I really am beginning to feel that Tallinn has everything.
Go to the Old Town and you can experience the whimsical delights of a place that is steeped in history, culture and architectural beauty. Into the city itself, and you’ve got a contemporary, bustling, busy, fast-paced lifestyle that instantly hooks you and drags you in. Wander into an area of parkland and you could be miles out into the countryside, enjoying peace, quiet, and soothing scenery. Or take a 20-minute bus journey and you’ll find yourself on the beach at Pirita, which, to be perfectly honest, might as well be a sun-drenched holiday hotspot on a Greek island. It is, in a word, beautiful.
I’m really only acquainted with beaches of the Northern Irish variety. I’m a big fan of the Northern Irish coast, as you know – I’ve spent many a happy day on the Strand at Portrush, wandering along the seafront in Newcastle, clambering over rocks at the Causeway, and body-boarding/dodging glaciers at Benone.
The Estonian beach experience is a little different, however. For a start, you don’t have to bother about bringing your own entertainment. Pirita’s beach is set out like a play park for all the family. There are swings and see-saws, exercise bars, climbing frames and volleyball nets. For refreshments, there’s a bar. There’s internet access (or so I imagine, as there’s internet access everywhere here, and I saw some boys using laptops on the beach). There are even little cubicles dotted around for the benefit of those who are self-conscious about changing in public.
Incidentally, these cubicles are unnecessary further along the beach, where, if you were taking a leisurely stroll along the sand, you might suddenly notice an absence of clothing on the sunbathers around you. As you aren’t yet fluent in Estonian, you were unable to read the sign that presumably announced the start of the nudist section. It is difficult to know where to look in this sort of situation. Stare pointedly at the sea, or your feet, and it becomes obvious that you are uncomfortable with nudity. Not cool. Very British. However, gaze freely around, and there’s every chance you could find yourself gawking uncontrollably at sights you’re really not used to seeing. Equally not cool. Very pervy.
And of course, your other option is to take the if you can’t beat them, join them approach, especially if you’ve spent the duration of the walk wishing you’d brought your swimwear so that you could have a dip. What would be to stop you glancing around, realising that nobody cares what anyone else looks like, remembering that nobody knows you, and, in a moment of liberating recklessness, stripping off and running gleefully into the sea? Not that a timid, prudish, shy and self-conscious Ballymena girl would ever do such a thing, of course, unless a few weeks in a vastly different culture had completely altered her attitude to life. I imagine that skinny-dipping in the Baltic Sea would be something of a shock to the system, anyway, most likely leaving you shivering and gasping for breath.
Plus it would take at least half an hour to warm up and dry off in the sunshine afterwards, particularly when you realise that you have no towel…