From Tallinn With Love – What NOT to Miss in the Medieval Capital of Estonia

From the moment the plane touched ground at Tallinn Airport I was in love. We’d been serenaded by a flight attendant on the way over and landed to an eruption of cheers and laughter. Looking out the plane window, all you could see was white – there was no denying that we’d landed in a real winter wonderland.

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Flying over a snow-covered Tallinn

From the airport, Henry and I got a taxi to the AirBnb we were staying at in the subdistrict of Kadriorg. If we’d ever doubted the idea of love at first sight before, Tallinn was definitely proving how real this notion was. The taxi fare from the airport to our apartment was only €8, and the front door of our room was decorated with a love-heart shaped chalkboard reading ‘Welcome Kachina and Friend’ …. I don’t think that anything other than ‘aawwww’ can perfectly describe our reaction to our warm welcome to Estonia’s capital.

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Upon wandering the streets of Tallinn in the early evening, it became very apparent to us that a) it was VERY cold (it was meant to be -10c, but due to a Siberian cold front, it was a very crisp -25c!) and b) the only tourists that scattered the cobbled streets of the Old Town were Russian. It surprised us to learn that Estonia was still a much-kept secret on the tourist map. While we were only there for 5 days, Tallinn is definitely somewhere I not only plan to return to one day, but somewhere I’d highly recommend visiting!

Stuck for ideas on what to do? I’ve got you covered 😉

Quick Facts:
Tallinn Population: 444, 085
Estonia Population: 1.325 million
Language: Estonian, but most people speak English very well
Currency: Euro
Fun Facts: – Free wifi is basically a human right in the capital of Tallinn, so almost everywhere you go, you’ll have access to free, unlimited (fast!) wifi.
– Due to high IT infrastructure, Tallinn has a large and very supportive start-up scene – big e-commerce names like Skype have offices in the capital city!

Tallinn Must-do’s:

SEE

Christmas Markets
If you’re in the city around Christmas time, the Markets are not to be missed. Whilst similar to many of the other Christmas Markets that adorn Europe during the festive season, Tallinn with it’s fluffy white blanket of snow make for a real fairy-tale. There’s no such thing as Bah-humbug when snow-covered cobbled streets, market stalls, glögg and plenty of singing and cheer surround you!

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Tallinn Christmas Markets

– Alexander Nevsky Cathedral
The Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is an Orthodox cathedral in Tallinn. The building was designed during the Russian Revival, which explains the architectural feats.

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– Toompea
Not far from the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is Toompea Hill; a popular spot for getting photos of both the Old Town and the CBD.

– Kalamaja
Kalamaja is a cool, little artsy district, located West of the Old Town. An ideal place to put the map away and get lost in the art-filled streets.

EAT

– Frenchy, Telliskivi 60A
If the name didn’t already give it away, Frenchy is a French bistro located in the Telliskivi Centre. One of the many great things about Estonia is the comparably low cost of living prices. A 3-Course dinner with wine for two at Frenchy (and most eateries in Tallinn) only set us back about €20-30. It’s totally worth it! The food at Frenchy was exquisite! All of our meals were served in quick time, presented beautifully and tasted amazing!

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Roasted Mediterranean Vegetables and a glass of red (of course!)

– Torokse Talupood-Kohvik, Soo 26
Blink and you’ll miss this quaint eatery. Nestled in the basement of one of the many Soviet-style buildings that line the streets of suburban Tallinn in Torokse Talupood-Kohvik, a small trattoria style eatery that serves traditional Estonian food in a Plat-du-jour kind of fashion. Historically, Estonian food is fairly bland; the purpose of food 100 years ago was to keep one warm and full, so quite often it was potatoes and meat for dinner. Now however, Estonians are upping the anti on their local cuisine and adding spices and other amazing products to create really tasty food!

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On the menu: Chicken with potatoes, radish salad and dipping cream.

– Nop Café and Shop
Nop is a very popular café amongst locals and travellers alike! Located in the charming, woody neighborhood of Kadriorg, Nop is an organic café in a traditional wooden building, with a garden out back to envy! Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, there is definitely something for everyone here!

