adult and I shouldn’t have to put up with this.” So I ignored her, and that was that.

I left my bags at the hostel, and stepped outside into the pouring rain. I felt a strange mixture of peace and melancholia. I didn’t want to leave. In some ways, Tallinn could be seen as the most challenging part f my journey, because it wasn’t the unknown. It was a half-known place, full of memories and expectations. Now that it was time to leave, I wasn’t ready for my clean slate.

I bought a takeaway cappuccino from Caffeine, and went to sit under the arches of the town hall. The beauty of the rain was that I got to enjoy Raekoja Plats the emptiest I had ever seen it, almost completely devoid of tourists. For the first time since arriving in Tallinn, I could properly feel my characters in my head.

I sat for awhile, allowing myself to indulge in being a writer, rather than just a traveller. I then decided to take a final walk around the rain-soaked Old Town. I put my earphones in, creating a private introvert world of music and experience. My book characters compelled me to listen to “There is a light that never goes out” by The Smiths. Probably because of the line “to die by your side, what a heavenly way to die”, given that Raekoja Plats is the site of two of my characters’ deaths.

I hadn’t listened to the song in ages, because it was too closely tied to memories of a former friend. It’s seemingly the anthem of every pretentious nowhere-bound young man in search of their manic-pixie-dream-girl/sense of self. But it was the song that my characters requested, so I endured it and all the memories it attacked me with, because I was so grateful to have my characters back in my head.

As I walked towards Taamsaare Park, I finally felt my favourite character, Phoenix, back in my head. I asked why they’d only made an appearance when I was due to leave. She told me it was because this trip was about me, not them. I had brought my characters home when I’d come here last year. I had made my pilgrimage, I had served them well. But this year it was a pilgrimage from me, not them, and they had taken a step back so that I could learn about myself.

I wondered if my writer’s bloc wasn’t so much writer’s block as self block. I keep thinking that back in Glasgow I was happy, and knew exactly who I was and where I belonged…but if that was the case, why was I so distanced from my identity as a writer? Why do I hardly tell people I write books? Even the poetry I write is written for performance, rather than reading.

I don’t have the answers. I guess it’s something I must add to the list of things I hope to discover on this trip. Perhaps by immersing myself in the art and culture of all these different countries, I can breathe life into the dormant Creative that lies hidden in my soul. Perhaps this is my “Eat Pray Love” journey, but I must learn to pray to myself, and love myself, and eat myself… No, that metaphor doesn’t quite work.

I went into Viru Keskus, and took the connecting passageway which led to the foyer of Hotel Viru, on the say-so of Phoenix. This building is her domain, the setting where most of her scenes in the book take place. I surreptitiously took a few photos, so that I can get a better description of the layout, and then left before the staff could wonder what I was doing.

I remember, when I first came here last year, I took a video of me touching the outside of the building. (My characters made me do it). Phoenix demanded I do it again. As I caressed the exterior of the building, her smug voice chimed in my head “this is why we invested in hand sanitizer.” Being a writer is weird.

I needed to buy lunch, so I decided to go to Balti Jaama Turg, to have one of the world’s most amazing veggie burgers for the final time. But, to my horror, they were sold out! How could fate be so cruel? I wandered around for a little while, dismayed and miserable. It was raining, I was hungry, and I just wanted hot food. I bought coffee from a little coffee truck by Balti Jaam. It was the first place I’d bought coffee in Estonia last year. The waitress looked slightly amused, so I’m guessing my pronunciation was a little bit inaccurate.

As the caffeine began to flow through my veins, inspiration struck! I remembered there was a vegan restaurant in the old town which did takeaway cakes. I could buy lunch from there! However, when I reached the place, I saw it didn’t open till 12, and it was only 11:20.

I was feeling very grumpy by now. The only thing grumpier than Hungry Eliza is Caffeinated Hungry Eliza. I made myself breathe through my frustration. I gave up and went to Viru Keskus. I wondered if the purpose of my bad luck was to show me just how cyclical life is. I headed back to my hostel just as I’d arrived there a week ago: grumpy, rain-soaked, and eating a slightly soggy vegan chilli wrap.

I took the tram to the bus station, and went to buy my ticket. I was relieved to use the self-service machine, so I didn’t have to figure out how to ask for a ticket in Estonian. It was 12:45, and my bus was due to leave at 1:30. I bought a little tub of raspberries, and sat on a bench to wait for my bus.

