Sunday, August 29, 2010

Tallinn

We've had an amazing time in Tallinn, and I'm sorry to be going. Tomorrow we're going to Helsinki, but instead of flying, we've opted for the ferry from Tallinn. Apparently the Helsinki-Tallinn route is one of the busiest ferry routes anywhere; there are multiple departures from multiple ferry companies a day.

In the couple of days we've been here, we managed to see (although not in this order):
Tonight, our last night in Tallinn, we had a really good dinner at Olde Hansa, a total tourist trap, but with really good medieval food, which is not to say I have much of a point of comparison. We've eaten well on this trip; we've had some good Estonian and Russian food.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Estonian Television

We checked into our hotel this afternoon, and immediately set out to an important task: watching television. Specifically, Estonian television. And even more specifically, an Estonian game show. I don't know the name of the game show, but while watching it, the following games were played:
  • Getting dressed up as Santa Claus (to the tune of "Here Comes Santa Claus"; the victory music was "Jingle Bell Rock").
  • Identifying various geographic locations on a map, using push pins.
  • Drinking an unidentified red liquid through a straw.
  • Blowing up yellow smiley face balloons.
  • Answering trivia questions: If you answered a question correctly, the assistant lady gave you a black circle; if you got a question wrong, she took it back.
  • Eating a plate of cookies.
    After the game show, a soap opera came on, but we had to turn it off because Ed nearly hurt himself laughing: It was a South American soap opera, with one guy talking over the actors in Estonian; we could still hear the original actors speaking their parts in the background. We thoroughly enjoyed it.

    Wednesday, August 25, 2010

    Stockholm --> Tallinn: Adventures in Flying

    The next leg of our journal has started rather inauspiciously. We had an evening flight to Tallinn, a flight that only takes about an hour. We got to the Arlanda airport in Stockholm with more than enough time to spare, and rested our weary wheels, poked around the Duty Free shop, had dinner, and camped out at the gate. Just after boarding was announced, the desk agent announced that due to an issue at the Tallinn airport, we would board late. Some time later, we were told that because of an accident, the Tallinn airport would be closed for the night, with no arrivals or departures allowed.

    Scandinavian Air cancelled our flight and will be running our flight tomorrow morning with the same flight number; in the meantime, they shuffled us off to a bus that took us to a hotel about 30 miles northwest of Stockholm. It's a nice hotel, but inconsistent: crystal chandeliers but no elevator to our third-floor room; a "double occupancy room" means two single beds; there are no tissues or washcloths, but there is a body wash dispenser in the shower.

    Because of Ed's flight benefits, as a "companion" I fly at a rather (extremely) reduced airfare. (After we get married, as a spouse I'll pay only the associated taxes.) It's ironic that when we flew to Sweden, we non-revved - we put ourselves on standby - and managed to get Business Class seats, which were wider, more comfortable, and even allowed us to stretch all the way out, in addition to getting pillows, blankets; we also got champagne as we boarded, wine, beer or cocktails with dinner, and meals on actual plates, as well as breakfast before we landed. Yet when we pay for a ticket, the flight gets cancelled. At least this way, Scandinavian Air has to put us up in a hotel!

    Stockholm

    We've been in Stockholm since Saturday morning; tonight we leave to go to Tallinn. We've been wandering about and developing blisters from all the walking, mostly getting our history geeks on and getting in the way of the locals. The blisters were irritating but totally worth it, because we saw:
    We've eaten herring (which gets served with breakfast, because why not?) and medieval Swedish food; a weird Swedish version of a bacon cheeseburger (I've never gotten a burger served with Thousand Island before); and some pretty good Thai food. The T-Bana (subway) is clean and efficient; every station has escalators and elevators that actually work, and the mini-marts that are in seemingly each station is as well stocked (albeit a bit smaller) than 7-Elevens. 

    Monday, August 16, 2010

    Assumptions

    This post is very long, and somewhat ranty. I think this blog post was a long time in coming: the big reason I've spent my life dreading my own wedding. I want it recognized, though, that I love Ed and I want to marry him and spend my life with him: This is not an anti-marriage post, or even necessarily an anti-wedding post.

