Before I get to Tallinn itself, I want to spend just a brief moment describing the totally silly 3-hour ferry from Helsinki to Tallinn (the capital that's on the north coast of Estonia, on the Baltic sea), which really was less like a ferry and more like a giant, floating, lime green casino, complete with slot machines, darkly lit bars, cheesy carpeting, mirrors everywhere, and chrome handrails up and down all the stairs. Unfortunately (or fortunately?) there are no pictures, as it was pretty much the most unphotogenic place imaginable, but just…try to imagine it (or don’t!)
Those who have taken this ferry before know that the way to do it is to leave one person with the bags while the other sprints ahead to find a place to sit—this is challenging, as there are many more people than seats. But Harper and I didn’t know this, so we dragged our suitcases up and down the staircases, like idiots, until we found the bag check. By the time we got rid of the suitcases, all of the seats were gone. We wandered through the ship, people sitting in every open sittable area, slouched in the hallways and all the corners. For a really depressing period of about 15 minutes we thought we were going to have to spend the ride outside on the back deck, in the freezing rain, with the smokers. We finally settled for sitting next to the main staircase, getting looks from everyone that passed. I wished I had a hammock that I could hang from the underside of the stairs. I was quite glad when we landed in Tallinn. It was grey and rainy, and we took a cab to the AirBNB in Kalamaja, a nice quiet neighborhood just outside the old town.
We didn’t go to any museums in Tallinn, because I am tired of them, and I believe a place is not its museums. Instead, we made a good Estonian friend named Carl-Kaspar, who was our server our second night in the city at a very special restaurant called Rataskaevu 16 (it’s both the name and the address), and we spent most of our time with him (our second blonde Nordic spirit guide of the trip). It all began when Harper and I foolishly walked in to this very popular restaurant without a reservation on a Friday night, but Carl liked our smiles and our energy and so he let us have a seat upstairs anyway.
The food was phenomenal, and we chatted with Carl over the course of the meal. Every time he left, Harper and I would grin at each other giddily and exclaim “I really like him!” After dinner we exchanged numbers, and met up for drinks when his shift ended. The next day, we went back to Rataskaevu 16, and the next day as well, and every day after that. We tried almost everything on the menu, and re-ordering our favorites. Sometimes Carl would be our server, and when he was he would leave us notes on the little paper doilies under our cups so that we only saw them once we lifted them to drink.
On his days off, we would still go there and eat there together—the whole staff there is like family, so he said he didn't mind, that it didn’t feel like being at work. We also made friends with a few of the servers, who are all wonderful and interesting and kind, and they became a bit like our Estonian family. I feel frustrated that I can't quite communicate just how special this place, how much love you can feel in there. One of the tables in the downstairs part of the dining room has a drawer in the side, and if you open it you'll find hundreds of paper napkins that people have written notes on to the staff and left there. Harper and I added our own to the collection.
Below is a photo of Carl and Harper (left to right). I love this photo because, not only are they adorable, but, because of my excellent photo composition skills, it also looks like there's an enormous spoon growing out of the top of Carl's head. Once you see it, it's all you will be able to see.
As I mentioned before, Harper and I changed AirBNBs three times in order to stay in Tallinn. Our final AirBNB was just a few doors down from Rataskaevu 16 (at Rataskaevu 5), though we only realized that after we booked it. We joked with the staff that next time we would just move directly into the restaurant and save on commuting time.
When Harper and I left Tallinn to move onto Stockholm, the goodbyes were painful. Traveling can be heartbreaking like that—for a brief period of time we created an entire life in Tallinn, it had a structure that held up our whole existence. And then, when we left, it was all torn down.
But! Don't despair! It's not all gone—I still chat with Carl and Jakob, another friend of ours, regularly on Facebook, and am very thankful for the friendships. In the next post, I'll talk about Aegna Island, one of my most favorite places I've ever been.