Baltics Day 10: A sober account of a drunken night in Tallinn

Day 10: Monday September 12th, 2016

Well, my voice is now completely gone.

Remember that honey I bought yesterday? Some of it was for me to just drink whenever I felt my voice was going. And that Black Balsam before bed? Didn't work either. I have some trust in homeopathy, but after this trip, I'm 100% behind some old-fashioned antibiotics that are not available over the counter. Really, Riga? I can shoot a fully-automatic AK-47 without a gun permit and I can sit at a bar for 24 hours straight but I can't get a damn antibiotic?! If I want to murder someone or ruin my liver, that's fine, but God forbid if I want to self-prescribe some Azithromycin, I have to find some other country to do so. I just don't understand.

As these posts always begin, let's play the "how much sleep did Melissa get last night" game! I woke up today at 5:30am before my alarm because I couldn't sleep (???), so that's a whopping 2.5 hours! Wahoo!

It was time for me to pack up and head out to the bus station (to get to Tallinn), and I'm *that* hostel person who didn't pack the night before, but don't you worry, I just brought the entire locker outside of the hostel room's door so I could pack out in the hallway so as not to disturb my roommates. If you think "wow that must've been heavy," it wasn't. That locker was on wheels and MADE for these sorts of situations.

After packing up, I head to the lobby of the hostel where a very sleepy receptionist helps me check out and gives me directions to the bus station. He asks if I need anything else, and that was it, so then he disappears. But I soon realize that he directed me to the airport bus stop, and not the actual bus station. I look for him to help me find the right place, but he's gone. I buzz the front door hoping he'll magically appear from somewhere but I don't know where he went. Time for me to go get lost, then!

I get completely turned around in the highway tunnels which run under the main road, since they have multiple entrances and exits which face random directions. I need to use my compass to determine which direction I am facing when I exit, and then I realize I'm near a shopping mall and most definitely not a bus station. I hope I can make it!!!
After asking three people for help, I successfully find the bus station. Once on the bus, the lack of rest catches up to me and I sleep the solid 4.5 hours of the bus ride, waking up just before my 11:30am arrival in Tallinn, Estonia.

Thankfully, the Tallinn bus station has a visitors' center which includes free maps. I love my maps. I take one and get to the tram station to head into the city. Once on the tram, though, I can't figure out how to pay the driver. I get in the front of the tram should someone ask me for a ticket, but no one ever does. An older American couple eventually gets on the tram and asks about tickets, to which a passenger replies that they need to put their money in the driver's door. She points to a small slot that is by the driver, and the couple puts money in it. From the angle I'm sitting at, I can only see a shadow of a hand accept it and a shadow of a hand place a ticket in the slot for the couple to remove. Creepy. I do the same thing and the disembodied arm gives me a ticket, too.

I head straight to the hostel using my trusty map and compass. The receptionist informs me that I'll need to remove my shoes upon entering the building, just like in Sweden.

Even though I took this early bus to allow myself plenty of time in Tallinn, I am so tired that I just hang out in the hostel using the Wifi for about two hours before actually heading out. There's a free walking tour that starts near the main square at 3pm, and it's around 2pm right now. I head out realizing that, oh hey, per usual, I forgot to eat today!

