“Are you happy?” I asked my cab driver after a delicious meal tonight.
“NO! he said. “I am happy in Espana!” He was born and raised in Tallin and had just finished telling me that everyone in Estonia has a vitamin D deficiency. Considering his English wasn’t super high level, it was a very sophisticated train of thought to wander down.
I fell into the trap yesterday of making a generalization on Facebook about Latvians vs. Estonians based on my vast 10 days experience here. Several people commented that they knew a lot of nice Estonians — and I have encountered many nice individuals. But there was a huge contrast between total exuberance of encouragement and helpfulness I had in Latvia (see my post from my first day of riding), and much more stoic acceptance of my presence since I crossed the border. Of course individual people have been kind, and I never had a bad experience in a single place I stayed, with the mild exception of indifferent, slow service in a restaurant in the more touristed town of Haapsalu. And I think the Estonians I’ve encountered have less English than the Latvians, and are just relieved to make it through a conversation. But on the whole, no one expressed joy at my riding alone from Riga, and no one offered to help. That was fine — just interesting, in contrast. And since I’ve been in Tallinn, I’ve met lovely people — a young server in a restaurant last night who is about to go study at Imperial College in London, and who drew a maple leafs/heart icon on my bill; another server who ran after me to make a suggestion for a non-touristy coffee shop. But there is just an air that is less… joyful. Exemplified by my cab driver, and the weariness of the town I spent the last night of my ride in,
It’s a curious thing — according to the world happiness Index, Estonia is way down the list at 66. Particularly interesting when you realize that Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Iceland (and Canada) are in the top 10. (Latvia is 54th, which isn’t that far off so statistics mean nothing really lol). I suppose this is a result of history, and edginess at the uncertain state of the world given its role as a buffer between Europe and Russia. Karl-Ander, my lovely young server explained to me that the huge amount of restoration going on right now in Old Town is for two reasons — it’s Estonia’s turn to be part of a presidential trio of leadership of the EU in the second half of 2017, and next year is the 100th anniversary of the Republic of Estonia — “but with Brexit,” he shrugged, “the future is uncertain.”
What is certain is that Tallinn is a remarkably lovely city. The medieval old Town is miraculously preserved given all of the backings and forthings of history, and even though parts of it are a bit thronged with tourists fro cruise ships and the like, they stick to certain spots. There are parks everywhere, and I stumbled across an amazing installation of plants in one of the parks for the Tallinn Flower Festival. The weather has been perfect, and there is a visible spirit of contemporary design everywhere. Really interesting jewellery and clothes everywhere.
Today was a recovery day for me, more in spirit than in body. I walked more than 18 km, tromping around the city on a self-guided walking tour through old town and on a shopping quest. I needed a new bag because I threw away the cheap duffle I brought as a carry on after my flight over, and I wanted some clothes that weren’t completely scruffy. I found the fringes of Estonian design, and bought a really interesting … garment … (kind of an indoor coat), some tshirts, a bracelet and, at the Estonian equivalent of the Bay, a very sturdy carry on bag. I also found an excellent bookstore with good English books, now that I can take a couple of paper books with me instead of just my ipad. And at the end of the day, I went for a run through the park around the medieval wall, chasing some children through a hedge maze.
I had dinner at a well-reviewed place that would take me out of the touristed area, and I went perhaps a bit too far — it was a beautiful restaurant in an old manor house on the edge of the park named Kadriorg (Catherine’s Valley), after the czarina. Another reminder of the Russian history of this place. The food was excellent but the service a bit lonely — at one point I was the only person left on a freezing terrace, shivering under a blanket, and my server had disappeared. I did not feel like a princess.
The wanderings, the finding interesting things I needed, a short but settling run, good food — this all put me back in rhythm for another day to get ready to go to Russia on Tuesday night. I realized I have a blip in dates on my visa (my train gets in at midnight of the day my visa is for, but now I’m worried they might not let me board), so I’m trying to make a plan B without fretting. And continuing to read Anna Karenina. Is it wrong that my favourite character is Levin?