I was nervous about the second week of my trip, which I spent in Estonia. For the first time since being diagnosed with diabetes, I was completely on my own.

I took a plane from Riga to Tallinn, Estonia’s capital. From Tallinn, I took a bus and a ferry to Saaremaa, an island off the western Estonian coast.

Saaremaa is Estonia’s largest island. The land is mostly flat, punctuated by meteorite craters; the largest crater, known as Kaali Lake, is almost circular and filled with water. The one town on Saaremaa is Kuressaare, which is made up of small limestone buildings constructed in a neoclassical style. At the center of the town is a medieval castle built by German crusaders. My great-great-grandparents owned a hotel in Kuressaare, and family legend has it that my great-grandfather worked as a scribe in the castle.

At the turn of the century, Saaremaa was already popular with summer visitors, many of whom came to take the mud bath “cure.” During Soviet Occupation, access to the island was restricted because of its proximity to the western border, but after Soviet Occupation ended, Estonians (as well as tourists from other countries) were thrilled to return to their favorite vacation spot.

Although spas have taken the place of the old mud baths, Saaremaa still inspires a culture of health-conscious visitors. People bike or walk the nature trails, and swim and play sports on the beach behind the castle. I even saw some kids canoeing in the castle moat.

View of the moat from the castle walls

I spend a lot of time walking in Kuressaare–hiking around the castle walls, going down to the beach, exploring the town and trying to form a mental picture of its layout. My new Lantus dose, which I had lowered during the first part of my trip in Riga, continued to work well.

A walk around the castle

Saaremaa’s castle now houses a museum with exhibits about the history and wildlife of the island. One of the small buildings outside the castle has been converted into an Archival Library, and it was here that I did most of my research. The people who worked in the Archival Library went out of their way to help me–translating documents from Estonian into English and taking me on a tour of the town to show me the places where my ancestors had lived and ran businesses.

The Archival Library, right next to the castle

One day as I was wandering in the museum, I happened to meet a Canadian family of Estonian descent. (They kindly offered to translate an Estonian placard for me.) I later had dinner with them at La Perla, a fantastic Italian restaurant in Kuressaare owned by an Italian-American. When she found out that I had diabetes, the college-age daughter in the family began telling me about a friend of hers who also had type 1 diabetes. This friend once got a massage and felt so relaxed while driving home afterwards that she didn’t realize she had low blood sugar and ended up getting into a terrible car accident (although she wasn’t badly hurt).

I wasn’t planning on getting a massage, but I was worried about going low in the middle of the night. What would happen if I became unconscious and no one noticed? The more I thought about it, the more irresponsible I felt for not having altered anyone about my diabetes. Finally, I decided to tell the husband and wife who owned the hotel where I was staying what to do if my blood sugar went too low for me to deal with it my myself. It was definitely the most awkward moment of the trip; I had felt guilty keeping my diabetes secret, but I also felt guilty burdening someone else (especially someone I hardly knew) with responsibility. Immediately after I’d finished my explanation, I tried to reassure them: “But of course that won’t happen, it’s never happened to me!” And luckily, it didn’t.

At the end of my trip, I got to spent one day in Tallinn with an Estonian architect and her family. Tallinn has a fairy-tale-like medieval old city constructed on a hill overlooking the Baltic Sea. The architect’s office is in one of Tallinn’s medieval buildings, and I was stuck by the casualness with with she and her colleagues inhabited the space.

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