I immediately warmed to our hostel (16 Eur Hostel) in Tallinn. Reception was buzzing with people buying beer, asking for directions, or generally just hanging out. The wifi was free and the code highly visible on the walls. We arrived quite late from the Helsinki ferry but check-in was still not an issue. We climbed the few flights to our room, admiring the quirky common areas.
Our room was outlandishly big for the price, with comically small beds. We could have staged a ballet in there with room to spare. The ceilings gave the building away as a former office block. I washed my shoes and socks (still filled with ice-water from our morning trip to Helsinki’s Suomenlinna) and went to bed in high spirits.
We got up early the next day and headed over to Tallinn’s main attraction – it’s UNESCO-protected Old Town. In the main square, we treated ourselves to a cheap and cheerful breakfast. Yet more Raig (traditional rye bread) was had, along with porridge wheat (a first for me, which I have since re-created at home). We began our circular journey around the outskirts of Old Town, but not before being whistled at to move out of the way of a guy taking a photo.
Whistled at. Like you would to a dog. WHISTLED AT. I was filled with indignant rage but the slippery ice-covered cobbles prevented me from stomping over to the offender. I settled for a death-stare instead while trying to recall any German curse-words.
We carefully picked our way along the main sites, with some truly stunning theatres and churches to occupy our thoughts and our memory cards. The Russian Orthodox Cathedral was particularly impressive. We loitered outside as service was taking place, watching the opulent display through the glass.
There are a number of scenic viewpoints in Tallinn, where you can survey the city from a height. The first viewpoint (where I spotted the “love locks”, mentioned in a previous post) was where I saw my first tourist mishap with the ice. An old man fell impressively hard and with great gusto. I slithered over to assist him but he insisted he was fine and was relieved to “get it over with”.
Later in the day, I had my own close call. After many slides and “baby giraffe learning to stand” manoeuvres, I skidded dramatically and was faced with certain unintended horizontality. Luckily (or unluckily, depending on your perspective), I stubbed my non-sliding foot against a protruding cobble and managed to stop the fall. There was a brief moment where I though the force might have broken my foot but I pushed on, reasoning that it was already “on ice” (harr) so nothing more could be done.
As we walked and slid along, we saw a group of young children being led around by their teacher. They were all joined together by leashes, like a toddler chain-gang. I bought some kitschy souvenirs and stopped off at Rimi supermarket to get food and return to the hostel for lunch. At Rimi, I had my first ever 100% Estonian conversation. Sure, it was basically “hi, yes, thanks, bye” but hey, little victories. We relaxed at the hostel for an hour before returning to Fat Margaret’s Tower to continue exploring.
We found our way back to the main square, thoroughly enjoying the feel of the place, the great graffiti and street-art and all the small side-streets and alleyways. It reminded me a bit of my hometown of Galway, with all the medieval buildings and cobbled alleys.
We had a delicious dinner of Estonian garlic bread (cooked in thin strips) and goat’s cheese and cherry tomato pasta in Restorant Kohvik. Down one of my beloved side-streets, I found a small shop selling original prints of the city and bought an unframed one to take home.
We briefly watched a fire-thrower near the boundary and then headed back to Rimi, where we had spotted very cheap souvenir chocolates earlier in the day.
Retiring to the hostel with a few ciders, we passed an off-license bearing the unfortunate name of “Go Alko”. We’re still considering this advice.
We had a leisurely morning the next day, a relief after the pretty busy travel schedule of the previous few days. We watched the Athletic Championships and a travel show about Oman (which an Ozzie had enthusiastically recommended to me in Jordan) while packing our bags for Ryanair’s brutal judgement.
After a brief stroll through Old Town, we headed to the bus stop to get the airport bus (1e).
We got off a little too early, as the Estonian for “airport” and “busport” are extremely similar. When we did get to Tallinn airport, we found it to be unexpectedly modern. I amused myself by skyping in a futuristic pod while having my ears assaulted by the tortured screams of a small child who, of course, turned out to be on our flight.
On the plane, I thought back over the highlights of the trip while the girl next to me attempted to engage me by asking how much I had spent on everything in Tallinn. She bragged that she had spent less than anyone had ever spent on a trip, while showing me a suspect-looking tuna, apple and pea wrap she had gotten “for nothing”.
Tallinn was the end of a longer trip to Stockholm and Helsinki and I would visit each again. The level of English and public transport was good in each city. Personally I found the Estonians to be the friendliest and most willing to chat, but the Swedes and Finns were very helpful when asked. Both Sweden and Finland have reputations for being extremely expensive to visit. I’m living proof that this doesn’t have to be true. By booking individual legs of flights (eg. Dublin-Stockholm, Stockholm-Helsinki) and working my way back to the start point, it worked out cheaper than simply booking a return flight. Accommodation is expensive in Stockholm and Helsinki but if you are creative (utilising sites like Hotwire or Airbnb) you stand to save a lot and maybe end up in a place you otherwise wouldn’t have gotten to see. Public transport is reasonably priced in all three cities and should be more than sufficient. If we were to have gotten taxis everywhere, we would have been crippled by the price. Food can always be cheap, if you budget the odd meal out while using the (usually) complimentary breakfast provided by your accommodation and going to supermarkets for the odd meal.