I stop by the grocery store on the way and grab a couple granola bars for 30 cents (!) and then head to the main square. The guide is a lively Estonian girl who is perky and fun and I definitely thought she was Welsh based on the accent, but apparently she was born and raised Estonian...her learned English is just that good. She takes us on our tour and here are some of the things I learn about Estonia and/or Tallinn!
  • 1/3 of the Estonian population lives in Tallinn. Tallinn's population is roughly 440,000.
  • Today, marking just over 23 years, is currently the longest period of independence that Estonia has existed in, without any sort of occupation or anything else happening!
  • Estonia is one of the only countries to have gained independence without losing anyone by death (in other words, it didn't go to war to gain independence).
  • The St. Nicholas Church, constructed in the 13th century, was destroyed in the Soviet bombings of WWII. When the Soviets took over the area, they wanted to preserve it, but being Soviets, they didn't want it to become a church, and instead wanted to create an atheist museum. Those plans never saw the light of day. And as our guide said "I'm really not sure what you'd put in an atheist museum, to be honest."
  • The old town part of Tallinn has a wall around it, which was constructed in the 13th century. Tallinn is home to some of the best-preserved medieval walls in Europe.
  • Estonia was the first country in the world to have online voting.
  • Skype was created by Estonians, then later sold to Microsoft.
  • Tallinn and Estonia in general are like the Silicon Valley of Europe. Estonia has the highest startup per capita in the world.
  • It also has the highest super model population per capita in the world.
  • The Pikk Hermann tower holds the flag of the current reign of Tallinn. At present, it's the Estonian flag, but if Russia or Spain or whichever country one day took over, it would be the Russian or Spanish or whatever flag. It is raised at sunrise and lowered at sunset, both set to music. At the flag raise, the instrumental of the Estonian/Finnish national anthem is played (music is the same, they just have different lyrics).
  • The Baltic Chain or Baltic Way was a human chain that connected three Baltic cities: Tallinn, Riga and Vilnius, with about 2 million people holding hands, unbroken, across three countries in peaceful protest against human rights violations by the Soviet Union. For Tallinn, this meant 1 out of every three people participated in this protest.
  • Another peaceful protest was the Singing Revolution wherein locals would peacefully protest Soviet occupation by gathering to sing national songs and hymns that were banned during Soviet rule.
  • Lutheran is the most popular religion in Estonia, but it only accounts for 13% of the population's beliefs, with Russian Orthodox as a close second at 12%. Despite the overwhelming amount of gorgeous cathedrals and churches, nearly 40% of the population claims atheism or no religion.
  • In the 1500s, Estonia has the claim to the first ever public decorated Christmas tree.
  • The president is apparently quite a character, and he loves music, so he's compiled a Presidential Mix Tape consisting of his favorites from his teen years, titled "Teenage Wasteland," that you can purchase at local music stores or on Spotify!
  • Estonia has the youngest prime minister in Europe, at 36 years old.
  • Public transit is completely free for locals!

Tallinn and Estonia are way more fascinating than I'd previously thought!

After the walking tour, I do some souvenir shopping and wander around old town. The tour guide previously informed me of a  "giant pancake" restaurant that's super cheap and very filling. Sounds like my kind of place. I go to Kompressor where I check out their massive menu of "pancakes" which we Americans would call crepes. They have both sweet and savory, and as I've only eaten a granola bar so far today, I think I'll be "healthy" and get something savory, such as a crepe filled with ground beef and cheese. The thing comes to me folded into a quarter of its' original size, and now it is still a whopping 7 inches. Jesus. I eat half, but don't feel guilty since the entire thing cost less than $6. I have said it before, but I will say it again: I love how cheap this country is.


After properly stuffing my face, walking my feet off, and stopping into the pharmacy to buy some drugs as souvenirs at this point (Let's try out some Thermaflu for good measure!), I head back to the hostel. Before I booked this trip, I was debating between two hostels in Tallinn: the Monk's Bunk and the Tallinn Backpackers. They are both owned by the same person, but the former is the "party" hostel and the latter is the "social" hostel. Going into this trip, I didn't want to worry about sleeping on a bed that my hostel roommate accidentally barfed on, so I decided on the latter, thinking it would be fun without being so extreme. After all, the Monk's Bunk has this video on their website chronicling flaming "cocaine" shots and partying until the wee hours, which didn't seem my vibe.

But here I am after 9 days of travel, a person who has slept probably 5 hours on average, if not less, per night, some of those nights due to partying. I arrive in the Tallinn Backpackers' hostel and there is no one in the common rooms and it reminds me of the lame hostels in Helsinki and Oslo. All I can think about is how my final night of this epic trip will be spent quietly sitting in my room watching some Ryan Gosling movie on my tablet and that doesn't make me happy, despite my love for the Baby Goose.