    Since having gotten engaged exactly a month ago, Ed and I have done a lot of wedding planning. We've looked at a lot of wedding timelines that assume a minimum of a year-long engagement, and we've crossed off an inordinate number of those tasks, some of which should be "done" (if you will) up to a few weeks before the wedding (e.g., shopping for rings, getting them engraved, choosing bridesmaids dresses, etc.). But there are a lot of assumptions and presumptions about the bride, a significantly fewer but still various presumptions about the groom, and a lot of assumptions about Our Big Day. At the time of engagement, one would tell one's parents the happy news, if they didn't already know (although how they would know before it's become official is a mystery); one would submit an engagement photo to the newspapers (Who does that?), and keep up with thank you notes as gifts are received. And then the timeline begins nine to 12 months before the wedding. Yikes.

    Admittedly, I suspect that many of these checklists/timelines are exhaustive such that there is recognition that not all affianced will do each item; for example, it will be suggested that you shop around for a videographer, if you decide to have one. So clearly these lists include ideas that will not be to every taste. But many assumptions are made based on the understanding that this singular day is thought to be - especially by the bride - to be the single most important day of her life. 

    (For the record, as a child I distinctly remember being terrified of my own wedding. Not of being married, but of being the center of attention in a type of gown that I never wanted to wear, or even daydreamed about wearing, doing stereotypical cliched things that aren't to my liking. I was never a girly girl; I never wore makeup, nor had any desire to, nor did I even enjoy dressing up. I never missed dating in high school nor felt that I was missing out or lonely when I was single. And not once have I felt my biological clock ticking.)

    Ed and I have been perusing a seemingly vast quantity of bridal magazines and advice books that presume that this is the day I've waited for my entire life. They presume things like I have a color scheme. They presume I want a color scheme. (I'm just picking colors I like, but I'm planning it out ahead of time. I don't care if the flowers don't match the bridesmaids dresses.) They presume I want a Father-Daughter dance. Or that I buy into the notion that the dress I wear sets the theme for the wedding.

    It's presumed that:
    •  You'll put an engagement and/or wedding announcement in the newspaper, which works great if you've lived in your hometown or the area for your entire life, and/or you have family in the area. This doesn't work for either Ed or me, since we're both multiple-time transplants with family across the country (and in my case, the globe).
    • There will be engagement/bridal showers, which works great if you live in the same neck of the woods as your bridesmaids and family. My parents live 2,000 miles away. My bridesmaids are in New York, Boston, Utah, and San Francisco. One of my aunts lives in upstate New York, the other in Virginia. Ed's mother lives in (a different part of) Virginia; one aunt lives in California, and the other aunt lives in a third state. A bridal shower simply isn't feasible, even if I wanted one.
    • You'll be shopping with your bridesmaids, mother, and future mother-in-law, and having lunch or tea with them the week before the wedding. (See the previous bullet point about where we all live.) 
    • You're planning the wedding where you live. Thank God - seriously - that Ed has taken an interest in planning this wedding, because I couldn't plan it alone from across the country. Maid-of-Honor Maria and my mom have been helpful in offering advice and looking at dresses with me - and my bridesmaid have also been great in offering feedback - but when it comes to the details of flowers and cake, Ed and I are the ones who have to make those phone calls or send the e-mails.
    What's frustrating is that nowhere is there any acknowledgement of any other possibility.

    And some of the expectations! I bought The Little Book of Bridal Etiquette for the 21st Century, which extols common sense advice, but which includes advice such including blank RSVP cards so that the guests may write their own acceptance-or-regrets. Apparently giving guests the check-the-box format is tacky, but I don't believe that to be the case. The wait time between ceremony and reception is also to be avoided at all costs, but sometimes you just don't have that option.

    Even better is The Bride's Thank-You Note Handbook, which arrived today. Originally published in 1968 and revised in 1985, it includes such helpful advice as, "When the gift is sent by a married couple the thank-you note may be addressed to either "Mr. and Mrs." or to the wife only" (3) and "[A]s with all gifts, the bride is obliged to send the thank-you note" (61). Why we would not address the thank you to both husband and wife is a bit of  a mystery. And why the groom doesn't help write the thank you notes is just outdated. (This book includes a list of example thank you notes based on an alphabetical gift list that ranges from a book light to a record album to opera tickets to a VCR. I really hope no one get us opera tickets.)

