7th July 2016 –
I woke to the pattering of rain on the rooftop, and the roar of the ocean in the near distance. I woke in a contemplative mood, pondering one of my favourite philosophical questions: who am I?
I reflected on last night, with Anton and Melinda, and the thing I came back to was just how much I laughed. Even when such an instance is slotted into the bigger picture of the whole Estonia trip, I still see laughter as the most prominent change in my disposition.
I’ve always been a person who sought humour and happiness, but in recent years, laughter has hardly been a constant. Certainly, there were people I laughed with, people who could elicit a smile from me no matter my state of misery, but the majority of those people aren’t in my life anymore – some I haven’t seen in a whole year. And such laughter was always situated amidst a bigger picture of angst.
Since being in Estonia, I find myself laughing at everything. I laugh when I get ridiculously lost, I laugh at my own stupidity, and, most of all, I laugh when something makes me happy. And I want to be the kind of person who laughs, the kind of person who spreads joy more than anything else.
There are many personality traits I possess that feel like they have a negative flipside. I’m confident, and I know what I want, and I put myself first, and don’t take crap from anyone. But I can be brutal. If you upset me, I will remove you from my life, because I am the priority. Somehow, the virtue of self-love becomes the vice of cruelty.
Yet I am also compassionate, I feel everyone’s pain – everyone’s everything – and I can’t be as decisive in my removal as I’d like to be. I’m both too brutal, and too soft. And I wonder how these traits will alter as I grow and change. I wonder who I will become, and who I will consciously choose to be.
Today has been a day of simple pleasures, of feeling gratitude for the little things. I made myself instant coffee with soy cream, and perched on my favourite spot on the wooden staircase to drink it, watching through the window as the rain fell on the stones and flowers in the garden. I ate a simple breakfast of cereal, and contemplated life.
I boiled about four kettles of water, and finally got to washing the dishes. I felt like a regular little housewife – minus the wife part, obviously, which would make me just a house, and that’s kinda weird. I chopped potatoes, and asparagus, and vegan hotdogs, and tossed them in a pan to boil. Then I returned to the staircase, and wrote postcards to family and friends.
I looked out the window, and observed Anton brushing his teeth in the pouring rain. I will always love to watch people, no matter how mundane their activities.
Once the food was cooked, I drained out the water, and added oil, margarine, vegan creamcheese, and salt (when there’s practically nothing to flavour stuff with, you have to work with what you’ve got). I stirred it till the potatoes were all smashed up. I’m actually enjoying it a lot more than I’ve enjoyed most food recently.
The electricity went off when I was cooking (3 lights + kettle + stove, well done Eliza!) and I had to find Anton to switch it back on for me. Melinda smiled up at me adoringly.
Now I sit on the sofa-bed in the loft, listening to music and raindrops, and almost wishing I didn’t have to leave tomorrow. I know I’ll be happy when I return to London, that I’ll run in to the nearest Pret with open arms, and swim in a sea of soy coffee. I know I will practically weep with joy to hear my language spoken all around me. I know I will be so glad to see Penrith, my parents, my cat, my house, my bedroom, my sweet, sweet laptop… But I don’t want this journey to end.
I don’t want Eliza The Traveller to lie dormant within me for months – or even years – on end. I couldn’t live like that. And I’m already wondering where my next trip will take me. I want to go to New Zealand, where I was born, and I want to go to Scandinavia, and the rest of North and Eastern Europe. I want to go to Germany too, because it’s where my mother’s family is from.
There’s one place I will almost certainly be going in only two months time, and that is Scotland. Maybe university will be the biggest adventure of all…
I had a strange thought earlier… I realised that here, without internet, it’s the first time in ages that I’ve felt like I own myself, like I own my own body, my own identity, my own story, my own life. When you’re around people who know you – or, at least, think they know you – there’s this constant take, take, take, as though you’re their property, rather than your own. But here, I’m Eliza, without being “Eliza”, if that makes any sense. I’m an identity without being a name. I don’t have to be a someone to anyone. I can enjoy being a no one, and I can enjoy being my own whole world.
Anton came up to bring sheets for the guests who will arrive after I leave tomorrow. He’s leaving tonight, and isn’t back till Monday. He checks the cupboards, and comments that the rat poison hasn’t been touched, to which I burst out “Rats? There are RATS?”
