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Taken Aback by Tallinn

Monday, April 5, 2021

Estonia had never been at the top of my travel wish list, but when I was living in Stockholm in 2018, I knew I had to take advantage of its proximity. My best friend Solomon had come to visit me in Sweden, and Tallinn enticed us as an ideal weekend getaway. 

Part of its allure was how off the beaten path it sounded at the time. Hardly anyone I knew had been to Tallinn, and my thought process was pretty much along the lines of, "Well, why the hell wouldn't I visit Estonia?"

We arrived in Tallinn with absolutely zero expectations, but we left completely blown away.


Everything about Tallinn pleasantly surprised me. First and foremost, Tallinn's medieval old town defines storybook charm. It reminded me of the fairytale scenes of Prague, but smaller and without the crowds. 

We were staying in an apartment just a short walk away from old town (where the monochrome Soviet-style architecture seemed stark and slightly oppressive). On our first day in Tallinn, a kaleidoscope of colors greeted us upon wandering up to the old town. I simply couldn't cease stuffing my eyes with its excessively picturesque streetscapes.

Though my favorite activity in old town Tallinn was aimlessly wandering, there were still plenty of things we wanted to see. (And eat. And drink. And eat some more. All of which are pretty on-brand over here.)

Aside from drinking Aperol Spritzes in charming plazas, some highlights included the Museum of Medieval Torture (which is exactly what it sounds like) and the KGB Prison Cells, a bleak basement in the heart of an otherwise cheerful old town, painting a hauntingly realistic picture of much darker times (and many, many human rights violations).

Some less grim sights included St. Catherine's Passage, a medieval street that feels like stepping back in time, and the striking Alexander Nevsky Church commanding the city atop Toompea, in which we may or may not have accidentally walked into a funeral.






Along with getting up close and personal with Tallinn's striking details, such as its colorful homes, churches, and array of ornate doors, there's also no shortage of sites to soak in the city's sublime vistas. 

They say the best views come after the hardest climbs, and while getting to the top of St. Olav's Church was only about 232 steps, it was still steep and slippery enough for me to fear for my life. To avoid crowds in the acutely narrow spiral staircase, go right when it opens at 10:00 am. 

The Kohtuotsa viewing platform was less crowded (and less risky), and still boasted panoramas of Tallinn's sea of pastel buildings with cherry red rooftops.

At the time, I couldn't help but wonder if in 5-10 years this will be another "it" destination, but in that moment it felt seemingly undiscovered... except for the cruise ship passengers during the day, leaving it completely deserted at night. As a disclaimer though, we visited during the off season, so I imagine the crowds do get worse in peak cruising times. (It's always those damn cruises, am I right?)

Views from St. Olav's Church




Alexander Nevsky Cathedral

What surprised me the most was how Tallinn was an unexpected gastronomic haven. The culinary scene here is thriving, and for the most part it's all pretty affordable. Both Celiacs, Solomon and I found fantastic options for gluten free dishes that far exceeded our expectations. 

Of all the phenomenal restaurants we visited, Rataskaevu 16 topped the list. Every dish was impeccably prepared and served by the most friendly staff. It was arguably the best meal I had in all of 2018, and inarguably one of my favorite experiences in Tallinn. (Reservations recommended.) 

Slow roasted pork belly with vegan quince from Rataskaevu 16

Oven baked goat cheese with vegetables, raspberries, and vanilla cream

Rataskaevu 16

Duck leg confit and ostrich carpaccio from DOM (since closed). A true gastronomic experience.

A touch of gourmet in a delightfully unpretentious setting, Von Krahli Aed charmed us with their cozy interior and warm, comforting dishes. We had the hummus, lamb, and a delectable local red wine that I regret not documenting. 

Von Krahli Aed

For those with food allergies or intolerances (both of the physiological and moral variety), Vegan Inspiratsioon is a convenient go-to breakfast spot. To fuel up for the day, we'd feast on gluten free peanut butter pancakes, raw cakes or pastries, and plenty of almond milk lattes.

The Balti Jaam Market between old town and Telliskivi (the "creative city") has something for everyone, including local goods, fresh produce, live music, and trendy pop ups specializing in everything from home cooked Ukrainian food to Instagrammable bakeries.

An absolute dream come true for every Celiac, Kivi Paber Käärid in the Telliskivi neighborhood is 100% gluten free. Going once was simply not enough... after venturing here for brunch, we inevitably came back for dinner a few days later.

Not only was the food itself fantastic (their menu has surely changed since my visit, but I had a memorable dinner of pork ribs and a prosciutto salad with sun-dried tomatoes and a coconut mango dressing), but also the ambiance was as hip and eclectic as the neighborhood itself.

