09 December 2007

Dobele 1. Vidusskola

And that was only Sunday

On Saturday, I went to Tallinn with a busload of my fellow teachers to see Fantoom, the Estonian version of the unknown off-Broadway musical Phantom by Yeston and Kopit. It was at the Linnahall, a humongous boulder on the Bay of Finland that would have fit right into the concrete campus of the University of Illinois at Chicago.

While, yes, Fantoom was a warm ray of sunlight of hummable American showtunes in the otherwise grey and damp winter of prosaic Estonian folk songs (not to mention the drone of Eastern European d&b), it was also a rare opportunity to see and hear in person a handful of Estonian musical superstars.

Chalice (pronounced "Shaa-lease") was the phantom, and surprisingly, he had a strong and crisp Broadway-like voice that stuffed the auditorium with both gruff and soothing sounds. Born in 1983, Chalice is in real life a chubby, white Estonian hip-hop artist. He performed "Minu Inimesed" ("My People") at the youth song festival in Tallinn in July. I saw him hanging out like a regular Joe (like all Estonian superstars hang out) behind the bandshell a few hours before he went on stage. In 2004, Chalice won Male Artist of the Year, New Artist of the Year, and Alternative Artist of the Year from the Estonian Music Association. Umblu is his record label.

Hanna-Liina Võsa was Christine, the phantom's love. One of the songs she sings in the show is "My True Love" ("Mu truu arm"). I actually saw the sort of petite Ms. Võsa in concert in Tapa last December. She was the co-headliner of a Christmas show that was touring the country. You see, Ms. Võsa studied at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy. Shortly after graduation, she toured the USA as Sandy in Grease. So performing in Tapa, she made her co-star look like a zombie tenor. She exhibited all of those bad, bad traits that make Estonians gasp and shake their heads: energy, enthusiasm, a smiling face, arms that really bend, an improvised dance or two, a smiling face, and direct eye contact with the audience. Yes, they were both excellent singers in that Christmas show, and I would buy a ticket to see and hear Ms. Võsa again. But for her co-star and other singers like him, I think I would simply download one or two of their songs.

The list of superstars goes on. Mikk Saar was de Chandon, Christine's boyfriend outside the opera house, and Tõnis Mägi was the phantom's ever-loving father. Saar, born in 1980, is a pop music star who has been in Estonian versions of musicals like "Oliver!" and "Chicago". He got a little more recognition among the populist when he appeared on the Estonian version of the tv show "Dancing with the Stars" (Tantsud tähtedega) in 2006. Mägi, born in 1948, is a singer, composer, and actor, who sang at the 1980 Olympic games in Moscow. He sings with the group Muusik Seif (Music Strongbox). Last but not least, Kaire Vilgats, born in 1976, whom I've never heard of, played Carlotta. She was an excellent singer in the hallow Linnahall and a fun (ohmygod, those bad, bad traits again) performer.

Instead of returning to Tapa - I'm not sure if it the bus or the teachers that turn into pumpkins two hours after the end of any performance in Tallinn, thus requiring everyone to return immediately to Tapa without so much as a coffee cup or a shopping bag in their hand - I stayed in Tallinn to catch a couple of PÖFF movies.

During Chicago's annual fall international film festival, one of my former co-workers at the YMCA of Metro Chicago always took a week off, bought a festival pass, and then saw 15 to 20 movies. One or two of the movies on my "wish list" was on hers as well, and we met after work for dinner and a two-hour trip to some foreign country (often with the actual director as our guide). For the last two years here in Estonia, I have promised myself a weekend in Tallinn to see six to eight foreign films during the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival (Tallinna Pimedata Öode Filmifestival, or PÖFF). Last year, I saw a Serbian/Croatian movie with my friend Oleg. This year, I saw two films, one with Sam, my colleague at school and another American, who, like me, is immune from turning into a pumpkin in Tallinn.

After getting a little Christmas shopping done and grabbing a Finnish hamburger, I went to see La France at the Russian Theatre. It was sort of like two for the price of one: I've always wanted to see the grand interior of the Russian Theatre. And during any international film festival, you just have to see at least one French movie. Well, I needed my friend Gina with me to tell me what the hell the film was really about. Not that she speaks French; it's just that she would have figured out the movie more than I had. I did discover that the ceiling of the Russian Theatre is ornate to keep your mind off your butt. The wooden seats were very uncomfortable, given the plush, gilded environment. Our school desks are more comfortable.

