Touring Tallinn

August 15, 2014 § 2 Comments

I headed to Tallinn with very few expectations or notions of what I’d get up to. The only thing I had to go on was a friend’s trip to the UNESCO World Heritage City a few years ago and her description of it as “very pretty”. She wasn’t wrong.

Cobbled, often narrow, streets (quaint but totally impractical for wheely suitcases and high heels – an attempt with the later was not even considered by this not-so-intrepid traveller). Fortified walls separating the old town from the new. Pastel-coloured houses and churches galore. In short, an ideal weekend getaway if you are a lover of history and charm.

The old city itself is compact enough that a day and half is more than adequate to soak up the sights, snapping happily away with photos that are bound to make friends and family back home jealous. Further afield are the old prison (now disbanded and a end-of-the-night stop-off for hostel pub crawls) and Pirita Beach complete with white sand and half of Tallinn soaking up the sun.

And so to the essentials…..

To Stay: Tallinn Backpackers

While hostels are not everyone’s cup of tea, when travelling on a budget (and on your own) they are an ideal solution for a cheap place to rest your head and meet up with like-minded people. This time around it was Tallinn Backpackers – staffed mostly by Australians (ubiquitous no matter where you are in the world) and New Zealanders, there is a casual, friendly atmosphere, encapsulated by the “shoes off” policy and open common room. There is an 11PM curfew in respect of the neighbours, handy if you like a good night sleep, but if you want to party, there are pub crawls and it’s sister hostel, The Monks Bunk is not too far away.

I stayed in the top dorm (eight beds, mixed), complete with both a jacuzzi and sauna in the en suite bathroom. Though during my stay it was a tad too hot to contemplate either, it earned major brownie points, none-the-less.

To Eat: Von Krahl Aed

There is no shortage of places to eat in Tallinn, particularly around the Town Hall, but they tend to be very touristy and priced accordingly. My favourite eatery was Von Krahl Aed – a well-priced restaurant just a few minutes walk from the Old Town centre, with great food.

I had the lamb with pearl barley (I’m now a convert), fennel, cauliflower and blackberry sauce. If it were socially acceptable to literally lick your plate clean, I would have lapped up every last drop of the blackberry sauce (in fact, I would have been happy to eat a pot of it, on it’s own). That was followed by a trio of sorbets, which were the perfect refreshing end to the meal – anything heavier would have been over bearing in the heat. I was also pleasantly surprised to find New Zealand wine on the menu (Misty Cove, 2011).

To Do: Sights

Head to each of Toompea Hill’s three viewing platforms, which give you unobstructed, panoramic views of red-tiled rooftops, green parks and further out the enticingly blue harbour (a piece of heaven for this water-deprived, London-based New Zealander).

Walk through the churches or visit the Old Town Centre, but really the best way to see the city is to just meander. Take your time. Try to forget about the map and get yourself lost among the city’s streets – you’ll eventually find your way back to the crowds of tourists.

I’ll be the first to admit that it is easy to wax lyrical about a place when you’re blessed with pale blue, cloudless skies and temperatures nudging their way towards (and over) 30°C. But even if it were covered in snow and chilly, it’s clear that Tallinn is an easy city to enjoy and fall that little bit in love with.

My 2014 Book List

January 27, 2014 § Leave a comment

I have this list of books that I want to read. I’m constantly adding to it (I really shouldn’t be allowed to go into bookstores) and so it never gets any smaller. This year, I’ve set myself the ‘challenge’ to read twelve of the books on this list and I’m going to have to beg, borrow and buy (I think I can avoid stealing) my way through. 

JANUARY. Persuasion by Jane Austen. 

This year starts with a mild case of cheating, as I’ve already begun my latest foray into Austen’s world. Slowly, but surely I am making my way through these classics.

FEBRUARY. A Passage to India by E. M. Forster. 

The shortest month of the year is (for me) jam-packed with travel plans, so delving into a novel about a journey seems fitting.

