25th December 2018 —
I dreamt I was dancing with a friend. I woke up happy and at peace. I lay in bed for a couple of hours, because I didn’t want to lose the calm it brought me. It was easier to stay in bed and hide from reality. But at the same time, I knew my days in Tallinn were numbered, and I didn’t want to waste my time here feeling sorry for myself.
I got up and made breakfast/lunch, and headed out. I knew Caffeine would be closed, so instead I went to the Christmas markets to buy some glögg. To quote an internet proverb “God, give me coffee to change the things I can’t accept, and wine to accept the things I can’t change.” Some days you just need mulled wine.
I expected the city to be quiet, but it was swarming with tourists. I walked up the hill to the viewing platforms, and stared out over the snow-dusted red rooftops of the Old Town’s towers. I wanted to be happy, I wanted it so badly. Any moment I spent feeling sad here was a waste of precious time. There is a lot of pressure to have a certain experience when travelling — to be constantly moving, constantly happy, as if you can switch off being human for the duration of your trip. But life doesn’t work that way. Sometimes you just feel like crap, wherever you are in the world. I’m not a robot, I feel everything deeply.
As I walked back to my hostel, I discovered that Caffeine was open after all. Was this a Christmas miracle? I didn’t go in because it was really crowded, and drinking coffee at 3pm is tempting fate when you’re prone to insomnia. I spent the evening typing up my blog, which helped me feel a bit better. Writing and reading will always be my best form of medicine.
I felt more like myself today. I went to Caffeine and read a book for a while, glad to be back in my usual morning (afternoon, at this point) ritual. As I drank my coffee, I had the shocking realisation that it wasn’t actually good. Was it this barista, or had all the coffee here been bad and I just hadn’t noticed because I am a slave to repetition and routine? But coffee is rarely about the coffee itself, it’s about the ritual of it.
When I left Caffeine, I strolled around the bookstore in Viru Keskus. It’s seemingly the Estonian equivalent of Waterstones. I love bookstores, I love imagining a place for my novels upon their shelves. I then went to the Rotterman Quarter, and from there took a random street heading in the vague direction of the beach. Along the street were buildings falling into disrepair. I have a soft spot for anything broken, crumbling, abandoned. I guess I relate to it a little too much, that feeling of being left behind, of watching the world outgrow you whilst you stand where you always stood, begging to be loved and needed, until you become invisible. Then one day a melancholic tourist comes along, and sees you as something worth photographing, because she will romanticise anything that reminds her of herself.
The next road had a high wall along one side, with yellow sunshines and white snowdrop flowers graffitied upon it. I followed it till I could see the sea. I walked through a small wooded area, stopping to pet an adorable puppy that crossed my path. It jumped up at me and got mud all over my jeans, but it was worth it for it’s cute furry face.
As I got closer, I saw the beach was fenced off for some kind of construction work. I could have just left it, but when it comes to fences, my good girl complex turns a blind eye. I climbed over it to the beach. Behind me, the sun had begun to set between the trees. Before me, the sea lapped against a cement barrier. I stood and stared into the waves. It was a few degrees warmer today, and I was able to spend a while here without risking frostbite. I walked further along, to the section of Pirita beach I had visited the other day. I had to climb over another wall. When my feet hit the sand, I spun around in circles until I was dizzy, with “Greek Tragedy” by The Wombats blasting from my earphones. Life was magical, and I remembered why I was here. My happy place is alone on an Estonian beach at sunset, and here I was. I had made it happen. I am the person who can make my dreams come true. It’s easy to get caught up in all the things I need from other people, and forget all the things I can do for myself.
This is it, my last full day in Estonia. Tomorrow is almost a full day, as my flight isn’t till around 8pm, but my freedom is dependent on whether or not I can leave my bags at my hostel for the afternoon. If I can, I will spend the day running around the city trying to tattoo every image upon my brain as if I won’t return here at the next possible opportunity. If I can’t, I’ll regret not doing that today.
I had planned to wake up early and have a nice, productive day. But alas, I went to bed feeling anxious, which led to a fun night of insomnia. I slithered up the stairs to the common room with a book and some cookies, and stayed up reading till 1:30am. I had strange dreams. I’ve been dreaming about the same friend for three nights in a row, dreams with recurring themes and motifs. I can’t tell whether the dreams mean something, or whether it’s simply my subconscious mind playing on my waking self’s need for support and attention from that person. This dream was different, in that I also dreamt about someone else, and I began to wonder if my dreams were telling me history was repeating itself. I knew I was dreaming, that people looked different than they do in real life. But I didn’t want to wake up, because in the dream I got all the attention I craved; I was needed.