After La France, I met up with Sam and his friends. Rather than mixing with the teachers in Tapa, whom he thinks are a little too much like his parents, Sam is slowly integrating into the expat community in Tallinn. So a Canadian he knows, who runs hostels in Tallinn and Tartu, took us, along with a couple of his English guests from the hostel, to the Valli Bar. For not liking old Estonian people, Sam was in the wrong place. I, however, was in heaven! The Valli Bar is nothing but an honest to goodness dive in the middle of chichi-wannabe Old Town. In 2006, the New York Times called the Valli Bar "one of the few blue-collar pubs in Old Town, where locals still outnumber tourists." In 2007, the Baltic Times admitted "there’s nothing fancy or pretentious about the Valli Baar. It’s a dive and proud of it. Little has been done to alter the look of the place since it opened circa 1969." There was no cover charge for the accordion player, who honored us native English speakers by playing John Denver's "Country Roads". Having owned the album 30 years ago, I am not ashamed to admit that I knew more of the words than anyone else.

From the Valli Bar, Sam and I went to see a midnight showing of the New Zealand horror comedy Black Sheep in which there's an oddly pastoral scene of charging sheep scampering over a green hillock, baaah-ing with a disturbing attitude.

I headed back to Tapa Sunday morning on the 6.15 train in order to be at St Jacob's church at 10.00 and officially kick off the Christmas season.

02 December 2007

Eestis Nüüd, 'Tis [Officially] the Season

Sans Thanksgiving on its calendar, Estonia officially "kicks off" its Christmas season on the First Sunday of Advent. While in the US, thousands of local Best Buy managers - wearing wrinkled, cardinal-red Stafford dress shirts - unlock their store doors at 5 a.m. the day after Thanksgiving to kick off the Yuletide season, hundreds of Lutheran church pastors and ministers, wearing long, black robes and white, lace dickies, bless five-story-tall evergreens around dusk in the center of towns across Estonia.

Early this morning in Tapa, it was Bears-Packers weather. It was around -5 degrees Celsius (that's the low 20s). The wind was blowing 3 to 4 meters per second (around 10 mph), putting the dreaded wind chill factor at around 0 degrees Fahrenheit. I came back from Tallinn on the 6.40 stagecoach, and, as I trudged to my apartment at 8.00, I felt as if I were walking down Oak Street in Chicago against those back-bending gusts off Lake Michigan. Safely inside, I warmed up quickly with two heaping spoonfuls of Nescafe Classic in a reindeer mug Gina sent me for Christmas last year. For the last three months, I've been drinking Starbucks coffee, which Sam brought over with him in August. It's probably just a matter of days before I start going through withdrawal with these instant coffees and medium roasts.

On this particular First Sunday of Advent, St. Jacob's Church in Tapa (above) celebrated its 75th anniversary and the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church kicked off its celebration of the Republic of Estonia's 90th birthday. The first time I was in Tapa - back in 1998 when I was a green Peace Corps volunteer - I lived with the pastor of St. Jacob's and his family. So I often attended Sunday services with them - dad at the altar, mom at the organ, big brother in the bell tower, a couple of sisters in the choir loft, and the rest of the three or four children with me in the pew. Lutheran services in Estonia are not all that different from the Catholic Mass. We have an/the Our Father; they have an Our Father (in Estonian, Meie Isa), which they say before Communion. We have a Lord, Have Mercy; they have a Lord, Have Mercy (Isand, halasta!), which they, too, say at the beginning of the service. We believe in "God, the Father almighty, Maker of heaven and earth"; they believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth (...Jumalasse, kõigeväelisse Isasse, taeva ja maa Loojasse). I don't know if I built up any treasures in Catholic heaven by going to these services, but the prayers and songs during the services gave me an excellent outlet for practicing my Estonian aloud.

At this morning's service, Pastor Reet Eru (a woman, by the way, there on the left) presided with Archbishop Emeritus Kuno Pajula. The opening hymn was the Estonian national anthem "My Fatherland" (Mu isamaa), and the first Advent candle was lit beneath the Estonian flag. The closing hymn was called something like "God, Hold and Keep Estonia" (Hoia, Jumal, Eestit). While I was a pinch bit uncomfortable with the cooperation - some might say collusion - between this church and the state, especially on the first Sunday of Advent, Estonia does not have an official religion. According to the constitution, there is no state church. While the Lutheran church has played the leading role in Estonia, each and every citizen is free to engage in acts of worship, in public or in private, as long as this does not impair public order, health or morals. This is a far cry from Soviet times, when KGB-like officials staked out local churches and noted who was going in and out and when teachers reported to state officials which students were absent from school on December 24 and December 25. Today, unfortunately, at least in Tapa, the congregation is so old that they remember those times.