By what I can only presume was a miracle (given my track record with Estonian public transport), I got on the right bus, and arrived safely in Tartu. The bus drove past my hostel, so I was able to navigate my way there without the aid of Google maps. It was a simple 20-minute walk, the majority of which was all one street.
I noted with surprise that there seemed to be a total of zero tourists in the city centre.

After checking in to my hostel, I headed for my room. On my way there, however, something caught my eye: the most gorgeous little black-and-white cat. He was so precious! I am a huge cat-lover, so the discovery that the hostel had a cat made me very happy.

This happiness increased when I saw my room. I had thought I’d booked a bed in an 8-person dorm. But it turned out it was an 8 person apartment, and a 2 person dorm. And, as of yet, there was no roommate. For the first time in a week and a half, I had sweet, sweet privacy.

I checked out the kitchen, and then consulted Google maps to see if there were any supermarkets nearby. I located one that was a 12 minute walk away, and set off. Within a couple of minutes of leaving the main road, it felt like a different world. The streets were lined with traditional Estonian wooden houses, the likes of which were common in some parts of Tallinn. The street was completely empty.

Tallinn had been quiet, but Tartu felt like a ghost town. The further I walked, the more spaced out the houses became, situated in yards with trees and cars and cats, the once-brightly coloured paint fading on the wooden walls.

The supermarket was set within some kind of shopping centre. I went in the wrong door, and ended up in a place so eerily quiet I thought it must be closed. There was a pet shop on one side, and some kind of alcohol store, and a closed clothing shop with mannequins dressed in nightgowns. The door didn’t open when I tried to leave, and I thought for a moment that I was trapped in the creepy shopping centre. Thankfully, this was not the case.

I found the correct entrance to the supermarket, and began to browse. To my horror, I discovered that, for the first time in my life, I was in a supermarket that did not sell a single soy product. I don’t expect everywhere to have the variety I am used to, but in the UK it seems that even the most out-of-the-way supermarkets at least sell a basic soy milk, whereas in Estonia they do not.

I found it interesting from a cultural perspective. But from a vegan perspective, I found it annoying as fuck.

After much searching of shelves, I finally located what I think was some kind of almond milk, though I couldn’t be sure, because the ingredients were written in Italian. Even the vegetable section was limited. There were perhaps four or five varieties of vegetables, at most. Due to the lack of vegan products, I knew I would be forced to actually cook food from scratch. I decided to buy some herbs and spices. As I tried to navigate the ingredients lists of stock cubes and spice mixes, another problem occurred. Half the products were Latvian, and hence, the ingredients were written in (you guessed it!) Latvian. I can just about read through ingredients lists in Estonian and tell if they’re vegan, but I can’t with Latvian. Next week will be interesting…

The final blow was that I couldn’t find salt. I can understand a supermarket not selling soy products. I can understand that a supermarket in Southern Estonia will stock a lot of Latvian products. But I cannot understand for the life of me why a supermarket would not stock salt! I mean, it’s SALT! I could feel myself on the edge of losing my mind. I gave up and bought garlic salt, and returned to my hostel.

To increase my wonderful mood, I found that the kitchen didn’t have a chopping board. Cutting potatoes on plates is not fun. Also, why do potatoes take so long to cook? Is there a scientific reason for it, or do they just do it to spite me? I was starving and frustrated, and my food was taking what seemed like a decade to cook. I could only hope tomorrow would be better.

21st June 2017 –

Naturally, I woke to torrential rain. I had planned to go out and explore, but the weather didn’t look appealing, so I spent some time sitting in the hostel’s little library room. It was a cute place, and it was nice to sit and relax, but I didn’t want to spend the whole day cooped up indoors. I retrieved my raincoat from my room, and was ready to hit the town.

It was a 20 minute walk into the city entre, and the rain beat down lightly and consistently. My first order of business was to check out the supermarkets, to see if they were all as devoid of soy products as the one last night. The city centre of Tartu is made up of 3 or 4 shopping centres, and a whole load of trees. I recognised the name of one of the shopping centres – Kaubamaja – from Tallinn. It was the name of the supermarket in Viru Keskus. This gave me hope!

As the store had a slightly different layout from the one in Tallinn, I first thought it didn’t have the same stock. But after a quick glance around, I was gladly proven wrong. I have never been so relieved to see tofu sausages in my entire life! I bought a small carton of chocolate soy milk, just because it existed, and left Kaubamaja.

