Estonia’s Singing Revolution

It was the power of choral singing that sustained the Estonian people during their fifty years behind The Iron Curtain. There are over 700 choirs in the tiny country of Estonia and from 1987 to 1991, the power of unified choir voices singing forbidden songs became a resistance tool in the country’s effort to gain independence. Check out my latest article in Global Comment.










Sleeping In Airports

I really dislike airport sleeping. Really dislike it. That’s not to say I haven’t been forced to catch up on much needed slumber on an airport layover. There was that time my flight landed in Singapore after midnight and I (exhausted because I don’t sleep in the cozy confines of budget coach airplanes) inadvertently wandered into the no exit, chairless holding pen for the next leg of my flight to Nepal and spent the ensuing seven hours sleeping on the cold tile floor. Alone. Clutching my backpack. Then there was the time I got kicked out of both the closed Burger King and closed McDonalds in the Beijing airport because I tried to catch some shuteye on their plastic benches during a nine hour overnight layover. And the time I missed my connection in the Istanbul airport and though it has a handy airport hotel for which I would have gladly paid their exorbitant price to lie flat on a bed, the connecting flight they re-booked me on kept getting delayed. Throughout the night, the agent regularly warned passengers to stay in the area because it could depart at any time. Nine hours of dozing while caffeinated later, I finally boarded the plane. These were not experiences I had in my supple-bodied twenties. No. They happened in my AARP subscribing years when tile floor and Burger King beds do a number on you.

That’s why I was so thrilled to find the website Sleeping In Airports.

The website shares timely information submitted by passengers organized by individual airport guides from all over the world on everything you need to know if stuck on a long layover. It also lists best and worst airports rated by actual customers. For example, about my home airport, SeaTac in Seattle it says:

  • Since this is a 24 hour airport, you can stay in the secure/airside area at night.
  • Several reviewers warned of loud TVs and announcements, even late at night, so earplugs are recommended if you want to sleep.
  • Airside – Most of the seats in Seattle airport are partitioned by armrests. However, there are long, padded benches that are nice for sleeping around Gate A14 or near the end of Concourse C (Gate 10). Avoid C9 and C17, as there are a lot of TVs in the area. The S concourse has padded benches near the center of the terminal.
  • Eye shades may come in handy as some areas tend to be bright at night.
  • There are lots of soft black seats with NO arms at the Southwest Airlines B8 gate!! (Juju – August 2016)
  • Landside – There is a meditation room on the 2nd level of the main terminal that offers peace, quiet, and comfy benches. Beyond that, places to sleep are limited.
Amsterdam Airport Library

I’m flying to Estonia via Amsterdam in a few weeks and was thrilled to find both the Amsterdam and the Tallin, Estonia Airports on the website’s Top Ten List of Best Airports in Europe. Tallin is #3 and Amsterdam is #9. Both airports have comfortable plush sleeping chairs and libraries and the Tallin Airport has the added bonus of announcements performed by jazz and opera singers. Imagine that. No echoing nasal voiced announcements but rather the melodious voices of vocal artists reminding me that I need to get out of my plush sleeping chair to catch my flight home.

Travel Planning During the Low Season: March in Estonia & Latvia

As a freelance travel writer I subscribe to a variety of websites promoting cheap airfares. My favorite being this one. In early December they promoted a $420 round trip ticket from Seattle to Tallin, Estonia on Delta Airlines. There was a reasonable layover in Amsterdam (one of my favorite layover airports) and the departure and arrival times were civilized. I left in the afternoon (instead of the wee hours of the morning necessitating shelling out money for a Seattle airport hotel the night before) and arrived early afternoon (which meant I could drop my bags at my hostel and not spend an entire day wandering the streets of Tallin trying to stay awake until bedtime).

The only catch was the round trip had to be completed by March 31, 2017. I booked the ticket for the last two weeks in March and then researched the weather in Estonia and Latvia for that time of year. My first clue was Rick Steves, that intrepid entrepreneur of all things travel (incidentally, his free and extensive travel book library in Edmonds, Washington is one of my favorite haunts). His Snapshot series book about Tallin assumes you’ll only be there in the summer strolling in the parks and outdoor markets, drinking coffee at an outdoor cafe. I checked Lonely Planet. “In March locals pull aside the curtains to check the weather outside….and yup, its still winter out there,” the writers pronounced in their saucy description of month by month climate. LP also assumes you’ll be visiting during the long, warm days of summer and gives little clue about travel in the low season. I deduced the northern latitude means daylight is still at a premium, many of the summer resorts are closed and museums and tourist attractions have limited hours.

Still….that air fare was so cheap and as I began to book accommodations, I discovered more advantages to off season travel. Without asking, the Tallin hostel upgraded me to a private larger room at no extra cost. A complementary tour of breweries in Riga, Latvia – free transportation and tasting included. Significantly discounted prices at Estonian and Latvian spas. Restaurant discounts. Tallin Music Week. In return all I had to do was pack more clothing layers and plan outdoor activities around shortened daylight hours. Packing and itinerary planning will be similar to my recent December Iceland trip which I posted about here and here.

I am, as I said, a freelance travel writer so this will be a working trip. There’ll be additional perks brokered by Estonia and Latvia’s helpful tourism agencies so I can write the articles already promised to editors: press passes to Tallin Music Week, interviews about Latvia’s Blue Cows, free entrance to the House of the Brotherhood of the Blackheads in Tallin and Riga and sites that have become part of both countries Soviet era tourism promotion – old bunkers, KGB headquarters, Occupation Museums.

Part of my typical trip research is to watch documentaries and movies made in or about the country so I pay a bit more for my Amazon/Netflix/Showtime experience in order to watch obscure cinema. Over the past week I watched The Singing Revolution, a documentary about the culture of song in both countries and how it became part of both country’s resistance leading to independence. Its such a compelling story, I plan on turning it into an article or blog post when I return. And I found a travel show about each country filmed largely in the sunny summer months, which is becoming a re-occurring research theme for this trip.

Stay tuned. If you’re lucky enough to follow my personal Facebook page, that’s where I post while I travel.