The Republic of Estonia's 90th birthday (or jubilee) is February 24, 2008. Every month from December 2007 to November 2008 is dedicated to someone or something Estonian. For example, December is dedicated to the Estonian people; January to the War of Independence, and February to the President.

But what exactly happened 90 years ago? Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves set the scene in a speech last month: "the first democratically elected body of representatives in [Estonian] history – the Provisional Land Council of the Estonian Province – declared itself the supreme power in Estonia" on November 28, 1917. But then the Bolsheviks forcefully dissolved the council, and leading Estonian politicians went underground. On February 24, 1918, however, following an election which the Bolsheviks organised and then declared null and void because they didn't like the results, the Committee of Elders of the Land Council declared that "Estonia, with her historic and ethnic boundaries, is...an independent democratic republic...." This is the Estonian Declaration of Independence.

St. Jacob's joyous 75th anniversary celebration continued immediately after the service and into the early evening. The Tapa Vald Children's Choir, dressed in the vald's red and black colors (above), sang. At 18.00, after an afternon open house with refreshments and look back on the church's history, in more Cubs-Cards than Bears-Packers weather, the Arsise Youth Bell Ensemble (Arsise Noorte Kellade Ansamble) performed in front of a packed, standing room only church.

24 November 2007

Two Birthdays, Two Continents, One Uncle

On November 16, at the Õnnela Külalistemaja in Ohepalu, Kadrina vald, Lääne Virumaa, Estonia, EU, my good friend Tiit celebrated his 30th birthday.

On November 18, at home in Petersburg, Logan County, Illinois, USA, Ava, my sister's younger daughter and youngest child, celebrated her first birthday.

Yes, I was at Tiit's party. For a month's salary, I could have made it to Ava's party as well, but I would not have been able to get back to Tapa for my 8.55 class Monday morning. In Tapa, your 20th, 30th, 40th, 50th, etc., birthdays are juubelid, or jubilees, and they are often done up with a bit of pomp and pageantry.

04 November 2007

This Time the Party's Over for Real

What's the saying? If you don't like the weather in Chicago, just wait a minute.

In a speech about New England weather that he delivered in December 1876, Mark Twain said: "You fix up for the drought; you leave your umbrella in the house and sally out, and two to one you get drowned. You make up your mind that the earthquake is due; you stand from under, and take hold of something to steady yourself, and the first thing you know you are struck by lightning."

Yes, the lovely pictures below from November 3 were taken in Pärnu on Friday. Then, it snowed all day Saturday here in Tapa. Unlike the snow of October 20, this snow did not melt by noon. I took this picture Sunday morning.

Mark Twain ends his speech with a tribute to the ice storm, something I am all too familiar with having lived in central Illinois: "...when a leafless tree is clothed with ice from the bottom to the top - ice that is bright and clear as crystal; when every bough and twig is strung with ice-beads, frozen dew drops, and the whole tree sparkles cold and white, like the Shah of Persia's diamond plume. Then the wind waves the branches and the sun comes out and turns all those myriads of beads and drops to prisms that glow and burn and flash with all manner of colored fires...the tree becomes a spraying fountain, a very explosion of dazzling jewels; and it stands there the acme, the climax, the supremest possibility in art or nature, of bewildering, intoxicating, intolerable magnificence.

Twain might have cursed the Good Lord for the weather in Estonia; Kilmer would undoubtedly have praised Him. I think I will start my own praising in December, when the civilized world generally welcomes snow, and start my cursing in March, when everyone else has bid it adieu.

03 November 2007

POWs in Tapa

The Estonian International Commission for Investigation of Crimes against Humanity (EICICH, in Estonian Rahvusvahelise Inimsusevastaste Kuritegude Uurimise Eesto Komisjon) focused on three distinct periods in the history of Estonia: 1) its occupation by Soviet forces in 1940-1941, 2) its occupation by German forces in 1941-1944, and 3) its second occupation by Soviet forces beginning in 1944.