My impression of Tartu thus far was that the city was very green and very wet.

I walked through a (very green and very wet) park, with vague thoughts of coffee running through my mind. The sign jumped out at me like a messenger from the heavens, familiar shades of orange and white… Caffeine!

For some reason, my brain hadn’t made the connection that Tartu is still in Estonia, and therefore has the same language as Tallinn, so I expected ordering coffee to be a much bigger challenge than it actually was. I liked this branch of Caffeine; it was nice and peaceful, with light-green velvet sofas, and chalk drawings on the black walls. The vibe is what I would call “mainstream hipster”, which I know is a contradiction in terms. But let’s face it, the hipsters sold out and became mainstream long ago, in the ultimate act of irony.

Once I’d drunk my life force (I mean, coffee), I went out to explore. I soon discovered the Old Town. It was smaller than the one in Tallinn, and easier to navigate. The streets were wider, and flat, whereas the Tallinn Old Town is located on a hill. I found the Raekoja Plats (Town Hall Square), which was pretty cool. The Town Hall was a pink-and-white building, and in front of it was the kissing students fountain. Yes, you read that correctly: even a statue has a better love life than I do.

I ventured up the hill behind the Town Hall, which lead to the Tartu University campus, and to the ruins of the cathedral. It had stopped raining by this point, and the sky was a glorious shade of blue. I ran around under the arches of the cathedral ruins, my inner history nerd resurfacing after lying dormant for years. There’s something about ancient buildings that will always capture my imagination, and no matter how much A Levels made me lose my love of history, this will never change.

Behind the cathedral was a forest. To be fair, the majority of Tartu is a forest, but this was an even forestier forest. (Why do I always make up words?) Throughout the forest were a bunch of statues. There was one of a tall man with long hair, I thought to myself, half-jokingly, “He’s almost my type”. I read the description of the statue, and discovered he was a Latvian-born Estonian poet. “Very much my type,” added the voice in my head. To be fair, I probably have a better chance getting a statue to like me back than any guy I’ve had a crush on in the past year.

I returned to the Old Town, and wandered around for a while, eventually coming across the Tartu University Botanic Gardens. They reminded me of the Botanic Gardens in Glasgow, and made me feel a little homesick. When I discovered the river on the other side of them, the homesickness deepened. It was hardly the Kelvin or the Clyde, but it was close enough. I walked along the riverbank for a little while, and decided that tomorrow I would explore the other side.

22nd June 2017 –

As I had seen pretty much all of the main attractions, I decided I would devote today to exploring the other side of the river. I headed to the city centre, and then walked along the riverbank. The water was incredibly still, and a dull browny-green colour. It was so startlingly peaceful here. The whole city was eerily quiet. Yesterday I had attributed it to the rain, but today it wasn’t raining, and I came to the conclusion that this city must always be this quiet. I followed the riverbank until I came to a bridge, and then decided to cross. The bridge was covered with love locks, which I found so adorable, because I am a total romantic. I crossed the bridge slowly, reading all the sets of initials on the love locks.

Across the river there was some kind of lake. The sun shone brightly, and a shirtless man walked by wearing swimming trunks. There was a wooden board at the edge of the lake, presumably for diving, and there was a playground on one side.
In Tartu they have these park benches which are also swings, and there were some of these nearby too. I completely love them, probably because I am somewhat of a child at times, and I like anything that has an element of fun to it.

I explored along the riverbank, but soon realised that there was nothing except residential buildings. There was some cool street art under the bridges, which was pretty much the only thing of interest on this side of the river. Other than street art and houses, it was mostly just grass and trees. Surely there must be more to this city than what I’d already seen. I was beginning to think that Tartu wasn’t so much a city as a forest with a few buildings in it.

The lack of things to do in Tartu made me realise just how much I took living in Glasgow for granted. I spent nine months living in city which had so much going on, and I never really made the most of it. Sure, I went to Improv, and I went to poetry nights. But that was about it. I didn’t go to gigs, I didn’t really go to events, I didn’t do enough. I was filled with a sudden determination to have a much more active life when I return to Glasgow after the summer. I want to go to concerts; I want to go to more events and more artsy things. I want to make the most of the opportunities there.