DO

Telliskivi Loomelinnak
The Telliskivi Creative City is a creative hotspot just outside of Tallinn’s Old Town. The centre hosts several small creative companies, as well as eateries, studios, NGO’s and start-ups. To really make the most of the area, the best part of a day is needed. Hours are so easily lost as you traipse around the cute boutique style creative stores, sip on coffee in one of the many cafes or enjoy a meal at one of the great restaurants on site. In addition to what’s inside, outside is decorated with lots of street art and public art spaces – a visit to the Telliskivi Centre is not just a must-do, but also an experience!

– Kalma Sauna, ‪Vana Kalamja 9A Sauna, Tallinn
Walking past the building of the Kalma Sauna, you wouldn’t think that there was anything very special inside. The exterior is very much so Soviet, but the interior, well that’s a whole new story! If you want a really authentic Estonian experience without any tourists, this is the place to go! The saunas are traditional wood-fire saunas, so they get VERY hot – if you’re not used to high temperatures, you’ve been warned! Women and men are separated into separate rooms. You strip off (sauna-ing naked is how they do it here!), and step foot in the sauna room, where you switch between shower, sauna and plunge pool. I was the only Westerner there when I visited, and I must admit, it was quite thrilling! If getting in the nude with strangers isn’t really your thing, there are also private saunas. But they aren’t nearly as fun (I went back a second time so that I could try both).

– Get Lost!
Throw away the map you won’t need it here! Tallinn is such a great city, and is relatively small, so easy to navigate around. When we were venturing around the city (sans map), we came across some amazing cafes and Soviet-time antique shops that we wouldn’t have necessarily found had we stuck to the typical tourist route. If the thought of going cold turkey on Google Maps gives you anxiety, you can rest easy knowing that free wifi is basically a human right in all of Estonia. So if you find yourself totally and utterly lost, switch the wifi on your phone and you’ll be reachable in no time!

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Enjoying the sunset from Riigikogu (Parliament). So many layers make me look super chubby, whilst Henry can’t open his eyes for a photo to save his life.

 

Vanuatu: Behind the Tourist Resort Curtain

Whenever you travel, it’s somewhat expected that you’ll head straight to the major tourist attractions at your destination. As a travel blogger, those expectations are even higher, as reviews are assumed from everywhere you go.
I’ve never been that way though.
Rather, I prefer (to an extent) avoiding the big sights and instead getting to know the community with which I have temporarily become a part of. I figure, by travelling this way, I am able to share and provide my peers with more honest and insightful feedback and stories.

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Welcome to Paradise; Hideaway Island Resort

My recent trip to Vanuatu was much the same. If I’m being honest, I actually entered the country with absolutely no expectations or great desires to visit the ‘must-see’ sites – I was there for a friends wedding, what I was seeking was simply some time to relax and get back home. Upon landing and arriving at my hotel in the South Pacific Island, I became overwhelmed with loneliness. I mentioned this trip was for a wedding, what I didn’t mention was that I was going completely alone. The rest of the wedding party were on a cruise (a phobia of the open sea meant that that wasn’t an option for me) and Henry wasn’t able to join me as he had university commitments. Honeymooning couples and families surrounded me, as did advertisements targeted at honeymooning couples and families – it became very clear that this wasn’t a common destination for the solo traveller. Alas, I still had another 5 days to go, so I sucked in my utter loneliness and owned my solo-ness as I sat at my table-for-one dinner.

~

It had become apparent to me that Vanuatu, similar to a lot of Australia’s neighbouring countries thrives off of the tourism that Aussie’s provide them with. How Vanuatu differed though, was that despite the exploitation, the local people were amongst some of the friendliest people I’ve ever had the pleasure to be around. Everywhere I went I was always welcomed with a huge, heart-warming smile. Despite being warned, I wasn’t harassed at all.

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Local divers are employed in Vanuatu by the Sustainable Reef Supplies (SRS) to save and maintain the Coral Reefs.

