Tallinn

Memories of an Adventure and the Gifts It Brings

It has been exactly two months since I returned from my cycling trip across Europe. I remember arriving into Tallinn, my final destination, as if it was yesterday. It was a very rainy day. My husband and I were exhausted. Colin had joined me for the last two weeks of the trip. We spent hours finding a place to stay for the night. I didn’t really have any special sense of accomplishment. Cycling 100 km per day had become a normal everyday thing for me. I just wanted food, a shower, and to get some sleep like I did every night for the past 61 days.

When I finally got home to the UK, my mother-in-law told me I must feel very proud. I didn’t really. I was just happy to be home.

It has taken two months, but it has finally started to settle in.

After the trip, I focused on settling back into my normal home routine. There were days when I struggled, but generally it was an easy and comfortable transition. Now that I am properly settled, my mind has sometimes wandered off, remembering all those days alone on the road. The one thing that really triggers the memories is when I consider getting on my bike for a short ride. I haven’t been on the bike since I got back. I’m finding the thought extremely intimidating. “Cars are dangerous,” I tell myself. “There are lots of hills in this area and you might skid and get hurt,” Little-Man-In-My-Head convinces me. I’ve always been like that. Those thoughts are not new to me. I eventually overcome them to start training for something new. But when I consider that those are my normal thoughts and that nevertheless I managed to cycle myself across the whole of the European continent…well…DAMN! (more…)

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Cycling Lisbon to Tallinn: A Look Back and Thank Yous

Eyebrows done: check

The route I took to cycle across Europe from its southwestern to its northeastern point.

The route I took to cycle across Europe from its southwestern to its northeastern point.

Hair cut: check

Perfume on: check

New change of clothes: FINALLY

Clothes washed: check

Tent laid out to dry: check

Bikes still disassembled in their boxes and tidily placed in the garage: check

Camping gear placed in its special bag in garage: check

Watch Come Dine With Me, the Jeremy Kyle Show, and Big Brother (in other words, all the crap British TV there is to watch): check

My husband and I stepped onto a RyanAir plane in Estonia to head back to our home in the UK last Monday afternoon. We had just spent a very lazy and relaxing two days in Tallinn, much of it sleeping and some of it walking around the enchanting old town and the city port. The highlight for me was the food. Those Estonians really know how to eat! I had a most amazing omelette my first morning in Tallinn. Who says that about an omelette? But that one was special. It had huge chunks of red onion, tomato, and mushrooms in it. I hogged down the special Estonian black bread with almost every meal. I had duck breast one evening and lamb on another. It was a great opportunity for us to recover before heading home.

Since I returned to the UK, I’ve kept myself busy washing, tidying, resting, watching crap TV, and gathering GPS data from the trip. It’s been nice. I was worried that I would have a bit of a culture shock coming back. I had settled into a nice cycling routine while in mainland Europe. I was enjoying having something to be involved in that I was passionate about. But by the time the trip ended I was ready to come home. I have a few things coming up that will keep me occupied over the next few weeks, including the Muslim month of fasting, Ramadan. So I should be all right, at least for awhile.

During the trip, I was incapable of looking back at what I had done or looking forward at what still remained. I found that if I

Lisbon to Monaco

Lisbon to Monaco

tried, I was overwhelmed with the immensity of both. As a result, I found myself, with no physical or emotional effort on my part, living in the moment. While I was cycling, my focus was on keeping myself safe and getting through the next ten kilometers. When a day was finished, my focus was on getting a shower, eating, writing my daily blog diary, and getting some rest. The following morning, my focus was on understanding the route I would be taking for the next few hours.

On my last day of cycling in Estonia, I thought that the gates to all the memories of the past two months would come rushing at me the moment the trip ended in Tallinn. Instead, I somehow managed to keep those gates closed. I wasn’t ready to deal with the emotions that would come with the collective memory.

I’m still not ready. (more…)

Cycling Europe Day 61: Lisbon to Tallinn – Mission Accomplished!

This journey I have been on for the past 61 days was not to end without throwing an important reality in my face: Do not feel too proud, Nadia. Do not think of yourself too highly. You may have determination. You may be able to suck it up at times. But, in the end, you are just a spoiled little brat.

On April 14, 2014 I set out alone on my bike from the European continent’s southwestern corner in Lisbon, Portugal. Sixty-one days later I reached Tallinn, Estonia in Europe’s northeastern corner. It took 56 actual cycling days, 43 of which I was totally on my own. My husband joined me for the remaining 13 cycling days. My original target was to have 59 actual cycling days with 9 rest days instead of the five I actually took.

I cycled a total of 5630 km to get from Lisbon to Tallinn.

While cycling the final 113 km today from Haapsalu to Tallinn, much of which was in the rain, I realized I had learned an important lesson (one of many) on this trip: When you do something difficult for the first time – like cycling in pouring rain – it may seem extremely daunting. When you do it the second time you recall your success the first time and you realize that if you could do it once then you could certainly do it again. When you do it for the 3rd, 4th, and 5th times, what was once daunting becomes somewhat challenging but doable. And every time after it is simply commonplace.

Over a period of 61 days I cycled through pouring rain; gusty winds; scorching, heat-exhaustion-inducing sun; over cold mountains; through flat plains; up and down and up and down roller-coaster hills; and on paved roads, dirt roads, muddy roads, crazily busy roads, and scarily empty roads. I’ve done balancing acts on the edge of steep hills, steered into ditches, coasted down steeply declining winding mountainous roads, through tunnels, along beaches, and besides forests. (more…)

Cycling Europe Day 60: One Day to Tallinn!

