16th December 2018 —
The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, but this journey begins with a train from Glasgow to Edinburgh. This is where we first meet the heroine of this tale, who has taken to referring to herself in the third person for dramatic effect. Writing in trains is not the easiest of endeavours, so we will say goodbye to our heroine until she arrives in Edinburgh and can write without battling the rock and sway of Scotrail’s carriages.
The train hadn’t even left Glasgow before I was reminded that travel shows humanity in all its glory. The row opposite me was empty, so the girl who came to sit there had a choice of three seats, but she chose the one directly in front of me, meaning there was very little room for either of our sets of long legs. She proceeded to kick my shins all the way from Easterhouse to Edinburgh. She also watched videos on her phone, without earphones in, and sprayed deodorant all over the seat, so its sickly scent permeated the air and gave me a headache. I did what I do best: kept my mouth shut in person, and plotted to write a passive-aggressive blog post about it.
The seats next to me filled up, and my personal space was even further infringed upon. I gritted my teeth, and suffered in silence. In spite of my fellow passengers triggering my murderous urges, I was immensely happy. My brain was internally squealing, like “wow, I’ll be in Estonia this time tomorrow!!!”
When I arrived in Edinburgh, I went in search of a cafe. Pro trip: if a city has lots of hills, don’t walk around aimlessly whilst carrying lots of luggage, you’ll regret it within minutes! I walked in a circle for half an hour, until I found a Starbucks that wasn’t entirely full. All the cafes in Edinburgh seemed to have limited seating. I bought a hot chocolate, and called my mum for an hour.
After this, I set about in search of a bus to the hotel near the airport. If you’ve read my previous travel blogs, you’ll know that me and busses do not mix. I finally found the right bus, and it all went smoothly until I missed my stop. I will never understand why busses don’t announce their stops, particularly when it’s dark and all the signs are hard to read.
I got off the bus, and crossed the road to wait for one heading back in the direction I had come from. It was a twenty minute wait. I stood in the dark and cold, muttering “well done, Eliza!” at regular intervals. When the bus did come, I encountered a new problem: the bus didn’t take card payments or notes, only exact change, which I didn’t have. But the bus driver gave me a ticket for 70p instead of £1.70. Shoutout to this kind human being!
When I got to my hotel, I was exhausted. I should have gone straight to bed, but I ended up reading articles about astrology for a couple of hours. When I did go to bed, my insomnia was like “bitch, we ain’t sleeping!” and I proceeded to play out unlikely scenarios in my head for the next few hours. I can’t have slept for more than two hours.
17th December 2018 —
Good morning, dear readers, it’s 6:38am, and I am sleep deprived and hyped up on caffeine, so we’re going to get DEEP. By “deep,” I mean I’m going to talk about love and how I feel like no one will ever fall in love with me, even though I am totally worthy of love. Ha ha ha, life is funny like that.
2018 is the first year I’ve consistently kept a diary in three years. In the past, my travel diaries have been written specifically for the purpose of this blog. This time, however, I am treating you to the contents of my actual, real-life diary, because I can’t be bothered to 1) carry two notebooks around, 2) keep two diaries for 12 days. We all know I’m not great at knowing where to draw the line between the personal and the public, so this will be interesting. Obviously some things are private, and I will write things in my diary that won’t make it into the blogs, but what you’re reading is essentially the abridged and slightly-censored version of my diary.
Anyway, love. Love is simultaneously the thing I crave most in the world, and the bane of my existence. Why? Because I am a magnet for unrequited love. Furthermore, when I get over someone, those feelings have a nasty habit of resurfacing when I least expect it, and with the worst timing. After the past year, I’ve realised I have no way of knowing whether I’m actually in love with someone, or if I’m just deluding myself into thinking I am, because I can’t function properly when I don’t have a love interest to fantasize about. The delusion thing has troubled me a lot lately, because I feel like I can’t trust myself. And I can’t trust my perception of other people, because what I see as “signs” are actually red herrings and mirages, and every time I gain the slightest bit of hope, it’s like welp, here’s a major plot twist, and I have to let go of the fantasy. I don’t know who I am without the fantasy.
All I have is the reality. So that’s where I must place my trust. I am a twenty-year-old woman, wearing a black dress and a pink sweater, writing in her diary, on board a flight to Estonia. There’s the reality, and it as grounded as I can be in an aeroplane high up in the sky. I am Eliza, and I don’t always know what that means. I know it means strength, and resilience, I know it means I will transmute my pain into literature and pray my words will bring peace to someone out there somewhere. I am going to Estonia, and that country has always been a place of healing for me. It’s no longer just a pilgrimage to the land where my novels are set, it’s also a pilgrimage back to the fragments of myself I dropped in a breadcrumb trail long ago.
