Yesterday in Tallinn, we were back to our old tricks.
Upon disembarkation, we immediately stumbled across a bike rental kiosk, which was either dumb luck, or someone had called ahead to let the city know about the two Canadian women cycling their way around Northern Europe.
(I really, really hope that it was the latter.)
Either way, we were overjoyed and we immediately procured our rides for the day.
Setting off into the city’s old town, I could feel the hairs on my arms stand on end. My cheeks flushed, my heartbeat quickened. The sensation of immediately falling in love with a place is one with which I am very familiar.
The feeling I get with a city is the exact same I can get with a person. Everything in my being tingles and quakes. I know I am meant to know this space. This energy. This heart and life.
I have had instantaneous love affairs with Edinburgh and Chicago, and yesterday I left a piece of my heart in Tallinn.
The morning dawned bright and blue-skyed; the sun’s subtle heat staving off the sharpness of the sea breeze.
Tallinn was founded in 1248, but the city has human settlements that date back 3000 years. We spent the first two hours biking in and around the medieval old town and its breathtaking city-center. All of the roads in this area are paved completely in cobblestones, making our route amazingly picturesque, but bumpy as hell. Incredibly, our eleven euro bikes came without shocks, so we powered through.
Everywhere we went, I wanted to stop and take photos. I don’t think I’ve ever encountered such an overwhelmingly photogenic city. The old town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and for no wonder. All of the buildings bleed character, history, and charm. Every corner you round, every building you encounter, you want to stop and ask: who lived here? What did they do? Who were their loves? How did they live?
All I want to do is learn and know and touch every life.
After a few hours, we cycled into the new city, and explored the area by the capital’s soccer stadium, watching a bit of the national team’s practice session.
After a few harrowing encounters with city street sidewalk riding, we beat a hasty retreat back to the safety, if jostling, cobblestones of the old town.
As we cycled back, we stopped at the national library and learned about Marie Under, one of Estonia’s most celebrated and greatest poets. She was forced to leave Tallinn in 1944 when the city fell to USSR control and she died in Sweden in 1980, having never returned to her home.
At the southern end of the city is Freedom Square, a space that marks 1918-1920, Estonia’s brief years of independence, before the Nazi and Soviet rules. Similar to the space that surrounds Riga’s Freedom Monument, this plaza left me with a feeling of endured (and enduring) strength, but more importantly – a fear of complacency, and the weariness and danger that comes with forgetting.
In the late afternoon, the wind picked up, and we locked our bikes to a street lamp and found a café where we drank cappuccinos and tea. Wrapped in plush blankets, we people watched and talked about our favourite Canadian authors.
My mum is a bastion of strange and wonderful tales. Upon burning her mouth on her too-hot tea, she quipped, “Well that got rid of any green moss growing there.”
Once I got my laughter and gag reflex under control, I asked her what Antigonish sage had come up with that saying.
She lowered her sunglasses and looked me straight in the eye, answering: “That’s a Donna Gillis original.”
As we continued into the afternoon, and we explored more of the upper and lower parts of the old town, I keep thinking how lucky I was to be doing this. To be adventuring around one of the most beautiful cities in the world, with a woman I love beyond compare.
What is my lot in life, to be in this city – a place that I feel as though I know, and that I would like to call home – and be able to just hop on a bike and explore without recourse or fear?
On our way back to the ship, we stopped at an Linnahall, an old site from the 1980 Moscow Olympics. It once housed the sailing events, and post-games, was the V.I. Lenin Palace of Culture and Sport. Now it is a dystopian stairway, and yesterday it was populated by drunk teenagers and unemployed sunbathers.
A stark dichotomy to the six hours I had just experienced, but one that I do not discount, or look on with disdain.
This country, and its capital city, has endured extreme trauma over the course of its lifetime. It struggles, and perseveres, and finds ways to wrestle with its (still very fresh) past.
It marries the beauty of autonomy with the scars of occupation.
It is a balance.
That this ex-Olympic site has fallen into disrepair is but a truth that I, and many, many others may come and visit. We climb, and we sit, and we think about this space. This structure. And what it means. Yesterday, today, and tomorrow.
And that I how I will also think of Tallinn.
A part of my yesterday, my today, and always, always, my tomorrow.