He tells me “No, no, there are only mice”. (To get the full effect of this interaction, you have to read it with the right accents. Estonian accents are slow, thoughtful, and vaguely Russian sounding but kinda sing-song-y. Whereas I was speaking in my posh-with-a-hint-of-Cumbrian accent, in full freak-out mode). I responded with “Mice? There are mice? Oh my god, there are mice!”
He points out that there aren’t, because the poison hasn’t been touched in the six months it’s been there. I’m still petrified. He points out there’ll be field mice all throughout the surrounding area, that there’ll be rabbits and foxes and deer. He then asks if I’m scared of spiders and flies, too. He’s totally taking the piss. I tell him I’m not scared of spiders, but I’m not keen on flies, given all the mosquito bites. He laughs at me. We say a casual goodbye.
Every noise scares me now. I can’t wait to leave tomorrow. I think I’ll walk the five miles to Võsu, rather than hang around till the 1:35 Eru bus. I want to return to civilisation (I can’t believe I’m calling Võsu civilisation!)
I need to wash my hair, but I almost can’t be bothered. I know I have to, though, because it’s two more nights till I’m home. So I’ll have dinner, boil three million kettles, wash my hair – and the dishes – then I’ll pack up my stuff, and first thing tomorrow, I’ll be gone.
8th July 2016 –
And yet again, I find myself sitting at Võsu bus stop, waiting for the 1:20 bus. I had what was possibly the worst night’s sleep of all my time in Estonia, and I’m 100 percent sure it was a direct consequence of mine and Anton’s little chat about mice and rat poison. It took me hours to get to sleep, and when I finally did drop off, I woke, consistently, every half hour, terrified of the things that go bump in the night.
I finally got up, at 8 o’clock, packed the last of my things, and set off to walk the 5 kilometres (I actually thought it was 5 miles at this point) to Võsu, to use the WiFi for a few hours before the bus (okay, I wanted to escape the nonexistent mice).
It was weird being part of the civilised world again (yes, Võsu is civilised. Why? WiFi, and toilets!) I had about five million instagram notifications, not to mention a similar number of messages from my mother. They almost made me cry, because she’d convinced herself I was dead (mate, I nearly had MYSELF convinced I was dead! No toilet? *cries*).
I let myself see the charm of Võsu, of Lahemaa, now that I was so close to leaving.
The whole Walking to Võsu thing didn’t initially seem like the best idea. I’d walked approximately five metres when I began ranting to myself in my head “Eliza, you f*****g idiot! You cannot possibly walk this far, carrying a bag this heavy! What’s WRONG with you?” But after last night, with the rodent revelation, I was determined to avoid that outhouse at all costs (it just seemed like the kinda place rodents would hang out…)
I have three mantras that I repeat to myself in moments of doubt. By now, you’ll be familiar with the “strong, independent woman” one, and the “what have I learnt?” The third one is “don’t look back”. That seems entirely counterintuitive to the idea of a travel diary, given that (spoiler alert!) most entries are written a good few hours after the events occur.
But I don’t mean the figurative “looking back”, I’m not talking about inner sight. I mean “do not look behind you, you whiny-ass bitch. You got yourself into this miss, so focus on the road in front of you!” Other times, it’s just a preservation of sanity. Leaving Tallinn nearly broke my heart. The only way forward was to refuse to look back.
So I applied this technique to my walk back to Võsu. Yes, I was a victim of fate, crippling fear of rodents, and lack of a normal freaking toilet, but the one thing I COULD control was my motivation. So I plugged in my earphones, turned my motivational travel playlist up loud, and I didn’t walk to Võsu, I freaking danced. (It was 9 in the morning, there weren’t many cars).
I forced myself to be enchanted by the journey, to breathe in the scent of petrichor and pine trees, mime to music in the rain. You see, I am a very stubborn person, and a proud one, too. I refuse to admit defeat, even if that means walking five kilometres in the rain.
As my faithful readers, you know by now that my skills with public transport are absolutely dire. So let me tell you the story of how I nearly missed my flight, and almost ended up stranded in Estonia.
There is one daily bus from Võsu to Tallinn, and it departs at 1:20. This bus takes approximately one hour and twenty-five minutes to reach Tallinn bus station, meaning I would arrive in Tallinn at 2:45. The bus was three minutes late.