This is my “Eat, Pray, Stop-fucking-falling-in-Love” journey, and I am sharing it with you because I thrive on attention and need constant validation (also because apparently people like these blogs, so I’m doing it for the fans, xoxo). It’s a somewhat roundabout trip. Tomorrow I go to Latvia for five days, then I head back to Estonia for a week. Latvia is going to be an interesting one, because Riga is filled with the ghosts of boy problems past. I’m hoping going there will help me heal any wounds that still smart and sting (and, you know, forget about ghosts of boy problems present).
Travel is the perfect antidote to my current problems, because when you travel solo you have to trust yourself completely. I may not trust my instincts now, but by the time I return to Glasgow on December 29th, I will have complete faith in myself. The things that weigh me down right now aren’t going to just disappear because I’m far away from home. It will take a lot of soul-searching to get over that, but right now I’m thousands of feet in the sky, and if that can’t give me perspective, I don’t know what will. There are many patterns and parts of myself I want to leave behind in 2018, and this trip to Tallinn and Riga feels like the final purge.
Going to the same city multiple times is underrated. When I arrived in Tallinn, I already knew how to get to the city centre (hop on a tram and pray it’s going in the right direction — we all know I’m hopeless with public transport), where to find quick and easy vegan food (the supermarket in Viru Keskus), and the nearest branch of Caffeine, a Baltic coffee chain.
Viru Keskus is a shopping centre attached to Hotel Viru, which is a significant setting in the novels I wrote that are set in Estonia. Hence, I have an abnormal emotional attachment to this shopping centre. More importantly, the supermarket there has an ever-increasing range of vegan deli foods. What particularly fills my vegan heart with joy is that they have veganised versions of traditional Estonian foods.
As I left Viru Keskus and crossed Tammsaare Park towards the Old Town, a strange man approached me and started talking to me in English. “Oh no,” I thought, “here we go again.” Strange men approaching me on the streets of Estonia is practically a tradition at this point. He asked me where I was from, and told me I was very pretty. As much as I thrive on compliments, I can’t stand random men telling me I’m pretty. It’s not a genuine compliment, they always want something.
This particular specimen wanted to give me a copy of the Bhagavad Gita. I declined. He then tried to give me a vegetarian recipe book. I declined again. I figured he was trying to sell them to me, but he hadn’t mentioned money, and I am very suspicious about tourist scams. Capitalism is everywhere, people, even the strange men who approach me on the street have a found a way to monetise their creepiness!
After I’d dodged this budding young businessman, I went to get a much-deserved coffee. I remembered there was a branch of Caffeine a couple of streets away from Freedom Square, so I went there. I attempted to order in Estonian, and the barista answered in English. My very poor Estonian language skills have clearly declined in the year-and-a-half since I’ve been here.
The barista was so pretty! He has really tall, with caramel-blond hair, and a lovely face. There’s this urban legend (that is maybe loosely based on fact) that I have a thing for Eastern European guys, but wow, within half an hour of being here I had seen so many pretty men, and I was just like yaaas, this is the kind of content I pay hundreds of pounds to travel here for.
After I’d finished my coffee, I went to check into my hostel. I’d booked the same hostel I stayed in last time, because I wanted somewhere I knew was easy to get to. I had such a weird sense of deja vu as I walked through the door. Tallinn feels so familiar to me now, but it’s not quite like stepping back in time.
I got changed out of my warm and sweaty travelling clothes, and instantly felt better about life and myself.
My first order of business was to see the Baltic Sea, it calms me like nothing else. I left my hostel, and wandered behind it towards Linnahall. I twirled around in the snow, overcome with this sense of joy, and peace, and freedom that I have only ever felt in Estonia. The only other time I felt like that was the first time I came here: eighteen years old, dancing in the summer rain beside a purple wooden house in the Kalamaja district. Coming back to Estonia feels like coming home. A part of my soul rests here that I can’t find anywhere else, and that is why I have come back here every year since I was eighteen. Estonia is where I am free, it is where I heal.