According to the EICICH, German forces took control of Tapa on August 4, 1941. Soviet forces, also known as the Red Army, took Tapa back from the Germans on September 21, 1944.

From 1941 to 1944, German forces had five main centers in Estonia with Soviet prisoners of war (POWs). One of the five was in Tapa. In October 1941, Stalag XXIB in Tapa was supplying Tallinn with a prison labor force, first for agricultural work, then for industrial work.

Stalag XXIB eventually became Stalag 381 (and later Dulag 110). According to the EICICH, Stalag 381 had 11,372 POWs from which 69 escaped and 8 were shot dead in attempting to escape.

AGSSt17 was also a POW center in Tapa but was one that was constantly on the move. Stalag 375, while located in Tapa, was a subsidiary of a center in Viljandi.
Moreover, there was a special seven-man unit of the Home Guard (in Estonian Omakaitse) in Tapa. The Home Guard was formed nation-wide in the initial period of the German occupation to carry out executions. The EICICH found that in August and September 1941, the Tapa unit drove nine people to their executions.

A Tree along the Sea in Pärnu

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth's flowing breast;

A tree that looks at God all day;
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

A tree that may in summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.

Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

Joyce Kilmer, 1886-1918

20 October 2007

Saturday morning, 20 October 2007, Tapa

06 October 2007

Teacher's Day 2007

08.00 - First period: With the high school senior who was me for the day, we played my own version of bingo with a map of England to teach fifth graders what "to the north/south/east/west of" means.

08.55 - Second period: With the seniors teaching classes for the rest of the morning, the director of the Hallik Company in nearby Tamsalu came and spoke to all of us teachers about their business. Hallik, under the Hagar brand name, makes bread, including pretty good rolls and - do you believe it? - ciabatta. They make a well-meaning pizza "crust", too, but, like too many Estonians, they just don't know what a Chicago-style deep dish pizza really is. Check out the video on the Hallik homepage, to the right, under "Hagari pitsa". No, I just don't want to know what that white stuff is he is spreading on the pizza crust. You know, neither Estonia nor Finland know what Italian sausage is! I'm afraid I'm going to find out that it is an American invention, despite the "Italian" name.

09.55 - Third period: Kristiina Ojuland, a member of the Estonian Parliament, spoke to us teachers. She spoke in Estonian but quickly gave with me the impression that she was a no-nonsense, shoot-from-the-hip type of person who knew what the hell was going on. One of my colleagues, a math teacher, called her a real "daam", Estonian for "dame" with all of the English class rather than the American connotations.

10.55 - Fourth period: Üllar Saaremäe, a member of Rakvere Theatre, a professional theatre ensemble just 20 minutes from Tapa, told us a few stories about the teachers he had when he was in school.

12.00 - Fifth period: I played basketball. Three teachers, the school's business manager, the school's director, and me played six remarkably tall and unbelievably fast boys from the senior class. We played two 15-minute halves. We may have been up by one point at halftime but got beat by more than 10 points. I went one for two and missed two easy free throws. Yet the real victory was that my 46-year-old ankles and knees held up as we ran up and down the court trying to snatch the ball from those 18-year-olds.

13.00 - Sixth period: Together, the teachers and the seniors were treated to a concert by Kait Tamra, a big guy with long hair and hints of Neil Diamond in his voice. Generally, I think all Estonian music, especially the songs the children sing, sounds the same. But every once in a while I get broadsided by some great original Estonian music. Music by the rock 'n' roll band Propeller blew me away in May. After the Tamra concert, Urmas Tamm, the maavanem of Lääne Virumaa - essentially the governor of the state - presented each of us with a certificate of appreciation. I know Mr. Tamm from my Peace Corps days, when he was just the mayor of Tamsalu. So after the presentations, I went up to him to say hello. I looked at him and asked "Kak deela?", and he looked at me and asked "How are you?" I knew his English was not very good and, because my Estonian was not very good, we would exchange greetings in Russian. Well, later that night, the director told me that Mr. Tamm had recently taken a two-week course in English in London!

14.00 - Seventh period: Cake and coffee in the student lounge.

15.00 - Eighth period: Late lunch -school's treat - at Jäneda's famous Musta Täku Tall, or the Black Stallion Stable.

23.30 - Last period: Bedtime.