Today was an absolutely miserable day. It doesn’t easily get more miserable. I loved every last minute of it.

We woke up this morning to the pitter patter of rain on our tent. No big deal. I’ve been in that situation before. I packed the wet tent. We would dry it out once we got the chance. Breakfast at camp was really good and wholesome: oatmeal with cinnamon, bread and jam, boiled eggs, cheese, and coffee and tea. The skies were dark so we put on all our rain clothes. We might as well be prepared for a long, wet today.

It didn’t stop raining all day long.

We got drizzle. We got moderate rain shower. And we got downpours.

None of that would have been a big deal. I’ve cycled in rain before.

If not for the 35 km of dirt roads.

I checked the route the GPS had for us today and it seemed fine. I could tell, based on two-months-worth of experience, that some of the roads were possibly dirt roads. Colin and I decided last night that we’d decide what to do when we reach them.

When we did reach the first dirt road, we both had a what-the-fuck-let’s-do-this moment; except we pretty much stayed in that moment the whole day. Staying on the dirt roads would save us a few kilometers as opposed to going on the main, paved road. As we saw that the dirt road was just going on and on, rather than backtrack, we just kept on it. You see, we had been on much worse dirt roads in Lithuania not long ago. That day, we had no choice but to get off the bikes and pull them through mud. The bikes almost didn’t make it that day. Even with us not on them they kept getting jammed with mud and wouldn’t move. Today, the dirt roads were wet, they had many puddle-filled potholes, there were big gravel stones we had to steer around to avoid toppling over and countless little ones that were unavoidable, and our back tires spit wet sand onto our panniers and backsides. It was an ongoing what-the-fuck-let’s-do-this moment. What can I say. (more…)

Cycling Europe Day 59: The Final Countdown – Tallinn Minus Two

I cried today when we crossed my last border from Latvia into Estonia. I couldn’t easily

I have lots of pictures with fun poses in front of this sign. This is the one Colin took just before I composed myself.

I have lots of pictures with fun poses in front of this sign. This is the one Colin took just before I composed myself.

tell you why. It was mostly a feeling of exuberant accomplishment. I cycled from Portugal to Estonia. If you told me two years ago that I would do something like that I would have fallen down in a fit of hysterical laughter. I was also a bit sad that the sign we were standing under would be my last. Those blue signs with yellow stars and the name of a new country had been such a source of joy for me on this trip.

As our day of cycling came to end, all I could think, though, was that I was so relieved this trip was nearly over. Today we cycled more than 100km. I’m tired. I was very tired of cycling every day just before my husband joined me twelve days ago. But his arrival gave me a second wind. That second wind lasted about eleven days. Now it’s gone. I’m still enjoying the trip immensely. But I’m ready for its end. I’m glad I feel this way. Perhaps it will make leaving this wonderful journey behind me and going home a little bit easier.

Latvia and Estonia are both such beautiful countries. They are going to end up being

Some of you asked what the evil eye was. THIS is the evil eye. Just as we were finishing our commemorative pictures in front of the Estonia sign, Colin's bike fell, breaking the air inlet on the tire. He had to change the whole inner tube.

Some of you asked what the evil eye was. THIS is the evil eye. Just as we were finishing our commemorative pictures in front of the Estonia sign, Colin’s bike fell, breaking the air inlet on the tire. He had to change the whole inner tube.

among my favorite from the countries I’ve passed through in the past two months. After we cycled across the border into Estonia we immediately got onto a back road that took us along the coast of the Baltic Sea on our left with woodlands of birches and firs on our right. I wish you could record smell. I would have recorded the smell of Estonia for you. It is so fresh and fragrant. We passed through tiny little ten-house villages on the sea. They weren’t rich people’s villas. They were small middle class homes just standing there with the sea in their front yard and the forest in their backyard. I couldn’t believe there was still beach-side land anywhere on this earth that hadn’t been overtaken by developers and the rich. Children were walking all alone along the quiet road. It must be a safe place, I thought. This must be such a great place to spend a childhood. (more…)

Cycling Europe Day 58: From Atlantic to Mediterranean to Baltic

I wish I was smart enough to have come up with that myself. It just happened. I knew

Getting my feet wet for the first time in the Baltic.

Getting my feet wet for the first time in the Baltic.

when I was organizing my route that I’d be on the Atlantic in Portugal, the Mediterranean in Spain, France, and Italy, and the Baltic in Latvia and Estonia. I knew that. Then I completely forgot about the Baltic when the trip started. And I had never thought about this trip taking me from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean to the Baltic. I just hadn’t put two and two together.

I did though a few days ago. Since then, cycling towards today has been tremendously exciting. And now today has come.

Dudes, I HAVE CYCLED FROM THE ATLANTIC TO THE MEDITERRANEAN TO THE BALTIC!!! Woooooooooohoooooooooo!

It was an amazing feeling to get my first sight of the Baltic Sea and to wet my feet in its waters for the first time. I had never really thought about visiting the Baltic before. I live in a country that’s on two seas already. But now that I’m here, now that I got myself here by the sheer force of my own two legs, I am overjoyed.

We saw the Baltic for the first time midway through today’s ride. (more…)