Cycling through Tallinn!
I’ve spent nearly two years now in Tallinn. I study in Tallinn University at BFM, audiovisual media and in these two years, I have fallen in love with this city. It’s far from perfect like any city but for sure it is one of my favorite places where I’ve ever lived in Finland or elsewhere. Sometimes it might feel too small and tired, especially in the winter or in the summertime you get fed up with all the tourists in the Old Town or sometimes you might even cry when your bad Estonian language is not understood and the lady behind the supermarket counter doesn’t understand that you want piece of chicken and some veggies and you are so hungry that tears just run down your cheeks and you go and take some frozen pizza instead.
Tallinn surprised me hundred percent. Even though I come from Finland and you are supposed to know your neighbors it had been over 10 years I had visited Estonia when I moved here and had no many memories or expectations. The city is surprisingly vivid and international. Locals are nice, no better or worse than anywhere else and they usually respond the way you treat them. Many people say it’s hard to get to know them but then again, where ever you go, it is hard to get to know the locals being a foreigner. After two years I’ve got some Estonian friends and acquaintances but mostly I hang out with other nationalities. It’s easier, to be honest. It’s easier to be a friend with a Georgian or Singaporean because you are all strangers in this country. But it’s also kinda sad. As a foreigner, you miss so much if you don’t make an effort to even try to get in.
This year I’ve made more effort than previously. Mainly because the first year was so full of new people, new studies, and new life. This year I had more time for Estonian language and culture. I recently read a book that would have been good to read when I first came here but better late than never! It was just a simple, little bit funny book about who Estonians are and why they are like that and it actually made things a little bit more clear for me. It said they are odd and they know it and they are proud of it, I cheer for that!
I hear a lot that nothing should surprise me here since I come from Finland but I think because of that things surprise me all the time. Our languages might be close but there are many opportunities for a Finn and for an Estonian to get lost when having a talk. It’s like talking to a newly found cousin who speaks very very weird dialect. We also do not share a history us two countries so it makes a huge difference sometimes in way of thinking or seeing or doing things. But to expect that we are very same makes it so big surprise to notice how different and special our two nations are. Estonians are Estonians and Finns are definitely Finns. All in good and bad!
So actually last week I got a chance to bring my mom’s old bicycle to Tallinn. I had bought this old retro bike in Tallinn with 20€ but it was a little bit too retro to actually bike with and now I had lost the key to the lock and there it hangs to the street lamp in Tallinn’s Kalamaja where I don’t even live anymore. With my new old bike, I took a chance to ditch the free public transport and take the freedom to go where ever and I just love it!
It’s like seeing the city for the first time again. Just today I had something to do in Kopli where it takes maybe 15-20 minutes by bus from my place which is not bad but I decided to take the bike because finally it was more than 15 degrees outside. I took the same route than the bus would have taken but I saw everything so differently. I thought that I’m no stranger to Tallinn. I have walked a lot in different areas and I also had a dog here for almost 18 months (who sadly had to go to Finland because I moved to a shared flat. He loved Tallinn as well by the way) and we had a long walk every day. So I’ve been around. But with the bike, it was different than walking a dog or looking out of the tram’s or bus’ window. When I was coming back home I took a different route and saw so many new things; little tables and trailers selling vegetables by the road, old stores that you don’t see closer to the city anymore, parks I hadn’t even heard of and because it’s summer, all the young people doing fun stuff here and there far from Old Town and Viru Keskus. That was the image I had been searched for; “the normal Tallinn”.
I feel like the bike gave me a tool to explore Tallinn more than anything else. It’s not a number of restaurants or pubs or cafes you’ve visited. It’s the things you’ve seen and people you’ve met. It’s also not a race, you don’t have to do so many things just to be open for them.
I recently moved to the Old Town and was a little bit afraid that it would make me feel like living in this “expat bubble” surrounded by the biggest tourist sight, popular restaurants and bars and everything I need just around the corner and living only with other foreigners. So I hope the bike will break that bubble. I don’t know what kept me from buying a proper bike or bringing my mom’s old bike here before but I’m glad I did it now. So as a promise for myself this summer is to use the bike as often as I can and explore every inch what Tallinn has to offer me. And a piece of advice for all other international students, go and get a bike for yourself if possible and start exploring the city!