You Just Never Know For Sure about Estonia

Well, damn. I got to see Brooke Burns on Estonian television in July. Unfortunately, there were more twists and turns in one episode of Hawaiian Paradise (North Shore in the US) than on a roller coaster at New York New York (check out the video). I was so sea sick (yes, I'm mixing my methaphors) after a half-dozen episodes that I stopped watching it. I understand that Nicole married the guy, and just when they could have lived happily ever after (the show was cancelled), the guy's car exploded. Just so nothing happened to Brooke's legs, posture, and smile (yes, in that order).

Now, out of the blue, much to my delight, Eddy Monsoon and Patsy Stone have stumbled onto Estonian television! I guess Patsy really sort of does look like Brooke, but Patsy...Patsy doesn't have Brooke's smile!

30 September 2007

Teenagers and textbook authors think differently

I laughed so hard a tear slid down the right side of my nose after one of my eleventh grade students read this question from a listening exercise in our Upstream Upper Intermediate B2+ textbook (p. 12) a little bit differently:

7. You hear a couple talking in a cafe. How does the man feel about what the woman is showing him?

  1. He is convinced he needs it.
  2. He doesn't understand it.
  3. He think's it's too expensive.

The correct answer is he thought is was too expensive!

I think I miss going to meetings

The beginning of this article by Rod Liddle in The Spectator (18 August 2007), which I picked up from a corner market near the Hendon Central tube station in London, made me surprisingly nostalgic for those 7:30 a.m. and those 1.00 and 4:00 p.m. meetings we used to have back at the YMCA. I remembered the Association's own belt-tightening and selective ban on box breakfasts and meat platters for most of its meetings. Yet, while we saw fewer and fewer granola cookies in meetings, we indeed heard more and more outside consultants.

"A short while after becoming director-general of the BBC, Greg Dyke gathered a whole bunch of staff together at some warehouse near the City Airport to thrash things out and to deliver unto them his vision for the corporation. There was an air of trepidation among those gathered; Greg had very recently flexed his muscles at Television Centre by banning biscuits. These biscuits were the sort you have at meetings and which, incidentally, I have never seen anywhere except in meetings - three or four different kinds of biscuit waiting balefully on a white plate alongside a screw-top jar of stewed, rubbery coffee, telling you that you were in for an hour or two's concerted misery, probably with a PowerPoint presentation on an overhead projector and maybe even a professional facilitator."

03 September 2007

Summer days driftin' away....

I really don't want to throw these things away without a little reminiscence:

  • a bus ticket from Vilnius (Vilniaus miesto, vienkartinis bilietas). Even though it was 10 o'clock at night (and dark), I opted to take the regular city bus instead of a taxi from the airport. And even though the guesthouse had told me which bus stop to get off at, I took my own route with the map I had in hand, walking through a little bit of the real Vilnius as well as the Old Town. As I stood up to get off the bus, the elderly man who was sitting next to me was kind enough to point me in the direction of Old Town.
  • a bus ticket from Tapa to Aegviidu (sõidupilet nr. 0101, liin nr. 020-02) and a ticket for the electric train from Aegviidu to Ülemiste (Pilet säilitada reisi lõpuni!). It was a dog day of August and even hotter inside the train, which barely had any ventilation, let alone air conditioning. I got on the train just a few minutes before it left, and so the seats in the shade and near the open windows (about the size of a loaf pan) had already been taken. I had a 20.25 flight to Vilnius, and I would have arrived after the gate was closed had I taken the 18.39 train from Tapa. So I put the bus and trains schedules together and discovered that I could get to the electric train (and thus the airport) on a mid-afternoon bus from Tapa. Well, the bus driver really has no idea where anyone is getting off (short of the last stop in Tallinn), let alone any real enthusiasm for making a timely connection with the train.
  • a credit card receipt for the excess baggage fee I paid on easyJet. Boy, have they got a racket there. The measurements for the size of carry-ons are much smaller than the size of the Airbus's overhead compartments. My carry-on would have fit in the overhead, but I could not make it fit in that "Is your bag this big?" thing they have at the check-in desk. So I had to check my bag, along with another bag I had for nine days in Berlin. easyJet is like Southwest in that there is no assigned seating onboard. Yet, easyJet does not have roped-off areas for the A, B, and C groups like Southwest does. Well, they did in Berlin, but they didn't mean anything. In Berlin, London, and Tallinn, we boarded like cattle being herded into the slaughterhouse.
  • a credit card receipt for the $115 worth of pizza (with tip) 18 of us ate in Tallinn at the beginning of my summer English camp with teens from Tapa and Dobeles, Latvia.
  • a receipt for the 4 Lithuanian litas I paid to get to the top (literally) of the castle in Vilnius, which was in addition to the 2 litas I paid to ride the funicular up the hill.
  • my London Transport 3 Day Travelcard. Except for a 15-minute delay Sunday morning in getting a train at Hendon Central going south to Embankment, we really had no complaints about the tube. Well, other than the fact it stops running before 00.30 a.m. on Sundays!
  • a credit card receipt for eight tickets to the BBC Proms at Royal Albert Hall, which a BBC commentator said during the last prom, must surely be one of the greatest musical festivals on earth.