23rd June 2017 –

I woke in a weird mood. I’d had a dream that someone had tried to rob my bank account, and even though it was just a dream, I couldn’t shake the feeling of being ill at ease. Also, there is literally nothing to do here. Practically all the shops are closed because it’s a public holiday. I explored practically the entire city on the first day, so there’s nothing new to do. And I have another four days here.

I walked along an empty road to the far reaches of the city, and there was nothing but trees, and more trees, and even more trees. I kept myself entertained with my internal commentary, and I realised it’s very lucky that I find myself funny, because I would be insanely bored otherwise. It seems I have grown very skilled in the art of keeping myself company.

As I walked back to the city centre, I worked through some storyline ideas for my book in my head. Since that last day in Tallinn, my characters have been a little more active in my mind. Once I’d returned to the city centre, I went to a supermarket, more out of boredom than a need to buy anything. I went to an ATM to withdraw money, but I found that my card didn’t work. It showed the balance as 291 euros, which was a lot less than I thought was there (had I really spent that much in Tallinn? Knowing me, I probably had. But surely I didn’t spend £300 on food in a week. That’s impossible). But even though there was half the amount of money I expected, it didn’t explain why I couldn’t withdraw money.

I checked my banking app, to see what I’d spent so much money on, and I saw that it was not 291 euros, but minus 291 euros. Somehow there were 800 euros missing from my bank account. I could feel a panic attack coming on, but I forced myself to breathe through it. I told myself to remain calm, and that all I could do was contact my bank. I walked back to my hostel, trying to keep the panic at bay. I checked the banking app again, and looked at the time the 800 euros had been withdrawn. 12:45 on the 20th of June. Why was that time so familiar?

12:45 was when I’d bought my bus ticket! The ticket which cost…8 euros. I still had the receipt! I double checked the time it was bought, and it was indeed 12:45. I emailed my bank, explaining that I thought I had been charged 100 times the price of the ticket.

By some sweet miracle of fate, the money was returned to my account within half an hour. I was so, so relieved.

As there was nothing to do, I decide to read for a while. It occurred to me that the books I’ve been reading on this journey are exactly the right books I’ve needed to read at this point in time. In Tallinn I was reading Paulo Coelho’s “The Alchemist”, and it made me think a lot about travel, and about fate, and about following signs and trusting in purpose. Now I’m reading O R Melling’s “People of the Great Journey”, which seems to focus a lot on themes of personal growth and healing. It’s also really gripping, and I find it hard to put it down. It had been so long since I’d read books that I actually wanted to read, and it felt good to let myself be drawn completely into the story world.

24th June 2017 –

The cat at my hostel is the most adorable wee darling on the entire planet. We sat together in the library room, then he followed me to the kitchen and proceeded to attempt to climb on my lap whilst I peeled potatoes. He kept getting in the way, and I pretended to be annoyed, but I couldn’t help finding it so adorable. I chatted away to him as I made soup.

I lay in bed, thinking how much I love this cat, and how we’ve got a really good friendship dynamic going on. And then I realised: he’s a cat. A CAT!!! Am I losing my mind here? Have I been alone for so long that I have actually gone insane? This cat has somehow reached person-like status in my mind. I need human company. Now!

Later on, still lying in bed on the brink of madness, I felt this strange feeling of elation and freedom. I wondered if it was related to my being alone. Granted, I was on the verge of insanity and had decided that a cat was my new bff, but I didn’t actually feel lonely, per se. In a way, I felt more myself than I had in a while. There was no one to perform for; there was no pressure or expectations to live up to. I was entirely myself, without anyone else’s input, and that felt kind of glorious.

I feel like it’s the loneliest parts of travel where I grow the most. Last year it was my 5 days in the “little house on the prairie nightmare” cabin, and this year it’s my week in the ghost town that is Tartu. There’s something about being forced to be utterly alone with your thoughts that makes you get to know yourself in a way that’s impossible most of the time. Especially for someone like me, who picks up very easily on other people’s traits. For example, I copy people’s speech habits and mannerisms, without actually realising it. That’s why I’ve started swearing more since becoming best friends with my current best friend, amongst other things. And sometimes I don’t know which aspects of myself are me, or which are things I’ve borrowed from other people I’ve known throughout my life. By being alone, I can see what’s left of me when I’m not surrounded by other peoples’ influences.

