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.

Vilnius: A City of Churches

I had the unexpected pleasure of being in Vilnius on Assumption Day (banks and government offices were closed) and walking into the cathedral during Mass said by, I think, His Eminence Audrys Cardinal Backis, the archbishop of Vilnius. More to come on this surprisingly religious Baltic capital.

Vilnius: More of a City than Tallinn

Of the three biggest children in the Baltic family, Tallinn is the oldest who has gotten everything from his parents growing up. Riga and Vilnius are his little siblings who have not gotten as much. It happens.

While Uncle Helsinki and Aunt Stockholm (both of whom work at the local mobile phone factory) have always sent gifts to Tallinn for his birthday and at Christmas time, Uncle Warsaw (who is still working on his parents' farm) has not been as generous to little Vilnius. Yet, somehow, off on his own, Vilnius has grown up to become more of a genuine cosmopolitan city than Tallinn.

For every souvenir shop in Tallinn's Old Town, there's a business in Vilnius's Old Town. For every skinny, hungover British bloke; every 70-year-old cruise ship passenger; and every well-dressed Finn with really cool eyeglasses, sitting outside underneath an A. Le Coq umbrella in Tallinn, there's a Vilnius resident doing the same in his own Old Town under a Svyturys umbrella. For every costumed Hansa character hocking bags of roasted almonds coated in brown sugar and every six-foot-three, hooded medieval executioner stuffing leaflets about the exhibition of torture instruments at the House of Tourism in your face, there's a twentysomething guy with a rectangluar "pork chop" or "hip bone" bag on his shoulder and a five-foot-tall old woman with big hands gripping a bouquet of flowers from her garden shuffling into a Baroque-style church in Vilnius.

We talk about having had everything fed to him/her on a silver spoon, of having grown up too fast, and of advancing to "c" before you have really fully figured out "a" and "b". My students hate to read an article on Tuesday and then re-read it on Thursday when we meet again. I don't know if it is because they didn't understand it the first time and don't want to be bothered with deciphering new words and phrases or if they thought it was too boring the first time and want to move on to the next inevitably boring exercise. Vilnius, on the other hand, has plodded through, reading the text three and four times, extracting a few new vocabulary words, digesting the major points of the article, and then articulating an informed response.

Mushroom Picking - 12.00 to 14.00

This is another part of the forest at Lasna, in northern Estonia, just off the Tallinn-St. Petersburg highway. This is where mushrooms grow, but it has been a dry summer. So the mushrooms are, literally, few and far between.

12 August 2007

Berry Picking - 8.00 to 11.30

This is the forest at Lasna, in northern Estonia, just off the Tallinn-St. Petersburg highway, about 30 minutes from Tapa.

These are berries - blackberries, maybe blueberries - growing all over the ground in this particular area of the forest.

This is me pulling the damn little berries from the short little plants that are over the ground in this particular area in the forest at Lasna.

These are the two camera-shy girls who showed me how to pick the damn little berries from the short little plants that are all over the ground in this particular area of the forest at Lasna.

This is one of the two camera-shy girls who showed me a poisonous berry, which grows on a fir-like plant rather than a leaf-like plant, all over the ground in this particular area of the forest at Lasna.