Sunday, July 19, 2015

Days One & Two: Memphis to Tallinn

Have you ever heard the saying, "It's not the destination, it's the journey"?

Perhaps you've heard the expression, "Embrace the journey"?

I am excited about the destination, and I hate the journey.  An eighteen hour total flight time squeezed into a tiny chair in a tiny metal can is not my idea of fun.  It's just a necessary evil.

Our flights were scheduled to take us from Memphis to Chicago O'Hare, Chicago to Helsinki, Finland, Helsinki to Tallinn, Estonia. 

Of course, it didn't go exactly to plan.

We were in Memphis International Terminal A, which had monitors for flight information, but not one of them worked.  The Starbucks was closed.  
The announcements were made by a lady yelling across the room, I assume because the microphone no longer worked, either.  Our first flight was on American, and we boarded about ten minutes late.  We buckled our seatbelts, and we were immediately asked to exit the plane because O'Hare was shut down due to bad weather.  We tried to rebook on a different flight, but they said even with a delay this was still our only way to get to Tallinn by Sunday.  

During the wait we talked to a man named Macon from Anchorage, Alaska who asked about our convention badges.   He thanked us for our work and we gave him a tract about the kingdom from last convention and showed him the website.  

A lady asked me about my badge and I told her we were attending a convention about Jesus.  She asked, "Why does it say Inmate Jesus?"
My mind went blank.  "What?" I asked, but then I realized she had misread my badge.  

I tried not to laugh.  I pulled the badge closer so she could read "Imitate Jesus".  She laughed pretty hard.  

"That sounds better!" we agreed.

So we boarded the flight again at 5pm.  We left the gate at 5:30pm, taxied to the runway, and the captain said that Chicago told us to stay put for another hour on the Tarmac in Memphis.  So we sat.  We didn't even get snacks on the 2 (now 3) hour flight, and it smelled like the lavatory was leaking.  The nice flight attendant gave me an air freshener spray bottle.

We took off 2.5 hours late, and arrived about 8:15pm.  Just enough time to catch our 10pm connecting flight to Helsinki, right?

When we get to Chicago it was a madhouse.   We find the information board, but no gate is listed for our flight (but it is listed as on time).  Our boarding passes omitted that information as well.  We wait in a long line before someone directs us to Terminal 5.  

We follow the directions to Terminal 5 and find out we have to leave airport security to get there, only to have to go through security again.  It's 8:35pm at this point.  Will we make our flight?  We walk out of the airport and there is no signage pointing us towards the train to take us to Terminal 5.  The information desk was unmanned.  We finally wander onto a tiny sign that leads us up an escalator to the parking garage, and that's where you get on the train.  A young lady familiar with the airport helped us exit at the correct stop.  We descended into a completely separate airport with equally bad signage and unmanned information desk.  Suddenly all the signs were for gates M1-M9.  We were told Terminal 5, Gate 9.  What is the M for?  Did we go to the wrong terminal?

We find the security line and ask the TSA agent if we are in the right place.  One wasn't sure, another said M is Terminal 5.  Well, that makes no sense!

We were in a long line for security and it was going nowhere.  Three screening units were reduced to two, making the line crawl.  A flight crew cuts the line, and I see Finnair on their badges.  I ask if they are Flight 10, and they said yes, so we knew we were in the right building at least.  

Suddenly, we see a middle aged woman sitting on the ground with her family surrounding her asking her to wake up.  Her clothes were soiled with sick.  Barry saw the signs of a stroke.  One side of her face was drooping.  She had a glazed, unresponsive look in her eyes and no one was helping her.  Finally, a smart TSA agent laid her on her side.  We were in that line for at least a half hour and never saw paramedics arrive.  It really sobered us up.  It didn't matter anymore if we made our connection.  Things could be a lot worse.  

People were cutting in line because they only had 30 minutes until their flight, and I realized we were in the same predicament!

Once we made it to the gate, we talked to the agent and learned our boarding passes wouldn't work on their computers, so we had to have them reprinted.  

We found Sister Marlene from Yonkers, NY waiting for our flight to Helsinki.  She was alone and was so happy to find us there.  We had different connecting flights to Tallinn, though.   

We grabbed two cold sandwiches and two waters from a cart, and it was $27.  It was almost 10, and we hadn't eaten since noon.  We didn't get to eat them then, though, because it was already boarding time.  

We found our (tiny & rock hard) seats and ate our sandwiches.  The plane waited 30 extra minutes for two passengers who never showed up, and so they had to remove their luggage from the airplane.  

We were 45 minutes late leaving, cutting in to our 1.5 hour transfer time in Helsinki.  At least our flight to Tallinn was in the same terminal.  If we missed our flight, we reckoned we could fly with Marlene's later flight or take the ferry across the sea and still arrive Sunday.    

Dinner on Finnair was fantastic.  Beef lasagna or a chicken & rice dish.  It was served with succotash, cold roll, crackers, Tillamook cheese (my favorite), water oddly served in a tin foil covered plastic cup (like applesauce), and a chocolate mousse.  Wine was complementary.  

We had to close the windows because the sun came up during dinner.   

After 4 hours of sleep, breakfast was served.  Scrambled eggs, chicken sausage, tomato, and mushrooms with potatoes.  
After arriving in Helsinki, we had our passports stamped and made our way to the Tallinn flight.  Marlene wasn't able to get on our flight, and we were sad to leave her alone as her traveling companions had missed their flight. We told her the local brothers would help her and kissed her goodbye.  

We shared the flight with a couple from St Louis and a trio from Nashville in the Russian Group.

Our flight to Tallinn was on a propeller plane.  It was very noisy, and very short!  We had to walk down a flight of stairs to get to the ground like an old Hollywood movie (or as Barry says "like a President").  

We suddenly walked past security and there were the brothers and sisters to greet us.  There were so many of them there!  They filled the airport!

It was so overwhelming!  There were hugs and handshakes all around.  A brother kindly offered us a ride to our hotel.  

We are staying at the Sokos Hotel Viru, and it is an old Soviet-style hotel on the footsteps of Old Town Tallinn, a medieval city.  We received a care package from the hospitality desk set up at the hotel.  Our room is tiny and very Scandinavian.

We have a nice view from the 21st story.

We had dinner at Olde Hansa, an authentic medieval restaurant.  We ate by candlelight to live music performed on medieval instruments.  One was a type of organ grinder, another was a recorder, and there were different hand drums.  
Barry had a Divine Leg of Pork and I had Himalayan Lamb.  It was exquisite.  

Barry and I have fallen instantly in love with Tallinn's charms.   

Tomorrow we go deeper into Estonia.  

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