July 1st 2016 —
There are times when I wonder how much of the way I act is me, and how much is my characters. I often jokingly refer to them as “the voices in my head”, so such a statement could be viewed as me diagnosing my own insanity, but that is not the case. What I do wonder, though, is: do I sometimes act in their interests, rather than mine? And where is the overlap? Where do I draw the line between their interests and my own?
I came to Hotel Viru today (which I have mentioned numerous times is a significant setting in my novels), to book a ticket for a tour of the KBG museum there (as an excuse to ogle more of the building, although I am relatively interested in Soviet history). Finding myself behind a long line of Finnish tourists, I decided to sit down on one of the comfy-looking chairs near reception, rather than standing in line, or coming back later, the way a NORMAL person would.
It was my character Phoenix who made me do it, made me sit there for at least ten minutes. Her main goal for this journey is to have me lurk in/around this building as much as possible. She’s just like “Mine!” Possessive little thing that she is…
When I finally booked my ticket for the tour, Phoenix actually danced a jig in my head. You may wonder how a non-physical entity can dance a jig, but Phoenix knows no boundaries. She is s law unto herself.
I sit now in a café in a bookshop on the top floor of Viru Keskus (shopping centre), drinking two different types of peach juice, because I can’t get coffee, as they don’t seem to do soy milk #veganproblems
Bookshops give me this immense feeling of peace and calm, even when I can’t understand the language. I have an hour till my KGB tour (when Phoenix will probably start doing summersaults in my head), and I’m kinda tempted to walk across the Old Town to find the coffee kiosk near the train station, where I went yesterday, because I NEED CAFFEINE! Yes, I’m doing it. I’m following my heart, straight to the caffeine.
(Love you caffeine xxxxx <3 <3 <3) ******************************************** Well, my quest for caffeine lasted all of 20 minutes, when I realised that if I continued, I wouldn't be back in time for the tour. I hadn't banked on the way running up cobblestone streets on a hill, wearing a dress and sandals, would slow me down. So I remain free of caffeine, but I'm happy. I enjoyed the tour. I enjoyed learning about life under Soviet rule (and story ideas immediately ensued). But most of all, I enjoyed the place as I, and only I, could see it. My characters ran around like ghosts, invisible to all but me. I saw Kai running down the stairs to find Phoenix, Persephone sitting in a chair, muttering "must kill" repeatedly, and, obviously, I saw Phoenix.
Phoenix was there like an invisible presence behind my shoulder, demanding that I photograph EVERYTHING for later use. There was a guestbook, for visitors to leave messages in, and I couldn’t resist writing “Phoenix and Persephone will be here in 2323”. It was little, and it was silly, but it was my way of leaving their mark on the place. Phoenix wanted some minor graffiti, but I wasn’t up for that.
I feel a different kind of sadness now, now that my homesickness has dissipated. My days in Tallinn are numbered now — I only have two full days left here, before continuing onto the next leg of my journey. I’m going to miss this quirky city, with its gorgeous architecture, beautiful beaches, and ghosts of characters future. Tallinn has had a place in my heart from the moment I decided to set CONSEQUENCE here, but now it’s different. Tallinn is no longer a figment of my imagination, based only on Google image searches. It’s a real place, where I’ve made real memories, and I will miss it like mad.
I sit on a bench in the park beside Hotel Viru, watching the building loom over me — a tangible imprint of the blurred lines between reality and fiction. I people-watch, listen to conversations in languages I can’t understand.
A beggar woman comes up to me, speaking in broken Estonian/German/English, asking for money to buy food for her baby. She writes the child’s name on her hand: Zoe. I give her most of the coins in my purse — €4 — because I’m feeling kind, or compassionate, or moved by the humanity we all share.
Perhaps humanity is the thing I’ve noticed most in this country, where I can’t speak the language — that synchronicity with which we go about our daily lives. Language and culture, they are perhaps our deepest ties to one another. Yet, in spite of the bonds they provide, they are only the surface of what makes us human, they are nothing more than how we’ve been trained. And maybe, as a writer, that surface training is the most important thing in the world to me. But what I write about? Well that, it goes much deeper.
As I only had two full days left in Tallinn, I decided to make a plan for today. There were two places I wanted to visit, Kadriorg palace, and Metsakalmistu (the forest cemetery from the epilogue of C). Another place in Tallinn I wanted to visit was Telliskivi creative city, and as it was the closest, I decided to go there first.
I knew roughly where Telliskivi was, from getting lost on my first night. So rather than taking my usual route down Endla to the Old Town, I went down Tulika, and onto Telliskivi. After some time of walking down this road, I gave up looking. I was ridiculously thirsty, and the only thing on my mind was finding something to drink. I stopped at the place where the railway track crosses over the road, and noticed some market stalls to the right.