I knew coming here that the hostel's bar crawl nights were only Thursday-Saturday, so my Monday night would probably be a dud. Upon my arrival, the receptionist mentioned that the hostel bar down the street had a happy hour between 7-9pm. I think "this is it, this is the social time!" The bar, Ükskõik, is owned by the same guy who owns Monk's Bunk and Tallinn Backpackers and a handful of other hostels in the area. Surely it will be filled with people from all these places!

I arrive and...no one is there. Well, the bartender is there. And he's talking to some dude. The dude goes in the back and I ask the bartender, "Am I the only one here?" "No, there's that guy." So just me and that guy.

...and some chairs

After about 20 minutes, "that guy" leaves, and I am the only person in the bar for the entire happy hour! I use this time to blog and use the free wifi. The happy hour deal is quite a good one for drinkers, as you get two draft ciders or beers and four shots for $6. I order one cider and it's a half liter. So let me correct that: you get a liter of beer or cider, plus four shots, for $6. A single cider/beer is usually $3 each, so I get one, and the bartender is like "are you doing the happy hour special?" No, dude, I'm not downing a liter of cider and four shots alone in a bar before this happy hour special ends in 30 minutes. But thanks for looking out for my wallet!

Ugh. Here I am, it's 9:45pm, and I'm alone in a bar in Tallinn. I watch a couple enter, play Foosball, makeout and leave in the course of 30 minutes. Is this my life right now? I use my tablet to go to HostelWorld and there's rooms left in Monk's Bunk for the night...and since these places are so cheap, it's only $14 if I decided to switch hostels. I could do this. I am gonna see if it's hoppin' over at the Monks Bunk, and I'm willing to "waste" my $13 spent at the Tallinn Backpackers if it means I can socialize with someone, anyone, tonight.

I return to my hostel and it's nearing 10:45pm. I find a good crowd hanging in the hostel lounge, drinking and socializing. Maybe I don't have to switch after all! I grab my tablet and hang on the couch, drinking some disgusting Estonian Thermaflu for my cough, and think about how little I want to spend time with these people. I feel like I'm in a church basement party right now. Then, the receptionist from before, who is now chilling on the couch, says "so let's head off to the bar, then!" And the whole group gets ready to leave to...yes, the bar I JUST left from. And then the receptionist says that I have to leave, as the common area closes at 11pm. GAH! Ok, I'm DEFINITELY going to the Monk's Bunk.

I grab my purse and walk straight to the Monk's Bunk, which is about a mile away. I get let in by a drunk dude who holds the door open for me, and their common room is quiet. Knowing that this is definitely a party hostel, despite it being a Monday, I know they are at one place and one place only: Ükskõik. I head all the way back to that bar and see the Tallinn Backpackers lame crowd in the front, quietly chatting, and move my way to the back of the bar where I see a more lively crowd playing Jenga and laughing. I chat up a dude who informs me that duh, this is the group from the Monk's Bunk. YES. Friends will be made.

FRIENDS
I sit down at one of the tables and I gotta say, all of my experiences on this trip so far have found me outnumbered by dudes. As they say in the Hunger Games, and to girls in my situation, "the odds are ever in your favor." I instantly am welcomed into the group and into the game of Jenga. Drunk people are very welcoming, especially when you’re the third female in a group of 15 males. I befriend birthday-boy Aussie Tom and Londoners Deniz and Marcus, as well as a few other people from the hostel. It's clear from everyone's spirits that they must've started drinking early back at their hostel. We play a few intense rounds of Jenga, and despite never having played before, I actually do very well for myself. Deniz loses a few rounds and openly declares that he shouldn't be losing as he has a Masters in Material Science and Engineering. Tom also studied engineering, apparently. Then the table goes around and I become aware to the fact that everyone here studied engineering of some sort. Oh cool, I have a communications degree. "But that's good, because we all need to communicate!" Deniz tells me.

Eventually, one of the guides from the Monk's Bunk tells us that they're taking the group to a top secret location next, and it entails karaoke. Off we go. Deniz and Marcus inform me that they'll be singing Phil Collins so well that the bar won't know WHAT hit them. I don't know if there will ever be such a reaction to Phil Collins, but you can go ahead and try.