A brunch of rösti, fried ricotta balls, and mimosas (of course)



Telliskivi, or the "creative city", is a former industrial complex with old railway buildings, studios, bars, shops, street art, and modern art installations. A true haven for hipsters, be prepared for lots of photo opps and damn good food.

There is also a flea market on Saturdays with antiques, weapons, and USSR relics. Somehow I ended up wandering into a vast, dark hangar full of antiques, which felt like a slightly ominous time warp. Amidst the busted stuff, I found some unique mementos of former Soviet decay. (Certainly not your average souvenirs.)


A true jewel of the Baltics, Tallinn was a surprising feast for the senses. Spending a long weekend here was a definite highlight of my stint in Scandinavia. Visit Tallinn and prepared to be charmed.

A Parisian Reverie

Saturday, January 2, 2021
Where's the first place you're going to visit when it's safe to travel again? 

My list is steadily growing. Going back to Stockholm to visit one of my best friends. Taking a mother + daughter pilgrimage to Italy. Indulging in a tropical vacation, perhaps to Mexico or Costa Rica. And of course, Paris. Without a question.

I could spew vitriol about the show Emily in Paris for days. (And if you watch my Instagram Stories, you've probably seen me do just that.) Aside from it being a gross misrepresentation of life abroad and a general abomination, its appeal - however basic it may be - illustrates the intoxicating power of escapism. The only thing that got me through the first episode was the b-roll. And to be honest, I resent that even the subpar b-roll footage made me nostalgic and heart sick for the first city I ever truly loved. 

My obsession with Paris started when I was a teen, years before I ever visited, and hasn't really subsided since. (So naturally, I majored in Spanish and lived in Spain for a total of 3.5 years, right?) Regardless, in between my many visits, I had the opportunity to live there for a month in college "studying" Surrealist art and literature. It was perfect.

I've recounted my love for Paris many times on this blog, not that anyone actually reads blogs anymore; and if anyone is actually reading this... congratulations on consuming content beyond Instagram. Or, oh god, Tik Tok (shudders). I commend your attention span. 

While re-editing these photos from my last trip in spring 2016, I was at least temporarily able to transport myself back there for a while. Consider this a brain dump of everything I'm looking forward to when I can make it back to Paris, whenever that may be.

Place de l'Odéon will always be my preferred plaza in Paris, since it's where my mom and I stayed during my first visit. The neighborhood's side streets are home to many memories and treasured spots, including two of my favorite restaurants in Paris: Les Éditeurs and Au Petit Suisse.

I've since given up dairy, sugar, and pretty much everything processed... but Ladurée will always be my love language. 

Am I the only one who is slightly disappointed that you can find these everywhere now? I miss the good old days when you had to hand carry boxes home on a 12 hour flight, maybe sneaking a few bites on the plane. I quietly resent that there are now several shops in Los Angeles. It's like if In-N-Out Burger were to expand aggressively outside California. Just not the same.

The view from my friend's balcony that embodies everything I love about Parisian rooftops. The things I would do for a view like this now. (Or even just a balcony in general.)


I always find myself wandering back to Rue Cler, for it is quite simply foodie heaven. Le Petit Cler has been consistently delightful over the years, serving up classic French charm and delectable bistro staples.


It isn't easy finding gluten free meals in Paris, let alone gluten free pastries. Enter Chambelland, a hidden gem of a gluten free boulangerie that I absolutely cannot wait to revisit.


Speaking of gluten free pastries, Helmut Newcake did not disappoint. After being diagnosed with Celiac disease in 2010, shortly after my first trip to Paris, I never thought I'd devour an éclair again. I'm always thrilled to be proven wrong about these things.

Strolling and wandering aimlessly is my favorite Parisian pastime. Getting lost is the best way to get to know the soul of the city; it's the art of flânerie. This city is worth more than hastily bouncing from one attraction to the next. And its those hurried hordes of tourists that end up not liking Paris, deciding that the city is entirely overrated. No wonder the French are generally annoyed with us. (For the record, Americans annoy me too. I'm siding with the French here.)




Aside from indulging on omelettes, buckwheat crepes, frites, and every gluten free pastry I can get my hands on, you know what else I can't wait for? Shopping. ALL. THE. SHOPPING. Can you blame me? I work in the fashion industry. Paris is the mothership. 

Fashion. Food. Wine. Art. Literature. Architecture. Romance. It's no wonder this city is notorious for inspiring and enchanting everyone from peasants like myself to the likes of Hemingway and Gertrude Stein. It's legendary for a reason. Excuse me while I open a bottle of Bordeaux, turn on Midnight in Paris, and cry.



À bientôt, Paris. Can't wait until we meet again.