Baltics Day 11: Estonia. Who knew!?

Day 11: Tuesday, September 13th, 2016

This morning I awoke at 10am to get my things together and have breakfast. The woman in the hostel informs me that the cab to the airport takes no more than twenty minutes, so I check my flight time and have until about 11:45am until I should return to my hostel to head out. Despite having a light free breakfast at the hostel, I decide to go to the marketplace area by the train station, which supposedly has a lot of good, cheap food.

I walk over to that area and it's more than underwhelming. I'm not sure if I went to the right spot, despite being exactly where it was marked on the map, but there are just a few restaurants selling Chinese food and carry-out, but nothing super exciting. Yes, it appeared to be cheap (entire meals for under $7), but it didn't look very worthwhile.

On the way back to the hostel, I passed through a garden art exhibit which had a variety of unique small gardens. One was "the most dangerous garden" with hops, marijuana, and poppies. There was a placard describing how each of these plants in other forms can become alcohol or drugs, but here they're presented as harmless plants (maybe not the marijuana, so much). The placard raised the question of whether or not we should allow such things to be planted, knowing the dangers of what they may become.

Another garden had some weird sculptures in it that reminded me of some artwork that Delia Deetz from Beetlejuice might create. It was described as a sensory garden, with both edible and aromatic plants, so you could taste, smell, see, and feel the various plants and herbs.

Eventually it's time for me to return to my hostel so I can head to the airport. There, I grab my things and take a quick cab to the Tallinn airport. Yet again, I get through security without so much as anyone taking a glance at my passport or ID. I understand that they don't have to stamp anything for traveling within the EU, but don't you still have to match my ID with my ticket?

I scan my ticket myself on a machine to get up to security, as there is no physical person there to check it. There's a sign near the security line that says "Tallinn airport: The coziest airport in the world." I don't believe you. But once I'm through security, I see why they'd call themselves that! There's a cute cafe with tables made from old suitcases. There's a reading nook with a "take a book/leave a book" policy and big, comfy armchairs. There's a playground! This is actually a pretty amazing airport. If I had to create a tagline from my experience here, it'd be "Estonia. Who knew!?"

I want that, that, that, that...

I plan my sleep carefully to avoid jetlag, and allow myself to sleep on the brief connecting flight to Frankfurt...for which my body and mind immensely thanked me.

After we land in Frankfurt, we are taxing on the runway for a bit and a lot of people start getting out of their seats, despite the captain's request to stay seated, since people on planes are antsy. Then he just gets plain aggressive on the intercom: “Please take your seats! This is like a car; we are still moving to the gate and if you don’t get seated you may fly through the cabin and there will be a lot of blood! THANK YOU.” Oh, Germans.

Once in the Frankfurt airport, I find myself in an area with the A gates and my next flight home is in the Z gates. I'm gonna go out on a limb and guess that the distance between these areas is pretty big. I zip past the pretzel stands, the pretzel stands, and the pretzel stands (because...Germany) and find myself at the entrance to the Z gates, which is of course the passport control line. Germany has a reputation of being harsh, and I thought the funniest interaction between a German and a tourist was a family of three (mom, dad and toddler) going through passport control. The German passport agent had a stone face talking with the mom as he stamped her passport. I'm out of earshot and can't hear what's happening. Then he sees the father holding the toddler and stands up and I think "oh man, something bad's about to happen!" The passport agent gets out of his seat and turns to the father and says something, his face still emotionless. He reaches down under his desk and...pulls out a lollipop to hand to the toddler as he cracks a smile. Aww, they have hearts after all!

I get on my flight to Chicago, which is about 7 hours. I manage to stay awake the whole time to get my body back on local time. I don't travel internationally very often, but when I do go on these long flights, I'm always reminded of how boring a flight attendant's job must be. Yes, they do the safety instructions and the drink and food service, but for these long flights, they mostly just sit there. I went to the bathroom at one point and saw the flight attendant sitting in her seat in the back just staring forward. They aren't allowed to watch movies or read because they're on the they just sit there for the most boring plane experience ever, for about 70% of the flight. Can you even imagine?

I arrive in O'Hare in the evening, and find myself in an airport I've been hundreds of times before, and the same airport where I still have to ask 7 people for the route to the CTA. One of these days, it will be as simple as Helsinki. Until then, I'll keep seeking out the simple signage that doesn't exist.