MARCH. Londoners: The Days and Nights of London, N0w – as Told by Those Who Love it, Hate it, Live it, Left it and Long for it by Craig Taylor.

Four years of living in the Capital probably (almost, maybe) qualifies me as a Londoner. Reading Taylor’s collection of stories is my homage to my ‘home for now’ – it’s also been on my list the longest.

APRIL. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. 

Normally, I’m one of those annoyingly self-righteous people who claim you should always read the book before seeing the movie. Occasionally, though I break the rules, because if a movie is good enough to drive you to read the book, then the literary version is bound to be even more so.

MAY. Down and Out in Paris by George Orwell. 

Even though I immensely disliked 1984 and was  left baffled by Animal Farm, there is something about Orwell that makes me want to keep reading more.

JUNE. The Last Man in Russia by Oliver Bullough.

To be honest, I’m struggling to remember why this book made the list (and reading the reviews is not helping at all), but at some point this summer I WILL be going to Russia, so when in St. Petersburg…

JULY. Love Letters of the Great War edited by Mandy Kirkby.

2014 marks the hundredth anniversary of the start of World Word One (July 28). As a commemoration, July will be devoted to reading something from this time. Kirkby’s book is one of the latest additions to my list, but had me gripped after the first letter.

AUGUST. The Big Fight by Sugar Ray Leonard.

A well-rounded literary year needs to have a bit of non-fiction thrown in. Not a fan of boxing (though my love for The Power of One my contradict that), this captured me. If it’s on the list, there must be something there!

SEPTEMBER. Richard III by David Baldwin.

I’m a sucker for anything about the War of the Roses and Tudor/Stewart history, so the chance to delve into the personality of one of this period’s most intriguing (and possibly misunderstood) figures was a no-brainer (it’s also been endorsed by one of my favourite authors, Philippa Gregory).

OCTOBER. Jack Holmes and His Friend by Edmund White.

Rather sensible in reality, I cannot help but fall in love with a well-written, touching love story, regardless of whom the object of affection is.

NOVEMBER. Which Lie Did I Tell by William Goldman. 

A screenwriter’s insight into the world of Hollywood, written by the man who created the Dread Pirate Robert, Buttercup, Wesley and the line Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die (aka The Princess Bridge).

DECEMBER. Black Vodka by Deborah Levy and Summer Lies by Bernhard Schlink

Okay, so the year will end the way it begins: with cheating. But since both books are actually collections of short stories, it’s not really cheating, right?

Suggestions for additional reads are wholeheartedly welcomed. 

Living London to the Limit

December 22, 2013 § 3 Comments

A couple of weeks ago I came to a realisation: I have been living in London for over four years and much of the time I haven’t really made the most of it (travelling aside).

The odd concert here and there. A fair few West End shows. An almost ritual-like attendance at Wimbledon.

But to have lived in one of the worlds most dynamic cities, where there is an over-abundance of things to do and see, I’ve not had the experiences that I can, and should, have. I’ve decided that is about to change.

In life, you are only young and free from responsibilities (in theory) for a short amount of time. And in that time you’ve got to enjoy every second of it. The ability to be that little bit selfish is a luxury that goes out the window with a house, career and the 2 ½ kids. I’m not ready for those things quite yet (though the career would be handy).

And so (get ready for the clichés) – it is time to live life to the full and make the most out of it. To treat every day as if it were the last. To be money poor, but life rich.

First up was heading to Vauxhall Village’s outdoor screening of Miracle on 34th Street. Watching a cheesy Christmas classic, wrapped up in a blanket, with a cup of mulled cider on a Tuesday evening, as the trains sped over-head (we were under the Vauxhall Arches), was the perfect way to head into the festive season.

It might have been that little bit more perfect had I had company, but doing something on my lonesome is not new, and was never going to stop me, nor should it stop you. Why hold yourself back from doing something you love, just because no one else wants to be your ‘plus one’? Head out on your own and realise that, really, it’s not that scary to go solo.

Next up: heading to the 40th Floor of the Heron Tower to dine at Duck & Waffle. At 2AM. Whose with me?

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