I’ll be getting my “I heart Tallinn” badge any day now…

I’ve said this sort of thing before, you know, but Tallinn is So Damn Cool.

Today Riho and I joined the hatted and mittened Tallinners out for a Sunday afternoon stroll, crunching through piles of yellow, orange and red leaves and taking in the sights in another nearby area, Kopli. It’s a… how shall I say… less prosperous area. Reminded me quite a bit of the place where I lived in Glasgow, only with imposing Soviet architecture instead of tenement flats and, interestingly, some sort of shandy drink instead of Buckfast. It was amusing, actually – every dubious-looking youth or scruffy old man we passed was carrying a brown, plastic 2 litre bottle in a most protective manner. A search of a local shop was no help in identifying the liquid itself, as the labels were in Russian. Some things are probably best left unknown – which is also how I felt about the ominous yellow tape that cordoned off a small patch of grass, with the words “ACID HAZARD DANGER” emblazoned quite worryingly across it.

We were a little surprised to see a hotel in the midst of it all, to be honest. I mean, it’s a residential area, populated mainly by working-class Russians; it’s slightly run-down, and not at all central. Why on earth would anyone come to stay here?! I asked in wonder. Maybe they just sell it as being close to the beach, suggested Riho –  and indeed, a few moments later, there was Stroomi Beach. It was no Pirita, but it was lovely all the same, with a pleasant little walkway alongside the shore, a beach house cafe, and plenty of sporting facilities and the like.

What makes it worthy of being in the So Damn Cool category? The part that at first looks like a children’s playground, but that on closer inspection turns out to be an outdoor gym, that’s what. It’s an ordinary, sandy-floored enclosure off the main path, with lots of brightly coloured contraptions. Only when you look more closely do you realise that instead of swings, seesaws and climbing frames, the contraptions are actually basic, simplified versions of gym equipment that you’d normally be charged a fortune to use. I went on every single thing, just because I could, and my limbs are now aching. But I was interested to note that the “gym” appears to be regularly used – several health-conscious individuals arrived by bike to work out whilst I was there.

Two points: firstly, what a great idea! Free gym equipment for everyone to make use of any time they feel like it. And not in a warm, sweaty, claustraphopic gym environment, either, but by the seaside, in the fresh air! It’d almost make you want to start exercising. But secondly, I just love that that sort of thing can exist here. You couldn’t have had that in any of the areas I’ve lived in before – vandals would’ve wrecked it in a matter of hours. In the last place I lived (housing estate in Ballymena), there were several attempts to provide a playground for the local kids. It was pointless – every time, it was completely destroyed by the next day, by thugs who seem to dislike shiny new things. If you wanted sporting facilities or playparks or anything of the sort, you had to surround them with high walls and fences, charge an entrance fee, and close them at night.

Yet here there are free parks, basketball courts, games areas, and apparently free outdoor gym sets, all completely unattended and also completely unharmed. No matter how run-down an area in Estonia might be, it never feels as if the residents have some kind of hatred of the place. They keep it clean and tidy. Sure, there’s graffiti, but it’s generally hilarious rather than offensive and pointlessly destructive… and more to the point, when they get something nice, they keep it nice. They look after it – they don’t go out of their way to destroy anything. Why would you, if you have to live there – isn’t it much better to be surrounded by nice things than by destruction?

It’s so, so nice to be asking that question in a tone other than one of despair and sadness…


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