I peeked the camera lens out from behind the bush, clearing the leaves from the shot. Wincing as the shutter made a high pitch noise alerting the couple of my presence.
Okay, before you call the cops, let me explain. As the new marketing intern, chiefly in charge of maintaining our social media presence, I was recruited to photograph Relate’s dating event. You might remember that photography, especially portraiture, is my favorite art form. Which then might lead you to the question: why the hell are you hiding behind a bush?!? Well, I could say that I was trying some edgy angles, but that’d be a lie. Apparently, bushes are the reality of what happens when you put an introvert in a crowded room; especially when no one really wants their picture taken. Don’t worry, I soon emerged from my leafy disguise and unleashed my inner Annie Leibovitz. Three hours later, our signs were packed up, my SD card was full, and I headed to the train station, an accomplished smile grazing my face.
Tallinn: My eyes scanned the lit-up sign hanging by the cruise ship. Anticipation flooded my stomach; being that I had only recently found out that Estonia was even on the map– I know, how uncultured– I had no expectations. I showed my passport to the guard, his eyes barely leaving the distant horizon as he nodded me through. I anxiously made my way to my room, plopped my Kanken backpack on the makeshift mattress and headed out to explore the ship. I quickly discovered that there wasn’t much to explore. The boat consisted of a souvenir shop, a buffet restaurant, an abandoned dance floor, and the bar where we spent most of the night talking and watching the Mongolian acrobats contort their bodies into shapes that looked horrifyingly uncomfortable.
The night faded into morning as our ship pulled into the harbor; it was time to explore. Tianna and I had checked into our Airbnb, walked through the historic architecture of Old Town, and had a mini photoshoot by the time we met up with the rest of the group. Having just come from an unsatisfying meal, the group explained they were in desperate need of some good food. Olde Hansa, a quaint medieval restaurant, offered just that. We followed the brunette in medieval garb to our table upstairs, careful not to miss any steps hidden in the dim candle-lit stairwell.
Picking up the menu, my eyes grazed past bear, elk, and many other options that made my vegan heart spazz. I didn’t have much time to think about it because our waiter had just returned with complimentary mead, an acholic beverage, that despite its popularity in the middle ages, still hasn’t improved taste-wise.
“Like this,” our waiter explained. I adjusted my fingers around the small ceramic glass my thumb on the rim while my pinky supported the bottom. Laughter spilled out as the rest of the table also struggled with how to “cheers” like a proper Estonian.
“Terviseks,” we said in a broken unison, thrusting our glasses up, the faint taste of blueberry, and stale grain lingering on our lips.
It had been a couple of hours since Tianna, and I had said goodbye to the rest of the group. By now they were probably miles offshore; we had decided to fly back so that we’d have more time to explore. After all, the original allotted seven hours was definitely not enough time to explore a country I had only just heard of. We walked, the distant street art nearing closer and closer. My heart fluttered, the combination of twinkly lights, food trucks, and amazing art was too much. The only thing that could make my hipster heart more full? A warm drink. Finding the perfect cafe, a vintage train car when worn in leather booths, we grabbed matcha lattes while making a game-plan for tomorrow.
The alarm rang out, a smile stitching its way on my face. It was a big day; we had done some research and found out that Palediski was the place to go. We shuffled around, throwing on a fresh pair of clothes and grabbing our bags before heading out the door.
We sat in the corner of The Breakfast Club, a quaint cafe owned by a friendly Estonia, whose wife, the angel that she is convinced him to add vegan banana bread to the menu.
“Okay, so monastery or Cliffs first?” Tianna asked.
“Hmmm, cliffs?” I posed sipping on my matcha latte.
You may point out that this is my second matcha latte, and begin to worry if I am cheating on chai. For that, I’ll ease your heart, no. Estonian’s weren’t exactly concerned with my chai obsession, so they only offered matcha. It’s okay; we’ll forgive them. Our plates were empty, and it was time to run off to catch our train…and miss it. Once again, it is brutally pointed out that my love for public transportation is not mutual.
I sighed, wondering how we were going to spend the next hour and a half. And just like that, I saw it, the festival happening across the street. We walked through the entrance, my eyes hungrily taking it all in. On a stage to the right, people dressed in traditional Estonian attire danced to classical music. Carts lined up where vendors gave excited children cotton candy. Games, like hacksag races and egg tosses, were offered to cope with sugar rushes. Excited to explore, we headed off to watch the competitors of this rounds stump game. The game starts with a nail sticking out of a tree stump, you then take alternating turns hitting the nail with a hammer. Whoever hits the nail entirely in wins. The next hour passed in singing, dancing, games, and a weird exercise machine that had me singing Hips Don’t Lie.
The train pulled to a stop, and we exited, excited to see the cliffs. However, it turns out that Palediski was in fact, not the place to go. A worn-down school, empty bus stop, and tavern tucked in the depths of the woods later, and we had seen it all. No cliffs. No monastery. No people, unless you count the plump guy sprawled across the bus stop in spandex shorts that weren’t nearly forgiving enough. And no way back home for another 3 hours. Welp here’s to quality bonding.
It was 6 pm when our train finally pulled into the station. Exhausted from our failed expedition, we headed to the one place that would get our spirits up: the gelato shop. Enjoying some strawberry sherbert, don’t worry, it’s vegan, we laughed over our interesting adventure. The gelato gave us just enough energy to spent the next hour exploring before return back to grab more gelato for our spa night. Hey, I don’t know about you, but I was told vacation calories don’t count.
The next morning we boarded a 7 am plane back to reality; well kind of, after all, I’m still living in Sweden.