I was pretty sleepy on the bus ride, but I passed the journey by daydreaming of the double-shot soy lattes I would purchase once I landed at Gatwick (priorities, dudes, priorities). The bus supposedly had WiFi, but it was crap, so I spent most of the journey with my face squished against the window, watching the country go by.
I had a text from Anton, asking if I’d managed to get on the right bus, without getting lost (oh ha HA!), and something about had he left a key in the cottage? I sent a long reply, saying how I hadn’t noticed a key because I’d been too scared of potential rodents, and then thanked him for being a good host, and said how cute Melinda is.
Next time I prised my eyes away from my phone, I saw a sign for Tallinn, and my brain lit up like “TALLINN! TALLINN! TALLINN! TALLINN!” because that city is my absolute fave. I got off at the right stop, bought some banana chips (literally the only vegan food I could find, gggrrrrrr). And suddenly it was three o’clock. The bus I needed to take to get to the airport left from a bus stop called autobussijam. The problem was, there were multiple stops with this name (wtf?), and I didn’t see the bus. Finally, I saw it: whizzing past me.
I had forty minutes till the gates closed. I wandered around, searching for another bus, to no avail. Finally, I thought “f**k it!” (my internal monologue swears a lot), “I’m going to walk!” So, with a teensy weensy bit of help from my frenemy Google maps, I walked (okay, dude, I freaking ran!) along the footpath of the Tartu Maantee, ran (brisk-walked by this point) a few red lights, and made it through security with literally two minutes to spare! I was terrified of missing my flight! I had 90 euros in my purse; my debit card didn’t work in Estonia. If I had missed that flight, I would have been utterly screwed.
The conclusion I came to is that I am both ridiculously unlucky, and ridiculously lucky at the same time. If it is possible to get lost, I will, but I will always end up where I need to be, even if only at the last minute.
The flight was pretty dull – the guy to my right was asleep, and the guy to my left was reading The Daily Mail, so I knew I wasn’t going to get an intelligent conversation out of either of them. I read “Pride and Prejudice” for a while, then tried (and failed) to sleep. I watched my fellow passengers, observed the beard of the sleeping guy next to me (ew), judged the guy on my left for his dreadful taste in newspapers, the scent of the two cans of beer he was drinking (ew), not the mention the loud crunch of him eating crisps (*dies slowly*).
Then I thought about the episode of “Castle” where there’s a murder on a plane, and how a significant character in “Medium” died in a plane crash. Then I thought about how there’s a movie called “Snakes on a Plane” and what would actually happen if there WERE snakes on a plane? Then I imagined if there were rats, and made myself very miserable. Then I started thinking about terrorists attacks, or if the plane fell into the ocean. Not in a scared, or worried way, but just because it was something interesting to ponder. I have a weird mind.
I now sit in Costa Coffee in Gatwick, waiting for my phone to charge. I’m highly caffeinated, and highly impatient, and really hungry. I feel like unhealthy, deep-fried-potato-y junk food. The problem with being vegan is that finding an actual meal is nearly impossible, and I’m sick to death of snack food. The only proper meal I’ve had today is breakfast. I feel like chips.
I’m also on high alert in case anyone steals my bags. I never worried like that in Tallinn – I felt safer there. But here, I’m just planning how I’d wack someone over the head with “Pride and Prejudice” if they touched my bag.
Phone battery at 63%? That will do. Time to find foooooooooooood!
I got so excited when I reached London Victoria Station and found a Pret. I love Pret so much (we don’t get that kind of gloriousness in Penrith). I got even more excited when I found a vegan artichoke/olive/basil/pesto baguette. I also bought a hazelnut soy latte because HEAVEN!!!! I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed food so much (oh yeah, the last time I went to Pret, almost two weeks ago).
I then walked to London Victoria Coach Station, and bought two bags of fries. I now feel very ill. My heart is racing from the caffeine, I’m bloated from the baguette, and the fries were just overkill. My poor stomach has forgotten how to deal with so much food.
It’s one hour and seven minutes till my bus leaves, but – given my track record with public transport – I’m not taking any risks. So I sit on a hard, metal bench, post too many Facebook updates, listen to music, and write write write.
