How Many Times Can I Get Lost in One City?

Tallinn, Estonia

I discovered a new game while I was in Tallinn.

It’s called “How Many Times Can Katie Get Lost in One City?

I have always prided myself on having a very good sense of direction and being able to read a map quite well.  Typically, when I visit a new city, I get my bearings quite quickly. Once I see a landmark, I usually find it easy to retrace my steps from there.

Not so much in Tallinn.

The game of getting lost began when I arrived via the LindaLines catamaran express from Helsinki. This ferry, while fast, also arrives at a different port than the other ferries – a fact of which I was unaware when I disembarked and began looking hopelessly for Lootsi Street per my hostel’s instructions. As I followed the other tourists from the port, I managed to find a city map that, like many others I consulted over the next few days, did not include a convenient “you are here” dot.  I kept looking at where the main ferry terminal was located and where Lootsi Street was on the map and could not figure out why it was nowhere to be found. Eventually, I just started walking until I found a corner with street signs and used my own map to figure out where I was – about a 40 minute walk from my hostel!

Round two was finding the Old Town area since the hostel I stayed at was allegedly just 500 meters away. The owner, a cheerful Aussie guy, handily gave me directions and even marked them on a map for me when I arrived.  Of course, by that point, I was hardly in a state of mind to pay close attention. So I took off and in less than 5 minutes I was completely turned around. The more I looked at the map, the more I seemed to go in the wrong direction. A walk that should have taken me 5 minutes took closer to 20 but I eventually found the Old Town.

Not once in my entire stay did I figure out how to follow the directions that the hostel owner gave me.

View of Tallinn from St Olav's Church

Next up was trying to locate a supermarket that stocked gluten free items. The web site of the Estonian Celiac Society provided a nice list with addresses of supermarkets to try.  The closest one seemed to be a place called Kaubamaja just 2 blocks from my hostel. I saw the signs for Kaubamaja, but when I went inside, it seemed to be a mall full of clothing stores with no food stores in sight. I walked up and down and back and forth and saw absolutely nothing resembling a super market.

I started to make a comeback just before halftime in this game, which occurred when I headed to Kuressaare on the island of Saaremaa for a few days.  Kuressaare was a welcome break  as the entire town is centered on one street so I don’t think I could’ve gotten lost if I tried. Considering that I managed to find my way to and from the bus station in Tallinn, I count that as a score for me. Even if it was on the same street as my hostel.

Arriving back in Tallinn after a few relaxing days in Kuressaare, I was oddly full of confidence and set out from the hostel to head toward the Old Town without checking my map. I spent three full days exploring Tallinn earlier – surely I could make my way back to the Old Town, right?

Wrong. Within 3 blocks, out came the map again.

Tallinn city gate

On my second to last day in the city, my mission was to find a bookstore. Again, I had a list of several that I found on a Tallinn shopping web site that, by all appearances, was fairly up to date. Nonetheless, as I went to where each store should be, none of them was anywhere to be found. Not one of the four bookstores I sought out was anywhere close to where it should have been (or anywhere else for that matter).

I could go on, but you get the point. It was a blowout. This was a game that any fan would have left early.

When it came to finding my way in the city, Tallinn beat me hands down.

Not once while I was there did I walk more than a few blocks without pulling out a map. I got to the point where I just carried my map openly and freely, not even caring if I looked like a lost tourist because, well, I was. And while sometimes getting lost can be fun (I didn’t mind a random wander around the Old Town the first time), losing your way again and again just gets old.

Despite all of my wrong turns, I really did enjoy Tallinn

The Old Town area was lively and charming, its history is intriguing and for a European city, it was delightfully inexpensive. If and when I ever return, I will definitely have a map (or better yet, a much improved sense of direction!).

Have you visited a place where you could not help but get lost? Did you enjoy it or did it bother you after a while?


13 thoughts on “How Many Times Can I Get Lost in One City?”

  1. Do you think 4 nights is too many for Kuressaare?
    Thanks for your input. I am trying to make travel arrangements and I don’t know if I will get board after 2 nights?

    1. Hmmm, probably. You really need your own transport to explore anything around the island and the island isn’t all that big. You could probably spend one day in Kuressaare itself and another day renting a bike to bike around the island.

  2. Pingback: One Month on the Road! «

  3. I tend to have a good sense of direction, but not a sense of distance or time. This makes finding places decent enough, but not estimating whether it is worth walking or just taking a bus.

  4. Funny you should write about this right now, I have a blog post similar to this coming up. Unlike you, though, I have a terrible sense of direction, so it really shouldn’t surprise me so much when I get lost. I just need to build “getting lost” time into my schedule.

  5. I don’t really have a great sense of direction, but when I have a map I tend not to get lost, and usually, after the first or second time I can go back and manage to get home without the map. Funny (and ridiculous) enough, I always ALWAYS get lost in a small city near my hometown. It’s unbelievable, I’ve been there from 50 to 100 thousand times, I’ve been going often and less often, depending on my travels, for 30 years, I never got lost in cities like Rome, London, Shanghai, and I never manage to make a smooth trip to this tiny town of not even 40,000 people. It’s not even embarrassing anymore, I think I already go with a pessimistic mood and I don’t find my way out of habit!

    1. It is funny how some cities just seem so easy while others are just confusing every time – especially the small ones. I’ve been in St. Petersburg a couple weeks now but from day one I felt like I knew exactly where I was going – even thought it is several times as large as Tallinn. The city just fit for me.

  6. I hate getting lost but I would love to get lost in Tallinn. When I was there, I had plenty of people that knew their way around so I didn’t have to rely on a map that much. Never realized it was that confusing. My sense of direction is horrible!

    1. I loved the Old Town and didn’t mind getting lost there but outside of the Old Town, it’s just a normal, fairly uninteresting city and it drove me crazy that I could not find my way around. Th major streets and intersections seemed to completely lack signs of any kind and the way they twisted and turned and changed names got very confusing.

  7. Sounds like me in Christchurch, NZ. I too am normally really good with directions!

    While most cities and towns in NZ have hills, CHC is flat as a pancake and drove me crazy!! Just one of the many reasons why it’s my least favorite city in NZ.

    1. It was definitely lovely – at least the Old Town was. The rest of the city was fairly ordinary and commercial.

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