Alcohol is expensive in Stockholm and Helsinki (the cheapest drinks we found in bars were about 6/7e), whereas it is much more affordable in Tallinn. We did not purchase city cards for any of the cities and think it worked out well without.
Highlights of the trip were the museums in Stockholm, the scenery on the outskirts of Helsinki and the Old Town in Tallinn.
BootsnAll says: The word travel comes from a French word meaning “work” and sometimes, getting there is work. Between crowded buses, long airline delays, overnight trains and crazy rickshaw rides, transportation can be stressful, but it can also be a rewarding part of the tip. Tell us about a time when the journey became more important than the destination.
It was just a bus. No different to all the other buses in Old Town Transit Centre. Nothing special. I mean, there were hundreds of them.
But there was something about #30. Magic happened on that bus. It made some of my journeys more memorable than the destinations it took me to.
During my 3 months in San Diego, I made a friend. (I know, pretty shocking). She lived about 40 minutes north of me, in well-to-do La Jolla. Right next to the University where she worked.
#30 was the bus to her.
This bus was home to some of the most “interesting” people in San Diego and made my trips incredibly enjoyable. On one occasion, just before the doors closed, two young guys jumped onto the bus. Out of breath and laughing. They sat next to me. One was carrying a full-sized keyboard under his arm as casually as if it had been a book.
Keyboard guy turned to his companion and said: “Man!! That was awesome! The feds nearly had you!”
His comrade looked sheepish and replied: “They did get me actually. Look.”
He produced a court order to show his new friend (they did not know each other). Apparently Sheepish Guy had jumped onto the train tracks (which you have to by-pass to get to the bus) in his rush to get the #30. He had nearly been taken out by a passing tram and the transit police had not been happy campers.
Keyboard Guy looked suitably impressed. “That’s hard-core, man”.
They exchanged pleasantries for a while before vowing to meet up to “hang” some time. Sheepish Guy got off at Pacific Beach.
It was just me and Keyboard Guy.
Without his new bud to distract him, he quickly grew bored. He turned to look at me, sizing me up for potential criminality. Obviously disappointed, he began absent-mindedly testing a few notes on his keyboard and playing jingles.
“You probably think I’m weird, right?”
I replied (honestly) that I’d seen much worse.
“Man! Where are you from? Cool accent!”
Groaning on the inside (this would not be good), I told him I was Irish.
His eyes lit up. He straightened up in his seat a little and then proceeded to bang out the Irish national anthem on his keyboard at an implausibly loud volume. It went on forever and he threw in a few “diddly”s for good measure.
Oh. Dear. God.
People just getting on the bus looked at him tiredly, assuming we were some sort of double-act.
When the time came for him to go, he made me promise to come visit him at the bar where he worked, where he would play more “Irish music”. I told him I wouldn’t miss it for the world and waved him out.
However, by far my favourite conversation on that bus happened when I was with three other girls. The bus being pretty full, we sat towards the back. We quickly realised why those seats had been empty. We were directly in front of a guy who just sweated a “I’m going to talk crap at you for the entire journey” vibe.
He lived up to our expectations. We were just passing the university when he decided to strike up a conversation.
“So girls, do you go to UCSD?”
Being quite fond of talking to strangers to pass the time, I was the one to answer him in the negative. (I was attending college in Galway at the time).
His face instantly changed. He looked annoyed.
“Jesus. Doing nothing with your lives. No college. Bet you don’t work either. You can’t just swan away your whole life, you know”.
Taking a breath to tell him that we all had jobs, he was too quick for me.
“You know, it’s not just the black girls the po-lice push up against the hood, you know? Pretty white girls like you too.”
He began making “Wheeee-ew, wheeee-ew” noises to simulate a police siren.
I stifled a grin. Two of my friends (who tend not to enjoy these types of conversations as much as I do) got up and moved towards the front of the bus.
He yelled after them. “What’s wrong with you? Are you guys lesbians or something?”
He returned to my friend and I, determined to steer us towards the right path in life.
“If you don’t sort your lives out those po-lice are gonna come get you and smack your head off that hood. WHEEEE-EW!!! WHEEEEE-EW!!!”
Other people on the bus started to look, that subtle kind of “I want to see what’s going on but please don’t start on me” look.
Our new friend’s loud sirening had woken up the sleeping homeless man next to him, who was not happy about this. He began throwing small wraps of tinfoil at Siren Guy.
Siren Guy was really in his element now.
“Girls, I’m just saying this so you don’t end up like me. You could end up marrying drug dealers. Or worse (he paused dramatically)
At this point, I burst out laughing. I just couldn’t help it.
Siren Guy was getting more and more agitated as the little wraps of tinfoil hit him and fell to the floor. He turned aggressively towards the homeless man and let out a roar:
“MAN, F**K OFF THROWING YOUR DRUGS AT ME! I don’t want the po-lice knocking on my door! I’ll stab you!!”.
Pointing at the homeless man, he yelled: “THIS MAN IS A DRUG DEALER!! WHEEEEEE-EW…WHEEEEEE-EW!!!”
At this point, my friend and I thought it best to leave.
We all have our limits, right?
But hey, that journey flew by. I hardly remember what I did when I got to my friend in La Jolla, but that conversation is seared into my memory forever.