“Juuuuuuuice!!!!!!!!!!”, my heart sang as I saw a stall selling bottles of fizzy pear. That was when I noticed the sign: Telliskivi Creative City. It was such a cool place, all these old warehouse buildings converted into shops and cafés, with clothing markets in the square between.
I bought some clothes (tally: 2 items fit, 1 item doesn’t), and went to an open-air café. I bought peppermint lemonade, and watched old train tracks through the glassless window of a crumbling wall. It was arty hipster heaven, and though I don’t identify as hipster, I sometimes identify as arty. Either way, I was in love with the place.
I then explored the markets some more, bought cute little woollen booties for my soon-to-be-born niece, had a look around the shops, and crossed over the dilapidated train tracks to the station behind Toompea Hill (to FINALLY get the coffee I’d awaited since the previous day). I was careful to avoid antique shops, because I have absolutely zero trust in my own impulse control. I had to tell myself “No, Eliza, you don’t need — nor will you EVER need — a genuine KGB uniform”. “But they’re so cool!” Whispered another part of myself.
I then went to the bus station. As Kadriorg and Metsakalmistu were both quite a walk away, I decided to use my (not so) trusty Google maps app to tell me which bus to get on. It even told me how long the journey would take! 19 minutes.
As the bus went on a lovely, scenic drive through the green, pine-filled suburbs, alarm bells began to ring, particularly when we passed a sign for Metsakalmistu. Because Kadriorg is MUCH closer than Metsakalmistu. Even 40 minutes out of Tallinn, I convinced myself that everything was fine, that the bus must be just taking a circular route. Even when I was the last passenger on the bus, I told myself it was fine.
Then the bus came to a final stop at a freaking truck stop near a town called Maardu. The driver started speaking to me in bemused Russian. I tried English, held my hands up in defeat, and walked towards the main road. The only people around were old men, and I was scantily clad (by my standards) in a singlet top and shorts.
Even as the strong, independent, patriarchy-smashing woman that I am, I was just a tad terrified. So what did I do? I laughed. I laughed at my own stupidity, laughed at just how good at getting lost I am. I finally found a bus stop, and sweet, sweet WiFi. I decided to avoid public transport, and just walk back to Tallinn, because I trust my (somewhat dubious) sense of direction FAR more than my dire ineptitude with public transport.
I couldn’t be THAT far out of Tallinn, could I? I checked Google maps. How long would it take me to get back to Tallinn on foot? Three hours and fifty-one minutes. I nearly cried! But I didn’t, because I’m a grown-ass woman who WILL NOT cry until she has fixed the damn mess that she got herself into in the first place.
I checked Google maps again. There would be a bus in two minutes. Two minutes passed. No bus. The driver from the other bus drove past in a car. He pulled over. With the help of another man — somehow, through the language barrier — he offered me a lift. I shook my head, defeated, on the verge of tears. The golden rule of solo female travel is (probably) “don’t get into cars with strange men.”
I figured, if someone was going to murder me, I’d rather be murdered on a main road, where I’d have a chance of being found, than in someone’s car, where they could destroy the evidence. So I sat at the bus stop and sulked. I messaged my sister a few times, refreshed Google maps, felt immensely sorry for myself. Then, in the distance, I saw a red-and-white vehicle. A tram! Headed for Tallinn! I nearly wept with joy.
I still felt pretty mixed up after I returned to Tallinn. Especially when I realised Kadriorg was only a freaking 25 minute walk from Viru Väljak anyway, grrrrrr. All that stress for nothing!
I went to the Rotermann quarter, bought some fat, juicy strawberries from an old lady at a stall, found a bench to sit on, and continued sulking. The conclusion I came to, after thinking about the events of the day, is that THIS is what travelling is about — this getting lost, experiencing life. What would have happened if I’d gotten on the right bus? I’d have gone to Kadriorg, taken lots of photos, had a pleasant day, and then what? What would I have learnt? What lasting memories would I have made?
Yeah, getting lost is absolutely petrifying, but today has been memorable, and it’s taught me an important lesson about making sure I actually know where I’m going, and trusting my intuition when I think I’m headed in the wrong direction.
When I was hanging out in the Rotermann quarter, a friendly Finnish/Nigerian man came up and spoke to me in some language I didn’t understand. He thought I was Russian (I’ll take that as a compliment). When he discovered I was, in fact, English, he wanted to chat for a while, to practise his English. So we sat on a bench on a hill near the Old Town and chatted for a bit. It was the longest conversation in English (or at all) that I’ve had on this city (which isn’t hard), and it wouldn’t have happened if I’d gotten on the right bus. Maybe I was meant to get lost, I don’t know. What I do know, is that things always work out in the end. The one thing I’ve missed since being here is talking to people, hearing their stories. And maybe making a friend for an hour was more important than going to tourist attractions. (Maybe).
Note: this may be my last update for a few days. I’m uploading blogs bi-daily, and tonight is my last night in Tallinn, and I probably won’t have WiFi when I’m in Lahemaa.