Helsinki, Tallinn, and Riga – Summer Trip Part IV

So when I woke up in Estonia, I knew I only had a limited amount of time to walk from the bus station the ferry port, so I changed into some new clothes, got ready in the sink, and immediately started booking it to the ferry port. I knew I’d have another couple of days in Tallinn after I went to Helsinki, so I didn’t bother taking pictures or anything like that, minus this cool bus I found:

Tallinn to Leningrad!

When I finally got to the bus station, I had a little trouble booking a ticket with Viking Ferries at the counter, and it ended up that the ferry was entirely full (keep this in mind if you decide to buy ferry tickets the day of!) so I ended up buying an Eckerö Lines ferry online, then printing the ticket at a kiosk.

I didn’t have any issues with the ferry – actually, for the price, it was surprisingly good (I’d definitely recommend Eckerö!). I got into Helsinki about two and a half hours later, which ended up being around 2:00 due to the time that my ferry left.

As I got off the ferry, it was POURING rain. Due to the fact that I originally planned to go through Viking Line, my hostel was right at the ferry port for Viking Lines…. which is about a 2 hour walk from the ferry port for the other ferries.
So I decided to take the financial hit and use public transportation.

I mentioned it in my Copenhagen and my Norway/Sweden trip blog, but everything in Scandinavia is expensive. And Finland is no exception – a 24 hour pass for public transportation was almost 20 Euros – I couldn’t use a 1 trip pass, because I needed a few transfers on trolleys to get to my hostel. Ridiculously expensive, especially since I only used it for a few rides.

However, I made it to my hostel, which, as you probably would have guessed, was also INCREDIBLY expensive. As it was the start of tourist season, hostels were entirely booked for everywhere in Finland – there was only one place open, which they only had ONE room left, which was a private room, so I (also) took the financial hit and put down 90 Euros for ONE night in Helsinki. As hard as that was for my bank, Helsinki was still REALLY cool. Once I checked into my room, I got settled, charged up my devices, showered, and headed out for the rest of the afternoon. I spent most of my day wandering around town.:

From my hostel, I hung out near the bay, then wandered around looking for food, passing through a small (but quite scenic park) and just kinda admiring the city. For being a large city, it was quite nice. Fairly quiet, but also has the Scandinavian, by-the-sea feel, as well as a “big city” presence. It’s kinda hard to explain, but if you visit it, you’ll understand.

I ended up finding only one place that wasn’t INSANELY expensive, which was an Italian place near downtown. Unfortunately, it was still pretty expensive – a margherita pizza (normally around 6 Euros) was around 12, and if you wanted to add toppings, it went up to 16 – and it wasn’t a big pizza, either. I really wanted to try reindeer (I know, heartbreaking. I love reindeer too, but it’s a traditional Finnish meat and I felt like I had to), but that shot the price up too, so I just didn’t do it. I’ll be back to Finland I’m sure, so I’ll try it then, I guess.

Afterwards, I ended up wandering around Helsinki some more as it got darker. I tested out some night photography – more specifically, bokeh, with manual settings; this was something I’d been trying to achieve for pretty much the entire year.

After this, I headed down to the harbor. It was really foggy, and a little bit rainy, which made it a little hard to take photos, but I ended up getting some that I really liked. I was trying to capture the fogginess and the light emitting from a huge Ferris wheel from one side of the harbor. I spent a long while at the harbor, just sitting and thinking about my trip and my year as a whole. It was a really nice, peaceful, calm night, and I enjoyed it a lot, even if I didn’t do a ton other than do photography stuff. After hanging around the harbor for around an hour, I decided to head back to my hostel and head to sleep.

In the morning, I woke up pretty late but wandered around the city on the way to the ferry. There was a big market near the harbor that I checked out for a little and wandered around, but I didn’t take any pictures of it.

I arrived at the ferry port after a LONG walk with all my stuff, hopped on the ferry after printing out my tickets, and as I was sitting on the ferry, I scrolled through my email and found a very important one, from my hostel in Helsinki.

I’d forgotten my debit card in the hostel, and I was now on a ferry to Estonia, with no cash and no way to pay for a hostel, as well as no money to get back to Helsinki.

I frantically texted my parents – having a mental breakdown on the ferry, because nothing like this had ever happened (but wait – it’ll get worse in Belgium!), and my parents suggested I go to the hostel that I had sent in a deposit for anyways. So I meandered through Tallinn – Siri took me to the wrong place, and my phone almost died – but soaking wet and frustrated, I finally made it to my hostel, Red Emperor Hostel. I explained what was going on, and my WONDERFUL parents had emailed them and let them know as well, and asked if they could cover the payment, which the hostel was hesitant to do because it’s not something they normally do. But alas, they let it happen, and the hostel was covered. Thankfully, after an outpouring of support from my friends, I ended up being able to buy a ferry ticket online for the next morning, so I could get back to Finland, albeit at a bit of a steep price tag, but it was worth it when I got my card back.

