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…)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!