Tallinn: day four & the bit at the airport

On Sunday, I was up quite early, down at Viru Gate by 9.05am, astonished that all the shops seemed to be open – including McDonald’s – even though I’d been struck by how little had been open at 10 on Saturday. Lisa had told me where to get the trolleybus and said that I could buy my ticket from the driver with the right change or I could buy it in the R Kiosk, and had marked said R Kiosk on my map. I found the R Kiosk, on the corner of Freedom Square, and enquired about tickets only to be told I had to buy it from the driver.

The buses come along every ten or fifteen minutes so I didn’t have long to wait, and we headed west out of the city (it turns out you don’t need exact change but it’s useful for getting rid of your 10c and 20c coins). The zoo is in Rocca al Mare, a suburb of Tallinn founded by an Italian, and I fell for the peculiar way announcements are made on Estonian buses and got off at the wrong one. I heard “Looga, järgmine peatus Zoo” and thought that meant that was the zoo stop just long enough to leap before I realised that means “This stop is Looga, the next stop is Zoo”. It was about a fifteen minute walk to the correct bus stop, in the sunshine, along the shore, alongside six lanes of traffic. You can’t get lost, it’s a trolleybus, just follow the wires and you’ll get to the next stop eventually.

Even though the zoo had been open for an hour by the time I arrived, it felt weirdly deserted. I still think the north gate, where I came in, is the main gate but the evidence suggests otherwise. I wasn’t even entirely sure I was at the zoo. It took a while to get to the animals and I wasn’t sure about it even then. Smallish enclosures, with dusty outside areas, where assorted exotic sheep and goats were separated from visitors by a fence and six feet of shrubbery before you even got to their own fencing. However, it seems these are just holding pens – out near the west gate, there were big grassy enclosures full of the very same exotic sheep and goats.

My favourite bit was the petty zoo, where pygmy goats roamed free, perfectly happy for small children to climb all over them and maul them. It probably helped that they had a few more fenced-off areas where they could escape when they’d had enough of it. There were three teeny-tiny baby goatses keeping out of the way, where I could just about stroke their little heads with my fingertips but where they were safe from children. They had a log to climb on and when I sat on it to play with them, they climbed on me. There was a machine of goat food but it wasn’t working very well. The goats didn’t care, they shoved me out of the way to climb up and lick the spout.

I saw exotic goats and sheep, elephants, rhinos, a gigantic crocodile, chimps, tamarins, wallabies (complete with a baby in the pouch), lions and a young polar bear, showing off, throwing her toys around and climbing up the fence to look scary. The polar bear and leopard enclosures are very out of date and the zoo knows it, there’s a sign up at each end, saying they’re moving to better homes “soonest” but judging by the state of the sign, it’s been a while. Still, the leopards were enjoying a sleep in the sun and the polar bears seemed happy enough.

The sun had really come out by the time I’d made my way all around the zoo and stopped for a picnic by the rhinos. I got the bus back to town and then jumped on tram 3 to Kadriorg, which is a big park to the east of the Old Town, built by Peter the Great for his mistress, later Empress, Catherine I – Kadriorg meaning Catherine’s Valley in Estonian. He built her a palace, Kadriorg Palace, which is now an art museum, and behind it is the Presidential Palace. Kadriorg is nice and green and open and full of trees and water features and cafes and ice creams and a very pleasant place to pass a few hours, even if you don’t go in the museums.

I took tram 1 back to Linnahall, which is my nearest tram stop, just below Fat Margaret, who sits more or less at the top of Uus, my street. I saw the word Uus all over the place, on everything from street names to fruit vans and research has revealed that it means new, which makes sense.

After walking around the zoo and Kadriorg, my feet were hurting so I went to the spa again, this time hiring a suit that actually fitted. I got changed in the correct changing room and wore my glasses and went to enjoy the hot tubs. This time I could move safely, I could see the clock, I could see where I was going and I could see the game of water football taking place in the deep end of the main pool. Nine of the ten lanes, again, were occupied but I didn’t desperately want to go in the deep cold water when there were warm hot tubs to sit in. With my glasses on, I could actually enjoy the view from the long window along the side and also the video on the big screen at the front of the pool – a month or two ago, they set up a giant swing above the pool and played the video in between adverts and movie trailers. I really didn’t want to get out when my time ran out.

On the way home, I popped into the supermarket, which is all of 200 metres away from the spa. It’s quite the novelty to be able to go into a supermarket and buy chocolate at 8pm on a Sunday. Back at my apartment, I packed.

It took a surprisingly long time to finish packing on Monday morning. I finished off my bread, washed all my glasses and departed, determined to come back next year. The bus left from the shopping centre next to the Viru Hotel and off we went to the airport, which is pretty much in town. There’s a main road running alongside the runway, far closer than I’ve ever seen. So close to town that I wasn’t convinced it really was the airport until everyone with a suitcase jumped off the bus.

Tallinn Airport is aiming to be the cosiest airport in the world and it’s doing well. My initial impression, from Thursday night, was reinforced when I got through security – it’s really cute! Several of the gates have novelty seats – beanbags at one, leather sofas at another, massage chairs at another – and the rest have seats covered in bright stripy fabric. There’s a fishtank and adorable little cafes and bars and even a library, which I didn’t find. The downside was the group of big ugly bald men, each with a big wheely suitcase, who’d clearly been drinking for the last three days, starting their day with another pint at the airport before getting their flight home. I sat on a stripy chair and looked around – not a soul in the airport except these drunk men. What a fun flight.

Actually, when we went through passport control – for I was departing Estonia on a non-Schengen flight, of course – there were more people and once we were on the plane, I didn’t see them again. We were allowed through the gate and went downstairs to wait in a sort of holding pen. I looked around. Something was wrong. No plane in sight. Were we really going to be bussed to the other end of the airport? No, our plane just hadn’t arrived yet. They could have left us at the gate, with seats, for another ten or twenty minutes, by the time they’d got the incoming passengers off and prepared it for the next lot. I saw the pilot, in his yellow jacket, inspect the plane, which I’ve never seen before but I’m glad they do do it. I saw a girl return to the plane and the baggage train eventually be brought back, to retrieve what I can only assume was her passport which had ended up in the hold, in front of an entire plane’s worth of witnesses. I sat right at the back, next to an Estonian woman who’s lived in Surrey for ten years, and a retired teacher called Alistair, who I came to hate. They talked most of the way back, which was fine, but Alistair, you are a horrible person.

We landed at South Terminal despite my boarding pass saying we were landing at North, and the inflight magazine being so happy that all of easyJet was now at North, so I got a ride on the shuttle back to the right terminal and then came the usual catastrophe, how to get from Gatwick to Billingshurst. The other way is fine, just follow the pictures of planes but Billingshurst isn’t signposted from Gatwick and I always, without fail, get lost around Crawley and have to resort to stopping outside a random pub/garage/residential street to turn the maps on on my phone. I have never yet gone back to Billingshurst the same way I went in the other direction, or got back in the same way twice. It’s a very pleasant drive once you get there but it’s the hardest place in the world to get to. So I’d been in the car for over four hours by the time I got home – and the last ten miles were crawling along behind a succession of tractors apparently determined to stop me ever getting home.

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