So what do I think of Vanuatu as a holiday destination?
Vanuatu has a lot to offer. It is probably best known for its appeal as a honeymoon island, but there is so much beyond that everyone can enjoy. My only advice would be to be mindful of the locals. While Port Vila and its immediate surrounds are very touristy and seem luxurious, Vanuatu as a country is actually one of the least developed countries in the South Pacific.

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Where the locals meet; ‘Gambling Shelter and Go For Food 20VT’.

A walk I went on with a local through the village reinforced just how undeveloped Vanuatu really is. The local school had been depleted in Cyclone Pam, so classes were taught in tents, with little to no ventilation. Electricity was sparse. And employment is so limited that it’s not uncommon for family members to leave their families for months on end each year to do seasonal work in Australia.

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The local school. Clothes line surrounded by classrooms. Building at centre and to the right are in the process of being built after Cyclone Pam.

Despite all of this though, as I walked through the village, the happy sound of children laughing filled the air. There’s something so touching about the resilience of people despite the circumstances. While my stay in Vanuatu was only short, it was incredibly moving. It reinforced my gratitude and reminded me of what’s really important – family and health. Just as I’d felt overwhelmed upon entering the country, leaving the country was much the same. While I wasn’t feeling overwhelmed by loneliness, this time I was overwhelmed by a bittersweet sadness. I was sad to leave, but felt happy, as my heart had filled with love for the boldness of the people I’d been surrounded by.

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Wandering the streets of Mele Village. Mango trees align the streets and you can grab a cold beer if you want one!

 

 

 

 

Halloween Special: Spooky Superstitions from Around the Globe

Happy Halloween! Whether you’re out Trick or Treating or partying hard in a scary costume, there is something quite interesting and prevalent about superstitions around this time of year. The number 13 pops up a lot, as do black cats.
In the West, we’re all aware of these odd kinds of beliefs. But, did you know, that there are superstitions just as strange all over the world? After a little research, I put together 5 of my favourite, to get you into the mood for a spooky Halloween night! 👻🎃

 

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Trick or Treating in Virginia in 2009

 

Great Britain
Always greet lone magpies, or bad luck will follow you for the rest of the day. It is thought that the tradition comes from the fact that magpies are typically found in pairs. Therefore, a lone magpie equates to sadness. If you add “one for sorrow, two for joy” to your greeting, you’re further ensuring that the magpie will be nice to you and won’t steal any of your shiny belongings.

Argentina
It’s bad luck to speak former President’s Carlos Menem’s name aloud. If spoken, all within earshot must ‘knock on wood’, or so be the case in Argentina, touch their left testicle or breast.

Brazil
It’s bad luck to let your wallet or purse hit the ground. It means you’ll lose money.

Denmark
In Denmark, broken dishes are collected year-round and saved, to be thrown at the houses of friends and family on New Years. The bigger the pile of porcelain, the better luck the recipients will have in the coming year.

Rwanda
Women are taught from a young age to avoid goat’s meat, as it will cause them to grow beards.

20 Words That Don’t Translate into English

My whole life I’ve always been obsessed with language. From a young age I questioned how different dialects and accents came to be and why there are so many different languages. As I’ve grown older, rather than trying to find an answer to all of these questions, I’ve grown to love how diverse language is. Whenever there’s a trip to a non-English speaking country in the plans, I can always be found scribbling translations in my notebook or practicing phrases that could come in handy. I guess you could say that knowing the basic’s in several different languages is my hidden talent.

Recently, my language curiosity got me thinking. There are over 6000 different languages spoken worldwide every day. Of these 6000-plus languages, there’s got to be chunks of dialogue that can’t be translated into English. After a little bit of research (read: hours of language revelation), I learnt that there are so many non-translatable words in existence. Some of these I absolutely adored and couldn’t possibly keep to myself. So without further ado, here my top 20 favourite non-translatable words:

Fernweh – German
Feeling homesick for a place you’ve never been to.

Jayus – Indonesian
A joke so poorly told and so unfunny that one cannot help but laugh.