25th June 2017 –

I was lying in bed, reading, when my phone buzzed with an email notification. Just a basic email about my flight to Paris next month, warning of heightened security checks after the London terror attacks. It seemed a bit odd that they’d email a month in advance, but I thought nothing of it. Then I got a notification from the easyjet app, which seemed rather odd.

Oh my god.

No.

How could I have been so stupid?

True to form, my bad luck with public transport had arisen once again. Somehow I’d booked my flight from Berlin to Paris on the 26th of June, rather than the 26th of July. How could I fly to Paris tomorrow when I’m in freaking Estonia?

It’s the kind of situation where a normal person would be really bothered by the mix-up. But as I am me, I just started laughing hysterically at my own stupidity. I am a control freak who triple-checked everything. How had this slipped through the net?

I managed to change the flight to the correct date, but I had to pay an extra £66, which I was not happy about. Still, I continued to laugh at the ridiculousness of it. Only I could be this stupid.

Sometime later, I was lying in bed (which seems to be how I spend most of my time), listening to music, and I had this sudden realisation that my life force felt so strong. I felt happy, or content, or some other kind of emotion, but there was such strength there. I scrolled through the pictures on my phone, looking for ones of Glasgow because I missed it so much, but I ended up finding lots and lots of pictures of myself.

It’s said that people photograph the things they’re most scared of losing. And sure, my phone is full of pictures of sunsets and flowers and university towers, but after deleting all my pictures of the person I used to photograph most, the face that stares back at me most frequently from my phone screen is my own. So many selfies, what a cliché I am.

There was something rather addictive about watching the evolution of my face and appearance across my nine months at uni. Watching my hair change length and colour… But what struck me the most was how happy I looked. I remembered when some of those pictures were taken – remembered being tired or ill, or having had a fight with a friend… Yet I looked happy. I was my bubbly self, complete with the trademark bright pink lipstick that marks my self-confident moods. And I realised I didn’t hate the face in front of me. Like damn, this girl was so full of life! I got out of bed and looked in the mirror to be sure, and it was confirmed: I don’t hate my appearance. Sure, I’m not short or thin or in any way “perfect”, but I do not hate myself. I love myself. I actually love myself.

Tears of relief spilled from my eyes. For the first time perhaps ever, I was not my own worst enemy. I could look at my reflection in the mirror and feel a love that hadn’t been there before. I’d always loved myself in theory, but that love had been damn hard, and many times I couldn’t make myself feel it. But now I could.

There was this elderly man who used to come into the café where I used to work, and he would always tell me I had a beautiful smile. And I remember someone from improv once saying about how vivid my facial expressions are and that it’s so entertaining to watch my reactions to things, because it’s always so visible on my face. And now I realise that I don’t have to fit a certain mould to be beautiful. I can be beautiful in my own way. I can have a bright, bright smile, and a face that’s an open book, and that can be enough to make me beautiful, regardless of whether or not I conform to society’s beauty standards.

I remember once at uni I was feeling very unhappy with my appearance. And I begged a friend to say something to make me feel better, one nice thing about my appearance to convince me that I wasn’t as ugly as I felt. And the best he could come up with was “you’re not unattractive”. I remember the exact setting. It was late November, I think. We were standing at the traffic lights on Byres Road, across from where it adjoins Church Street. I think I was wearing a purple sweater. I remember the exact moment because it damaged me. If the person you’re meant to be closest to in the whole world can’t pay you a genuine compliment, what does that say?

I thought I was over all the issues I had to do with that person, yet now I felt so angry. I knew I couldn’t possibly have fully exorcised that demon! I can finally see my worth, and it makes me wonder why the fuck did I let them get away with so much crap? I fucking deserved better! Why couldn’t I see it? Perhaps because he confirmed what I already thought about myself.

I didn’t believe I was worth much, so when someone else made me feel worthless, I felt it was what I deserved. And now, with all the wisdom of retrospect, I feel a fierce protectiveness over my own worth. Because I know that I am worth so much more than someone who could never love me with more than half their heart.

26th June 2017 –

Where some people may have a guardian angel, I’m fairly certain that I have a guardian troll instead. I checked online to see how much the bus to Riga would cost tomorrow. To my absolute horror, it seemed that the only busses were in the early hours of the morning. The latest was at 7am. I headed down to the bus station to double check. The self-service ticket machines were being repaired, so I had to wait around for half an hour, which did not help my mood.