When I did wake up, it was 11am. I showered and dressed, and headed to Caffeine, where I spent a couple of hours 1) writing, 2) feeling anxious. When I finally left, I didn’t spend the day indulging Traveller Eliza. Instead, I had to meet the needs of Human Eliza, who was feeling kind of sorry for herself because, lo and behold, when you leave the country for two weeks all by yourself, there is no one to give you attention.
So I did my favourite thing to do when I’m sad (other than vent about it on the internet) and went clothes shopping. I bought a black dress from a charity shop — my go-to generic black dress’s zipper tore recently, so this was a much-needed purchase. Then as I headed back through the Old Town, I saw a clothes shop had a sale on, and I bought a long skirt that I wouldn’t normally wear, but impulse-shopping makes everything better, so it was totally the right decision.
It hasn’t quite hit me that I’m leaving Estonia tomorrow. This time in about 28 hours, I will be back in Scotland. And honestly, I’m glad. I love Tallinn, and I am so happy I came here, but I miss my friends, I miss my life. I miss having direction and purpose. I needed this time away from everything, to regroup and rebuild myself. But I was not made to stay hidden away forever. Mostly because I can’t function without attention, but also because I do actually love my life in Glasgow, even if it seems like I am always trying to run away from it.
I’ve been thinking a lot about how travel changes me. All I’ve really done is spend a couple of weeks walking around in different countries, what is so powerful about that that it has fundamentally changed me as a person?
Sorry, Caffeine, I have a new favourite coffee shop. Reval Cafe, another Estonian chain. The coffee is better (if smaller), and it has its fair share of hot baristas. I have just finished my second coffee of the day, so ya gurl is HYPER.
I woke up at a decent time, in spite of getting very little sleep. I’d stayed up till 2am messaging my friends, which wasn’t the smartest move when I knew I’d be busy today. But at least it meant I had exceeded the attention requirements to make me a functional human being today. I showered and had breakfast, made sure my bags were all packed, and went for my usual morning trip to Caffeine. For once, I didn’t pass the time reading or writing or listening to music. I sat there, soaking up the moment, making eye contact with one of the two corgis that lay under a nearby table, and listening to the different languages being spoken around me. As glad as I am to be going home, I’m going to miss this place a hell of a lot.
After Caffeine, I went to Raekoja Plats, and wandered around the markets. I was (and am) sickeningly happy today. I don’t know if it’s because I’m going home, or because the moon is in my 1st house today, or simply that I finally got some attention, but life feels good, and I can’t stop smiling, and all I want to do is spin around and around and around.
I’ve been careful with money during this trip, because I’m a neurotic control freak to whom financial stability is important. But beneath the responsible exterior, there is a compulsive shopper streak. As it’s my last day, I decided it was okay to give into these urges. After all, I could only buy things that would fit into my handbag. As I danced through the quiet streets of the Old Town, some crystals in a shop window caught my eye. As you may have gathered from my frequent references to astrology, I have an interest in the esoteric. I didn’t end up buying crystals, but I bought some pretty earrings, and two pendants — a triquetra (I’m forever a Charmed fan) and a heart with a tree engraved upon it.
I headed to Linnahall, and climbed up over the steps, to the rocky shore of the beach (petition to rename this country It’sstoneyhere). This was the first beach I came to on my first trip to Tallinn, two-and-a-half years ago. I’ve often wondered what it is that keeps me coming back — aside from the tie to my books. I always say I left a part of my heart/self/soul here, and each time I come back it’s because I’m trying to find it. I no longer believe that to be true. Because my self isn’t comprised of shards scattered across the continent. I am whole, wherever I am. And perhaps that is what draws me back to Estonia. When I come here, I let go of my friends, my family, my city, my support network, my mother tongue. All the fundamental things I rely on are gone, and I am still me, without them.
I come here to remind myself that there is an ‘Eliza essence’ at my core that isn’t dependent on other people, or Glasgow, or the English language. I come here because it shows me I always have the option to go somewhere new, to start my life over, safe in the knowledge that I won’t lose myself in the process.