I climbed up the steps of Linnahall, and looked out upon my beloved Baltic Sea. It was a moody grey, and light snowflakes fluttered through the air. I stayed for a little while, before heading through the Rotterman quarter towards the old town. Estonia is beautiful in summer, but in winter it is a magical fairytale land, dusted with snow. I meandered through the cobbled streets of the Old Town. The Christmas markets in Raekoja Plats glowed in the twilight. I bought a cup of glögg, Nordic mulled wine, and stood on the edge of the square, smiling to myself. Raekoja Plats, Tallinn’s town hall square, is where one of the characters in my novel gets murdered. I pictured her frozen corpse amidst the idyllic markets. The thought was simultaneously morbid and amusing.
I drank my glögg, and headed uphill towards the Riigikogu (parliament) building. It’s a pretty, pink building, and the trees beside it were lit up with fairy lights. A small park sits beside it. I walked across the snow covered grass, and let my thoughts wash over me. I was both sickeningly happy, and deeply sad. I’m having a crisis of faith…a crisis of faith in myself. I know what my problems are, but I don’t know how to fix them. I worry I am deeply delusional, and I don’t know how to stay grounded in reality. I am always running away from something, often literally. But being mean to myself won’t cure me of that habit. It’s time to choose kindness.
There is something in Estonia that I love more than anything, something that on its own makes this trip worthwhile: the best veggie burger I have ever eaten in my life.
I took the steps down from the viewing platforms, and crossed the snow-covered grass to Balti Jaam market, and located the stall named Veg Machine. The burger was as good as I remembered. It seems my memory doesn’t always play tricks on me! The burger brought me so much joy — I had been fantasising about it for a year and a half, to the point that I have tried to recreate it myself on multiple occasions, and never got it quite right.
18th December 2018 —
I woke up at 2:30am. I messaged a friend for the next hour and a half, because we had a few things we needed to sort through and clarify. I lay awake at 4am, thinking about my life and how much of a mess I am, how much trouble I bring upon myself, and how each time I think I have learnt my lesson, I self-sabotage without even realising it. Something needs to change.
My first realisation was that I need to be healthier. I need to eat my greens, and all that, but I also need to stop constantly referring to myself as “dumb bitch” in my internal monologue. I am grateful to be going to Riga. I love Tallinn, but it is familiar. Whilst I’ve been to Riga before, I haven’t spent as much time there as Tallinn. I guess I am still running away. I have learnt many times over that running doesn’t make my problems disappear, it only makes them more prominent. The further you run, the more the things you’re running from slap you in the face.
So I’m going to Riga, a city I associate with someone I was infatuated with for way too long, and I am going to face the delusional parts of myself. I am going to face the ghost of 2017 Eliza. I am going straight to the source of my bullshit, and purging it once and for all.
I didn’t immediately feel better when I woke up. The heating in my room was turned up too high, and I was tired and grumpy. I felt better once I had showered. I made a nice breakfast: veggie sausages, fried tomatoes, black rye bread. It’s funny, the things you miss — when I’ve fantasized about returning to Estonia, my fantasies were of this particular brand of tofu sausages — they’re not even that special, but they take me right back to very specific periods of my life. And the rye bread, oh the rye bread! I am in love with Estonian rye bread. The Eastern European store in Glasgow sells Latvian and Lithuanian rye bread, but the Estonian one is my favourite, and I have thought about it often in the year-and-a-half since I last came here.
As I ate my breakfast, I let myself enjoy this small moment, the taste of tomatoes on toasted rye bread, the satisfaction after such a long wait. The TV was tuned to a Russian channel, snowflakes fell sporadically outside the window. It’s moments like these that I have longed for, the alienation and comfort of being a stranger in a foreign land.
It was a forty-minute walk from my hostel to the bus station. I could have taken a tram, but I wanted to stop at Viru Keskus first, so I decided to walk. I had gotten it into my head that the first step to being my best self was to buy a green juice, and I remembered seeing a juice bar in Viru Keskus. I bought a spinach and pineapple juice, and headed to the bus station.
As I walked through the soft, snowy streets, it felt like a dream world, or a movie, or a novel. But it didn’t feel like my usual escapism or fantasy. It’s real, and that’s what makes it so special. I can get found in a different world, rather than getting lost in one. I am now on the bus to Riga, cruising through the snow-dusted pine forests of the Estonian countryside. I normally despise busses, but this one has wifi and TV screens, so I’m all good.