It was made worse when the machines told me there were no busses to Riga. I could have screamed! I checked online again, and thankfully there were tickets available. However, the only bus that wasn’t sold out was the one at 3am. Why do I have such bad luck with public transport? WHY?????????? What did I do to deserve this?

I had had coffee in the early afternoon, so I wouldn’t get to sleep till the early hours of the morning anyway, and I would have to be awake at 2am to be ready to get to the bus by 3. I would not get any sleep.

I went to Caffeine to get my second coffee of the day, because I knew this was the only way I would get through this. As I left to head back to my hostel, it started to rain. I don’t mean a light rain, I mean the sky ripped itself open and poured an entire ocean’s worth of water down upon me. I walked back to my hostel, fuming with rage, soaked to the skin. I tried to make myself breathe, whispering “I am so Zen, I am so calm” over and other. Eventually I was whisper-shouting “I’M SO FUCKING ZEN RIGHT NOW!” and proving that I was anything but. The weather only proved my guardian troll theory. How can one person have such an ongoing series of ill luck?

In the evening I Skyped with some of my friends from uni. However my phone decided to be a complete pain in the ass, and the camera and microphone didn’t work with the Skype app. So I listened to, and watched, my three friends, and occasionally supplied a well-timed inappropriate comment through the written-message function. Even though I couldn’t properly participate in the conversation, it was so good to see my friends’ faces and hear their voices. It made me even more homesick for Glasgow.

I got approximately half an hour of sleep before having to wake to catch my bus.

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.

IMG_20170616_144142

IMG_20170616_144122

IMG_20170616_144041

IMG_20170616_143916

IMG_20170616_143658

IMG_20170616_143601

IMG_20170616_143522

IMG_20170616_143324

IMG_20170616_143123

IMG_20170616_142730

IMG_20170616_142711

IMG_20170616_142134
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.
IMG_20170618_155331

IMG_20170618_155112

IMG_20170618_153741

IMG_20170618_153711

IMG_20170618_153526

IMG_20170618_152129

IMG_20170618_151710

IMG_20170618_150732

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.

IMG_20170618_160235

IMG_20170618_160232

IMG_20170618_160229

IMG_20170618_160152

IMG_20170618_155725

IMG_20170618_155719
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.

IMG_20170612_055857
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).
IMG_20170612_134208

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.

IMG_20170612_141547

IMG_20170612_151855
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.
IMG_20170612_162538

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.

IMG_20170613_132650

IMG_20170613_132759

IMG_20170613_132821

IMG_20170613_133016
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.
IMG_20170613_134157

IMG_20170613_134334

IMG_20170613_134553

IMG_20170613_134831

IMG_20170613_135707

IMG_20170613_135959

IMG_20170613_144309

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.
IMG_20170613_184122

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.
IMG_20170614_140125

IMG_20170614_140312

IMG_20170614_140541

IMG_20170614_140746

IMG_20170614_140840

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!
IMG_20170614_141356

IMG_20170614_141928

IMG_20170614_142316

IMG_20170614_143156

IMG_20170614_143253

IMG_20170614_143702

IMG_20170614_144228

IMG_20170614_144302

IMG_20170614_144759

IMG_20170614_145130

IMG_20170614_150529

IMG_20170614_151109

IMG_20170614_151235

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.
IMG_20170615_153629

IMG_20170615_153847

IMG_20170615_154049

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.

IMG_20170615_154421

IMG_20170615_154655

IMG_20170615_154801

IMG_20170615_154940

IMG_20170615_155248

IMG_20170615_160215

IMG_20170615_160232
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.

IMG_20170615_164115

IMG_20170615_164245

IMG_20170615_164502

IMG_20170615_164605
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.
IMG_20170610_092429

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.

IMG_20170610_094807
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.
IMG_20170610_095324

IMG_20170610_102528

IMG_20170610_104658

IMG_20170610_104745

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.

IMG_20170610_110019

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.
IMG_20170610_180708

IMG_20170610_180726

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.
IMG_20170610_174310

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.
IMG_20170610_175837

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.
IMG_20170611_155741

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.
IMG_20170611_161818

IMG_20170611_162134

IMG_20170611_162523IMG_20170611_163043

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.
IMG_20170611_205951

IMG_20170611_214623

IMG_20170611_215441

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.
IMG_20170611_220452

IMG_20170611_221539

IMG_20170611_221739

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.
IMG_20170612_005206

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.