Our last two days in Finland….let me tell you about them.
Yesterday Geno and I led a group of 85 students on a day trip to Tallinn, Estonia. We took a two-hour ferry ride and then split into three groups with three guides. We did a historic tour and some sight seeing in Old Town. The Old Town area is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The first fortress there was built in 1050 and the country has been occupied by Germany and Russia. Estonia only gained its independence in 1991 and from what our guide said they are very proud to be free. He said that he apologizes for mentioning how important freedom is to them but they are always worried that they will lose their freedom again. We saw St. Olaf's Church, Town Hall Square, the Russian Orthodox Alexander Nevsky Cathedral and lots of other beautiful viewpoints and scenic little streets. We had lunch at this fascinating restaurant. I can't say I enjoyed the food very much, but the atmosphere was very interesting. It was all food that would be served in medieval times, served family style in a room with no electricity, just candles. There were also some musicians that played medieval instruments while we ate. It was fun, but hot as heck in there.
We had a little more site seeing and then some free time. Geno and I wandered and found a hat shop where a lady was sitting at her worktable making the most beautiful hats. I tried on several and then bought a beautiful red one. Her hats were so beautiful and unique but she didn't understand why I would want a picture with her. This whole street was filled with Estonian made products. It was so fun to explore all of the handmade goods. We also found a chocolate shop and ordered two pieces of chocolate to go before we had to go back to meet our group. We took the ferry home and no students were left behind….YEAH! The ferry was really cool. There were several restaurants, a supermarket, cabin's if you wanted to sleep. It was HUGE! We really loved our time in Estonia. We never thought we would be able to visit this country. Actually, I can't even say that I knew it was a country. There is so much we don't know. Skype has its headquarters in Estonia, yep, we didn't know that either!
Today we had the BEST day EVER! We went on a small group-kayaking trip in the archipelago near Helsinki in the Baltic Sea. There were 8 of us in all (life long learners, deans and faculty). It was so peaceful. The sea was so calm in the morning it looked like a lake. We spent about three hours kayaking around the small islands and we stopped on one to have a lunch that the guide had brought. We did a small hike up to the top of the island where we could relax on the rocks and enjoy our sandwiches. After lunch we took a quick swim in the cold Baltic Sea…because, why not…and then finished up our trip. I had never been in a real kayak with a splash skirt and all that so it was a great new experience. We really needed that peace. This voyage can be overwhelmingly busy and you tend to spend a lot of your time in the cities, so it is nice to make your way out into nature when you can. The guide took all of the pictures for us so I will have to post them later.
When we returned we went back the ship, freshened up and then went with Dean Joe (Dean of Students) to a huge flea market. I bought a beautiful silver bracelet and a nice dress/top. There were so many tables of goods. Anything you could want…clothing, linens, jewelry, vegetables, books…anything. After the flea market we found some dinner and now we are back on the ship chilling and working.
We like to get back early the night we leave. We get a lot of work done before things get crazy the next day, like writing blogs and doing grading. It is 6:30pm right now, but on-ship time isn't until 9pm. It still stays very light outside until late but not until midnight like Sweden and Norway.
We can feel that things are wrapping up. With one more port to go we feel excited to come home and sad to leave. Life on Semester at Sea is pretty incredible. Where else do you get paid to do what you love and see the world at the same time. We have met so many incredible people. Everyone is so adventurous and intelligent. Although we are looking forward to coming home I think we are a little bit nervous about the transition. There are some changes that we are going to make when we return to the US, but I can write about that later. I do have to tell you about the ship events we haven't had time to write about, I will do that soon.