I looked through the list of movies, going straight to the “romantic” section, in spite of having written an essay on romantic comedies four days ago and having watched that genre to death. I noticed “Eat, Pray, Love,” and decided it was the appropriate choice. I’ve often found that I watch the right movies and read the right books that I need for guidance at particular points in my life, especially when I’m travelling. I’ve seen “Eat, Pray, Love” so many times before, but I found myself crying within minutes. I guess I relate a lot to feeling so lost, and needing to travel half way across the world to find yourself. So I watched, and I write, and I look contentedly out the window at this beautiful country that I love so much. I am not at peace yet, I haven’t found myself, but I know I’m on the way there.
I feel like my very round-about journey is structured perfectly. I needed that first day in Tallinn, I needed to see that fantasy and reality can converge. I needed to see I have hope. I need to go to Riga so I can do some soul-searching, and make peace with my past mistakes. Then I will return to Tallinn for a week, and let myself have fun. Fun is a concept I struggle with, it doesn’t come naturally to a control freak like me. But I will drink glögg, and eat veggie burgers, I will go to Estonian cinemas, and take walks along the Baltic Sea. I will allow myself this time to meet my own needs.
The weirdest thing about Riga is the lack of deja vu. I recognise places, there is an awareness that I’ve been here before, but it’s like someone else’s memories have been transplanted into my body. They might as well have been, given how little connection I feel to the girl who visited this city in the summer of 2017. We are the same person only in name.
It was dark by the time I arrived in Riga. I found my hostel quickly enough, and dropped off my bags, before heading out in search of food. I wandered through the Old Town for a while, still feeling a complete lack of connection with my old self and my memories of Riga. I bought a couple of bottles of kvass, a Latvian soft drink made from rye bread, and continued my wanderings. I stumbled across my elusive deja vu completely by accident.
As you may have gathered from my references to “ghosts of boy problems past”, I had a crush (for want of a better word) on a Latvian acquaintance of mine, whom I haven’t seen since last time I was in Riga. Because of that, my memories of this city are synonymous with him. I asked if we could meet while I’m here, and after many “probably”s and “maybe”s, he declined.
Even though the logical part of my mind knew from the start that he never felt the same way about me, he was a question mark in my mind for far longer than he should have been. I digress.
My memories of him/Riga are cinematic snapshots, depersonalised close-ups of high-definition images. One such memory is of us walking along a stretch of river, through a park. I remember the conversation started with him saying Hitler ruined a perfectly good moustache with his reputation for genocide. Somehow, from here we ended up talking about tattoos. He showed me the tattoos on his arm, and the ones on his ankles. He showed me a picture of the one on his thigh. I joked that he had nice legs, he responded “I do squats.” Then we sat on this bench, and talked about symbols and signs. I told him I kept seeing wolf images everywhere. I still see wolf images everywhere, but I no longer see them as a sign.
When I saw that park bench today, I felt some hint of deja vu. The energy was different there. I could picture my past self, even if I couldn’t relate to her.
I’m not bitter that he doesn’t want to see me. It’s probably for the best that we won’t meet. Nostalgia and optimism + typical Eliza delusionalism are a deadly combination. I know myself, I know a slippery slope when I see one, and if I were to have met with him I would risk falling back into a hole I don’t easily know how to climb out of.
When I finally left the Park Bench of Broken Dreams, I went in search of a supermarket, and got lost. I walked in what I hoped was vaguely the right direction. Latvian supermarkets and veganism do not mix well. I felt like an alien as soon as I set foot in there. All I wanted was something quick and easy to make for dinner. Eventually, I bought some pasta, and returned to my hostel, where I now sit and write.
At the end of my first day in Riga, the only thing I feel is exhaustion. Riga doesn’t hold the same magic for me as Tallinn. It’s a cool city, and there are lots of things I like about it, but I can’t slip into it with the same ease as Tallinn. I feel like an extra in a movie. There’s this whole intricate and complex world all around me, but I don’t matter at all within it. I’m just this tiny existence that drifts along and has no impact. I’m not the centre of anyone’s universe at the best of times (and nor should I be), but here I don’t matter to anyone at all.
Perhaps that’s exactly what I need, this complete sense of alienation. I need to lose myself in order to find myself. Tallinn makes me happy, but Riga pushes me out of my comfort zone, and that is how I will figure out who I am. If nothing else, I feel more like a writer now. I carry my notebook around everywhere, chronicling the minute details of my life. I tell stories, I stay connected to the world through my words. Here, I am not a student, I am not a daughter, I am not a friend. All my connections to the outer world fall away. But I am still a writer.