Going on holiday with chronic pain isn’t easy. We don’t pack our bags, skip to the airport and feel all our problems disappear as the plane takes off because – just like every other day – managing our pain is at the forefront of our minds. Going on holiday abroad takes preparation, careful planning and those good old coping strategies to make sure that we get what we need: down time. For most of us, holidays are booked because we need time to rest and recuperate… occasionally I book holidays for fun (madness, I know) but normally I book them because I need to recover and reboot. What’s that they say? A change is as good as a rest? It’s basically my approach to life; book a holiday and you’ll be fine.
For many chronic pain sufferers, holidays come with a whole lot of panic. How will I cope with the journey? How will I cope when I’m there? Have I packed everything I need to manage every single one of my 57 possible symptoms? What will I do if I flare? How will I do and see everything I want to do and see without breaking myself?
Well, I’ve had an epipheny. I’ve finally realised that there’s a special kind of formula needed to create the ideal city break for people with chronic pain, and Tallinn is a totally achievable example of it. (NOTE – I’m talking city breaks only, I know that countryside holidays or beach breaks come with a very different set of requirements.)
Tallinn is the capital of Estonia and is just 2hrs 30min flying time from London. The Old Town is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is apparently one of the best preserved medieval cities in Europe. I don’t doubt it for a second; it is absolutely stunning.
Last year we decided to go to Tallinn for our mini-moon. (Don’t know what a mini-moon is? It’s a ridiculous excuse for a holiday after you’ve already spent a fortune on a wedding and are about to spend a fortune on a honeymoon.) R got flu right after the wedding so instead of exploring Tallinn in the snow, we spent our entire trip in front of Netflix – except for the odd occasion when I went to the pharmacy. Fast forward 12 months and we found ourselves back in Tallinn for take two and let me tell you: it’s completely wonderful.
It’s small, beautiful, friendly, full of character and bursting with delicious food. It’s pretty much all I’m looking for in a city break.
At the end of this post I’ve listed my top five must-see sights and my top five places to eat/drink if you’re visting Tallinn but, before that, let me share the new criteria I’ve set out for the ideal fibro-friendly city break.
1 – Small
Tallinn’s Old Town is about 1km2 and there are coffee shops everywhere you turn. It’s impossible to walk five minutes and not find somewhere to rest. There is so much to see in such a small space that everything feels achievable. I never felt like I had to miss out on activities because of my health and that, my friends, is essential holiday criteria – I get really bad FOMO.
The city is so small that you get to be completely lazy and still have time to see everything you want to see. After a lie in and a slow breakfast we would decide where we wanted to go, plot the locations on Google maps and work out the best route to conserve energy. (Tactical planning is vital for travelling spoonies.) Visiting the top five sights on my list below took less than 30 minutes of walking time – what’s not to love about that?
2 – Extreme weather
My body craves heat all the time, and there is nothing better than lying in the sun and doing absolutely nothing. The feeling of the sun’s rays magically repairing my body’s damage is what dreams are made of, and those people that say “I could never just lie on a beach for two weeks” are INSANE to me. Not only do fibro sufferers tend to love the heat, we tend to hate the cold. It makes us stiff and our lack of circulation can often result in stiff joints and freezing extremities that take ages to warm up.
But. But but but! I think the British, damp cold is the problem; it’s the kind of cold that gets into your bones and you just can’t shake. Crisp -8ºC snow really isn’t too bad – in fact, I loved it in Canada and I loved it in Estonia. I wrap up in 35 layers of thermals from head to toe, a chunky knit which is basically my clothing item of choice regardless of the weather, and venture out in to freezing temperatures for ten minutes before popping in to one of those super warm coffee shops because nobody – regardless of their ailments – can stay out in minus temperatures for very long.
3 – Flat
This matters. I wish it didn’t, because there are so many stunning places around the world that require a little bit of an uphill climb to see the beautiful sights below, but unless you’re giving me a funicular (thank you Ljubljana) then I’m unlikely to get to the top of that hill.
Tallinn, on the whole, is flat. I climbed a bit of a hill to get to the Kohtuotsa viewing platform but it’s short, and in the freezing cold it’s good to get the blood pumping – plus it’s also helpful to have a person you can lean on who will drag you up the hill when your legs will no longer participate. Just around the corner from the viewing platform area is Bogapott, a cafe that doubles up as a pottery shop with a beer cave and log burning stove downstairs. Dreamy.
4 – Stay local
Often staying in the centre of a city is too expensive, so we look for places near the city with good transport links. That works fine, but this time we stayed right in the centre of town and it meant that we could go back to the flat whenever we wanted. We spent most of our days out and about in the cold, then would head back to the flat late afternoon where we would
watch a film have a nap, then head back out for the evening. I’ve decided it’s totally worth spending a few extra pennies to stay local – it makes everything much more convenient and napping much more appealing.
5 – It’s cool to be chill
You know those holidays people go on to ‘do’ stuff. They go hiking or exploring or boozing or skiing … I am not that person. I have never been that person. I like a holiday where I can just be, and Tallinn is perfect for that. The coffee shops are cool, the mocktails are creative and the hot chocolate is to die for. And everyone everywhere is eating and drinking in hipster cafes doing bugger all. They came here to chill, and I’m all over it.
I do recognise that not all holidays should be like this, but city breaks are particularly difficult to manage with chronic pain and I think that sticking to these five criteria can make a long weekend in a stunning city that bit more enjoyable. And let’s face it, some destinations are more fibro-friendly than others and I think it’s important to share and celebrate those.
Where do you recommend for travelling spoonies? Share your fibro-friendly destinations on twitter and instagram with #SpoonieEscapes.
My 5 favourite places for good food, good drink and good vibes in Tallinn:
- Rataskaevu 16, Old Town
- Clayhills, Old Town
- F-Hoone, Telliskivi
- Ribe, Old Town
- Must Puudel, Old Town
My 5 favourite sights to see in Tallinn:
- Alexander Nevsky Cathedral
- Kohtuotsa viewing plaftorm
- St Nicholas Church
- Masters’ Courtyard
- Town Hall Square