I’m absolutely exhausted – all I want to do is sleep! Thanks to that lovely little thing called a Two Hour Time Difference, I’ve been awake for 15 hours (and that’s before we consider how disturbed last night was!) and I have another hour till I can get on my bus. I can’t spend too much time mindlessly gawking at my phone (or spamming my sister with messages about all the attractive people I can see), because battery life is precious. So I have two options: read a little more of “Pride and Prejudice”, or spill the contents of my caffeine-consumed mind onto these pages.
I’m too tired to read, so…let’s talk about the plethora of attractive people. We don’t get these in Penrith! And I’m not saying this as in “Ooh, I’m attracted to everyone here”, because I’m not, and that would be weird. But as a writer? Man, this is wonderful. I like looking at attractive people, writing about attractive people. Now I know that all these attractive people actually exist. Dude! So much inspiration.
On a related note, multicultural Britain is beautiful. After spending two weeks in the Land of All Blondeness, it was a joy to arrive at Gatwick and see people from all over the world. If anything makes Britain “great”, it’s multiculturalism (and Pret, but that goes without saying).
9th July 2015 –
So this is it – the final chapter. I suppose it’s more of an epilogue, really, as this final entry is written as a reflection. I’m home now, sitting comfortably in my own bed. The journey’s over, all that’s left to do is summarise.
It’s weird to be back home. In many ways, I’ve been gone for a lifetime, yet it also feels as though I never left at all.
I didn’t sleep at all during the seven-hour-long bus ride home (FYI, I actually got off at the right stop. I know, shocking!) I was completely wired on caffeine, and I couldn’t put my mind to any kind of rest. So I listened to my music, and watched out my window as the streetlamp-lit monopoly board of London spread out before me.
I love London – that city was where I had my first taste of independence, at seventeen, when I spent a week on my own there for a work experience placement at Working Title Films. London is this labyrinthine tangle of tall buildings, and it exists as though in another dimension of reality. I love and hate London with equal fervour, but – staring out that bus window into the darkened streets – it was a time to love, a time to soak up the energy, feel the many centuries of history.
I felt more and more restless with each passing hour. I couldn’t sleep, the guy sitting next to me was an e-cigarette smoker, and stank of the stuff. Oh, and I had terrible stomach pain from the baguette I got from Pret, because I’d conveniently chosen to forget that gluten makes me ill.
Sometime after four o’clock, I came up with a wonderful (okay, tragic) plot twist for the sixth book in what was once my trilogy. I entertained myself for the next couple of hours, planning the details of the murders of two beloved characters, as the bus crept slowly northward.
I reached Penrith – and my very excited mother – sometime before six. I could barely walk, my legs were so tired, and my stomach was killing me (the baguette was delicious, I have no regrets, Pret is still the great love of my life), but it was good to be home.
Afterword – 10th July 2016 –
If ever in my journey there was a time to say something wise, it would be now, as a final reflection. But wisdom evades me. I sit in my bed, my legs under the blankets, listening to Biffy Clyro’s “God and Satan”, typing on my laptop rather than writing this last entry by hand. I’m home, and life’s normal, and it goes on, and I have food and TV and I’m satisfied. But I miss train stations; I miss those doorways between one place and another. I miss the world, no matter how glad I am to be back in peaceful Penrith, with all those glorious things like hashbrowns.
Estonia is a distant memory, yet I see it so clearly in my mind (and feel it in my exhausted legs). I’m already planning my next trip abroad. I’m thinking of going to New Zealand and Australia next summer. It would mean working my butt off to pay for it, because it is obviously far more expensive than flying to Europe. But I need to travel again, I need that freedom to lose and find myself, that freedom to push past those boundaries, explore worlds that aren’t my own (and realise that really, they are as much a part of me as the places I’ve lived my life, that places I’ve grown up). So what feels like the end of the journey of a lifetime is really just the beginning of what will be many journeys. As much as I love my home comforts, I was not made to stay in one place for too long, to live my life in a routine. I was made to fly free, to soar across skies both literal and metaphorical. So, for now, I will rest my wings, I will slip back into my quiet life. I will write my books, and go to work, and catch up on the past two seasons of “Game of Thrones”, and I will let myself be as normal as I’m capable of, because I have no need to be otherwise. But, sometime soon, these wings will need to stretch out again, to exercise their natural need for flight. And then, I will be gone.