    I am convinced that for a large segment of the bridal population, there are women who have spent their lives dreaming about their wedding day and spend hours poring over every aspect. I am also convinced that the rest of us just want to get everyone we love together, have a good time, and celebrate something like this happening - without all the stuffy, fussy details and presumptions. 

    Thursday, August 12, 2010

    Travel Readiness

    Next week, Ed and I are taking a jaunt over to Europe, namely Stockholm, Tallinn, and Helsinki. It's one of those weird things that got out of hand: I made a joke about running off to Estonia as a mid-life crisis, and we thought, why not? So we looked into going to Tallinn, and since there aren't any direct flights on a viable airline (the flight benefits limit us to specific airlines, at this point), we began looking at which cities would be the closest to Tallinn, figuring the further east we could go, the better; the furthest east we could get would be Stockholm, so we decided we might as well spend a few days there. And since it's only a 2-hour ferry ride to Helsinki, we decided to add Helsinki to our itinerary as well. We're flying to Pennsylvania on Tuesday to take care of some wedding planning, retrieving Mom and Dad from Newark on Thursday, and hopping our own international flight on Friday.

    We've been slowly getting ourselves organized, which mostly means arranging the multitude of Internet purchases to arrive by Monday. Yesterday brought my Envirosax (which I highly recommend; they fold up small and are very light and easily transportable, and are handy to bring along just in case you need a shopping bag); my international plug adaptors and a travel power strip are en route, as is clothing. My backpack arrived some time ago. (I do have a travel purse I could bring, but the backpack could double as a laptop bag and travel bag, making things more compact and easier to carry around travel guides. I haven't made up my mind, though.) And today I bought a ticket and ID wallet, so I can bring something smaller with me and not have my regular wallet bulging out of a pocket.

    I think it's time to admit that I have a weakness for travel gadgets.

    Monday, August 9, 2010

    Wedding Music

    One of the last big hurdles we have to overcome with all this wedding planning is finding some manner of entertainment. We'll probably go with a DJ, simply because we don't have the ability to decently audition live bands; as such, we've hunted down a couple DJs, and have an appointment with one in a couple weeks when we come back from Europe.

    The prices seem to vary a lot; the DJ with whom we have an appointment quoted us $650, while the others go up to $1,295 (I'm sure there are those that cost more). Most offer various packages with different prices that depend on the length of the reception and can include extras like a bubble machine. Most seem to include optional fancy lighting; a few have a la carte options, and one or two had the option of managing one's account (including music playlists) online.

    With the company with whom we have an appointment, we were given an approximately 15-page questionnaire about our musical preferences. We don't want anything like the Bouquet/Garter Toss, Multiplication Dance, and so on; this eliminates a lot of musical choices, but there's still having to choose songs for our first dance, the bridal party's (and our) grand entrance, things like that. But what we were strangely having the most fun with was choosing the Do Not Play list: These are the songs we do not want played at our wedding under any circumstances. Dammit, at my wedding there will be no Tubthumping, Wang Chunging, chicken dancing, Shania, Queen, polka, or disco! And I hate Kool and the Gang's "Celebration" with a passion of a thousand burning suns. (Why is this song played a few dozen times at each event?) Said list will likely continue to grow, but we were both giggling and horrified at some of the "standards" that seem to be required. The questionnaire gave a lot of suggestions that immediately went to the "Do Not Play" list. Ed wrote a blog entry that sums it up pretty well.

    Throughout this entire process of planning, one particular photo from Awkward Family Photos has been going through my mind. I'm sure the photographer just happened to catch the groom at a weird moment, but the mere thought of this photo causes me to go into a fit of giggling every time I think of it. It's entitled "The Stinkeye" and the caption below it on the website reads, "You can call her Mom now."

    Sunday, August 8, 2010

    Balloons!

    Yesterday Ed and I went to the Sandy Balloon Festival. It was a really good evening: warm and very breezy, not muggy at all, just really pleasantly summer. Unfortunately, it was a bit too breezy for the balloons, three of which became at least partially inflated, while with the fourth no attempt was even made to inflate it. Still a really nice evening, though (especially because I got to take my sandals off and walk around in bare feet). But the pilots were all very friendly, and everyone was allowed to get up close - and a lot of little kids running around, loving every minute of it.


    Created with flickr slideshow from softsea.