Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Helsinki to Tallinn, August 23

We had an early morning with a rushed-but-tasty hotel breakfast in order to catch the short ferry from Finland to Estonia.  The ferry didn't have "seats" as such, but we sort of squatted at an out-of-the-way bar table and dozed through most of the trip.  We happened to be perched midway between a large bar where a horn-heavy band was playing dance music, and a smaller bar where a soulful guitar-wielding Finn was singing songs like "Hotel California" ... phonetically.  Maybe the weirdest dreams of my life.

Then, Tallinn.  We were staying in the Old Town, which is one of the best-preserved old towns in Europe with some buildings and fortifications dating from the 13th century.  Everywhere we went in Tallinn, I felt like we'd stepped into a fantasy novel or a fairy tale.  Pictures are probably best:

We had lunch at Kompressor, a divey "pancake" place, but the pancakes were much more like hefty (delicious) crepes.  We enjoyed a walking tour with our guide Mari, had dinner at a local spot, and then some after-dinner drinks at a bar called Clazz.

By this point in the trip, speculation about the upcoming Big Reveal was starting to heat up.  I should explain: on this trip, for the first few days no one was allowed to reveal where they were from, where they'd gone to school, what they'd studied, and (if traveling in a couple) which member of the couple was the Northwestern student.  We'd all gotten to know each other by this point, and people were having a lot of fun guessing each others' life stories.

After dinner and drinks, we returned to our basic-but-serviceable hostel in the heart of Old Town for a good night's sleep.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Helsinki, August 22 - Suomenlinna

We spent the first part of the day on Suomenlinna ("castle of Finland") (no actual castle), which was originally built as a Swedish fort.  Suomenlinna has a history as rich as Finland's -- see the wikipedia link above.

Many of the original fortifications are in place, and others have been faithfully restored.  Today, a few hundred Finns also live on the island year-round, commuting to mainland Helsinki by short ferry ride or (in case of emergency) under-sea tunnel.  We enjoyed strolling the island.  We also had a nice chat with an older Latvian-American couple on a long trip themselves.  Chuckling, they encouraged us to spend a lot of money in Riga once we got there.

Suomenlinna's drydock was particularly impressive, and was considered very large at the time of consturction.  Be sure to stare at the first picture for a second to get the perspective right; that is NOT a small boat!

After returning from Suomenlinna, Lauren and I stopped at local vegetarian restaurant Zucchini, where we got a bit of a break from the meat+potatoes fare.  We napped and wandered through the rest of the afternoon, before joining the rest of the KWEST group for a Belgian dinner (and a few Chimays) at Belge, and then some partying at the local Butterfly Bar.  Lauren and I had less party stamina than many of her new classmates, but everyone had a great time.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Helsinki, August 21 - Arrival, bus/boat tours

Lauren and I were thrilled to join the KWEST Baltics trip this year.  KWEST is a Kellogg business school program where students entering the first year of their MBAs split into groups of 25, and bond over exotic vistas and new foods during a week abroad.  Along the way, there's usually some service component, lots of sightseeing, and lots of partying.  A good time all around.

We'll be posting our notes from the trip over the next few days.  Pictures from the whole trip are already posted.

We flew direct from Chicago to Stockholm, then had a 2-hour layover in Stockholm where one of our new trip buddies immediately fell in love with every Swedish woman.  A short flight to Helsinki, and our trip was begun in earnest.  The pine trees outside the airport were a great first sight.

Many unfortunate souls (like me) hadn't slept during the overnight plane flight, and so energy was a bit low as we checked into the Hotel Arthur...

In a noble attempt to combat jetlag, the trip leaders had planned an immediate bus tour for our first day in Helsinki.  We alternated between dozing and sightseeing, but enjoyed cool stops at a church built into solid rock...

...and at the Sibelius monument, honoring Jean Sibelius, a composer whose work is central to the Finnish national identity.

After the bus tour, we had a bit of time before our next activity (boat tour), during which we wandered through the breathtaking senate square before meeting up with the group back at the mermaid statue.

I'll be honest: I slept through most of the boat tour.  I must have snapped a few photos while sleeping, though?

We finally lurched our way to a hearty dinner of meatballs and hash at a restaurant called Zetor, and then it was time for a long, hard sleep.

I had just enough awareness of my surroundings during this groggy day to reach one firm conclusion: I'd move to Helsinki in a heartbeat!

Friday, August 5, 2011

Meeting the President

Last night, Will and I went to the Aragon ballroom to see President Obama speak.  Neither of us had ever seen a sitting president before.  There were about 1000 people in the room, and so we were able to get pretty close.

Obama was charismatic, handsome, energetic, real.  Exactly what you hoped he would be.  Sometimes the speech was trite, but I was sufficiently excited that I am probably going to change my Facebook and Google profile picture to something referencing "I'm In," his new campaign 2012 slogan.

I loved how diverse and energetic the crowd was.  We don't see a whole lot of diversity together, celebrating, being one community in Chicago all that often, so this was a special night.

You can read the news story of the event here.