02 September 2007


"This looks familiar, vaguely familiar, almost unreal yet, it's too soon to feel yet, close to my soul and yet so far away...." Can it already be my second year at Tapa Gümnaasium?

In the picture on the right, that tree with the reddish-orange berries is a pihlakas in Estonian, sorbus aucuparia in Latin, and rowan or mountain ash in English. It is found in temperate European countries. The American variety is simply the American mountain ash, or sorbus americana in Latin. It generally grows east of the Rockies.

I don't believe it is a freak of nature that the tree grows in front of the school. I have been told that Estonian teachers hate the mountain ash trees because those berries, which ripen in August, are a sign that their summer vacations are coming to an end.

31 August 2007

93 Royal Years

HAPPY belated BIRTHDAY to my grandmother Her Majesty Marian Spears (born 25 August 1914), pictured here holding my youngest niece Her Royal Highness Ava Hillyer (born 17 November 2006).

PALJU (hilinenud) ÕNNE minu vanaemale Tema majesteet Marian Spears (sündinud 25. august 1914.a), piltis minu kõige noorem õetutari Tema kõrgeausus Ava Hillyeriga (sündinud 17 november 2006).

24 August 2007


Well, yes, London is just two-and-a-half hours from Tallinn. But getting there from Tapa seems just as arduous as leaving from Chicago.

First, there is the trip from Tapa to Tallinn. Okay; it's about the same as taking the el from the Loop to O'Hare. But the check-in time of your flight has to jive with the train schedule. If it does, then the stop at Ülemiste is not far from the airport. No, passage is not as smooth as it is from the O'Hare el station, but it is still within walking distance. Never mind that it could be pouring down rain or that there might be a foot of snow on the ground. Once you jump across the gap between the train and the platform and then get down the 30-40 steps at Ülemiste, the rest of the way to the airport is pretty much flat. If your plane leaves in the middle of the afternoon and in the early evening, though, you need a Plan B to get to the airport.

Secondly, in European airports there's these paternalistic "gate" open and "gate" close times. So "What time does your plane leave?" is inconsequential, because you have got to be checked in before the "gate," that is, your airlines' check-in counter, closes. For example, our easyJet flight left at 11.55, but the check-in counter for the flight reportedly closed at 11.15. So I added the customary "be at the airport two hours early" to that time, and we were there before the damn counter even opened!

Once you have gone through security, checked your email on one of the four computer terminals at the real gates, and squirted some cologne from the duty-free shop on your neck, the easyJet flight to London is relatively nice. Due to construction to expand the airport, we took a bus to the plane and got to board from both the front and rear doors! The Airbus A319 planes that easyJet flies are really very nice and, despite the two rows of three seats on either side of the aisle, very spacious.

So, yes, after an hour or so train ride from Tapa and a two-and-a-half hour flight from Tallinn, shaving four hours off the flight from Chicago, I'm in London. More or less. Truthfully, more "less" than "more." Actually, I'm in Stansted, and I've got another 90 minutes by bus to get to London. Okay; it's about the same as taking the Underground from Heathrow. But the Underground goes through neighborhoods; our National Express coach took the M11, through the middle of nowhere. Stansted is in the middle of nowhere. While the easyJet ticket to Stansted was cheaper than the Estonian Air ticket to Gatwick, how much did the time we spent getting to and from Stansted cost us?

The only good thing about our 6.55 flight back to Tallinn (the "gate" closed at 6.15, the National Express bus left at 4.40, we were up at 3.30) was that, once we got to Stansted, we saw that there were a wholeheckavalot of people who had earlier flights to catch than we did.