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Possible jayus? circa 2012.

Iktsuarpok – Inuit
To go outside to check if anyone is coming.

Tartle – Scottish
The act of hesitating while introducing someone because you’ve forgotten his or her name.

Prozvonit – Czech
To call a mobile phone and let it ring once, so that the other person will call back, saving the first caller money.

Cafuné – Brazilian Portuguese
The act of tenderly running one’s finger through someone’s hair.

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Cafuné – Nepal 2011

Torschlusspanik – German
The fear of diminishing opportunities as one ages.

Wabi-Sabi – Japanese
Focusing on finding beauty within the imperfections of life and accepting peacefully the natural growth and decay.

Kummerspeck – German
Excess weight gained from emotional overeating.

Shemomedjamo – Georgian
When you’re full but can’t stop eating because the food is so delicious.

Mencolek – Indonesian
To trick someone by tapping them on the opposite shoulder to you.

Mångata – Swedish
The reflection of moonlight on the water.

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Grainy mångata – Stanwell Park, NSW

 

Utepils – Norweigian
A beer you drink outside.

Abbiocco – Italian
Drowsiness from eating a big meal – AKA food coma

Treppenwitz – German
When you think of a comeback long after having the chance to use it.

Bakku-shan – Japanese
Someone who is pretty… from behind.

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Bakku-shan – Stanwell Tops, NSW

Tsundoku – Japanese
Buying a new book and leaving it unread, with the pile of other unread books in your house.

Fargin – Yiddish
To appreciate the success of others.

Pochemuchka – Russian
Someone who asks too many questions.

Saudade – Portuguese
Nostalgia for a person, place or thing that is far away.

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Saudade – Montana. Always.

 

Travel Paris like a local + free language cheat sheet!

Paris, it’s one of those cities that people tend to love or hate. Moi? J’adore la ville de l’amour! For me, Paris is the most luscious, romantic city. I know how clichéd that is – but hey, it’s a cliché for a reason 😉

Having visited the city a number of times, I’ve managed to ‘tick off’ most of the key tourist activities, like go to the top of the Eiffel Tower, see the Mona Lisa and marvel at the intricate details that adorn the Arc De Triumph. Whilst all of these things were fantastically fun, I’m finding now, on my most recent trips that my desires are steering more towards experiencing the city of love as a Parisian.

Like most cities, Paris has a lot to offer outside of the tourist landmarks. Here are some of my favourite things to do in the French capital as well as some tips on how to localise yourself and a handy downloadable PDF French language cheat sheet all for you!

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Swivel 180 degrees to your left and you’ll see Shakespeare and Company.

 


Shakespeare and Company

One of the cutest bookstores you’ll ever visit! From Gare du Nord, walk directly south to the river Seine. Walk along the river towards Notre Dame, stop and admire the magnificent architecture and cross the road. Directly opposite is Shakespeare and Company, an English bookstore for readers and writers alike to satiate all of their literary needs.

Parc des Butte Chaumont

If you’re a Friend’s fan, you’ll recognise the title Parc des Butte Chaumont – there’s a picture in Monica’s apartment. Enjoy a romantic picnic with a killer view at this off-the-tourist-map park. Obviously cheese and wine is required.

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Picture this: Oh wait, you don’t have to. This is the sweet view of the Sacre Couer from Parc des Butte Chaumont.

Shopping

When people think of Paris, they think of shopping. Particularly down the Champs-Élysées. While you’ll be ticking off a major “tourist to-do”, the better (and cheaper and less crowded) shops are out of the city. I loved Creteil, a huge mall filled with all of your favourite European stores. It’s super easy to get to, simply take the green RER from Gare du Nord to Creteil – the station for the mall.

Tips

– Talk to the locals in French! Even just a short ‘bonjour’ will do; the French really appreciate people putting in effort. Failing to do so might very well result in some awkwardness!
– Forget taxis use public transport. The train system in Paris is really easy to navigate around and cheap! Or better yet, hire a bike or walk!

Bon journée!

Click below to get your free French cheat sheet!

