Tallinn to Tunis isn’t the most common of trajectories, and fortunately for me I got to take advantage of that with two overnight layovers in some pretty amazing cities!
After a particularly smooth 35 minute flight, I landed around 10pm in Riga, not looking forward to what I assumed would be a tedious journey to my hostel. However, the bus from the airport into town was so easy to find (hooray for small airports!), and the driver very helpfully told me when to get off (“the second stop after we cross the river”). The walk from the bus stop to my hostel was only about 15 minutes along a smaller river, gleaming in the darkness and flanking a park.
I was apprehensive about my hostel because I had a somewhat grimy experience at a hostel a couple months ago in Dublin, but Tree House Hostel was perfect! For only 7 euros (!!!), I got a receptionist who stayed up past check-in hours to welcome me; a common room with warm, artsy decor; free breakfast; pristine bathrooms; a comfy bunk bed with an outlet and reading lamp in an all-girls dorm; and polite guests. It felt like I was staying in someone’s house with the carpeting and big sinks and plush rugs. Even better news: I looked at my phone to see I’d gotten an interview for a job I’d applied to!
I woke up at 7:30am the next day to get the most out of a walk around town. The square that Tree House Hostel sits on is itself photogenic, even in the morning fog. Cat House, an adorable example of the art nouveau architecture that the city is famous for, was right around the corner, so that was an easy photo op!
I then made a beeline for Albert iela, a small residential street full of gorgeous art nouveau architecture. Feast your eyes!
Before heading back to the hostel to grab my luggage, I wandered around, unsuccessfully trying to find Riga’s town hall square. I still don’t know where it is, but Riga is so beautiful everywhere you look that I hardly felt like I was missing out!
Having searched online for the best cafes in Riga and stumbling across Crumble Cake, I spent the rest of my morning there, sipping on a silky smooth flat white. I’d accidentally ordered it with regular milk, but the barista gave me a discount when I correctly reordered one with almond milk, saying he understood because his girlfriend is also lactose intolerant. 🙂 A local Latvian caught me taking pictures of the cafe and made pleasant small talk with me, which surprised me given that it was pretty early and, well, he didn’t know me. I would’ve liked to chat more with him, but he downed the last drops of his coffee and ducked out to get to work. It was a Friday, after all!
While I’d originally planned to grab a 15 euro cab back to the airport, the bus was so easy to find that I saved myself 13 euros taking that instead. 😉 I used to be intimidated by the thought of taking buses because all the different lines and schedules confused me, but I really think I’m getting the hang of it all! And at the airport, I was treated to a surprise: one of my friends, Elsa, was also on a layover at Riga, and it turned out she’d even stayed at Tree House Hostel! We caught up on our lives (she was doing a Princeton in Asia fellowship in Beijing but had to evacuate because of COVID-19), then snapped a selfie in which I had to cover my eye infection and she had to cover her breakout. :p
The next leg of my journey began on a couple-hour flight during which an Italian businessman talked my ear off and showed me beautiful pics of the places he’s traveled to. We talked half in Italian, half in English; my Italian education has been spotty at best, and I really don’t practice it much or care a ton about it. But he was kind about my bad Italian and even paid for me after I’d ordered a buttload of food! 😛 ❤ I wanted to cry when, as the flight attendants passed through again with products they were selling, he asked me if I wanted anything else. :,,,) I really can’t say that if I didn’t speak at least some Italian, he would have done that for me.
We landed in Rome while the sun was still out, but I knew that wouldn’t be the case by the time I got into the city. The bus was supposed to take 55 minutes but was instead 1.5 hours, and I grew increasingly anxious as the minutes wore on, fatigued by all the traveling and stressed by being in an unfamiliar, chaotic place. After the calm of the Baltics and of living in small-town France, being thrown back into a tourist hotspot with bad traffic was overwhelming. It didn’t help that an elderly Italian woman kept talking to me during the ride and trying to get me to stay with her at her b&b, though it did reassure me when I heard her speaking on the phone with a friend, complaining in Italian about how long the ride was taking. Good, I thought, I’m not the only one annoyed about this. And indeed, the driver got a good dressing-down by one of the passengers about the tardiness. I was just happy to have arrived and thanked the driver.
When we reached Termini Station, I knew I might have a panic attack – my first one in months – so I did something I’d never done before leading up to an attack: I called my best friend Sanchaya. Note to self: start calling close friends every time you think you’re going to have a panic attack!! The reason I don’t normally call is because I’m usually physically incapable of talking when I’m panicking. But wow, laughing and chatting with her literally washed all semblance of a panic attack away before it even happened. Then when I arrived at my hostel, I found out that the receptionist was from Barcelona, and we had a 15 minute conversation in Catalan! We both confided to each other that we’d been having a tough day, and that this conversation was the highlight of our day. Sanchaya was still on the phone during the entire interaction and said she’d never heard me speak a language so fluently before! 😀 Being able to use Catalan with a random person in Rome made me feel more at home, which further eased my anxiety. I was grinning ear to ear and feeling great between my call with Sanchaya and my conversation with the receptionist!
Still, I knew if I went out to see some sights like I’d originally planned, my body was going to collapse. So without eating dinner or taking a shower or brushing my teeth (!), I slipped into my pod and fell asleep, knowing I’d feel better at my wakeup call with 7 hours of sleep behind me.
And I was right! When I woke up at 4:30am, I was energetic and excited. Btw, Free Hostel in Rome was a great choice – for 21 euros, I got a very modern and well-equipped “pod” with a sliding door in an all-girls dorm, plus a clean, private bathroom. I didn’t have a towel so I couldn’t shower, but I slapped soapy water onto my upper body, went through my normal morning hygiene routine, changed all my clothes, and checked out.
The walk to Termini Station was annoying because the sidewalks switched off between being blocked off and just plain bumpy and cracked. But I enjoyed some of the views in the area, especially since there was no traffic and no people at that hour. I also saved money and time when I found I could catch a bus to the airport instead of a train like originally planned! Additional perk of the bus: we passed by the Colosseum.
With plenty of time to spare at Rome-Fiumicino before my flight, I sipped on a coffee at Cakes & Bakes, watching as flight attendants and security officers ordered espressos, downed them in one shot, and went on their way to work. I reflected on these two layovers; Riga was fun, but Rome was too much. I know my body can’t handle this much stress, so if I want to do the whole overnight layover thing again, I need to probably limit it to one.
Yet at the same time, I marveled at the fact that every time I have a panic attack or am close to having one, I always bounce back the next day! And thanks to the languages I speak and the general openness and warmth of my personality, I’ve found that I can find a way to call anywhere I go home. ❤