The reason it's so top secret is that it's in the rival hostel's bar, The Red Emperor. The Red Emperor has a bouncer up front, and supposedly denies anyone who appears drunk. Blocks before we arrive, our guide hushes us and tells everyone to rip off their wrist band that labels them as Monk's Bunk patrons and to "act sober." Please tell that to the girl who is using my shoulder to prop herself up, or to the dude who just took his shirt off in 60* F weather. Actually, telling drunk people to "act sober" will never, ever work.

We enter and find ourselves in a bar packed with people, two of which are the guides from my Riga hostel, the Naughty Squirrel: Liva and Piers. I knew Liva would be here as she'd mentioned it on my last day in Riga, but seeing Piers there, too was very cool! The main room has a huge bar on one side and a couple Foosball tables on the other.  We hung out and chatted at the bar, and Tom knew them both from his previous stay in Riga. He wasn't there when I was, though, as he's been practically living in the Monk's Bunk hostel for a few weeks now, even getting offered free nights in exchange for 20 hours/week of hostel work. Sounds like a sweet deal, if you ask me. Also at the bar, I meet a guy Miguel from Mexico who recognized me from the walking tour we were on earlier. He's dressed way too nicely for this sort of crowd.

After a while, Deniz and I decide to go into the karaoke room, where you can hear any and all your favorite hits like Oasis, Backstreet Boys, that one Irish song I heard everywhere while studying in Spain in 2009...they've got everything as long as it's English-language and international!

The back of the karaoke room is lined with airline seats (actual seats from an airplane....?) and there's a life-size Jenga game with blocks as big as your arm. Deniz and my eyes light up and since no one is playing, we jump right over and begin. Life-size Jenga is more fun as the collapse of the tower is so loud it causes the entire bar to stare. So you better not embarrass yourself.

The more fun we have, the more people join our game, and soon we're surrounded by British Adam, and...I wasn't officially introduced to the rest of the group, but they're mostly British. Then a few of them leave, and some middle-aged dude named Carlo walks up and introduces himself. He's drunk and also wants to play Jenga. We all introduce ourselves: "Adam," "Melissa," "Carlo," "Deniz."   Then Carlo proceeded to repeat our names over and over again, pointing at us as he went. “Adam and Deniz. Melissa and Carlo. Adam and Deniz. Melissa and Carlo.” I think after a couple times repeating it, it was less to remember names and more imagining it on a wedding certificate, and it was creeping me out. Luckily he disappeared when the bar closed at 3am. Three AM, really? That's the earliest I've been out of a bar this whole trip.

We leave and a drunk girl who has been with us since the first bar is attempting to guide us back to the Monk's Bunk by going in the opposite direction. She insists it's to the right. I insist that my map and compass say otherwise. I get about 7 people on my side (compass always wins) and two guys follow her. One of the people in this group is a local Estonian who was at the Red Emperor and is offering to walk us back to get us home safe. Again, thanks, but we have a map and compass. Some other British guy who originally trusted my map and compass routine is now pulling out his phone saying he has the way home. People, people! How do you think we got around before Google maps? Maps and compasses work! Just not in Copenhagen. Everywhere else, though, yes. I get slightly offended that this random British dude and Estonian won't let me lead the way anymore.

On our way back to the Monk's Bunk, we stop to get food at some street kiosk. I'm not feeling the burgers option so I decide to go with a crepe. One of the British guys calls it a pancake. If that's a pancake, then what do you call a regular pancake? I guess they don't have those here. Oh well. They are fresh out of crepes, so I order fries instead.

The most drunk guy in the group, let's call him John (I never got his name), is swaying about and making no sense. Everyone here is drunk, but John is plastered. He rambles to me about how he was shooting guns earlier (AK-47 tours are common here) but didn't kill any bears. Well, since it's at an indoor shooting range, I'd assume that's the truth. Adam, who is from the same part of England as John, offers to translate, since John is both drunk and has a hard-to-understand accent. This results in John mumbling to me in one ear as Adam clearly repeats every word in the other. Surround sound incoherent ranting!