With the 5 Euros I had with me in cash, I headed out to get a pizza, which ended up at around 4.70Euro, but it was really, really good. I had brought my camera with me, and I LOVED the look of Tallinn, so I took some pictures at night. I was taking a long exposure shot of a little alleyway, and I ended up getting yelled at in Estonian by a drunk guy and his buddies.

The guys were really confrontational and rude (because they were drunk), but they kept accusing me of “disliking” Estonia (which I reassured them I loved it, because I did), and they were really pushy – like one would shove me pretty much as soon as I talked. I figured I could run if something happened (as they were drunk, I figured they wouldn’t keep up), but there weren’t a ton of people around, so I didn’t want to risk it as it was. They asked me what my name was, I told them, and they asked what “Cal” was short for (Callahan), so they started calling me “Chicken Boy” because apparently “chicken” in Estonian sounds familiar (it’s “kanaliha” according to Google Translate). The hardest part about it – or the most frustrating, rather – was that, normally when confronted by someone who’s “off,” you can just talk with them and kinda charm your way out of it, but since they were really drunk, their moods would shift from happy and lovey that I was visiting to Estonia, to one of them spitting on my shoes. It was the first (and only) real time I felt unsafe during my solo trip, just because they were BIG guys and it was obvious that charming my way out of the situation wouldn’t work. So I just talked with them and tried at every opportunity to end the conversation, and finally I got them to let me go, but they ended up liking me (?) and cheering me to get a drink with them. Like, they REALLY wanted me to get drunk with them. I explained that I didn’t have any money (my card had been stolen, I mentioned) so I had to go to my hostel, and then they got angry because they thought I was lying, so I showed them my wallet and one of the guys gave me a hug, shook my hand, and wished me good luck.

Needless to say, it was quite an interesting experience.

I made it back to my hostel with no other incidents (quite a breath of fresh air, I might add) – but I was still a little shaken up from the drunk guys. Anyways, I fell asleep pretty quickly after meeting my other roommate – a girl from Texas, whose name I didn’t write down unfortunately, but she was doing her master’s in chemical engineering in Switzerland.

In the morning, I immediately headed to the ferry port to hop on an early morning ferry to Finland.

After an uneventful ferry ride, I started my long trek to the hostel – it was around a 2 hour walk, because I couldn’t use public transportation since I didn’t have my card. It was a pretty boring walk – not much to see, minus the market again (picture below), but I was mostly just determined to get to the hostel. I didn’t have a ton of time to spare, since I scheduled my ferry so that I had to get to the hostel, grab my card, and IMMEDIATELY head back to get to the ferry in time – this time, though, I could take public transportation, so I would make it back quicker (so I could explore Tallinn without it being dark). And that’s exactly what I did! – I got my card from the hostel, and immediately headed back to the ferry, where I got on without much time to spare. I thought for a while that I theoretically could have just snuck on a tram to get to the hostel, but no – a tip for anyone traveling to Scandinavia, and Finland especially – they check EVERY TRAM pretty much to make sure that people bought tickets, which I haven’t experienced really anywhere else in Europe.

Aforementioned market

I made it back to Estonia with enough time to explore during the afternoon; it was Mother’s Day, so I also gave my mom a call while she was out with the rest of my family at a restaurant back in Sacramento. It was really nice to be able to catch up with all of them on the phone, and I ended up talking with them for a long while as I wandered through Old Town Tallinn. After the call, I just explored the town a lot more – the coolest part about Tallinn was just how natural it felt. It didn’t feel touristy or loud – it felt like a sort of “fairy-tale town,” with much of the old architecture still standing, such as the city walls, or the towers, or whatever it may be. It was an incredibly cool, quiet, small city, and I loved every bit of it.

As the sun started to set, I headed to get dinner back at the hostel – just a sandwich with the materials I’d bought (meat, bread, cheese – nothing special), but the meat was INCREDIBLY good, especially considering it was just store-bought from a Bio-Market.

My roommate in the hostel, the girl from Texas, mentioned that she used Couchsurfing (the app) to find local events with other travellers and locals, and she mentioned that a few of them were going to a local bar to grab drinks and snacks, and she invited me along, so I joined up with them. We started out at our hostel, where I ended up meeting another really drunk guy who went on a HUGE rant about the MS Estonia, which sank in 1994, killing 800+ people on the way from Tallinn to Stockholm. He was very emotional about it – maybe because of the history surrounding it and the fact that it was a HUGE deal, but I also have a feeling the alcohol had something to do with it. It ended up with him spewing theories about the Russians sinking it with a torpedo, so I ended up leaving him and he gave me a huge bear hug and reminded me to “never take anything for granted.” Pretty nice advice, and a nice guy, but he was very obviously drunk because he went on a tangent for awhile in there about Russians and spies and stuff.