When I left the beach, I went to Balti Jaam market, to reunite with my beloved veggie burger. I had deliberately abstained from it for a few days, and was able to fully appreciate it for all its glory, rather than letting it become a mindless habit. I wandered through the antique shops one last time, loitering amongst misogynistic posters, and portraits of Stalin. Then I went to Telliskivi Loomelinnak, where I ended up getting my second coffee, in Reval Cafe.
I walked down quiet streets behind Telliskivi, before returning to the Old Town, and doing one last run around of all my favourite places. I went to Viru Keskus to buy some food for dinner. I bought some potatoes roasted with herbs, that I remember buying in my first ever venture into an Estonian supermarket. Can you tell I’m feeling nostalgic?
I went to Raekoja Plats, and sat to eat under the arch of the town hall. This has become my tradition now, it’s always the last place I go before I leave. Perhaps because it’s where the final scene of my novel takes place, so it feels like a fitting location for endings. But this isn’t the end of a novel, it is simply the end of a chapter. I treated myself to a final cup of glögg, and headed to my hostel to pick up my bags.
It took me a while to find the right tram. I knew I could get one from Freedom Square, but there were so many tram stops, going in so many different directions. Seasons change, empires fall, but the one thing that can always be relied upon in this life is my utter hopelessness with public transport. I found the right tram…and got off at the wrong stop. You’d think it would be pretty obvious whether or not you’re at an airport, but I am a very oblivious person. Plus, I don’t speak Estonian, so I may know “lennujam” means airport, but I didn’t know the words preceding it meant “next stop.” It was only a few minutes walk. The night air was cool against my face, and the dark city was submerged in mist.
Drinking glögg had seemed like a wonderful idea at the time. Spoiler alert: it was a terrible idea. I could barely keep my eyes open at the airport, and was sure I would fall asleep standing up. On top of this, my flight was delayed. But there was no announcement of this. So I spent a long time standing in line, with my heavy backpack crushing my shoulders. I slipped on ice yesterday, and my knee has been feeling dodgy ever since. Between my tiredness and the weight of my luggage, I felt like my body was going to collapse under me.
I tried to sleep on the flight, but alas, Ryanair seats are the one thing in this world more uncomfortable than hostel beds. When I gave up on sleep, I passed the time clearing out old photos from my phone. I am a massive photo hoarder. I refuse to delete travel photos, or pictures of my dead cat, even though I know they’re all backed up on google drive. I found lots of unflattering-yet-endearing drunk photos from a friend’s birthday party last year, and even in my state of exhaustion, all I could think was how excited I am to be reunited with my favourite people when I return to Glasgow.
When I got to Edinburgh airport, I bought an overpriced vegetable samosa, because it was past midnight in Estonian time, and I hadn’t eaten in over seven hours, aside from half a bar of chocolate. I then attempted to find a bus to my hotel. After much confusion, I located the right bus. I got Google maps up on my phone so I wouldn’t miss my stop, because gurl learns from her mistakes (occasionally). I got to my hotel, showered, and went straight to bed.
29th December 2018 —
This journey ends as it began: with me sitting on board a Scotrail train, writing in my diary. After a little bus-related confusion, I got safely to Edinburgh. I stopped at Caffe Nero to buy a coffee in lieu of breakfast, and caught my train. Reaching Scotland didn’t quite feel like coming home. Edinburgh feels foreign to me. But the closer I get to Glasgow, the more at home I feel. The train is pulling up to High Street, three more stop and I’ll be in Partick, where all I have to do is cross the road and I’ll be back in my lovely flat.
As I left my hotel this morning, I asked myself the question I have pondered many times over the past two weeks: why do I travel? What makes me restless? Why do I always need to run away? I think I’ve found the answer: I travel for the pleasure of coming home. Everything is the same, but I see it with new eyes, because I have changed. The more you see of the world, the more context you have for your home city, home country. It is not simply that distance makes the heart grow fonder, but that distance gives you perspective. I am ecstatic to return home to my beloved Glasgow, because at this point it is my home, it is where my life is. But I also know it may not be that way forever. My life is a weighing scale, balancing wanderlust with a strong desire for home and community. I can see myself living abroad one day, even if only for a little while.
So why do I travel? I’ll leave you with the words of Electrelane “the East means many things, but it could be home, it could be home, it could be home.”
Thank you for sharing this journey with me!