The British guy who previously offended me with his Google maps then tells John that a duck (which is walking nearby on the grass) was talking shit about him. John's not that drunk (or is he?) but as a joke he pretends to take offense and starts chasing the duck around the food kiosk, yelling at it. The bird flies away and returns, and the British guy says that the duck definitely was saying some rude things to John. John slowly sneaks up on the duck until it flies away. Drunk people are weird.

Some people approach to order food from the kiosk, and when one of the Brits hits on a girl in the group, she says "No thanks, I'm a lesbian" and then proceeds to make out with another girl from her group. I couldn't tell if it was sincere as the second girl seemed shocked by the kiss, but okay, cool. If anything it works to deter the Brit. Or not.

Eventually the group finishes their food and decides to make it back to the hostel. I ask if it's cool if I go in, since I'm not a guest. I am not sure what the hostel rules are. John says "You can come over, you just can't sleep with us!" The other 6 British dudes in the group, and myself, all hear the wording he used and the boys all go "Ooooh!!!" John realizes his fumble. "I didn't mean it like that! I just meant you can't sleep in the rooms, because you don't have a room! I didn't. Oh stop, I didn't mean it like that I swear!"

We return to the hostel, and next door there is a restaurant. Tom is sitting alone on the patio, without food or drink in front of him. "What are you doing here?" I ask. "I'm waiting for my food." We all enter the hostel without him.

Deniz, Adam, the Estonian and I all sit on the couches and chat until Tom enters with two giant bags of food. I think to myself that he maybe ordered food to share, which is a shame, since we all ate already. But no, I soon realize that he ordered it all for himself. I don't know what guys weigh on average so I can't give an accurate measurement, but Tom is not a big guy. He's pretty skinny, actually. So when he tells me he ordered two whole fried chickens(!), my mind goes straight to Jake Blues. I watch in morbid amusement as he slowly but surely works his way through both chickens. I feel like I'm watching an eating competition, watching this skinny dude methodically eat his way through a few pounds of fried meat. His main concern is that he may run out of sauce, but he starts to ration it so in the end it's all good.

Meanwhile, Londoner Deniz attempts to get a game of backgammon going, and everyone rips on him for choosing too “posh” of a game. “Get me my tobacco pipe and top hat, we’re going to play a game of backgammon!” “Bring round the servants to set us up a game of backgammon!” “Stop the private jet, dahling, I’d fancy a game of backgammon.” Deniz snaps back that we’re just teasing because we don’t know how to play…which ends up being completely true.

When I mention again that I'm not staying at this hostel, the Estonian asks a lot of questions about the hostel I'm staying at. Being a local, I think he's just curious about what part of town it's located in, but I still get creeped out thinking he is going to try walking me home as he is the only other non- Monk's Bunk patron present at the moment. I think he also may have just been trying to figure out where it was relative to the bar, but I was getting very frustrated by his constant stream of questions and ended the conversation abruptly.

Sasha, who works at the hostel, informs us that we can’t have the lights on in the common area past 11pm, so we give up on the game and Deniz expresses how much he’d like a cup of tea. This gets all the dudes (again, they're all British except for Aussie Tom) on rants about tea. “PG tips is the best” says Deniz, “No, Yorkshire black is the greatest” says Adam. They all discuss the tea like they’re people stranded on an island discussing all the food they miss back home. Sasha offers to make some, and Deniz's face lights up “OH WOULD YOU!?” Um, it’s boiled water. Not exactly a science. Then Sasha informs us only Lipton is available, to everyone’s complete disappointment. These are Brits, and Lipton is bottom barrel.

Sasha makes the tea, but then we find out from another dude working at the hostel that we really really really can’t be in the common area at this time, even if we’re quiet, and even if we’re not drinking. So since I needed to head home, I ask Deniz to walk me as that Estonian was asking too many details earlier. The Estonian tells us he just needs to grab his jacket, so when he disappears, Deniz and I rush out and run a couple blocks to lose him. We succeeded and I got home safe and sound…at 6am.

Tomorrow I have just under a half day remaining in Tallinn before I return home to Chicago.

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