Friday and Saturday, February 22 and 23Frankfurt, Germany
Our trip to Estonia was slated to begin with a performance in Toledo, but the bad weather left an open path between the airport and us. We flew from Detroit to Frankfurt, Germany. Now we're waiting for our flight to Helsinki, Finland, after which we still have several hours of travel - including a two-hour ferry across the Baltic Sea to Tallinn. With the six-hour time difference, everyone is quite tired, but we're still going strong. There are plenty of amusements in the airport, including workers riding bicycles and driving trucks inside the terminal.
Sunday, February 24Independence Day
Our first day was Independence Day in Estonia, which made for an extra-special welcome. We traveled to the little town of Rapla, the home village of professor Nils Riess. Here we sang at a beautiful (but chilly) church called the Marrja-Magdaleena Church. Afterwards, we watched traditional Estonian folkdances and listened to choirs at the town festival. It was amazing to see how important music is to Estonian culture.
For dinner, we ate a traditional Estonian meal, including Estonian ice cream, both of which were delicious. As much fun as we had during the day, nothing compared to the evening when Sarah Cushman, who studied in Estonia during fall quarter, took us to Old Town. Old Town is exactly what it sounds like - the oldest section of the city. The streets are cobblestones and sometimes get very narrow. We reached an area that was like an observation deck and were looking over the old section of Tallinn to the new areas when fireworks started! We had the perfect view of them over Old Town. It was such an awesome experience to be in Estonia for Independence Day and to watch the fireworks from an historic place.
Monday, February 25Bit of History
We had a guided tour of Old Town this morning. Our tour guide was excellent and very funny - she tried to teach us some Estonian phrases and was astonished by how well we mimicked her. It was really helpful to get some the history in my head; knowing that history makes it easier for me to understand a little bit of the mentality of this country. Estonia has been invaded 13 times and occupied for a large portion of its history. The non-violent "Singing Revolution" helped Estonians earn independence from the Soviet Union.
Later that evening, we walked back to Old Town and sang at the Püha Vaimu church. It was built in the 13th century, but it was actually a bit warmer than the church in Rapla. After the concert, we had our first free night in Tallinn! A group of us went to an American restaurant called Texas where we were able to make free calls to our families in the United States. Later, we went to a jazz club to reunite with an Estonian woman who had worked on "Beauty and the Beast" at Northern last summer.
Tuesday, February 26Hidden Treasures
Today we traveled to Parnu, the "summer capitol" of Estonia. We only had an hour for dinner, which would have been plenty of time in America, but dining is more relaxed in Estonia. A few of us found a tiny café tucked away in a nook. The food was tasty, but the experience was even better. While no one working there spoke English, our waitress understood everything we said. Working past the language barrier was interesting, and the only funny miscommunication was when someone ordered a cheese sandwich that was not a sandwich at all, but pieces of cheese cut into the shape of french fries!
We got back to the church in time to warm up and go to the sanctuary for the service. Afterwards, the few Estonians in the church left! Luckily a few people came back to watch. It was disappointing to not have had a bigger audience because the acoustics in that church were phenomenal, and the choir sounded great in there.
Wednesday, February 27A Step in Time
This morning we had a tour of the Occupation Museum. Our guide's name was Antz, and when he introduced himself, he made a joke about not being a German "Hans," and not being an insect either. He explained the colors in the Estonian flag as blue for the sky and water, black for the soil and their dark past, and white for purity. He talked about the different occupations, but focused on the two most recent - Nazis during World War II and the Soviets before and after the war.
After lunch we were able to tour Parliament, and we got to sit in on a session in progress. Professor Riess obtained permission for us to climb up a medieval spiral tower. The stairs were very tightly wound, but we didn't stop until we reached the room in the top of the tower. Then we were able to go up on the roof for an even clearer view of Tallinn.
The entire choir went to see "Rigoletto" at the Estonian National Opera tonight. Our seats were too far back to see the subtitles, so it was sometimes difficult to follow. I bought a program, though, and read the synopsis before the show began. It was fun to get dressed up, but the rain and the cold made for a long walk back to the hotel.
Thursday, February 28Ohioans in Estonia
While we originally had the morning free, Professor Riess secured a private viewing of the "The Singing Revolution," a documentary made by Americans that has not yet opened in the United States. It was an excellent film, and probably one of my favorite cultural things we've done here.
We had to hurry back to the hotel afterwards to leave for Tartu. Even though Tartu is the second-largest Estonian city, this university town boasts only 100,000 residents. Our concert was at the Salemi Church, and our hosts were from Ohio! Mr. and Mrs. Linded moved to Tartu over 10 years ago, and Mr. Linded is the pastor of the church. The church was beautiful and heated. Mrs. Linded prepared brownies, tea and coffee for everyone.
Friday, February 29Falling Snow
Today we went to the art museum, and while we were waiting to enter, fat flakes of snow were falling. We saw a pond that was halfway frozen with ducks skating across the watery surface, which was reminiscent of the lake behind ONU's Freed Center and the ducks that stay during the winter.
At the museum was an elevator that held 120 people! Our group crammed in for a picture, of course. For lunch we sampled Estonian Mexican food - very spicy. After a nice afternoon break, a friend and I wandered Old Town looking for a new place to eat. We settled on a modern jazz restaurant called Déjà Vu. Most of us had started to feel travel weary, so we called it an early evening.
Saturday and Sunday, March 1 and 2Going Home
We departed Estonia for Finland, the first stop in our long journey home. Professor Riess recommended a local restaurant, where I tried reindeer - it was delicious. Our flight from Helsinki was delayed enough that our layover in Frankfurt was eliminated. Even though our next flight was delayed, the choir still had to dash from one end of the terminal to another, through customs, and straight onto the plane. During the flight I reset my watch in an attempt to get readjusted to Ohio time. The long trans-Atlantic flight gave us time to catch our breath after a week of whirlwind performances and cultural experiences that none of us will ever forget.