What You Risk Reveals What You Value #3: Estonia – Estonia

3: Estonia
4:00am, wide awake. No, I don’t want to wake up yet. Close your eyes, Lizza. 5:00am, eyes open, lay there…5:30am, what the hey. I got up, showered and went to the lobby. Breakfast, which is included in the rate, is not ready until 6:30am. Coffee…coffee…please, let there be coffee.

I get to the lobby and I see two ladies drinking coffee. Yes! I walk over to them to ask them where they got the coffee. By the response of one of them, I was sure she came from the Philippines. So, when I caught up with her at the coffee stand, I asked her if she was Filipino. When we estalished our common ground, we were best friends, at least for the next two hours until I left to go catch my ferry.

Walking to the ferry station, Ana (my new friend) came along. It was early and there was really not a lot of people in downtown Helsinki. I saw a man walking in the same direction we were. Excuse me, I said, do you know where the ferry station is? I am going there too, he said. Great. So, I said goodbye to Ana and followed Paolo from Italy to the ferry station.

Paolo spoke good English. Just travelling around Scandinavia but was taking a day trip to Tallinn. The ferry ride was uneventful but it was nice getting to know Paolo. He did mention how his friends tell him he’s crazy each time he embarks on an adventure on his own.

When we got to Tallinn, we walked towards the Old Town. We parted ways there and I made my way to the Vana Tom Hostel.

Old Town was just that, old looking but there are so many stores and an incredible number of restaurants. Because of the buildings, it reminded me Universal Studios, except this one is real inside too. In addition, the tour ‘bus’ which is a miniature choo-choo train helped in the Universal Studios feel.

I looked at my map and it was at first overwhelming. Between deciphering street names, finding street signs and just being there, I found myself stuck and unable to move. Because I didn’t want to move in the wrong direction, I was just unable to move until I could find my spot in the map. As much as I wanted to explore the place, my feet wouldn’t move.

Finally got my bearings and headed towards the Hostel. The Vana Tom Hostel is below a Strip Bar, just like IYP says. I still can’t help but be surprised though. I was intrigued and planned on stopping in since I’ve never been to a strip club.

I checked in and was given a key to drop my bag off in the room. I expected to be in a shared room, dormitory style but again, I was a bit stunned when I walked in the room. Three bunk beds with three levels in one room. Bags from other people were left there. I chose an empty bed on the second level and figured out if I can really leave my bag there. I looked around, it looked like everyone had left their pack for the day. I noticed bag locks, just like the kind I have. I just sat there, just in a state of taking it all in. This is reality, shared bedroom just like I planned it but now, I stand there looking straight at it. Nine beds.

Okay Lizza, snap out of it. I came back down to the front desk and asked for directions to the bus terminal for my trip tomorrow. This rate, also included a breakfast. He told me that breakfast would be available at 7:00am. I asked the clerk, “Where will it be served?” That look, I will never forget. He looked at me funny and said, “It’s in a bag and I will give it to you.” I was embarrassed. Where will it be served? Come on, Lizza. Can you try not to say anything stupid? Well, for the rest of the day, that became my goal.

So, went back out to town and started walking around. I stopped at the visitor’s center and got some great ideas. There was an organ festival going at one of the big churches, that’s a possibility at 8pm. I walked around some more. It’s hard for me to walk around aimlessly as I am not really there to shop. I feel like I should at least have a destination and if I see something along the way, great, I can check it out. So, I asked for directions to an internet cafe and a money changer. Oh my gosh, that’s all the destinations I needed because it took me forever to find the internet cafe and did run into a few other possibilities.

I was surprised that their massages were so inexpensive. 1 kroon per minute or 25 cents. So, it turned out to be $13 for a full body massage! The spa was a bit tucked away. You have to be buzzed in and then you go up some dark stairs, still wondering if you were really going to be in a spa place. When someone actually met me, I entered the room and it looked like a legitimate place, so I booked a massage for an hour later.

Walked around some more and found the internet place. I’m always amazed when I see an internet cafe because they seem too modern and high tech for a really old and historical looking, small town. It just didn’t fit the atmosphere. But I was very glad to find it as it calmed me down. Ah, something I can relate too. Email.

Another thing I did while waiting for massage time was sit and have Estonian coffee. First of all, they don’t serve cream. Somehow I expected that since cream seems like an American thing to do. They did serve some sugar and the coffee also came with a chocolate candy. I never did find out what they were for but I dropped it in my coffee to make a pseudo mocha drink. The coffee ended up being bitter and didn’t drink it.

Still in the center courtyard of town, there was a stage, that was empty earlier, now occupied by six young boys break-dancing. They would dance and entertain the crowd and later on would pass around a hat to collect any money. I’m a sucker for performing arts, especially dancing, so I gave my share of money for the entertainment.

My massage was okay but for $13, it was great. Later on though, I read that Finnish people come to Estonia for some cheap bear and sex. I read that the brothels are disguised as massage parlors. That made my muscles tightened up. I need another massage. There’s no way….well, it’s too late to find out now.

One thing I do notice are these young girls in their late teens, selling postcards. They are very well versed in English and they are aggressive. Anyone that walks by, they engage and try to sell them some postcards. There is one stand in almost every corner and they all look like they belong to one company. My American thinking is saying there must be an incentive as to which stand sells the most postcards. This is because they all look so motivated. One girl asked me if I wanted to buy postcards and I said, “Tomorrow, I will.” and she stopped and said, “Why?” I, of course was stunned at her questioning. So, I was a bit perturbed.

I went back to the dorm, a bit tired and was going to go and get settled, then go out to have Estonian beer.

I walked in to the dorm and saw one girl sleeping and another girl changing. Oops. “Hi,” I say. She says hi. After a couple of question and answers, we establish we’re both Americans. She has lived in Russia for two years in the Peace Corps. Impressive. She is done with her two years and is looking into working in the American Embassy in Russia but is in the process of getting the right papers. So, she’s travelling in the Baltic states in the meantime.

So, Carla and I went to a bar which I later looked up in the IYP – Nimeta Bar is for expats and is sort of a meat market. Not really what I was expecting. I was hoping for more of a local’s bar, but I did have Estonian beer, A. Le Coq. Very good beer. Still having some problems remembering which direction the triangle points for women’s restrooms. I ate Estonian Beer Chili and it was pleasantly good! I’m so glad I’ve liked everything I’ve eaten so far. Being so picky with food, I promised myself to be very open and flexible and to at least try something before ruling it out. So, when it actually tastes good, it’s a big bonus!

Another girl, from Tokyo, joined us for dinner. She is also staying in our room. I got to know her a little bit. She’s 29 now but she’s been traveling everywhere since she was 18. Such independence! She told me about travelling in Poland by myself and how bad things have happened to some of her friends. I will have this in the back of my mind the whole time.

I went back to the room and the girl sleeping was awake now. I talked to her a bit and she’s from France. Her name is Christian. I thought she was in her late teens, maybe early 20’s. It turns out, she’s in her 40’s! This makes me happy to meet her since I was convinced I was the oldest backpacker in this hostel! She told me about her travels and I was intrigued by her free spirit. She has a 14 year old son who she travels with sometimes but she takes a few weeks off to travel on her own. She was just in Leipaja! Great, we talk a lot more about that and assures me that I can take a bus from Leipaja to Vilnius. Wonderful. I was going to go back to Riga before going to Vilnius which would be a waste of time. So, this is great news. Christian intrigues me and I would have wanted to have a drink with her but jet lag is kicking in big time and I had to go to sleep. So, I climbed on my bunk bed (I haven’t climbed on any bunk bed in 20 years!) and went to sleep. Day one a success!