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Travellers Guide: Kathmandu Nepal

There are no combinations of words that can perfectly describe how I feel about Nepal. Anxiety, excitement, worry, purity, angst, happiness. The emotions are vast, much like the landscape of the country. Nonetheless, after having spent some time there a few years ago, Nepal has very quickly become a country that I always recommend people make the time to visit during their lifetime.

Touching ground in Kathmandu can be very daunting, but once you get past the madness that engulfs the airport, you’ll find yourself in a land so diverse you won’t know where to start.

Lucky for you, I’ve written down some of my favourite spots from the country’s capital, that even after 5 years, I’d still indulge in given the opportunity!

EAT
OR2K
Where: Mandala St, Thamel
It can be a little hard to find this gem, but once you’ve discovered the nook where OR2K is hidden, you’ll have difficulty wanting to leave. Eating at OR2K is an experience within itself. Upon entry of the vegetarian Middle Eastern restaurant, you become encompassed by the eccentric art, tantalising smells and happy atmosphere. Best of all, OR2K is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner – sidenote: it’s totally OK to return for all three meals, I can’t be the only one who has done this can I?!
Must try: Pizza Toast

Café Hessed
Where: Jhamsikhel Road, Lalitpur
It’s ok to crave a little Western dessert once in a while when you travel. If the craving hits when you’re in Nepal, be sure to grab a taxi and head 20 minutes out of Thamel to the centre of Ring Road. Here, tucked away on the North-Western side of the round-about, you will find Café Hessed, a café that offers doughnuts so tasty you’d think that God had made them himself.
Must try: doughnuts of course!

DO
Do always accept the offer of momo’s to eat and lassi’s to drink. You’ll never find any that taste as good outside of the country!

DON’T
a) Eat with your left hand, this is the hand that is used for toilet matters. Always eat and greet people with your right hand!
b) Don’t eat Western food. It will make you sick!

DRINK
Buddha Bar
Where: Narsingh Chowk Marg, Thamel
The atmosphere is always fun at Buddha Bar. Cheap drinks, shisha, friends and a nice view of the street, doesn’t get much better than that!

DO
Have fun, be careful and stay with a group of trusted people.

DON’T
Go to Fire Club. EVER.

SHOPPING
Nepal is like the mecca for all things outdoors. For backpackers and adventure lovers alike, it’ll be like Christmas walking the streets of Thamel, surrounded by countless outdoor/hiking gear stores.

DO
Haggle! Don’t be afraid to negotiate a price with storeowners. My key is to always go straight to half the price that they offer and go from there.

DON’T
Be stingy. Remember, Nepal is a low socio-economic country that thrives off of its tourism.

SIGHTS/ACTIVITES
Swayambhunath Temple
Where: Swayambhu, Kathmandu
Swayambhunath is an ancient religious temple in the Kathmandu Valley. Located on top of a hill, you get a great view of the city from the temple. In Tibetan ‘Swayambhunath’ means ‘sublime trees’, which can be well understood upon visiting. Surrounded by trees and inhabited by lots of monkeys, this temple is definitely worth the visit!

Himalayan International Yoga Academy
Where: Inchnagu Narayan, Kathmandu
Escape the hustle and bustle of the lively Thamel for a weekend or two and retreat at the Himalayan International Yoga Academy. Tucked away in the hilly terrain of the Kathmandu Valley, HIYA offers a range of yoga and meditation courses as well as accommodation, vegetarian meals and alternative medicine options.

 

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Swayambhunath 

Ohhhh Caaanadaaa!

First and foremost, Happy Canada Day to my Canadian pals!

There are so many wonderful things about what is often described as the cold version of Australia. The people are unbelievably welcoming, the night-life is unlike anywhere else, the air is super fresh and the food (namely poutine) is amazing!

In order to celebrate, I thought I’d put together some of my favourite pics from my travels to the Great North over the past couple of years.

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Quebec City, QC ’14

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Qualicum Bay, BC ’14

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Montreal, QC ’11

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We ❤ Canada! Vancouver, BC ’14