Anyways.

I met up with the couchsurfing people – it was a group of 5 others and myself, from various countries. It was a TON of fun and the people were SO much fun to hang out with – one was from Russia, named Georgy, Kero (Egyptian), Denizcan (Turkish), Isgandar (Azerbaijan), and the girl from Texas whose name I forgot. We ended up talking about SO much – travel in the regions they’re from, work, lifestyle in those countries, religion, language, politics, etc. It was a really fascinating conversation with wonderful people – strangers at the start of the night, and friends by the end – and it was just a great way to bond with other people from around the globe. I definitely want to get Couchsurfing for the next time I travel abroad for an extended amount of time – it doesn’t have to be used to have a place to sleep; they do local events all the time, and people in the same area can set up events if they choose to and invite other travellers who are in the area. It’s a really cool concept and, without it, I never would have met these guys!

From L-R: Kero, the girl whose name I forget, Georgy, myself, Deniczan, Isgandar

In the morning, I woke up early to get back to the bus stop, to head to Riga, Latvia. I’d done a presentation on Latvia for my Human Geography class, and I was really excited to see Riga – I could name off facts about Latvia for DAYS, and I knew Riga was pretty much THE PLACE to be if you lived in Latvia (over half of the population of the country lives in Riga!).

Unfortunately, when I got into Riga, it was POURING rain, so I didn’t get much chance to explore that afternoon – I knew I had a full day the day after, so I took the time stuck in my hostel to get things done – uploading pictures to my laptop, doing much-needed laundry etc. and I rested for most of the afternoon. In the evening, I was told to get a drink called Riga Black Balsam – it’s a drink made of 24 different herbs and spices, and it’s said to cure diseases and illnesses (apparently Catherine the Great was deathly ill and drank it and was cured), so I went to a bar & got the Black Balsam with cream, because apparently alone it’s quite bitter. They light it on fire and you drink it with a straw as fast as possible, and it was actually not too bad! I ventured back to the hostel in the POURING rain and fell asleep shortly afterwards.

In the morning, I woke up fairly early and went out to explore the city. Here’s the thing though: Riga is a really, really small town. Considering the fact that over 1/2 of the population lives in that one city, I expected it to be bigger, but the Old Town of Riga is pretty small. I trailed a German tour group for a little while, pretending I didn’t understand German, so I learned a little more about the city itself, but not too much more than I already knew from my project on Latvia and Riga.

Despite its small size and the fact that there isn’t too much to see, Riga is still pretty gorgeous, especially when the weather is nice.

After exploring around town and buying my bus ticket, I went back to the hostel, since it started to rain pretty hard. I hung out there for a little while, uploaded pictures to my laptop, and wrote a little bit, then headed back out to the bus stop, to get to my next destination: Ukraine.

On the bus, I had a really funny experience: the ticket lady that was checking our tickets saw that I was an American when she checked my passport, so she said “Welcome to Europe! Did you just arrive?” I explained to her that I’d been traveling through Europe, and she explained that the Baltics were pretty unusual for American solo travelers to visit, but she’d seen a guy just last week who was doing the same kind of trip I was. She spoke perfect English, with a spot-on American accent – like, native American-English spot-on – so I was a little weirded out. She asked where I was from, and I told her California, and she paused for a minute and said suspiciously “Where in California?” I told her Sacramento, and it turns out she had lived in Sacramento for a long time – she was from Latvia, but spoke Latvian, Russian, Estonian, Finnish, Polish, and English, and had lived in the US for 15 years, starting when she was in high school (LA, Sacramento, and New Jersey), and had lived in Sacramento for a few of those years as she had moved from LA to Sacramento to live with family she had there.

She was so friendly and so helpful, and she came to the back of the bus a few times just to hang out and talk about how I’m liking Europe, and her experience in the US. For a miserably long bus ride to Warsaw (where I would end up boarding a bus to Ukraine), she definitely made it more enjoyable!

And with that, I arrived in Warsaw and promptly hopped on a bus to Lviv, Ukraine!

I’ll include a video when I’m done with it, but that’ll be a ways’ out. I’m going to try to finish the other blog posts before even starting on it, so it could be quite a long time.

Rakkaudella Helsingistä/Armastusega Tallinnast/Ar mīlestību no Rīgas/Mit Liebe aus Helsinki, Tallinn, und Riga,

Cal

Not including phrases, but for a song, I would definitely recommend “Two Weeks” by Grizzly Bear.

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