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May 19, 2006

I’m in Tallinn, Estonia, and slept six of the seven nights between Beijing and here on trains. Monday night I slept in Moscow instead. The trans-Mongolian train was fine: five days passed pretty quickly, and I wasn’t bored at any point. Strangely, the knowledge that you’re going somewhere prevents the fact that you’re effectively just sitting around from getting boring, and it’s surprising how long you can happily just sit and watch the world roll past.

The train from Moscow to Tallinn was immaculate. The second best train I’ve ever been on (the best being the soft sleeper from Xi’an to Beijing which I took with Jess two years ago, and which is probably the actual best train on the planet: luxurious to an extent that defies belief, with leather sofas and a flat-screen LCD at the foot of every bunk), the Tallinn-Moscow train is all soft furnishing, teak-effect panelling and green velvet, with a little artificial flower in a vase in every cabin and a restaurant car like a smart cafe.

Tallinn is also immaculate. Beautiful and crisp and clean, and when I got off the train the sky was perfect dark blue, the warm yellow light of sunrise lasted all day, and even the shadows were crisper and sharper than anywhere else I can remember being (I’m wondering if this is to do with being so far north…). Everything here is crisp and immaculate and (to me) surprisingly Scandinavian. I suppose that shouldn’t really be a surprise, it being only about 40 miles from here to Helsinki. From the train I walked to a cafe in the Old Town, and the cafe, and the coffee, and the omelette I ate for breakfast, were also all immaculate. After a week sleeping on trains, a month travelling in China, and nearly three years living in a part of Asia where immaculate cups of coffee are very thin on the ground, I can’t imagine that there could be anywhere better than Tallinn on a beautiful day to make being back in Europe seem like a good thing.

Unfortunately, the next morning I woke up to cold grey weather which has continued, and become drizzly, today. But maybe that’s a good thing, because otherwise I might just have stopped in Tallinn and eaten omelettes here forever. As it is, I now have a ticket for the night-ferry to Stockholm.

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